Aquatic stories

Nowadays, it is taken for granted that you can open the tap and get either cold drinking water or fine warm water. But only few people have this luck in the world and maybe our grandchildren will not be able to enjoy this comfort. How did water supply developed in Hungary since the ancient Romans? Would you ever think of how many aquatic relics you pass by during your days? Our aquatic exhibition is going to answer these questions.

What did the Romans give us?

Our water system constructions look back on a past of two thousand years: the water supply of the population living on Aquincum territory was solved already in the 2nd century. In the 15th century, water was brought into the Buda Castle with the aid of pumps. The temporary waterworks of Pest and its water pipe system started to manage the water supply of Pest-Buda in 1868. The pump-house stood on Kossuth Square on the place of the Parliament, and the first water tank in Kőbánya had the 150th anniversary this March (2018).


Tamed rivers

Arriving at the 19th century, we must mention river controls applied to solve the devastating floods in big cities (and river navigation). The most ill-famed was the one in 1775 and then the one in 1838. During the latter, all the riverside settlements were flooded from the Danube Bend to Csepel Island, including Pest-Buda. More than 2,500 houses were demolished by the large body of water in the capital, and according to cautious estimations, 50 thousand people became homeless and penniless. All these urged the flood-prevention work. The most famous rescuer was Miklós Wesselényi, who is usually referred to as ‘the boatman of the flood’. Nevertheless, few people know that printer Lajos Landerer and several other heroes also acquitted themselves creditably, but their names were not conserved in the collective memory.


Concerning the regulation of the Danube and the Tisza, hydraulic engineer Pál Vásárhelyi had an outstanding role. He foresaw the flood of 1838 as well. The construction of the Lower Danubian Vaskapu (Iron Gate) shipway was started in 1834, based on his plans, but due to lack of fundings, it was finished later at the end of the century. He also elaborated the plan of the Tisza regulation and submitted it in 1846. In the beginning, the Tiszavölgyi Society was unwilling to adopt the costly plan, but despite the tragic circumstances, - Vásárhelyi died of a heart attack while protecting his plan on a session - the regulation of the Tisza was accomplished according to his plans.


Kvassay, the aquatic polymath

Jenő Kvassay was an excellent hydraulic engineer of the dualism, and had extremely complex activities in the hydraulic field: from creating the water rights law, to modernising the waterborne transport on the Danube and building ports at Lake Balaton and Budapest. The sluice that closes the tributary of Ráckevei (Soroksári) Danube was named after him. The plan to close down that Danube tributary was developed after the flood of 1838 together with the plan of widening the tributary of Budafok. It was necessary, because the icepacks that formed at the northern edge of Csepel Island and the exuberated body of water coming from the upper section of the Danube led to the catastrophe. You can find Jenő Kvassay’s memorial monument in Balatonföldvár, next to the port.


World power in medicinal waters

Mining engineer Vilmos Zsigmondy had a pioneering role in the field of boring artesian wells. He discovered several thermal springs in Hungary: for example, the medicinal water of Margaret Island in 1867, where a well-room and later a thermal bath were built, (we had a separate virtual exhibition on the historical curiosities of Margaret Island) based on the local waters. He started deep boring on the place of today’s Heroes’ Square in 1868 – and after initial failures and almost a decade of work, one of the deepest borings in Europe brought about the success of the 74 degree-Celsius water. Gloriette Fountain was the result, designed by Miklós Ybl in 1884, on the place of today’s Millennium Monument. This well provided the Széchenyi Bath – opened in 1913 – and its predecessor the Artesian Bath with thermal water.


Anthropomorphic rivers and rethought water tanks

The Danubius Fountain that stood on Kálvin Square (former Calvin Square) was finished by 1883, according to Miklós Ybl’s plans. The legendarily grave stone pool of the creation was surrounded by the allegorical figures of our great rivers: the masculine Danube (Danubius) in the middle, the feminine Tisza, Dráva and Száva. The copy of the fountain that was damaged during the WW II was removed from the busy Kálvin Square to the nearby Erzsébet Square, where you can admire it nowadays.


Water tanks that ensure the storage of drinking water and industrial water have belonged to the image of large cities since the beginning of the 20th century. For example the ones on Margaret Island, Népliget, Újpest, Stefánia Road in Budapest, or the Old Lady in Szeged, and the water towers in Siófok and Debrecen. As of the 1950s, several water towers were closed down, due to the modernisation of the water system. Nowadays, most of them are emblematic elements of the city image, or industrial monuments, abandoned monsters or luxurious loft flats.

22nd March – ‘Protect naturally!’


One of the main goals of the World Water Day is to call attention to the protection and respect of our waters and rivers. Besides the aquatic experts and civil organisations, who took the oath for the protection of our rivers (WWF Hungary, PET Cup), you can also do your best in this charitable case. You can apply water-saving nozzles on taps, use water efficiently, or do voluntary work in clearing floodplains. If you are interested in the actual hydrological news and forecasts, or you live on an endangered place, we recommend you the website of the National Hydroinformation Service.


Translated by Zita Aknai



More thematic virtual exhibitions