Chain Bridge Budapest

Year:1849

Duration:10 years

Cost:Unknown

Country: Budapest, Hungary

What did this project achieve?

Construct the first permanent bridge in Hungary across the River Danube

The Chain Bridge Budapest was built between 1839 and 1849.

The main driving force behind the project was the Hungarian Count István Széchenyi. He visited England in 1832 to get ideas for bridge design and particularly admired Hammersmith Bridge in west London.

Hammersmith became the model for many bridges in Britain and Europe.

Its design used flat chains suspended from stone arches to support the carriage deck. This meant fewer piers needed to be built on the riverbed – usually it was just two.

Hammersmith Bridge engineer William Tierney Clark was hired to design and build the Chain Bridge.

 

Difference the new bridge made

The Chain Bridge physically united Buda – the ancient capital of Hungary – with the city of Pest, on the east bank of the Danube. Connecting the two sides led to the cities eventually merging to create Budapest in 1873.

The Chain Bridge is one of the national symbols of Hungary – regarded as an image of advancement and national awakening. It appears on every Hungarian passport.

How the bridge was built

The Chain Bridge was designed by William Tierney Clark and it’s a larger version of the bridge he built across the Thames at Marlow, south Buckinghamshire.

The bridge is 380m long overall, with a central span of 201.6m. The road is 14.5m wide, with a pedestrian way width of 2.2m.

The river presented challenges for engineers as the Danube was often icebound during winter months. The constant buffeting of ice sheets made construction much harder.

Superintendent engineer Adam Clark and his team built cofferdams to help deal with the ice. A cofferdam is an enclosure where water can be pumped out, creating a dry environment for building to take place.

Iron sections of the bridge were made in England and transported to Hungary by barge.

As the first chain for the bridge was being raised, a link broke and 400 tons of iron crashed into the river – almost killing Count Széchenyi, who was watching the work from a boat.

“​‌

The astounding appearance of the structure… tends to overwhelm the senses and to deprive man of his judgment.

Count István Széchenyi

Discussing Hammersmith Bridge - inspiration for the Chain Bridge

Fascinating facts

The open-mouthed stone lions at each end of the bridge don’t have tongues. According to a local story this is because the sculptor Marschalko János forgot to carve them. A young boy made a remark about this at the opening ceremony. The sculptor was supposedly so upset that he jumped into the river.

Some of the first people across the bridge were soldiers of the Hungarian Army of Independence. Hungary fought Austria for independence from 1848-49. Hungary lost and the country was placed under martial law.

The German army destroyed the bridge during the siege of Budapest in 1945. Only the towers were left. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1949.

People who made it happen

  • Main promoter: Count István Széchenyi
  • Designer: English engineer William Tierney Clark
  • Scottish engineer Adam Clark oversaw the work

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