Hungary History

July 21, 2023

Paul Kay

Are you looking for European vacation ideas? We have fun facts about Hungary in this post. Are you a tourist or a traveler? For many people, they might seem the same. For me, a tourist comes with the idea of an organized tour to see places and to take photos. A traveler wants to experience the culture and the history. Travelers want to see memorable sites and take tours as well, but they also want to meet and experience people and learn their customs and be a welcome visitor. If you are like me, you are a traveler so now we need to look for destinations and vacations. Here are some fun facts about Hungary.

Hungary is known for its abundant thermal baths and spas. Budapest, the capital city, is often referred to as the "City of Spas" and is famous for its stunning thermal bathhouses, including the iconic Szechenyi Thermal Bath. Do you like challenging games? The famous Rubik's Cube was invented by Hungarian architect Erno Rubik in 1974. It quickly became a global sensation and remains one of the most popular puzzle toys to this day. If you love cooking, did you know about paprika? Hungary is renowned for its vibrant and flavorful paprika, a spice made from ground sweet or hot chili peppers. Hungarian cuisine heavily relies on paprika, and the country is often referred to as the "Paprika Capital of the World." Are you intrigued yet? As a fellow traveler, here are some fun facts to consider about Hungary.

People have been in Hungary for over 2500 years. Like much of Europe, the Romans conquered what is now Hungary in 9 AD and created a province called Pannonia. By the 3rd century, the Roman Empire was in decline and by the end of the 4th century, the Romans had left. By the beginning of the 5th century Hungary’s population was largely composed of Germanic people.

Hungary\Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor as depicted in stained glass within the Dom of Cologne Germany

In the 6th century the Avars conquered Hungary and they ruled the region until the end of the 8th century. Charlemagne came next and he conquered most of central Europe, including Hungary. Charlemagne was the leader of the Franks, and the empire became known as the Frankish Empire. In 843, the Frankish Empire was divided into three regions and Hungary became part of the eastern third.

As the Frankish Empire continued to grow, it could not always be defended. The Magyars came from Russia, Estonia and modern-day Finland. In 896, they conquered eastern Hungary and in 900 they conquered the rest.

Hungary\Saint Stephen first king of Hungary who ruled and christened the country in 11th century Budapest Hungary

A Magyar ruler, Stephen, built a network of castles across Hungary, Stephen was the first Christian ruler of Hungary, and he founded a number of monasteries. He only lived between 1000 and 1038 and was canonized in 1083.  Stephen was a descendant of the Magyar ruler Arpad and the house of Arpad ruled for over 300 years. 

During this period, they were attacked by the Mongol army and much of Hungary was burned. The Mongolian army did not stay in Hungary long because their primary interest was to find money, gold and silver and to move onward. After they had left, the Hungarian King Bela ordered the construction of hundreds of stone castles and fortifications to help defend against any returning Mongol invasion. 

The Mongols did return to Hungary in 1286, but the newly built stone-castle systems and new military force of well-paid and well-armed knights stopped them. The invading Mongol force was defeated near and invasions were also repelled handily.

Between 1300 and 1500, Hungary experienced a renaissance period, primarily because of its large quantities of gold mines. The gold mines of eastern and northern Hungary yielded over 3,000 pounds of gold annually which was one third of the world’s production at the time. This was also 5 times as much as any other European state.

Louis I ruled Hungary from 1342 and in1345 his brother was murdered in Naples. As a result, Louis led an army into Italy and in 1348 they captured Naples. Louis then called himself king of Naples, but he was forced to retreat before the Black Plague engulfed him and his army.

In 1370 Louis's uncle Casimir, king of Poland died and for a short time the two countries were united under Louis rule. However, Louis died in 1382 without an heir and Poland became a separate realm in 1386.  Sigismund became ruler after Louis and his tenure was mainly known for fighting against the Ottoman Empire from modern day Turkey.

In 1453 the Turks captured Constantinople and ended the Byzantine Empire. It was only a matter of time before the Ottomans came to Hungary.  During this interim period came Matthias who became king in 1458.

Hungary\King Matthias Corvinus King of Hungary from 1458 to 1490 Budapest Hungary

He was known as Matthias the Just because of his fairness. Matthias was a Renaissance ruler. He was a patron of the arts and of learning. He also raised a mercenary army called the Black Army. With its help Hungary became strong.

He would frequently tour his country in disguise with some of his Black Army also in disguise. When he found a dishonest judge or ruler, he would either have them killed or sent to prison. He wanted a fair kingdom of rule.

