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Danube–Ipoly National Park

<p><span lang="FR">The area of the Danube-Ipoly National Park includes the Pilis, Visegrád and Börzsöny mountain ranges, the section of the Ipoly Valley between Hont and Balassagyarmat and parts of Szentendre Island. The unique characteristic of the National Park area is the meeting of the three major landscape units, the river valleys, the mountains and the plains. Hence the great diversity of the area, which is unique within our borders.</span></p>

In April 1991, the National Assembly adopted a resolution on certain international environmental tasks relating to the Danube. These include the creation of a national park in the area concerned.

The establishment of a national park is intended to protect the rivers and groundwater resources, as well as the forests, topsoil and other renewable resources of the areas concerned, to preserve the cultural and historical values, and to conserve the natural values and the characteristic and in some cases unspoilt landscape surrounding the natural values.

Legislation declaring the protected area: Decree 34/1997 (XI. 20.) of the PPA on the establishment of the Danube-Ipoly National Park. The Decree declared 15 131.2 hectares of the Esztergom-Budapest section of the Danube and 15 131.2 hectares in the Ipoly region protected, and added 45 183.1 hectares already declared protected to the National Park, for a total of 60 314.3 hectares.

Natural values

The area of the Danube-Ipoly National Park includes the Pilis, Visegrád and Börzsöny mountain ranges, the section of the Ipoly valley between Hont and Balassagyarmat and parts of Szentendre Island. The unique characteristic of the National Park area is the meeting of the three major landscape units, the river valleys, the mountains and the plains. Hence the great diversity of the area, which is unique within our borders.

In terms of geological and landscape values, the Danube and the mountains are the best example of the link between a river and mountains. In the National Park area, volcanic and sedimentary rocks are found, together with the alluvium of the river valleys, which is still displacing, and the reefs that build and decay in the gravel beds. Of particular importance are the springs and streams of varying flow rates originating in the mountainous areas, almost all of which rush into the Ipoly or the Danube.

In addition to the diversity of the national park's vegetation, its transitional character is also noteworthy. This is partly due to the diversity of the bedrock and partly to the meeting of sub-Mediterranean and continental climatic barriers. The Danube bend is a link between the flora of the Transdanubian Central Highlands and the Northern Central Highlands. Many species and associations reach the limits of their distribution here (e.g. red-horned Hunyor, beech with rabbit's tail). The flora is extremely complex, ranging from the typical plant communities of the floodplain levels, through sandy wasteland grasslands, to several types of mid- and high-mountain vegetation. The unique botanical value of the national park is the Hungarian husk. The ornamental plant of the floodplain meadows of the Ipoly Valley is the meadow rush. Due to the diversity of habitats, the fauna is also extremely complex, with many rare endangered species living in the area. There are over 700 protected and specially protected species in the national park.

The rivers are of particular value for the fauna of the national park. The waters of the Danube bend, with its rapid flow and gravel bed, are a habitat for rare endemic snail species. There are also bucket snails and snails with drawings. The most valuable member of the fish fauna, the Petenia marlin, is also associated with river waters.

The dry mountain grasslands are home to the saw-whet grasshopper and the meadow grasshopper, a relict species of the Russian steppes.

The amphibian fauna includes all native species. Among them, the spotted salamander in the wet valleys of the Börzsöny is particularly colourful. Among the reptiles, the Pannonian lizard is also found in the Pilis and Börzsöny. There are many forest songbirds and birds of prey in the national park, and along the rivers there are water, shore and wading horse species. Of particular importance are the Saker Falcon, the Paraguayan Eagle and the Saker Falcon. The black stork is also common. In the older forests of the Börzsöny, the white-backed woodpecker population is significant. Occasionally, a bald eagle can be seen hunting the ducks. Caves and abandoned mine shafts are home to colonies of bats. Several protected species of shrews and elephants live in the area, while large carnivores include the occasional lynx in the undisturbed woodland and the otter along the waterways.

Conservation management, main threats

The Danube bend is an area of daily excursions, weekend recreation and long-term holidays for the population of Budapest and its surroundings, where, in addition to basic management purposes, forests must also meet the recreational, nature and sporting needs of the population.

The Danube-Ipoly National Park is more a world of tourists in boots, winter sports and hiking. The development of an exploratory road network to enable forestry activities to be carried out in the interior of the mountain range attracts cars and increases car tourism.

