Hungary is a landlocked nation in the heart of Europe and home to the Magyar people. It spans the plains between the Carpathian Mountains and the Alps and is known for its bloody history and unique culture. Hungary is an EU member and historically Catholic. Its official name has no kingdom or republic of before it; it is simply Hungary.
That name comes from the Huns, who lived there in the 400s. Being the westernmost stretch of the Eurasian steppe, Hungary was often settled by nomads from the east. The last of these were the Magyars, who give Hungary its language and native name, Magyarország.
The Magyars (pronounced Madh-yar) were a coalition of tribes from the Ural Mountains who settled the Pannonian Basin in 895 under their leader Arpad. Over the following century, Magyar raiders terrorised Central Europe while the Vikings pillaged the west.
St Stephen was crowned and baptised by Pope Sylvester II in the year 1000. The Magyars converted and settled down as a feudal kingdom far larger than the modern state. Hungarians still celebrate their patron saint’s feast day as a public holiday. The crown of Saint Stephen’s characteristic bent comes from when it was dropped on the frozen Danube in the 1600s.
The Curse of Turan explains the tragedies of Hungarian history. According to legend, the Magyar shamans cursed St Stephen and his people for abandoning the old gods. The curse explains:
- Hungary’s fall to the Mongols in 1241
- Hungary’s fall to the Ottomans in 1526
- The failure of the 1848 revolution against the Habsburgs
- The 1917 Treaty of Trianon, which stripped 72% of Hungary’s territory
- Hungary’s disastrous alliance with Germany in WW2
- The failure of the 1956 revolution against Stalin
Budapest lies on the banks of the Danube. Hungary’s capital, it was once three towns – Buda, Pest and Obuda, which converged in 1873. The city houses notable landmarks and monuments, including:
- St Stephen’s Basilica, built 1905.
- Buda Castle (below), built 1265, expanded 1765. A UNESCO world heritage site.
- Dohány Street Synagogue, built 1859. Europe’s largest.
- Fisherman’s Bastion, built 1902
Hungarian is Europe’s most unique language. Belonging to the Finno-Ugric family, its nearest European relatives are Finnish and Estonian though even they are distant: German is closer to Hindi than Hungarian is to Finnish. Its bewildering phonology makes Hungarian one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.
Roma form Hungary’s largest ethnic minority and have lived there since the Middle Ages. Official censuses count them as 3% of Hungary’s 10 million, though the actual number is likely far higher.
After King Louis II fell at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Hungarian crown passed to the Habsburgs of Austria. From 1867-1918 they ruled Austria-Hungary as a ‘Dual Monarchy’ on equal footing. Hungary became a parliamentary democracy in 1989. Since 2010, strongman Viktor Orban has ruled on an authoritarian and anti-immigrant platform.