Budapest is the city of a thousand faces. Situated along the banks of the Danube river, the Hungarian capital is unique throughout Europe. With its wide avenues and green parks, beautiful secession buildings and churches, baroque and classical palaces, Budapest has a very special atmosphere and architecture to suit all tastes.
Buda, situated on the right bank of the River Danube, was the site of the first fort, built in the 13th century. This fort was later rebuilt in Gothic style, and then again in Renaissance style during the reign of Matthias Corvinus (1443–1490). It gained its present form after several wars during the 19th century. Buda’s Castle District has architectural remains from every era. On the opposite bank, the centre of Pest was built for the celebrations of one thousand years of Hungarian statehood. It was during this period that the secession palaces with their Hungarian folk-art motives were built along ‘Andrássy út’, the boulevard which has been declared a World Heritage site.
Budapest is one of the few capital cities in the world built on natural hot springs. These waters form the basis of dozens of spas and pools, some of which date from the period of the Turkish occupation, around 500 years ago. Since the revival of Hungarian spa culture in the 18th century, many new classical, secession and modern spas have been built.
Budapest is the city of music. The Academy of Music, a beautiful secession building named after the Hungarian composer Ferenc Liszt (1811–1886), is where Béla Bartók, the most famous Hungarian composer of the 20th century, studied and later taught. The world-class concert hall of the recently inaugurated Palace of Arts continues the concert traditions of the Academy of Music. The neo-renaissance Opera House, which Gustav Mahler directed from 1887 to 1891, is also a pride of the city.
During the first half of 2011, the Hungarian capital will host a multitude of Presidency events. One of the main venues for events will be the Ethnographic Museum, near the Parliament. This venue will be used mainly for expert level meetings.
Debrecen is the second largest city in Hungary. It is situated in the Northern Great Plain, 220 kilometres from Budapest. Debrecen is often called the “Calvinist Rome”, because during the Reformation in the 16th century, it converted to the new faith and the city quickly became the centre of Protestantism in Hungary. Debrecen is one of the most important centres of education in the country, and students from all over the world come to study at its universities, schools and vocational training institutes.
The history of Debrecen can be traced back as far as the Middle Ages. Louis the Great (1326–1382) granted the city many prerogatives, including being able to elect its own judge and city council. During the Turkish occupation, the development of Debrecen came to a standstill, and it was only due to the skill and ingenuity of its leaders that its inhabitants survived this period. During the past two centuries, the city twice became the country’s capital: first in 1849, when the revolutionary government of Lajos Kossuth fled there from Budapest, then again in 1944, during the last stages of World War II, when Hungary was liberated from German occupation.
The pride of the city, the Protestant Great Church in the main square, is not only a religious artefact. It has also been the site of several important events in Hungarian history, including the announcement of the dethronement of the House of Hapsburg in 1849, and a visit by Pope John Paul II, head of the Catholic Church, in 1991.
During the Hungarian Presidency, Debrecen will host the informal Council meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers.
Balatonfüred is a town of a mere 13,500 inhabitants. It is situated 120 kilometres southwest of Budapest on the northern shores of Lake Balaton, the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe.
The name Balatonfüred was first recorded in 1211, in the deeds of foundation of the nearby Tihany Abbey. Two of the main reasons for the town’s popularity as a holiday resort are the wine and the waters. Wine has been produced on the slopes of Balatonfüred for centuries, and the thermal springs found there and in the region helped establish its spa culture. The waters were initially used in the treatment of gastric ailments; later, the State Cardiology Hospital was founded and the waters are now used to provide therapy for cardiologic illnesses. The golden age of Balatonfüred was in the 19th century, when significant figures of the Reform era, politicians and artists would spend their summers there. This was where the first paddle steamer on Lake Balaton, the “Kisfaludy”, sailed from in 1846 following a decision by Count István Széchenyi (1791–1860). By the beginning of the 20th century, Balatonfüred had become a favourite holiday resort for Hungary’s burgeoning middle class.
The most famous buildings in Balatonfüred are the former summer houses and villas of well-known peoples. Prominent among these is the classical style holiday home of the actress Lujza Blaha (1850–1926) built in 1816. The actress, often known as the “Hungarian Nightingale”, spent her summers there for twenty-three years.
During the Hungarian Presidency, Balatonfüred will host a Ministerial conference.
Gödöllő is thirty kilometres northeast of Budapest and has a population of around 30,000 inhabitants. It is home to the Szent István University, the centre of Hungarian agriculture education, and the beautiful Grassalkovich Palace, which also makes it a popular tourist destination.
Count Antal Grassalkovich (1694–1771) made the town famous. As patron of the Catholic Church, he ordered the building of more than thirty churches in Hungary, thus enriching the country’s baroque architecture. The most famous building associated with his name is the Gödöllő Palace. With its wonderful rooms and Royal Park, it is the best and most famous example of baroque palace architecture in Hungary, and later served as an inspiration for many architects. During the reign of Franz Joseph (1830–1916), the Palace was the imperial family’s favourite residence in Hungary. In 1876, after the Austro-Hungarian compromise, it was returned to the Hungarian state and became a favourite summer residence of the royal couple. Empress Elizabeth (1837-1898), known affectionately as “Sissi” by her loyal subjects, was particularly fond of it and spent much of her time there. A permanent exhibition in the Palace shows the life of the royal couple in Gödöllő.
The Palace has been renovated for the Hungarian Presidency, as the building will host the majority of the informal Ministerial meetings.
Péter Györkös is Hungary’s Permanent Representative to the European Union. Diplomats carry their duties wherever they are ordered by his superior officers, but Péter Györkös has a “personal attachment” to his present assignment: for more than twenty years, he has been monitoring closely the process of European unification and has actively worked for it in his successive positions.