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Budapest: “The Story of Buda, Pest and Obuda”

Budapest is the capital and the largest city of Hungary and one of the largest cities in the European Union. It is the country’s principal political, cultural, commercial, industrial, and transportation centre, sometimes described as the primate city of Hungary. However, aside from the history of the city formation, the name itself has a unique tale of its own.

“Budapest” is the combination of the city names “Buda” and “Pest”, since they were united (together with Óbuda) to become a single city in 1873. One of the first documented occurrences of the combined name “Buda-Pest” was in 1831 in the book “Világ” (“World” / “Light”), written by Count István Széchenyi, a Hungarian politician, theorist and writer.

The origins of the words “Buda” and “Pest” are obscure. According to chronicles from the Middle Ages the name “Buda” comes from the name of its founder, Bleda (Buda), the brother of the Hunnic ruler Attila. The theory that “Buda” was named after a person is also supported by modern scholars. An alternative explanation suggests that “Buda” derives from the Slavic word “вода, voda” (“water”), a translation of the Latin name “Aquincum”, which was the main Roman settlement in the region.

There are also several theories about the origin of the name “Pest”. One of the theories claims that the word “Pest” comes from the Roman times, since there was a fortress “Contra-Aquincum” in this region which was referred to as “Pession” by Claudius Ptolemaios, Greco-Egyptian writer of Alexandria, Ancient Greek. According to another theory, “Pest” originates from the Slavic word for cave “пещера, peshchera” or from the word for oven “печь, pech’“, in reference to a cave where fires burned or to a local limekiln. In the old-Hungarian language there was a similar word meaning oven/cave, and the original old-German name of this region was “Ofen”. Later, the German “Ofen” referred to the Buda side.

Buda is the former capital of the Kingdom of Hungary and the western part of the current Hungarian capital Budapest on the west bank of the Danube. Buda comprises about one-third of Budapest’s complete territory and is mostly wooded and hilly. Notable landmarks include the Buda Castle and the Citadella. The Hungarian president’s residence, Sándor Palace, is also in Buda. Buda had a German majority, however according to the Hungarian Royal Treasury, it had a Hungarian majority with a sizeable German minority in 1495. The Buda fortress and palace were built by King Béla IV. in 1247, and were the nucleus round which the town of Buda was built, which soon gained great importance, and became in 1361 the capital of Hungary.

Buda during the Middle Ages, woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Buda during the Middle Ages, woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Pest is the eastern, mostly flat part of Budapest, Hungary, comprising about two thirds of the city’s territory. It is separated from Buda, the other part of Budapest, by the Danube River. Pest was a separate independent city, references to which appear in writings dating back to 1148. In earlier centuries there were ancient Celtic and Roman settlements there. Pest became an important economic center during 11th–13th centuries. It was destroyed in the 1241 Mongol invasion of Hungary but rebuilt once again soon thereafter. In 1838 it was flooded by the Danube; parts of the city were under as much as eight feet of water, and the flood destroyed or seriously damaged three-fourths of the city’s buildings. In 1849 the first suspension bridge, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, was constructed across the Danube connecting Pest with Buda. Consequently, in 1873, the two cities were unified with Óbuda to become Budapest.


The last but not least is Obuda. Óbuda was a historical city in Hungary, in south area of Buda. United with Buda and Pest in 1873 it now forms part of District III-Óbuda-Békásmegyer of Budapest. The name means Old Buda in Hungarian. The name in Croatian and Serbian for this city is Stari Budim, but the local Croat minority calls it Obuda (the name “Budim” they use for the fortress in Buda). Civil settlements dating from the stone age have been found in Óbuda. The Romans built Aquincum, the capital of Pannonia province here. Hungarians arrived after 900 and it served as an important settlement of major tribal leaders, later king Béla IV of Hungary built a new capital after the 1241-1242 Mongol invasion in Buda, until later the city united with Buda and Pest. Looking back from the early Roman period until now, the city has had a long battle throughout history to become the most important city in Hungary.

The building of the Hungarian Parliament

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