Monday, 13 September 2010
Charlie's Holiday/Crossings of the River Danube 1 - The Széchenyi Chain Bridge
The mighty Danube cuts through Budapest like a knife through butter. Splitting the city into two, it is easy to forget that once upon a time, there was no Budapest, but two very separate and distinct municipalities, Buda to the west overlooking the flat Pest to the east of the river. The situation changed in 1873 when the city was merged. No doubt it was this bridge, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (opened in 1849) that played a key part in the restructuring of the city. In a city as beautiful as Budapest it is as iconic to the city as the Brooklyn Bridge is to New York or Tower Bridge to London - no small feat! But also, it crosses the mighty Danube, the longest river in Europe, and on my travels around the world, this was the first time that I had seen this great river. So it was with great excitement that I ventured towards Budapest's first solid crossing over the Danube River!
To us Brits, this bridge may have a familiar look to it. That is because it is an exact replica of the Marlow Bridge found over the River Thames, about twenty/thirty miles to the west of London. Both crossing points were designed by William Tierney Clark and are the only two surviving examples of his work that exist today.
Clark is lionised far more in Hungary than in the UK, and even has a public square named after him on the Buda side of the river Danube. In Clark Adam Ter (Square) also lies the 0 KM Stone. Similar to many Point Zeroes around the world, this is the marker from which all distances are measured from in Hungary. A pretty little park, at the foot of the hills of Buda and the start of this crossing point over the Danube.
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is a suspension bridge. A pretty impressive one at that. Although there is a weight limit imposed on the bridge, it still carries traffic across the Danube. One lane in each direction plus the multitude of pedestrians and tourists that decide to wander or rush across on their way to somewhere or nowhere in particular. Either for a romantic stroll or for a vacationing gawp, it serves its purpose well, still linking two sides of a city over the river. There is traffic on the bridge still, even though the Chain Bridge has been joined by a multitude of crossings over the Danube, or as it is called in this part of the world, the Duna.
Oh yes, let us take a look at the Danube itself. This murky stretch of water beneath our feet. For some reason, a lot of people in Eastern Europe treat it with disdain. For me, it is different. I do not mock the 'greeny' river or the dirty waterway as it is called by many. Sure, it may have a dubious effect on your health should you decide to take a dive, but for me, it is not the content of the river that is important, but the essence of what it entails with regard to civilisation. The Danube once marked the border of the Roman Empire, and today marks the border of many European states. Not only Budapest, but the cities of Vienna (Austria's capital), Bratislava (Slovakia's capital) and Belgrade (Serbia's capital) all lie on the river. Flowing through four capital cities, it links more governments than any other city in the world before tipping into the Black Sea. But that delta is many miles from the Chain Bridge itself.
Back to the bridge, and take a look at the ornamental lions. Yep, they have no tongues. Whether this is a deliberate intention, or an oversight of the original design, I could not tell you. But yeah, that is a fact, teeth but nothing with which they can swallow!
Getting there and away:
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is located in the heart of Budapest. The nearest trams are the historic Route 2 (the most sceneic tram ride in the world?) on the Pest side and tram routes 19 and 41 on the Buda side. The nearest metro station is Vörösmarty tér on the Pest side on the historic Metro Line 1.