by Victor Sebestyen
Budapest has always been an important place. Almost at the centre of Europe, it is at the crossroads of geographical regions and of civilizations, at the intersection of ancient trade routes. Mountains that gradually slope into gentle hills converge on a great river, the Danube, and the regions of Buda and Pest sprang up on either side.
Throughout history the centre of gravity in Budapest and among Hungarians has shifted between this division of East and West – culturally, politically, emotionally. Invaders have come and gone, empires have conquered, occupied for centuries or decades, and left a few footprints behind: the remains of a Roman bath house complete with wonderfully preserved mosaics stand next to a Soviet-style ‘five-year-plan’ apartment block. The city bears the scars of the rise and fall of multiple empires, two world wars, fascism, Nazi German occupation, Soviet Communism.
It has been home to some of the world’s greatest writers, artists and musicians. Hungary is a place of extremes, a small country that has often in history punched well above its weight. At many moments, events that began in Budapest have proved to be of world significance.
This is the story of that tumultuous, often divided, but always fascinating city.