The Hortobagy is the definitive landscape of myth, legend and romanticism in Hungary. The Hortobagy lies on what is known as the Puszta, a vast expanse of grass, sky and limitless horizon. It is Central Europe’s largest grassland, but it was not always that way.
Once a landscape of thick forests the Hortobagy, underwent an incredible transformation during the Ottoman Turkish occupation. The land was abandoned as peasants fled to larger and safer settlements such as nearby Debrecen. Meanwhile, both the Turks and Hungarians deforested the region in order to build military posts and at the same time leave partisans no place to hide. The land became a teeming swamp.
In the 19th century, irrigation schemes led to an unintended consequence, expansion of the grassland. Today its green pastures recall a more romantic era of the Hungarian cowboy (csiosok) driving livestock across the endless puszta.
It was this region that also gave Hungary the csarda (inn) where a cast of wild characters would gather to drink, fight, dance, and swap tales of their exploits.
Today the Hortobagy is a National Park that preserves a vestige of this free spirited lifestyle. It is home to a diverse array of fauna you will see nowhere else, such as the Hungarian Gray Cow and Water Bison. You can still take a wagon ride on to the Puszta and watch the csiokoks display their wonderful horsemanship.
They will even allow you to ride one of these mighty animals. This can be done for the equivalent of about $10 US dollars. That’s a world class experience that cannot be beat. Once you have satisfied your need for adventure spend some time bird watching in and around the marshlands which pock mark this land.
Prepare yourself to see a wide diversity of species take flight into the deepest of blue skies. It will not be long before you realize why the Hortobagy has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the most important natural and cultural landscapes in not only Hungary and Europe, but also the world. It’s a land that not only brings you closer to nature, but also to yourself.
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