Despite the fact that Budapest’s roots extend as far back as the rule of the Roman Empire, the modern Budapest that our river cruise guests know and love grew out of the expansion of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The city as it is known today was formed in 1873 when the individual cities of Buda Óbuda (Old Buda) and Pest were linked. Yet, there are sections of the city that date back to medieval times, such as the city’s royal castle, which was built in the mid-13th century, following a Tatar invasion.
During the Middle Ages, Buda was the dominant settlement, which began with the construction of the Buda fortress and a palace for King Bela IV of Hungary in 1247. Centuries later, during Maria Theresa’s reign as the queen of Hungary, the fortress was replaced by a Baroque-styled palace. The structure still stands, which is a testament to numerous restoration efforts over the centuries.
Pest, on the other hand, existed for almost a century before Buda fortress was built (references to the independent city of Pest can be found in documents produced in 1148). The city was a strong economic center during the latter half of the Middle Ages, and though it was destroyed during a Mongol invasion in 1241, the city was quickly rebuilt. Following a catastrophic flooding of the Danube in 1838—an event that damaged almost 75 percent of Pest’s buildings—a suspension bridge (Széchenyi Chain Bridge) was constructed which connected Buda with Pest. About 25 years later, the two cities were unified (with Obuda) to form what is now the modern Hungarian capital.
For centuries, Buda was the dominant city of the two main sections of today’s Budapest; however, during the late 18th century, Pest quickly expanded and soon surpassed Buda in population. Today, both sections of the city are growing at about an equal pace, though Pest accounts for about two-thirds of the city’s 203 square miles.