The Great Danube Flood 1838 – Historical Budapest

If we are walking around Budapest we can spot some markings and placards on buildings with dates and water levels from the Danube floods.

1838 Danube Flood in Budapest
1838 Danube Flood in Budapest
In March 1838 a devastating natural disaster occurred when the Danube flooded and the entire Pest side was under meters of water. The flood killed many Hungarians and more than 50,000 were left homeless.
The icy river broke the weirs and ran over the embankments in the evening hours.

Archduke Joseph, Palatine of Hungary assigned Janos Lonyay to be the royal flood commissioner and they had to start the mission right away. They distributed maps for free marking the borders of the flooded areas. Many citizens found shelter in the City Park that was outside the borders or in the chapel that stood on a small hill which later became St. Stephan’s Basilica. The saved people felt so grateful afterwards that they have started collecting donations for a large Basilica. This is how the largest church of Budapest is connected to the flood in 1838.

Relief of Miklos Wesselenyi photo by Babak Fakhamzadeh
Relief of Baron Miklos Wesselenyi, the ‘Boatman of the Flood’
Baron Miklos Wesselenyi, the “Boatman of the Flood” documented the happenings in his private diary.
He was watching the ice debacle with some locals and they thought that it was over around 5pm. He went to a theatre and the play was not over when the water was already in the city, the water level growing very rapidly. The bells began to toll, and people in Pest had to leave everything behind immediately, and  climb on roofs or higher spots in order to survive the icy water.
Baron Wesselenyi, acted heroically and rescued a lot of citizens with his boat, collected survivals from the collapsed houses and took them to safe and dry places like floors and attics of the stronger houses.
Some other noble men did not act helpful at all, for example, Baron Csekonics, who tried to save his horses, instead of saving people, or some other aristocrats such as Albert Pronay, who smoked his pipe and watched the tragedy from his house instead of taking part in the rescue.
Plans to control the river and the construction of a new river embankment were immediately launched to avoid a tragedy reoccur ever again.

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