From Bridge Society to Chain Bridge

Every bridge of the Danube has world fame because of its beauty, especially the Chain Bridge. Not surprisingly the famous guide-book of author Antal Szerb – A Martian’s Guide to Budapest – also starts from here. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is the first permanent stone bridge over the Danube in Hungary. Its construction was preceded by fierce debates and a long awaiting time; it was finished by 1849 finally. The irony of fate is that the man who did the most for the bridge could never use it – because István Széchenyi spent his last years at the mental asylum of Döbling.

Széchenyi founded the Bridge Society in February 1832. In order to gain sponsors for the construction of a permanent stone bridge, he went to a study tour in England. He published a public summons in January 1837, in which he called upon the wealthy to undertake the costs, and invited experts to assist the realization with their ideas. Unfortunately, it did not have significant results. Afterwards Széchenyi asked György Sina to manage the finances of the construction; he accepted it after some hesitation, and founded the Chain Bridge Company Limited by Shares. Sina himself undertook a significant role among the shareholders and persuaded the Rothschilds of Vienna and the Wodianers of Pest to join the company.  Public opinion was rather influenced by the opponents’ group. They were against hiring English professionals for the work, and were also afraid that the foundation would erode causing the collapse of the bridge.


Their worries were grounded: just think of the strong current of the Danube or the big floods later. On the other hand, Széchenyi did not trust in the experiences of Hungarian engineers, thus he managed to induce the majority of lawmakers to approve of the contract that was ratified on 14 May in 1839. According to the contract – that was signed by Palatine Archduke Joseph (on behalf of the Hungarian nation) and György Sina (on behalf of the Chain Bridge Co. Ltd.) – the company was obliged to build a chain bridge with two river piers on its own costs.

The conditions of the construction are well-known by almost everybody. Széchenyi met the British architect William Tierney Clark during his study tour in England and charged him to make a chain bridge type. According to experts, a bridge with fewer piers is a better solution because of ice-packs, frequent floods and erosion, thus they adopted this idea. The foundation stone was deposited in the frame of a festive ceremony on 24 August in 1842. Constructions proceeded without problems until 18 July 1848, when the chain of a tackle broke during the fixing of chains.

After that the outbreak of the war of independence in 1848 hindered the finish. Finally, the bridge was inaugurated in 1849 in a ceremony led by General Haynau. The bridge has gone through several reconstructions and restorations. In the following newsreel, you can see the inspection of the reconstruction in 1914