Sometimes, when visiting a famous museum or a famous city renowned for its architecture, it’s the memory of the lesser-known statue or the more obscure building that stays with you. When it comes to the bridges of Budapest, I feel something similar with the Liberty Bridge, or ‘Szabadság híd’ as it is known here. Yes, it’s true that there are bridges in this city that are a lot more well-known around the world. There are those that are obviously bigger and more imposing, and those that are more important to the city’s transport system. And, depending on your point of view, you could argue that there are bridges in Budapest with a greater degree of elegance. But for many people living in Budapest, their favorite bridge is often cited as being that lovely, green Liberty Bridge with its ornate decorations and pedestrian-friendly location.
Constructed in 1896, on the day of its opening, the final silver rivet was inserted personally by the Emperor Franz Joseph. Not surprisingly, the Emperor gave his name to the bridge: Franz Joseph Bridge. However, World War 2 changed everything. First, the war led to the partial destruction of the bridge, and secondly, following its reconstruction, the new regime governing the country, with no hint of irony, gave the bridge its new name.
But why is Liberty Bridge cherished by so many locals and visitors alike?
It’s unique. Beautifully lit-up at night, or seen in the daytime, the bridge has a distinct coating of green: its color being totally different to all of the other bridges of Budapest. This makes it impossible to confuse it with any other structure in the city.
There’s also something ‘intimate’ about Liberty Bridge. While on Erzsebet Bridge there’s just too much traffic, Liberty Bridge is quieter: it rumbles with some pretty yellow trams, and is easily accessed and enjoyed by pedestrians. And while Margit Bridge has its main structure beneath you, (often only visible from a boat), Liberty Bridge has its understated grandeur placed all around you. It’s adorned, at its highest points, with mythical Hungarian birds: the Turul birds that watch over everything. What’s more, Liberty Bridge is a more tactile bridge than most: because of its minute size, you can place your hands over its painted surface and you can feel the rivets.
In addition to all of this, there is its location, which makes a stroll across the bridge memorable: on the Buda end of the bridge, there is the impressive Gellért square and the Gellért Hotel with its world-famous Thermal pool. These are all placed beneath the backdrop of Gellért Hill. On the Pest end of the bridge, there is elegant Váci Street (Váci utca) and also the Great Market Hall.
Why do people express a love for this bridge? Take a walk across and find out.