From the reindeer bone to the skating rink

It is a winter sport that can be done even without snow, and you can do it in the city-centre as well. You don’t need any special qualifications to do it; all you need is some courage, some experience and maybe some company. It is the ice-skating. Budapest and other major towns offer a lot of skating opportunities, but the most obvious solution when you take a fancy for skating is the City Park Ice Rink.

Korcsolya, ironga - Herman Ottó Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

The history of ice-skating goes back to the prehistory, in the Stone Age. To walk on the ice, our ancestors wore footwear equipped with sharp blades that were made of reindeer and horse leg bones. First, they only held on to the creases of bones with their feet, but later they fixed them to their feet with leather straps. They applied these tools only on one of their feet, while they propelled themselves with the other one, or they also used poles to move forward. Later on, people tried out iron-bladed wooden skates and in the 19th century they tested skates made of metal, steel.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the skating sports were born and diverged. Different types of ice-skates were developed: figure skating, speed-skating and ice-hockey required different kinds of footwear. The oldest written record of skating sports reports of a speed-skating race in England in 1763 – although the generally accepted opinion is that the Netherlands were the birthplace of ice-skating. Speed-skating and figure skating were also listed among the sport events of the first winter Olympic Games in Chamonix in 1924. The popularity of figure skating is shown by the fact that it was also among the sport events on the summer Olympic Games in London in 1908 and in Antwerp in 1920.

Imrédy Magda műkorcsolyázó bajnoknő (1933) - Balatoni Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

The Budapest Skating Club was formed in Hungary in 1869. Géza Kresz was one of the founders – he was also the originator of the Budapest Voluntary Ambulance Society. The Skating Club organised an official speed-skating race as early as in 1871. There were three speed-skating European championships in Hungary before the WWI. The figure skating sport performed by artistic motions was also extremely popular in Hungary. Tibor Földváry (1853-1912) was the first Hungarian European figure skating champion, who elevated skating to a competitive sport. He gained his championship on the ice of the City Park (Budapest) in Hungary in 1895. Lili Kronberger (1890-1974) was the first world champion of the Hungarian sport – as the pioneer of the female figure skating – in 1908. In this era, Hungary had a
triple male national champion and a quadruple
male world champion as well.

Hungarian Newsreel February 1929. Figure skating world championship at the City Park Ice Rink; Sonja Hennie is on the ice:


Retrospection to the almost 150-year-old City Park Ice Rink

Korcsolyázók Keszthelyen - Balatoni Múzeum, CC BY-NC-ND

The foundation of the City Park Ice Rink is also connected to the Budapest Skating Club. They received a permit from the city council to use a part of the City Park Lake as an ice rink. By that time, some prejudices of the general public was already overcome, for example that ice-skating is improper for girls.

On 29 January 1870, the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary Archduke Rudolf inaugurated the free ice-skating rink and the small wooden building that functioned as a warm-up area. The building was destroyed by fire in 1874, but a new Korcsolyacsarnok (Skating Hall) was built on the basis of Ödön Lechner’s plans in oriental style. Ice-skating became fashionable and people loved it, which is not surprising: it was the world’s largest
open-air ice rink in these days.

Skaters visited the rink not only for doing sports, but rather because the vivid social life attracted youngsters, mostly the girls searching for their future husbands. So it was high time to construct a more grandiose pavilion. The neo-baroque building of the Korcsolyacsarnok (Skating Hall), designed by Imre Francsek was pulled up in 1895 and the rink was also regulated. (Imre Francsek is also famous for the stairway of Gellért Hill and the characteristic colonnade of the Gellért Statue.

The speed-skating and figure skating European championships were held in Hungary that year (Tibor Földváry won the championship). This wonderful place was the scene of several competitions later on. Sometimes, the necessary ice layer did not form owing to the mild weather, so the bottom of the lake was lifted and covered with concrete. Due to the WWI, the refrigerated rink was finished by 1926: from this date it can be called an artificial ice rink. The surface of ice was enlarged in 1968. The building was reconstructed completely in 2013, and the northern part that was demolished in the WWII was also restored. The rink was extended again, including a separated hockey rink, and now it has 15,000 m2 ice altogether.

Hungarian Newsreel, December 1926: ‘The largest open-air ice rink of Europe was opened in the City Park of Budapest’.


Translated by Zita Aknai


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