The State of Nature
The Danube is by far Hungary’s most famous river. The river plays a critical role in Hungarian history. Its fame is widespread and rightfully so. The five historic capitals of Hungary have been along its banks: Esztergom, Buda, Visegrád, Pozsony (Bratislava) and Budapest.
It facilitated economic trade and an industrial boom during the 19th century with steamships plying the slate gray waters. In the 20th century one of its islands, Csepel, became the main industrial center of the nation.
It both divided and with the completion of the Chain Bridge in 1849 united Buda and Pest. Along both its east and west banks, Budapest became by a factor of eight the country’s largest metropolis. Such superlatives associated with the Danube in Hungary go on and on.
All other rivers in the country are pretty much anonymous. The Tisza is relatively unknown outside its homeland. Try naming another one after that? The Maros or Kőrös will not make anyone’s list (not even a Hungarian’s) of great rivers.
Thus, the Danube holds the preeminent place in Hungarian geography as well as the imagination. Yet by the time the Danube gets to Budapest it is largely a product of its tributaries, those smaller rivers and streams that divulge their watery contents into the main stem.
When we look at the Danube, we are also looking at the contents of many other rivers. They may have been swallowed whole by the mighty main stem, but without them, the Danube would be reduced to a mere stream.
This is where the Danube-Ipolya National Park comes in. The park allows visitors an opportunity to experience one of the lesser known, but no less important tributaries of the Danube in its natural setting.
The second part of the park’s name comes from the River Ipolya which starts in Slovákia, before flowing into the northern uplands of Hungary, through the Börzsöny Hills and then on into the Danube.
The Ipolya stretches a total of 212 kilometers (144 miles) in length, but much like the Danube, it has been straightened in order to limit its natural tendency to meander and flood. Despite mankind’s harnessing of the Ipolya, flooding is a natural process that is the hallmark of a healthy river.
In Hungary today, like the rest of the developed world flooding is something to be feared. Rivers such as the Danube and Tisza have been narrowed and tamed as much as possible.
What we see today of these rivers, is a pale copy of what they once were.
The same could be said of the Ipolya, except there are still 12 splendid kilometers (7 miles) along the Hungarian-Slovak border where it is allowed to freely flow.
This is one of the last remaining stretches of a wild river in Hungary and where adventure really begins. Wetlands abound. Water inundates the land adjacent to the river, creating a multitude of marshes.
This saturated river scape is as much about sound as it is sight. With an abundance of amphibians living along this part of the river, listen for croaking and splashing. The Ipolya calls to the visitor, expressing the true state of nature.
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