Roughly the size of the state of Indiana, Hungary is a landlocked country in central Europe bordered by Slovakia and Austria to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Slovenia to the west, and Croatia and Serbia to the south.
Hungary is mostly flat, with a vast lowland area known as the Great Hungarian Plain, a productive agricultural region.
The Danube River runs through the middle of the country and is Hungary’s largest river. It flows for nearly 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers), passing through 10 nations on its way to the Black Sea. No other river in the world passes through as many countries.
Hungary also contains three major freshwater lakes, including Lake Balaton, the largest lake in central Europe; it’s about nine miles across at its widest point. Lake Hévíz is important too, as one of the largest thermal, or warm water, lakes in the world.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Although several ethnic groups live in Hungary, the vast majority of the population is Hungarian, or Magyar. Both Hungarians and minority groups shape the culture.
Music is an important part of Hungarian culture, especially traditional folk music. Based on the experiences of peasants in the countryside, the music has themes such as joy, sadness, the weather, and even farming. Hungary also has a rich classical music history. Béla Bartók and Franz Liszt are two of the country’s greatest composers.
Hungarians love their public spas and have been soaking for centuries. The soaking traditions came from the country’s hundreds of natural hot springs, which Hungarians still bathe in today.
Hungary is also the birthplace of many famous people. Erno Rubik, a sculptor and professor, invented the Rubik’s Cube in 1974. Hungary boasts 13 Nobel Prize winners, and magician Harry Houdini was also born in the country’s capital, Budapest.
The Eastern European country’s cuisine primarily consists of meat dishes. Gulyás, a thick beef soup cooked with onions and potatoes, is popular throughout the country, as is halászlé, a rich fish soup.
Hungary has three major ecological regions. The Great Hungarian Plains are grasslands that cover the central and eastern part of the country. North of the plains is a mountain range called the Northern Hills. The hilly region west of the Danube River is known as the Transdanube.
Several species inhabit the Great Hungarian Plains, such as roe deer, wild boars, red foxes, mouflon sheep, and birds like the imperial eagle and great bustard. The largest of Hungary’s 10 national parks, Hortobágy National Park, was created to protect these species and their habitat. The United Nations designated Hortobágy a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Many threatened and endangered species, like sturgeon and the Danube salmon, swim in the Danube River.
Hungary is a fairly new democracy. The country was communist from the end of World War II until 1990, when it held its first democratic elections. (In a communist society, all property is public and people share the wealth that they create.). Hungary became part of the European Union in 2004.
Today, Hungary is a parliamentary republic. The parliament is the legislative branch of the government; it’s led by a president, who—along with parliament members—is elected by the public. The president appoints a prime minister to lead the cabinet, which is the executive branch. The prime minister is the head of the government. The Hungarian president is commander in chief of the armed forces but otherwise has limited authority.
Automobiles, electronics, and pharmaceuticals are all key industries in Hungary. With its healthy plains, Hungarian farmers grow lots of wheat, corn, sunflowers, and many other in-demand crops.
The Magyars, as Hungarians are also known, first settled in modern Hungary in the ninth century. They built a thriving society that was almost toppled in 1241 when warriors from East Asia called Mongols invaded and devastated the region. The Magyars forced the Mongols out but were once again invaded by the warriors in 1285.
After beating the Mongols a second time, the Hungarians began a centuries-long feud with the Ottoman Empire. First formed in 1299, the Ottoman Empire ruled a large portion of Eastern Europe and the Middle East for over 600 years. (The empire fell apart in 1923 and became the country of Turkey.)
The Ottoman Turks conquered Hungary in 1541 and controlled the country until 1699, when neighboring Austria kicked out the Turks and ruled the country for many years. Hungary eventually joined the Austro-Hungarian Empire as an equal partner in 1867 but the empire dissolved in 1918, after World War I.
Hungary fought alongside the Axis powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan—in World War II, from 1940 to 1945. The former Soviet Union, now Russia, occupied Hungary during the final year of the war. As a result, communists governed Hungary until 1990, when it held its first democratic elections.