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Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd)

Liberty Bridge (formerly Ferenc József Bridge), the third bridge over the Danube in Budapest was built more than a hundred years ago. The shortest bridge of the capital links St Gellért Square and Fővám Square. It lies between Erzsébet Bridge and Petőfi Bridge. A distinctive feature of the bridge is the bronze statues of Turul birds (iconic birds of Hungarian mythology) decorating the top of the masts.

Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd)
Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) Photo: funiQ

Széchenyi Chain Bridge was inaugurated in 1849 as the first permanent bridge over the Danube. Then in 1876 Margaret Bridge followed. Toll revenue from the latter one served as a basis for financing the construction of Ferenc József Bridge and the old Erzsébet Bridge.

An open international tender was published for designing the bridge and plans of János Feketeházy were chosen. Following a few minor changes construction began in 1894. The foundation was built using pressurized caissons. The steel structure was manufactured by the Hungarian Royal Railways Works. On October 4, 1896 the last silver rivet was inserted into the iron structure by the Emperor himself and the bridge was named after him.

Two toll booths were built on both sides, however, the ones on the Buda side were pulled down later in 1946. They are two-storey buildings with a hall, a stairway and two rooms downstairs and a larger room upstairs. The facades display commemorative plaques with the date of construction and reconstruction. Names of designers and constructors are inscribed on the pillars.

The first tram passed along the bridge in 1898 on rails on the sides. The terminus for the new line was Széna Square in Buda. The underground power line was replaced by overhead line in 1923 and rails were moved to the middle of the bridge in 1938. Buses crossed the bridge from 1928 until 1996.

WW2 showed no mercy to Liberty Bridge either. On January 16, 1944 retreating German troops planted explosives on the center span and demolished the bridge just like all the others. Unfortunately, the detonation damaged not only the span but the complete structure.

A month later Soviet troops set about dismantling the damaged parts and building a temporary bridge to replace the central part. This pontoon bridge was the first link between Buda and Pest after the war. However, it was swept by the ice jam next winter leaving the two sides delinked again. Luckily, as a result of a seven months’ construction five days later, on January 15, 1946 another temporary bridge (Kossuth Bridge) was opened connecting Kossuth Square and Batthyány Square. Reconstruction of Liberty Bridge started the same year by the plans of Pál Sávoly. The missing center span was remanufactured by the original plans. The structure was assembled on the bank and was installed by floating cranes by the summer of 1946.

The same summer the tram rails, the track and the sidewalks were restored. Due to financial reasons the decorative original barriers of the center span were replaced with more simple ones and some structural elements were made of metal salvaged from the wreck. The necessary amount of paint was available only in grey color so the bridge could regain its original green color only in 1984. It was inaugurated on August 20, 1946 and renamed to Liberty Bridge. It was the first among the bridges of Budapest to be restored after the war.

Over the decades the structure of the bridge deteriorated and in 2007 it was closed for an overall renovation. The project included the renovation of the steel structure and the concrete decks as well as restoring original barriers and implementing decorative lighting. It was open for trams from the end of 2008 and cars could return next May. On average 17,000 cars per day cross the bridge.

A unique event took place on the bridge when as part of the celebration of joining the European Union in May, 2004 the bridge was closed for traffic and it was transformed into a little park with grass, benches and container trees for pedistrians A similar situation occurred in June 2016 as well, when the bridge was closed for tramway renovation. After the first days more and more people started to use the bridge in alternative ways, e.g. for picnicking, yoga classes, breakfast, etc. with street musician entertaining passers-by.

Unfortunately, throughout the years the steel structure and the Turuls on the top tempted more people to climb on and it sometimes led to a deadly end. If you would like to check the Turuls, just check the miniature replica in Pétfürdő, Veszprém County.

The miniature replica of Liberty Bridge leads to the little island of Youth Pond in Pétfürdő Photo: funiQ

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