27 November 2012

The swollen Margaret Island

If we go through the admirable photo collaction of Fortepan.hu with an eye got used to geomorphology, we can find a lot of interesting changes in the Hungarian landscape. So it is with Budapest's favourite island, the Margaret Island. Its name comes from Saint Margaret, daughter of the Hungarian King Béla IV. In the 30s, an unknown tourist captured this view from the Buda Castle. This photo has preserved the memory of the Víziváros, Margaret Island, further the Népsziget and the northernmost Palotai Island covered with dense forest.

But there is something strange with the Margaret Island. Its western side is quite barren, as if a real estate investor has just chopped the forest to build more hotels. But that is not the case. To understand, why the island looked like this, we have to go back in time.

In 1795, when the island became a property of the Hungarian palatine (the "nádor"), there were two islands in the Danube between the separate cities of Buda and Pest. The Saint Margaret Island and the small Festő Island can bee seen on the postcard above. Palatine Josef, who was member of the Habsburg family, created a magnificent park on the deserted island, taken the Schönbrunn park in Vienna as a model. Unfortunately the islands highest level were under the high water mark, so they suffered serious damages from the icy floods of 1775, 1838 and 1876.

The "era of development" begun on the Margarete Island, when they constructed the Margaret bridge (in Hungarian: Margit híd) between 1872-1873. Until that time visitors could only approach the island by using a boat. After constructing the bridge there was a huge pressure on the city administration to make it possible to build a side bridge onto the island.

First of all, in return of cash donations the ownership of the Festő Island went to the Habsburg palatine family. This way the replenishment could begin, which aim was to rise the ground level above the high water mark. At the same time the bridge's foundation works have also started. The ground level was risen from 102,5 meter above sea level to 104,8, so the island was swollen not only horizontally, but vertically too.

It took about 20 years to fill the western side between its old and new banks. The purpose of these works was to narrow the Buda side arm. The narrower cross section does not let the water freeze in winter, and the ships also favoured the deepened riverbed. The new banks were strenghtened with stone and concrete deposits on the slopes, against the erosion. This progress can be followed on the maps of budapestcity.org.

The last expansion of the Margarete Island took place when the Árpád bridge was built. It was extended several dozen yards upstream. The ground works' material needs were covered by dredging the nearby Danube sections. The small Fürdő Island was a victim of these works. It was completely excavated with its ancient roman bath ruins.

The excavated alluvium (sand, clay and pebbles) was filled behind the Margaret Island's new stone slopes, and was covered by soil, for the upcoming tree-planting and recultivation. This progress can be seen on the first image.

In the end I would like to illustrate the metamorphosis of the graceful Saint Margaret Island into a swollen, common Margaret Island. But in the last image we can still spot the outlines of the old island.


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