The Széchenyi Chain Bridge (usually Lánchíd in the common language) is the oldest and the best-known bridge on the Danube, which is the permanent link between Buda and Pest, one of the symbols of the Hungarian capital. Its construction was initiated by Count István Széchenyi and financed by Baron Sina György. The Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge between Pest and Buda, and also on the entire Danube section of Hungary.
The works began in 1839 and the completed bridge was opened in 1849. The designer was William Tierney Clark of England and was directed by Adam Scott Clark. The space between the Tunnel and the Chain Bridge (Clark Ádám Square) was named after the latter. The lions of the bridgeheads were created by János Marschalkó sculptor from Levoča. The total cost of constructing the bridge amounted to 6.575 million forints, of which the bridge cost 4.4 million.
At the end of World War II, the German army blasted the bridge. It was reopened on the 20th of November, 1949, on the 100th anniversary of the re-establishment of the reconstructed bridge. Recently renovated in 1986-1988. The old socialist coats of arms on the arches of the pillars were restored in 1996 to the original Kossuth coats of arms. On summer weekends and on certain holiday occasions, they close off the traffic, passing the bridge to pedestrian traffic.
In the 19th century, the idea of establishing a permanent Danube bridge between Buda and Pest was not only in the hands of urban development professionals, but also in the citizens, but there were opponents of building the bridge. On the one hand, the Hungarian engineers did not have sufficient experience in the construction of the high-flow bridges, and on the other hand, the camp of those opposing the construction of the bridge kept running away from the bases, possibly collapsing or breaking down the bridge, ice overflow, and as a result, flooding. It was well known that among the ancient and medieval arched bridges bridging rivers with less wide and smaller water intake, more water was wasted. The 1775 flood was lively in the memory of the population, and the 1838 Pest flood was destroyed during the debate over the bridge. Thirdly, on the bridge, everyone – the noblemen – had to pay customs, so the bridge also meant the erosion of noble prerogatives and the introduction of the principle of burden-sharing.
The preparation of the bridge construction and the solution of the technical and economic problems that arose were the results of the work of István Széchenyi. After finding out the importance of establishing a permanent bridge between Buda and Pest, Széchenyi decided to implement it, the first task being to establish the Bridge Association on February 10, 1832. The task of the Bridge Association was to ensure the smooth running of the enterprise in both the economic and political spheres and to prepare the appropriate propaganda to gain public opinion. Széchenyi was the first to count on helping the more prosperous citizens of Pest-Buda, so the vast majority of members of the Bridge Association were among the most taxed citizens. One of the richest people in Pest, the descendant of the Greek merchant family settled in Hungary after the Turkish conquests, Anastasia Derra, and György Sina, the banker of Vienna, played a significant role in the creation of the Chain Bridge, and the founder of the later Lánchíd Joint Stock Company. Baron Steinlein Eduard, who was the ambassador of the King of Bavaria, served as president of the union and was vice president of Széchenyi.
In order for the members of the Bridge Association to be properly informed and to have Széchenyi himself expand his knowledge, he and his friend György Andrássy went on a study trip to England, where he was able to get acquainted with the work of several famous bridge-building engineers, as well as the bridges designed and built by William Tierney Clark. He also visited Thomas Telford, the most famous bridge designer of his age. In order to avoid ice pockets, floods and leaching with a few pillars, Telford suggested that Széchenyi use the chain bridge type as an example and, as an example, recommended the bridge of the Menai Strait with a 176-meter-long middle opening in 1826. Here Széchenyi decided to be a chain bridge with regard to the technical solution of the bridge to be built, and when he decided on the person of the first Danube bridge designer and contractor, he chose William Tierney Clark as an English engineer.