When Matthias died in 1490 Hungary declined. The national assembly wanted a ruler they could control so the crown was given to Ulaszlo II. Under him, the monarchy in Hungary grew even weaker. The Black Army was disbanded in 1492.

The condition of the peasants in Hungary deteriorated. They lost the right to move from one village to another and the landlords burdened them with more forced labor. Eventually the peasants rebelled. It began in 1514 when the pope called for a crusade against the Turks. Many Hungarian peasants joined. However, the nobility was unhappy about losing so many of their labor force and some tried to prevent their peasants leaving. 

Those peasants who had already joined refused to disband and they rebelled. The peasants attacked castles and burned manor houses. However, the nobles crushed the revolt. With no Black Knights and the treasury depleted by the rulers who enjoyed living from the wealth of their people, the country was ripe for takeover.

Hungary\Statues of Richard the Lionheart and Suleiman the Magnificent near the wall of the Old City of Jerusalem Israel

In 1526 the Turkish ruler Suleiman the Magnificent led an army to Hungary. In the battle, the Hungarian king was killed. The Turks burned the major city of Buda. Most of the Turks left the city to wage ware elsewhere. In the above photo, Suleiman is on the right and on the left is Richard the Lionheart. We’ll talk more about him in our England history post.

When the Turks left, it resulted in two claimants to the throne of Hungary, Ferdinand of Habsburg, Archduke of Austria and Janos Szapolyai who was of royal blood from Hungary. Ferdinand seized western Hungary and he was crowned Ferdinand I. The Hungarian nobles crowned Janos king. Hungary was divided between them.

Janos died in 1541 and the remaining Turkish Sultan took central Hungary. The principality of Transylvania was only semi-independent of Turkey. The Turks ruled central Hungary directly. Hungary was divided into three parts until the end of the 17th century.

In the early 17th century, the Catholic Counter-Reformation won many converts especially in western Hungary. This is also when Turkish power waned. In 1683 they unsuccessfully attacked Vienna. Austria and its allies then turned on the Turks. In 1687 they crushed the Turks and again in 1697.

The Habsburgs (rulers of Austria) gained almost all of Hungary. However, the Hungarians did not want to be ruled by Austria either. They particularly did not like taxation which only benefited Austria and not Hungary. In 1703 the Hungarians began the War of Independence which lasted until 1711.

This began the Habsburg rule. Many people had already left Hungary by this time. The census of 1787 showed Hungary had a population of 8.7 million.

The Habsburgs were an imperial family. Once elected as an emperor, the person had no special capital city for establishing their domain. In 1356, a document traditionally accepted as a landmark in German constitutional history, the Golden Bull, named seven electoral princes who acquired the exercise of almost all the imperial rights in their own lands. Their jurisdiction was absolute. One could not appeal their jurisdiction. 

Hungary\Habsburg Empire 1547 Europe

An Austrian family, the house of Habsburg, eventually succeeded to the imperial throne. Habsburg’s first  emperor was chosen in 1273, but he remained a solitary example for a long time. The imperial greatness of the house lay ahead, for the Habsburgs provided a series of emperors without break from 1493 until 1806. 

The Habsburgs repopulated the uninhabited areas of the country with Romanians and Slovaks, artificially creating large blocks of minorities. Hungary’s population now was more educated, and the rule of the Habsburgs became disagreeable. The people revolted against the Habsburgs in 1848.

Revolution didn’t create freedom, but the Habsburgs realized they could only work with Hungary if the cooperated with them and gave them some sort of autonomy. This created the Austro-Hungarian empire of 1867.

Even though Hungary had Austria pulling many of the economic strings, the pact was very favorable for Hungarians and Hungarian economy began a recover. In the early 1900s the Hungarian GDP grew at a very fast pace. 

The population of Hungary rose to 18 million in 1910 and the percentage of people living in towns increased substantially. Compulsory education was mandated for 6 to 12-year old’s in Hungary.

During 1914 Hungary, as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire became involved in the First World War on the side of the Germans. By the fall of 1918 Austria-Hungary was exhausted and it was obvious the war was lost.

After the war, the Slovaks and Romanians within Hungary broke away and joined their countrymen. As a result, Hungary lost more than half its territory. The war took a toll. Hungary became a relatively primitive country. Many people were very poor. Electricity and running water remained luxuries. Then, Hitler promised to restore the lands lost to the Hungarian natives. Nationalism and pride gave the impetus for Hungary to rearm.

When Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939 Hungary regained some of the territory lost after the First World War. This was welcome news to those who aligned with Hitler. When the Germans invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941 Hungary regained still more territory. Then in June 1941 Hungary joined the attack on Russia. In December 1941 Britain declared war on Hungary.

Once again, Hungary aligned itself with the losing side of the war. Hungarian rulers quickly felt that Germany was not going to win the war and and in 1943 the Hungarian government sought to leave the war. Hitler was not amused and occupied Hungary from 1943 and a right-wing government was installed. Hungarian Jews were killed, deported with most dying in concentration camps.

At the end of 1944, Hungary saw the Germans facing certain defeat and negotiated an armistice with the Russians. Hungary simply traded one bad alliance for another. 

The Russians captured Budapest in 1945. Hungary was now under Russian rule. Before the war ended they formed a provisional government in Hungary. In March 1945 it passed a land reform law. The rich landowners lost most of their estates and the land was redistributed.

This became the beginning of a Communist state. Over 60,000 Hungarian elected officials were removed. Some Hungarian politicians went into exile abroad at that time. Meanwhile the Communists In 1948, the Communists took over Hungary completely. Many Hungarians were executed or imprisoned.

However, when Stalin died in 1953 things began to slowly change. In 1956 the Communist party began to backtrack. People that would routinely be executed were now rehabilitated. However, this was temporary. Students and faculty in universities demanded independence from Moscow and free elections.

Demonstrations occurred and Communist rule killed many people. Hungarians continued to wage protests, but the Russians came back with tanks and soldiers. Russians attacked Budapest and other cities. The Hungarian people fought heroically but the Russians were much stronger and after a few days the Hungarian people were defeated. Many people fled to the west – some 200,000 people left during this period.

Communists began reprisals and hundreds of people were executed and thousands were arrested. People continued to leave the country, but Soviet rule persisted. With the decline of the former Soviet Union, Hungary persisted and eventually managed to end Soviet rule in 1989. In 1990 the first free elections were held and Jozsef Antall became prime minister, but he died in 1993. The Socialists (former Communists) returned to power in 1994.

Inevitably there was an economic crisis in the 1990s and the transition to capitalism was a painful one. Hungary is now a prosperous and a free country. In 1999 Hungary joined NATO. In 2004 Hungary joined the EU. Today, the economy is growing steadily. 

Hungary maintains its own currency but is a full member of the EU. For a tourist, you can use your charge card in most places in Hungary and the locals will take both the Euro and the Hungarian Forint for payment. You will need to be a math major for the Forint since it’s about 300 Forints to the US Dollar so don’t get sticker shock when you see a bill for 3,000 HUF or Hungarian Forints. That’s about $10USD.

We think Hungary is a beautiful place to visit. Certainly, you’d want to visit Budapest. There is so much history in this city.  Check out our posts on Budapest attractions, restaurants and hotels. There are other places to visit. We’d recommend you check these out:

Szentendre or St. Andrews is about 12 miles away from the city of Budapest by car and is one of the best places to visit near Budapest Hungary. We took a Viator tour they called the Danube Big Bend tour. On the tour we saw Szentendre, Visegrad and Esztergom. You can look at our post of Szentendre attractions when you get a chance.

Hungary\Esztergom Basilica Danube river Hungary

Esztergom is one of the best places to visit in Hungary to see the influence of Christianity on the country. It has the largest church of Hungary – the Esztergom Basilica, and its museum has the largest collection of Christian relics. The city was also the capital of Hungary between the 10th and 13th centuries. This is a stop on the Danube Big Bend tour.

Hungary\Visegrad Hungary castle on the hill above the Danube river bend Hungary

Visegrad is a castle town just north of Budapest, on the bank of the Danube in the Danube Bend. You’ll see it on the Danube Big Bend tour. The town is small with less than 2,000 people. The town is known for the remains of the Early Renaissance summer palace of the late King Matthias Corvinus and the ancient citadel.

Hungary\Badacsony Hill lake Balaton Hungary

Lake Balaton is a beautiful place. The locals call it the Hungarian Sea because you can’t see across it – it’s that big. It has a long shoreline of over 120 miles which has a bicycle path. The lake is surrounded by resort towns and has beautiful forests especially in the Balaton Uplands National Park.

So, get to know Hungary, it’s history and its people. It’s a beautiful place.

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