On Saturday we went to Szeged to collect rent from tenants and meet a few people. Since I spent the whole week working on the non-fiction manuscript, I was more than happy to enjoy the wintry car ride there and a leisurely day. The weather was perplexing and inspiring. Enough fog rested above the fields to cover up the sun, though when the sun dig pierce through, the trees and wheat looked almost dreamlike.
From my general research from the book, here are a few interesting tidbits about Szeged, which I haven’t really gone into depth about, but which I feel like is my second home here in Hungary, and an absolutely necessary daytrip to any visitors to Budapest.
Szeged is located in the Great Plains, which is in the southeastern region of Hungary and makes up almost half of the country. Though the winters are dominated by frigidity, the summers are gloriously warm and dry with a seemingly unending supply of sunshine. It’s because of its landscape and beautiful summers that the region has been the countries’ main source of grains, vegetables and fruits for centuries. Though like most regions in Hungary, it’s not without it’s battle wounds.
The earliest Magyar’s set up farmsteads along the Tisza River during a time when the land was still heavily forested. In the early sixteenth-century, the Turks began their invasion, occupation and destruction of many of Hungary’s resources. Unfortunately, the Great Plains region of the country suffered greatly. In a little over 150 years, the Turks razed much of the forested land and destroyed a majority of the farmsteads. All but a few inhabitants fled for outlying cities, including Szeged and Budapest for refuge. One group that resisted the Turks quite successfully was the Csikós horsemen, whose lineage dates back centuries and is military in nature. They are known for their great horsemanship. For example, one such skill is the ability to ride five horses simultaneously, perhaps deriving from the necessity to bring back the horses of the dead after battle. The Csikós still exist today, though mostly for the benefit of tourists. The word puszta in the Puszta Hortobágy National Park literally means barren, and though it’s now a reference to the flat or empty landscape of the Great Plains, it’s poetic connotation is with the barren emptiness that remained after the land was razed by the Turkish invaders.
Though a habitual cause of devastation, the region’s rivers, especially the Tisza, have flooded throughout the centuries. In the nineteen century, however, the monumental floods were actually a turn of good fortune, for lack of better term, as the plains were able to replenish, grasses rise again, followed by the return of farmers, herdsman, and the long culinary Magyar tradition associated with the region.
One of the unluckiest places to weather the nineteenth-century floods, however, specifically the great flood of 1879, was Szeged. The flood in the spring of that year was an utter catastrophe, nearly destroying the entire city of Szeged, killing around 160 people and washing away six thousand homes. But the city was used to pulling itself back from devastation. Having been sacked by both the Tartars and the Turks and having been under the thumb of Austria in the seventeenth century, the city and its inhabitants knew how to turn the tides around, especially when the opportunity presented itself. After the waters receded, dikes were built along the river and the city was re-planned with revitalist ideals. Beautiful squares and boulevards flanked by an array of architectural styles, churches, universities, and cafes where young poets and students sowed the seeds of revolution during the communist era can still be visited today.