The first records of the “Hungarian sea” date back to Roman ages, although Balaton most probably played a role as far back as prehistoric times. These records mostly deal with ancient farming and fishing, pointing to an undisputed significance already then.
Balaton is the biggest lake of Hungary with its length of 77 km, a maximum width of 14 km and 594 km2 of water surface. It is located in the western part of the country in Transdanubia, between Balaton Uplands with excellent wineries and fruit production on the North and Zala Hills and Somogy Hills on the South.
The first human intervention with the aim to decrease the too high water level of Lake Balaton occurred most likely during the Roman era when in the 3rd century AC Emperor Galerius built a flood gate at Siófok. However, subsequent, 20th century archaeological research questioned the existence of this flood gate.
From the Middle Ages, the mills on the stream Sió raised the water level of Lake Balaton. During the Turkish times by raising the water level ever higher, the bays of Lake Balaton were flooded and swamps spread. The newly reorganised business life of the 18th century made the lowering of the water level, then some 5-6 meters higher than today, and the regulation of Sió and Balaton a necessity. Economic development and the emergence of resorts on the shores of the lake necessitated a more significant reduction of the fluctuation of water level. The decisive step in the process of the stabilisation of the water level was the building of the flood gate at Siófok in 1863.
The regulation of inflows from waterways, the formation of the shores, the upgrading of the surrounding lands (i.e. all activities which improve the quality of agricultural lands and of the soil with the objective of increasing the yields) and agricultural usage could have only been started after controlling the water level of Lake Balaton. As a consequence, the water quality protective function of the surrounding marshes had ceased just at a time when the developing civilisation had been continuously worsening the quality of the waters flowing into the lake.
Water usage came with development. The effect of human activities and of pollution unfortunately inherent with it, can be seen in our waters. The worsening of the quality of water first occurred in shallow freshwater lakes like Balaton but the pollution of rivers, seas and underground water supplies are also well known.
By 1970 the pollution of the lake had reached such a level that it required a serious intervention since the environmental condition and the water quality had been deteriorating fast. The first Water Management Development Program of Balaton was completed in 1971 which gave priority to the improvement of water quality as opposed to developmental tasks.
The several decades of efforts have proven worthwhile.
The lake’s flora and fauna have shown their gratitude for the excellent water quality. This not only improves the quality of life of local residents, it is also reflected in the growing attraction of the lake for tourists. Along with the traditional holiday and bathing culture, the plentiful natural resources of the region also offer numerous pleasures to the devotees of angling and cycling tourism.
The Eger Spa, with a history of over 500 years, offers radon-bearing medicinal water and leisure pools, while the Mezőkövesd outdoor spa has thermal water high in sulphur and a slide park for those seeking therapy or leisure.
Covering almost two thousand square kilometres, the Hortobágy steppe is a special place. It is also Hungary’s first and largest national park. It is the largest alkaline steppe in Europe, and a World Heritage sight full of wonders.
Mayflies, also known in Hungary as ‘Tisza flowers’ swarm for a brief period of their lives out of the water, offering a unique natural spectacle along Hungary’s second largest river, the Tisza, and a few sunny sections of its tributaries.
Three years, 150 days of shooting, four seasons: the end result is an enchanting 65-minute nature documentary about the largest shallow lake in Central Europe, Lake Balaton. Entitled Wild Balaton, it presents the fauna and flora living in and around the lake with spectacular cinematography.
Hungary is the country of spas and medicinal waters. Hévíz, one of the world’s largest biologically active thermal lakes, which offers healing and recreation on a surface area of almost 50 hectares is living proof of that.
Gellért Spa and Bath is one of the leading natural hot spring spa baths in Budapest, Hungary. Gellért Hotel and Spa opened up shop in 1918. It was later expanded with an artificial wave pool and a bubble bath. The original artificial wave machine, first put to use in 1927, is still operational and is a special treat of the spa.
Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, has been an inspiration for many artists, and recently it has provided an award-winning theme for a new genre, drone photography. The professional jury at the 2018 Hungarian Drone Photo Awards, where more than 1000 submissions were received, gave the Grand Price to the extraordinary image that Bulcsú Böröczky has captured from the air.
The Lukács Thermal Bath whose operation dates back to the Turkish era, was the favourite bath of Mustafa pasha. It is said to have one of the most effective medicinal waters of Budapest.
Lively crowds have always characterised Lake Balaton and its region. The spa life and tourism started to develop in the 18th century but first it was not based on the water of the lake but on the sparkling springs of the shore. First the turn of the 19th – 20th century, and later the years following World War II have brought a significant growth in tourism.
Due to its charming beauty, Margaret Island – the green heart of Budapest – had from the very start been a favourite residence of royals. Its landscaping was initiated in 1790 by the Palatine of Hungary, Archduke Alexander Leopold of Austria and after his death the works were continued by his hugely popular younger brother, Archduke Joseph of Austria, Palatine of Hungary.