The aim is to counterbalance the conservation work aimed at maintaining the present enclosure and relative undisturbed nature of the mountains, and the contradiction arising from the growing tourist interest in them, by developing the attractions of the less valuable peripheral areas of the mountain ranges and creating conditions for welcoming visitors.

The introduction of mouflon in the 1970s, particularly on the St Michael's Hill, is causing soil erosion and damage to flora. The number of animals exceeding the natural capacity to sustain game is an obstacle to the increase in the value of forest assets, to sustainable forest management and to the preservation of natural values.

In the Danube bend, which attracts holidaymakers, the building development can also affect protected areas. The current legislation and the critical financial situation of local authorities could lead to an increase in conflicts.

In forests, which account for 96% of protected areas, the conservation and protection of forests must be ensured through cooperation between the forestry and nature conservation authorities, which have essentially identical interests.

Cultural and historical values

The richness of the Danube and the Ipoly rivers in terms of fish and the abundance of wildlife in the forests made the area around the Danube bend attractive to Stone Age man. Traces of Stone Age man have been found in the river valleys of the Börzsöny and in numerous caves on the Pils side. The Pilisszántói-Kőfülke cave, the Legény-, Leány-, Leány- caves in Kesztölc and the Bivak- cave in Pilisszentlélek have all preserved the tools and bones of prey animals of the Ice Age. The remains of earthwork castles from the Late Bronze Age can be found in the interior of both mountains (Árpád Castle, Jelenc Hill, Rustok Hill, Godó Castle, Pogány Castle, etc.)

In the first century AD, the Danube region became the border region of the Roman Empire. The remains of a system of fortifications along the Danube, the Limes, can be seen on the right bank of the Danube from Óbuda to Esztergom. The approximately 24 km stretch between Visegrád and Esztergom was the best fortified part of the Limes system, with one fortified border fortification every kilometer. There were important Roman fortifications in the areas of Leányfalu and Dunabogdány, at Visegrád on the Sibrik hill, at the hilltop of the Cold Cross at Pilismaróti and above one of the best Danube crossings at Esztergom. The ancient Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations here during the intermission of his battles against the Quadi tribes. On the Börzsönyi side, there is only one Roman fortress: the bridgehead on the banks of the Danube at Verőce was built by the Romans to support the incessant battles against the Quadi tribes.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, a very mixed population took over the area, and after the Hungarians settled there, these nationalities gradually merged into the Hungarian population.

In the centuries following the conquest, the Danube Bend and its surroundings became the center of the country. Esztergom was made a princely seat by Prince Géza. Around 969-970, our first king, Stephen I, who was later canonized, was born and baptized here. The palace of the Géza period was the first secular stone building in Hungary. Béla III had the former stone castle rebuilt into a palace in the 1180s. During the Tartar invasion, Esztergom was almost completely destroyed, with a good fifteen of its inhabitants surviving, but the castle was valiantly defended by the Spanish Simeon. After the devastation, stone castles were erected all over the country to strengthen its defenses. The royal couple also set a good example: within a decade, the castle of Visegrád was built with the jewels of Queen Mary, taking over the role of Esztergom as the royal seat. After the demise of the House of Árpád, it was during the reign of Charles Robert that the construction of the Visegrád Royal Palace began.

The palace reached its heyday during the reign of King Matthias, when its Renaissance splendour rivalled the opulence of Italian courts. Nowadays, the palace, decorated with late Gothic, Renaissance architecture and sculpture, is being revived: the Hercules' Well has been reconstructed, the cloisters of the courtyard are in splendid colours, the exhibition halls are decorated with custom-made tiled stoves from the past, and the process of the palace's reconstruction can be studied on models. Although the Börzsöny did not boast any royal castles, after the Tatar invasion, numerous earth and stone castles with residential towers and surrounded by a palace enclosure were built (Beaver Castle, Cheb Castle, Kámor, Zuvár, etc.). The most imposing of the fortifications is the Nógrád Castle, but the most famous is the castle of Drégely, for which the 150-man crew fought to the last breath against the besieging Turkish army of 10-12,000 men between 6-9 July 1552. Today both the Nógrád and Drégely castles are under restoration.

