Why was the Chain Bridge in Budapest so important?

The construction of the Chain Bridge or Széchenyi lánchíd was first started in 1839 after a proposal from Count István Széchenyi, after whom it was named. Plans were created from an English engineer William Tierney Clark and the bridge was supervised by Adam Clark, who is more famously associated with the building of the bridge. There had been no permanent bridge across the Danube below Vienna since the Romans. There had rather been a temporary floating bridge which was dismantled in winter because the hazard of ice, and boatmen to transport passengers across. The fact that a bridge had not yet been built was due to the frequency by which the Danube flooded and how fast the current ran, making construction of a bridge challenging. The period during which the bridge was built was also one of reform initiated by Count István Széchenyi also known as the ‘The Greatest Hungarian’ due to his role in the development and reform of Hungary. This was a very basic overview of the situation surrounding the construction of the bridge- further details can be found in the links provided.

chainbridge3The Bridge was important because it pioneered technical techniques and features. It was decided that the Bridge should be a suspension bridge because of the riverside conditions making other types of bridges unfeasible or unbuildable. The Bridge itself was 666 feet wide and was the second largest bridge in the world at the time, so it was an ambitious project. The chains were made from a new process and were the heaviest ever to be made. The Chain Bridge also had to withstand the more extreme winters and the flooding of the Danube. Construction was not totally smooth and there were accidents, for example, Count Széchenyi and bridge workers, were washed into the river Danube when one of the chains, weighing 794 tons, fell on the work bench, smashing the wooden structure and bringing down the nearby workers. But this accident was due the chain being welded on and so taken as proof that welding was inferior to a different method referred to as “forming links in the rough” (details are in the links below).

Economically the Chain Bridge was significant as iron foundries, quarries and industry was bought into work. This was beneficial for implementing reform and making Hungary a more significant part of the Habsburg Monarchy. Certainly this opened up the more historic Buda to the more commercially significant Pest. This made reform a much more centralised and economically viable option, such as promotion of the Hungarian language, emancipation of the serfs etc…

The Chain Bridge showed that Hungary could match and even surpass the West with a bigger bridge that was ore technically challenging due to the environmental problems posed by the Danube and the weather. As most of on the Global Citizenship course have learnt, the West was associated with progress and Eastern European countries were seen as backward. This was an attitude by those in both the West and East, and was a significant reason that Eastern European countries embarked on reform. In Hungary Count István Széchenyi was seen as a so called ‘Anglomanic’ or more commonly called a Westerniser, essentially looking to the West as a model for reform. This view was more common amongst the upper classes and aristocracy who were more influential in matters of government and reform. There’s not enough space to go into the rise of nationalism in Hungary but these feelings of an independent Hungarian people separate from the Habsburg Empire cumulated in the 1948-9 revolution. This meant the bridge provided a large and practical symbol of Hungarian achievement on one level in the area of civil engineering but more largely, it can be argued, in social matters. The bridge itself was a product of social reform and it sparked further advances in centralisation and transport between Buda and Pest. While not equal to the West it was certainly on its way to ‘western progress’ and something that Hungarians could take pride in.

While this list is by no means extensive it’s a start to an interesting discussion on one of Hungary’s most iconic attractions.



-The Széchenyi Chain Bridge at Budapest, author: Judit Brody Source

URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3105230


-‘Not Only a Matter of Taste but… of the Laws of Mechanics’: The Adoption of British Models in Nineteenth-Century Continental Suspension Bridge Design, author: Michael Mende

URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1315960