How a road to Vienna resulted in a re-evaluation of Budapest

Hungarian version of the article: Budapest felértékelődött a Bécs felé haladó autóút megépítésével

Written by: Csaba Domonkos

October 3, 2020 at 2:00 PM

The Budapest–Vienna Highway was specifically designed for cars and opened 90 years ago, on 4 October 1930. Public opinion in the country and the capital hoped that the new road would improve Hungary's geopolitical situation and improve tourism. Perhaps not many readers know that drivers would have had to leave the capital through Bécsi Road (Bécs is the Hungarian name for Vienna) in the 3rd District to reach the Austrian capital.

Budapest is the heart and also centre of the country. Nearly every major road in Hungary runs to Budapest, and this has traditionally been the case, as the cities of Buda and Pest have long been major crossing points on the Danube. The connection between Budapest and Vienna has always held special importance as the route that connected Hungary to Western Europe.

It may come as a surprise then, that the first paved road between the two cities was only opened in 1930. Naturally, Budapest had not been cut off from Vienna beforehand, as several routes existed between the two capitals. However, these were mainly dirt tracks or partially paved macadam roads built for carriages and carts. Covering the distance between the cities could take up to half a day on these.

A narrow, dusty country road of the period (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 43806)

It was the quality of the road network that blocked bus services between Budapest and Vienna starting in 1928, despite the company organising test trips.
The road opened in 1930 differed from previous roads that had survived from the middle ages in that it was designed and built for motor vehicles. As a result, it was given a proper foundation and paved to be mostly dust-free.

Before World War I, rail had been the major means of long-distance transportation. Roads for cars were primarily built after World War I, this is when a smooth, hard and dust-free covering became vital.

As asphalt was not ubiquitous at the time, only a section of the 200-kilometre road was paved with it. Other sections were covered with small or large keramit bricks or concrete. The road was also 6 metres wide, double the traditional width.

Bécsi Road around 1930 (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 9538)

The opening ceremony took place on Saturday, 4 October 1930. The Ujság newspaper reported on it the following day:

"At half-past-eight on Saturday morning, Minister Bud opened the new national highway at the decorated bridge near the 8th kilometre stone. Cars raced along the new road in a long line after the ceremony."

The Budapest–Vienna Highway originally left Budapest to the north, through Óbuda towards what is today Road 10. The main road to the west had passed through this area since antiquity, and this is why the route leading to Road 10 is still called Bécsi Road in Budapest.

The Tát–Nyergesújfalu section of the highway was suitable for motor races, photographed in 1934 (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 41643)

The 200 km road cost 12 million Pengős. Regardless, everyone saw it as a worthwhile investment at the time. Politicians and the press expected that the road would improve Budapest's transport and its geopolitical situation. Press reports and speeches stressed how the road met the standards of those in Western Europe without fail.

An increase in tourism was also expected, just two weeks after the grand opening the sports paper Sporthírlap wrote on 16 October 1930:

"Reliable sources have reported that last Sunday 24 cars with Austrian license plates were counted between 11 and 12 on the national highway at Győr. However, this only covers the hour in which our informant watched traffic heading towards Budapest. In the evening, around six o'clock the road was almost black from the Austrian cars heading home from Budapest. The Austrian weekenders returning home had used the first Sunday of after the new road was opened to make an enjoyable road trip to Budapest on the new route.

The new road did in-fact mean a lot to the capital, as a lack of a decent connection had been a disadvantage. The construction had been underway for three years when the Budapest City Council discussed the extremely poor condition of the roads between Budapest and Vienna. In an interpellation given in June 1930 (published in the 27 June 1930 issue of the Budapest Official Gazette) Miklós Magyar raised the following case:

"Recently the President of the Austrian Yacht Club visited Budapest and said: thank God I am here in Budapest, I wanted to visit this beautiful city, and expected to find Balkan roads here, but Hungarian roads are even worse than those in the Balkans, please have the Hungarian Automobile Club have my car transported back to Vienna by boat."

The new road was, therefore, vital for the capital. Naturally, the road was not completely ready by 4 October, but at least the opening ceremony allowed politicians to claim it had been completed ahead of schedule.

Concrete being laid on the Budapest–Vienna Highway (Technikai fejlődésünk története [A history of Hungarian Technical Development] (Budapest, 1928)

The new road did indeed improve tourism in Budapest. Regular bus services began in May 1931, and by 1934 three buses travelled between Vienna and Budapest every day.

Cover photo: The construction of Bécsi Road in 1930 (Photo: FSZEK Budapest Collection


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