Bridging modern Budapest


The second in our series 'Bridging Central Europe' takes us to one of the most prominent symbols of modern Budapest - the Elisabeth Bridge or 'Erzsébet híd'. The bridge was named after the wife of the Austro- Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph, who declared it open just 100 years ago in 1903. But 41 years later the bridge lay in ruins - blown up by retreating German troops. It's re-opening in 1964 symbolised for many Hungarians the overcoming of the destructions of the war.

At the time of its construction, and up until 1926, Elizabeth bridge held a world record: it was the widest span bridge with the length of 290 metres. The bridge was named after Queen Elizabeth, who was assassinated in 1898. Both planning and construction took quite a time, and was closely followed by the people of Budapest. Even more so as the construction of the new bridge completely changed and re-shaped the downtown area. There was a lot of discussion about where to build it, how to build it, they even talked about a tunnel, and - as historian András Török says - they thought of building the bridge not diagonally to the river, but in a very special slanted angle.

" But then they decided on the present place and they actually opened it a hundred years ago in 1903. At 11 o'clock Archduke Joseph opened it with a very short speech because it was raining. So it was a very short inauguration ceremony, and on that day it was free to pass. It was interesting that the new Elizabeth Bridge, which present visitors can see and which was opened in 1964, it was also raining when it was inaugurated. I was present and our piano class, all the students and even the music teacher came to the bridge. We were very happy and we like the new bridge very much."

But why do we talk about an old and a new bridge? Because, in fact, there are two Elizabeth bridges.

" Adolf Hitler wanted to stop the Soviet Army at Budapest and all the bridges were exploded. When Budapest started its peaceful life in 1945 unfortunately all of our bridges were in the river. That was a painful, expensive and long process to restore all the bridges. Some of them were restored to their original splendour, but for many years Elizabeth Bridge did not exist so between 1945 and 1964 there was no bridge at all but in 1960 they started to build that bridge but unfortunately they opted to build a brand new one."

Many people believe, it was a mistake not to re-build the old Elizabeth Bridge, but there were simply not enough resources in a poor country right after the war. It took two decades to build it, and by inaugurating it, the process of reconstructing the Danube bridges in Budapest ruined by explosions in the war, was completed.

"Originally it was the first bridge that connected Buda and Pest with a tramway line and this line was built on the new Elizabeth bridge but in the early 1980's if I remember well, they put an end to the tram so there are two three lane roads."

Today, Elizabeth bridge is not just one of the busiest bridges connecting Pest and Buda, but it offers perhaps the most beautiful view of the two embankments on the river Danube, listed among world heritage sites by UNESCO.