Hortobágy National Park - the <i>Puszta</i>
Hortobágy National Park - The <i>Puszta</i>
Cultural Hungary Europe And North America Counties Of Borsod-abaúj-zemplén, Heves, Hajdú-bihar And Jász-nagykun-szolnok

The landscape of the Hungarian Puszta , an outstanding example of a cultural landscape shaped by a pastoral human society, preserves intact and visible the evidence of its traditional use over more than two millennia and represents the harmonious interaction between human beings and nature. The Puszta consists of a vast area of plains and wetlands in eastern Hungary. Traditional forms of land use, such as the grazing of domestic animals, have been present in this pastoral society for more than two millennia.

The Hortobágy National Park is part of the Tisza plain of eastern Hungary. It is surrounded by settlements to the south, east and west. The two main settlements are Tiszafüred on the Tisza River and the city of Debrecen. The two are linked by the main historic communication ridge route.

Numerous peoples migrated from the east into the Carpathian Basin in prehistory. The nomadic group who arrived around 2000 BC at the end of the Bronze Age were the first to leave their imprint on the natural landscape in the form of many burial mounds (kurgans ). Their dimensions are variable - 5-10 m high and 20-50 m in diameter - and they are generally conical or hemispherical. They are always to be found on dry land, but located near a source of water. They were often used for secondary burials by later peoples, and in some cases Christian churches were built on them by the Hungarians. Also to found in the park are the low mounds (tells) that mark the sites of ancient settlements, now disappeared. Settlement in the Middle Ages followed the Debrecen-Tiszafüred route. The main group was in the area defined by the existing settlements of Hortobágy, Naghegyes, Náduvdar and Nagyiván. Documentary records have shown that many of these had churches.

The Hungarians arrived in what is now Hungary at the end of the 9th century under their leader, Arpád. As the area was ideal for animal husbandry, they occupied the lands around the Tisza River in the 10th and 11th centuries, and by the early 13th century there was a dense network of settlements, whose economic base was pastoralism, in the Hortobágy, the main axis of which was the trading route from Buda through Tiszafúred and Debrecen into Transylvania.

With the progressive depopulation of the region from the 14th century onwards, the settlements disappeared. The only manmade features in the wide plains of the Puszta were light temporary structures of reeds and branches, used to provide winter shelter for animals and men. The sole surviving structures from this time, which were public buildings built from stone, are the bridges and the csárdas . The Nine Arch Bridge at Hortobágy is the longest stone bridge in Hungary. A wooden bridge known to have been in existence as early as the 14th century was replaced in 1827-33 by the existing structure in classical style. The Zádor Bridge in the southern part of the National Park was built in 1809 with nine arches, but the two side piers were swept away by a flood on the Zádor River in 1830 and never replaced. The csárdas were provincial inns built in the 18th and 19th centuries to provide food and lodging for travellers.

The typical csárda consists of two buildings facing one another, both single-storeyed and thatched or, occasionally, roofed with shingles or tiles. A tavern was normally set up on the side of the road with a railed-off counter in a room that had access to the wine cellar. A few also had one or two guest rooms. On the opposite side of the road from the csárda was provision for horses and carriages. The best known of the csárdas are at Balmazújváros (18th century), Hortobágy (first built in 1699 and reconstructed on several occasions), Nagyhegyes (early 19th century), Nagyiván (mid-18th century), and Tiszafüred (c . 1770).

In the early 19th century, water regulation systems were set up, notably control over flooding of the Tisza River: this resulted in the draining of former wetlands, which were converted to arable farming. Reduction of the water available for the natural pastures decreased their fertility, which was the cause of serious overgrazing in the early part of the 20th century. Efforts were made to diversify the land use of the Hortobágy, the most successful of which was the creation of artificial fishponds between 1914 and 1918 and again in the 1950s.