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The Chain Bridge over the Danube is one of the most famous images of Budapest. This suspension bridge between the districts of Pest and Buda offers spectacular views of the banks of the Danube. On the Pest side, the pointed towers of the Parliament Building flank the Danube, while Buda Castle rises on the other bank. The suspension bridge itself is quite striking, especially at night when the heavy chains twinkle with thousands of lights.
Széchenyi lánchíd, as it is known in Hungarian, was completed in 1849. This marvel was the first bridge to link the cities of Buda and Pest. At the time, it was an extraordinary architectural masterpiece – being 375 metres long it was one of the longest suspension bridges in Europe. Great stone lions guard the bridge on both sides, and the striking pillars bear the coat of arms of Hungary.
While it’s almost impossible to imagine today, there was no permanent connection between Pest and Buda before the Chain Bridge was constructed. Those wanting to travel between what were then still separate cities had to take the ferry in the summer and walk across the frozen Danube in winter – if temperatures were low enough. But unexpected changes in the weather could make any crossing impossible, and as the nearest bridge was in Vienna some 250 kilometres away, unlucky people could get stuck for days on the wrong side of the river.
Count István Széchenyi was one of those unlucky ones. In 1820, he had to wait a week to cross the river and missed his father’s funeral. He was so upset by this that he decided to remedy the situation in short order and established a foundation to finance the construction of a permanent bridge over the Danube. The English engineer William Tierney Clark designed the suspension bridge and the Scotsman Adam Clark (no relation) oversaw its construction. The grand opening took place on 21 November 1849.
“Before the Chain Bridge linked Buda and Pest, you sometimes had to wait for days to cross by ferry.”
Adam Clark Square, so named after the construction foreman of the Chain Bridge, features a jagged-shaped ‘0’. This sculpture by Miklós Borsos marks the starting point of all roads in Hungary. This is also where the cable car up to Buda Castle departs: this short ride offers breathtaking views of the Chain Bridge, the Danube Bend and Pest. An amusing fact is that the tunnel under Castle Hill, also built by Adam Clark, is exactly as long as the Chain Bridge. Hungarians like to joke that this is no coincidence: the bridge can be pushed into the tunnel when it rains.