29 March 2013

The evanescent Pap Island of Szentendre

Szentendre is a small town, situated just north from Budapest, on the banks of the Danube. Whenever you have the chance to visit this small and beautiful baroque town take your time to visit also the town’s popular leisure center: the Pap Island. It has seen better times, concerning its existence as an island. Once the Danube had so wide and deep side-branch that man could pull vessels upstream on it. But nowadays, especially in autumn, when the river usually has very little water this side-branch is almost completely dried out (apart from some deep holes in the riverbed). My last trip on this island has made me think that the Pap Island is very much likely will disappear from the maps, unless there is an intervention. There is already a willow-forest connecting the trees of right bank with the riverine forests of the island, grown in the muddy river-bed. The silt bank is at least 3 feet high, which prevents the flow of fresh water into the dry side-branch.

In the beginning of the XX. Century, the Pap Island was a pasture and a meadow, with a few trees near the Danube. The urban development of Szentendre has reached this island after the II. World War, and soon it became a necessity to develop this area. A new swimming pool was built together with a camping area. On the southern side, municipal and corporate resorts emerged. Mainly planted forests cover the island, The remaining natural willow and poplar riverine forests can be found on the northern banks, and on the very edge of the island. All in all it is a very cozy place. But its development is imminent again, maybe if the new hotel and the conference center is being built, the revitalization of the side-branch will be addressed too.

The easiest way to get there is to take the bus from Budapest Árpád híd Bus station. We have to get off at Papsziget station in Szentendre. After a short walk we will find the bridge which leads to the island.

It is very hard to imagine huge vessels slowly moving upstream, pulled by horses in this present day several dozen feet wide side-branch (on the right side) overgrown with willow trees. In the old days these towing groups used the old limes road once built by the Roman army.

Sediment size on the main branch hardly reach the interval for sand. It is mainly silt, which means the stream is not strong enough to wash away the small size sediments. This is bad news for the Pap Island, the plants like the fresh, lignicolous sediment. It means the open water surface becomes smaller and smaller with each year.

Thirty years earlier, man could have seen a 70 feet wide open river surface on the Pap Island’s northern tip. Now only this narrow opening in the willows remained. Sedimentation became a threat when a cross dam was built in the side-branch around 1966. It was later removed, and exchanged by a stock bridge. This change in hydraulics can only be stopped with huge anthropogenic efforts, like deforestation, excavation and dredging.

The island was regularly flooded by the Danube, so when they created the swimming pools and camping ground the terrain was risen. The weekend houses on the picture were built on this new ground level. They are not completely flood-proof, but the high water mark seldom reach them.

Only the short-legged can use this bench. Since it was built the Danube accumulated circa 10 inches of sediments on its banks. Will it disappear in the future? Who knows?

Unidentified artifact around the swimming pools. It is a crashed satellite or just a shower?

The southern section of the Pap island side-branch has almost natural appearance, although also characterized by the spread of willow trees. The riverbed is slowly closing from the sides, in times of low-water only the deepest pits reserve some water. In contrast of the islands northern part, we can still see the open Szentendrei-Danube in the background.

There are private weekend-houses on the southern part of the Pap Island, with private piers reaching into the empty river-bed. Really nice resort, but this time of the year, there are only yellow leaves sitting on the solid welded loungers. The concrete wall and the stacks of stone provide defense both against floods and erosion.

The age of these municipal and corporate resorts, built on the riverine meadows can be easily identify by their style. They were built on “legs”, to protect the property. Next to them, an embankment was raised between the resorts and the Danube, just as high as the plinth. The dike was built in a quite inconvenient way, was not made of clay and sand, but of rock debris, in which we can find fist-sized andesite pieces.

These buildings seems to left uninhabited, but they are in much better condition than resorts in other parts of the country. Even these graffiti’s look like they were painted after some kind of legal plan…

Aspen trees on the Pap Island are considered a native, but they bear traces of caring human hands. Previously there were less trees here, because the whole area functioned as a pastry for livestock.

At the entrance of the local swimming pool you can find an interesting composition of wooden statues. They embody the seven Hungarian chiefs, with a mop bucket on their head. They are the first to greet the visitors on the Pap Island. The island is more crowded and noisy in summertime, but in autumn apart from a few anglers and couples it is quite and empty.

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