William Tierney Clark, a famous English civil engineer and bridge designer, presented three different chain bridge plans. On the proposal of the National Delegation, the plan of the three-hole chain bridge was proposed at Széchenyi’s proposal, and Clark’s plan version was adopted on 18 September 1838. The contract was written, authorizing the Lánchíd Rt. Company founded by Sina to build the bridge. According to Willam Tierney Clark’s plan, the bridge should be built as a three-link chain link in the line of the Nacola House, and its pillars must be paved with stone masonry. The contract was signed by Nazor József on behalf of the Hungarian nation and György Sina on behalf of Lánchíd Rt.
Since the designer was not always able to be on the spot, he appointed his former colleague, an experienced English engineer, Young, his deputy, to which Széchenyi also contributed. However, because of his illness, Young was unable to take on the assignment. That was when Ádám Clark, as construction manager, came into play. Since he had proven his work earlier, it was hoped that he could do the job.
On July 28, 1840, the first pile was beaten at the bedrock in Buda. It took two years for the piles to be crushed, and it took eight hundred at the same time. English workers (machine operators, ironworkers, pre-workers – about 60 families) also moved to Hungary to manage predominantly local workers.
It was first built on the Pest Bridgehead, where on August 24, 1842, the Chain Bridge ceremony was held with hundreds of invited guests, including the reeds.
The chains were mounted quite quickly. On March 28, 1848, the first chain link was closed in the Pest chain chamber, and on July 8, the first chain of the middle bridge was lifted, and its last installation began on July 18th. In all three bridge openings, four or four chain pulls had to be taken. Eleven went wrong, but the last one happened. One chain linking the chainwheel snapped, the chain shattered on the float, which it smashed and then fell into the Danube. The people who visited the stand, including István Széchenyi, also fell into the Danube. In the course of the accident, a worker lost his life and four weeks of delays in the work, because it took so much time to highlight and then replace the bridging chain falling into the water.
During the War of Independence, construction slowed down, as were one and the other warring party wanted to make the almost finished bridge impassable, thus frustrating the enemy’s passage.
The architectural details of the bridge are classicist in style. The four stone lobbies created by János Marschalkó as decorative elements were erected only in 1852, and their base was the Széchenyi and Sina coat of arms, which was cast by András Gál. The gates were made up of a lion’s head, and the Hungarian crest with the crowns placed above it was decorated with a crown.
The bridge was handed over to traffic on November 20, 1849, and the date indicated at the Buda Bridgehead, November 21, indicates the beginning of customs clearance. For the completed bridge, the pedestrians were paying 1 crown, the pedestrians walking with the load 2, and the cow attendants 3, those with small carts 5, and those with large carts paid 10 cents. However, the passage had already begun on the bridge: first, on January 1, 1849, the country-commissioned car of Samuel Bónis passed over to Kossuth’s decree, carrying the Hungarian Holy Crown from Buda to Debrecen, accompanied by grenades.
It was never gone through the finished bridge, which was created by Count István Széchenyi. In a letter to Adam Clark read how much he wanted to understand this moment: “Yes and I trust that the Almighty will keep both of us until we see the creation of our great work.” in his work, for which he was headed by James Teasdale and he also received two to two thousand gold coins. He did not accept the Hungarian nobility offered to him, referring to the ancient Scottish nobility, but he cherished the tobacco box received as a gift from Joseph I of Joseph I throughout his life. At Clark’s funeral, in 1866, the Chain Bridge was mourning.
During the Second World War, all of Budapest’s bridges were blown up, and on January 18, 1945, the last was the Elizabeth Bridge and the Chain Bridge. The decision to rebuild the Chain Bridge was born in the spring of 1947, and the reconstructed bridge was handed over to traffic on November 20, 1949, on the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the original bridge.
The Chain Bridge in Public Life
In the course of the Chain Bridge, it became one of the most important symbols of Budapest, and its photograph is an almost indispensable element of the presentation materials about Budapest or Hungary. The Chain Bridge was depicted on several Hungarian money, most recently on the 200 forint coin released in 2009. The birth of the bridge is also the subject of a historical film titled Bridge Bridge, one of the largest Hungarian films ever made.