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Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Budapest, Hungary)

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      23.11.2011 13:22
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      Iconic Budapest bridge

      In our whistle-stop one-day tour of Budapest, we follow the Buda bank of Danube towards one of the Budapest landmarks, the Chain Bridge (Szechenyi Lanchid), founded in 1849 by the philanthropist and reformer Istvan Szechenyi. He devoted many years to the task of regulating the Danube which would turn the great river into a reliable, viable trading route. The Lanchid is the oldest of the seven road bridges of Budapest (before that, the only crossing of the Danube was by a ferry or a seasonal pontoon bridge). The building of the bridge had not only a practical but also a symbolic significance, foretelling the future unification of Buda and Pest into one city, symbolising the national advancement (it was opened during the brief period of the Hungarian republic and the Hungarian Independence Army were among its first users) but also the more general human progress so beloved of the 19th century reformists and revolutionaries alike. Designed by an English engineer William Tierney Clark, the iron sections of the bridge were actually manufactured in England and shipped to Hungary for their final assembly. The Lanchid connects to the tunnel under the Buda's Castle Hill, constructed in 1857 by a Scottish engineer Adam Clark (not related to William) who also supervised the actual erection of the bridge. Destroyed by the Nazis in 1945, the Lanchid was reconstructed by 1949 and nowadays it remains one of the emblematic sights of Budapest together with the Hungarian Parliament building. It's a wrought iron suspension bridge with two stone towers, suspended on two chains and at the time of its building it was the suspension bridge with the second-longest span in the world as well as one of the only two permanent crossings of the Danube. I don't seem to be able to find where the other one was, though I am assuming it would be in Vienna as the oldest known Danube crossing, Trajan's bridge in what is now Romanian Drobeta-Turnu-Severin, had been destroyed over 1500 years before. The stone lions that guard bridge's entrances seem related to the metal ones at Trafalgar square (although maybe all 19th century ornamental lions are related somehow). It's an attractive building, and even more so when lit up at night. It is also a practical one, being a very convenient link between the most attractive and touristically interesting parts of Buda and Pest. On the Buda side, the Castle Hill raises directly above Adam Clark Square (which is located between the bridge and the tunnel); on the Pest side the bridge leads to the Roosevelt Square, where the beautifully fluid Secessionist Gresham Palace stands (you can stay there if you can afford the Four Seasons' rates) in a contrast to the hieratic elegance of the arches and columns of the Neo-Renaissance building of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (incidentally, also brought to life thanks to the same Count Istvan Szechenyi who offered a one year's income from his estate for the initial establishment of the Learned Society). While walking across the Danube stop for another angle on the magnificent Hungarian Parliament building but do watch out for the cyclists who, although supposed to use the roadway, seem to take over pavements and other pedestrian routes in Budapest with more smug impudence that in any other city we have visited during this European tour.

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