Preventing water crises
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Preventing water crises

Lake Balaton, then and now

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.

Only natural conditions affected Balaton’s water supply and water levels during the first stage of its existence lasting approximately seven thousand years. The second stage is characterised by the impact of human intervention with its effects lasting to this day.

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.

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 Photo: Shutterstock

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 water quality has been improving continuously since the 2000s, and by today it has earned a place among the cleanest lakes in Europe.

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 excellent water quality of Lake Balaton is an example of European significance of how we can successfully protect valuable natural areas Photo: Shutterstock

Budapest, the capital of medical waters

The Hungarian capital is called one of the major spa capitals of the world rightly so, since numerous thermal springs and spas can be enjoyed here. Besides the water culture characterizing Hungarians, the peoples invading Hungary during the centuries have also played a role in forming this special value.

Musical Fountains of Margaret Island

One of the important spectacles of Margaret Island, Budapest are the musical fountains. There are such fountains both at the northern and the southern part of the island, the former is called Bodor Fountain, while following its recent renewal, the latter has become one of the biggest musical fountains in Europe.

The Wonderful World of Our Floodplain Grasslands

As its name implies, Danube-Drava National Park is located almost fully on a territory that once had been a floodplain along the Danube and River Drava. Its crown jewels include the world famous, stunningly beautiful groves, the Gemenc and Béda-Karapancsa regions, all compellingly rich in wildlife.

The legendary Széchenyi Spa and Swimming Pool

The Széchenyi Spa is one of the biggest spa complexes in Europe, the first medicinal spa of Pest. It was constructed between 1909 and 1913, in a modern renaissance style. The water of the spa comes from the deepest point in Budapest which is 1246 m deep, and does so at a temperature of 76 °C.

The renaissance of balneology

Hungarian balneology has been an internationally acclaimed profession from its very inception. The Hungarian Balneological Society was founded in 1891 as one of the first medical societies. The hallmark of the society consists of famous professionals like Lajos Markusovszky and Sándor Korányi.