In the Middle Ages, of course, not only castles were built in the area, but also important churches. Most of the monasteries here are associated with the only Hungarian order, the Palatine Order. According to tradition, Blessed Özséb, who was born in Esztergom, founded the Pauline monastic order around 1250, gathering hermits from the forests of the Pilis. He built the first monastery of the new order in Klastrompusztán, where he was laid to rest after his death. Béla IV donated his hunting lodge to the order; the nearby village still bears the name of the monastery dedicated to the Holy Spirit. The ruins of the once flourishing monastery still stand on the outskirts of Pilisszentlélek. The monastery of St. László in K kékes was also a royal donation to the Palatines, but its building was destroyed by the Turks. The name and location of this former monastic centre is preserved in the village of Pilisszentlászló. The building of the Pauline monastery of Mariánostra, founded by King Louis the Great in 1352, still stands today. Although the monastery itself has been a prison for decades, the church, which is also a place of pilgrimage, has been once again in the service of the Palaians for some years. There are also traces of flourishing monasteries of other monastic orders in the area. The French-founded Cistercian abbey of Pilisszentkereszt was the scene of a terrible tragedy in 1213, which we all know from József Katona's masterpiece Bánk Bán.

During the Ottoman period, the region became a battlefield between Royal Hungary and the Turkish Empire. Castles fell, villages were massacred and even the survivors fled the area.

By the early 18th century, the depopulated countryside had to be repopulated. The remaining Hungarian population was joined by Serb (Szentendre, Pomáz), German (Nagymaros, Zebegény, Dunabogdány, Pilisvörösvár) and Slovak (Ipolydamásd, Kóspallag, Pilisszentlászló, Pilisszántó) settlers. The Germans traditionally excelled in mining, while the Slovaks in woodcutting. Even though the assimilation of these nationalities has accelerated considerably in recent years, you can still often hear German or Slovakian speech when you visit the region, and if not elsewhere, you can learn about their specific culture in museums in the country houses.

Of the monuments of the last hundred years, the most notable are those of farming history. The economic boom that followed the Reunification led to greater exploitation of natural resources. Quarries were opened in the area, and logging multiplied. Narrow-gauge railways were built in suitable valleys to transport the stone and timber. By the 1940s, some 200 km of railway lines had been built throughout the Börzsöny area. Later, with the arrival of lorries, the days of the narrow-gauge railway were over. Most of the lines were dismantled, and the only chance for the long-term survival of the few remaining lines was to be used for tourism. Fortunately, this is increasingly the case: the Kismaros-Királyrét and Kemence lines have been followed by the Nagybörzsöny-Nagyirtáspuszta line. The latter line is planned to carry passengers as far as Szob.

Another interesting method of transporting wood, also used in Börzsöny, was the transport of wood by floating. The dam and canal system used to float the timber almost to the Danube can still be seen in places in the area of the Széchen-Patak - Nagy-Vasfazék stream in the Szúñolya area. Sometimes, of course, the timber was processed on site and only the end product was transported. The ruins of the Csarnavölgyi 'ash-house' are a reminder of the old, extensive burning of ashes. Potash was an indispensable raw material for the production of paper, glass and saltpeter, as well as an auxiliary material for soap making, and was therefore in great demand. However, we should be aware that on average, ash represents 0.5% of wood and the potash that can be made from it is a fraction of that, which implies deforestation on a huge scale. Recognising this, in order to protect the forests, Maria Theresa issued decrees restricting the burning of potash.

Another way of processing wood locally was charcoal burning. The artificially created flat black slabs in the hard-to-reach areas are the site of the former coke burning. Today, this activity seems to be reviving in forest management practices, but is now confined outside the protected area.

From the 1870s to almost the present day, the area has been sheltered from major historical events, but the quiet and beautiful countryside has been discovered by artists. Károly Ferenczy and his children lived and worked in Szentendre, and in the late 1920s the artists' colony was established here, which was marked by the names of Béla Iványi Grünwald, István Réti, Lajos Vajda, and later Endre Bálint and Jenő Barcsay. István Szőnyi settled in Zebegény and depicted the life and landscapes of the Danube bend in his paintings. Writers and actors found a place to create and rest on the banks of the Danube, from Leányfalu to Visegrád, the most famous of them being perhaps Zsigmond Móricz, whose house in Leányfalu is now a museum. Our famous poet Lajos Áprily lived in the Szentgyörgy-pusztá in Visegrád.

Among the great Hungarian actors of the recent past, Zoltán Latinovits, István Egry, Hilda Gobbi, Márta Fónay rested and worked a lot in the Danube Bend. On Luppa Island, opposite Budakalás, there is still a cottage designed by Lajos Kozma, one of the most beautiful works of the Bauhaus movement in Hungary.