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Hortobágy National Park

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Hortobágyi Nemzeti ParkHortobágy is the largest continuous natural grassland in Europe, which means that it was not formed as a result of deforestation or river control. The first Hungarian national park established in 1973 is the country's largest protected area (82 thousand hectares). A significant part of it is Biosphere Reserve, and a quarter of its area enjoys international protection under the Ramsar Convention on the conservation of wetlands. Hortobágy has outstanding landscape features and is a unique example of the harmonic coexistence of people and nature based on the considerate use of the land, maintaining great biological variety in respect of species and habitats.
However, at first sight there is nothing here. If you look around, the most conspicuous thing is that your eyes are not arrested by any buildings, hills or mountains. The mirage is a spectacular sight on hot summer days, where you see something that is not in fact there. In order to discover the treasures of this region it is not enough just to travel across it.
A major part of the area of the National Park is formed by natural habitats, alkaline grasslands, meadows and smaller and bigger marshes enclosed between them. From the point of view of nature conservation the artificial wetlands covering a much smaller area are of considerable importance: these are the fishponds, situated on 6 thousand hectares, created during the last century on the worst quality grazing-lands and former marshes. Lake Tisza, a reservoir established in the 70's, shows what the water-world looked like before the river was controlled.
The marshes and fishponds are bird nesting habitats and migration sites of European significance. So far the appearance of 342 bird species has been registered in Hortobágy, of which 152 species nest in the National Park. It cannot be doubted that one of the most spectacular sights is the migration of the cranes in the autumn. Tens of thousands of specimens of this species, which is also the symbolic bird of the Park, can be seen every October as they fly above the grasslands to their overnight roosting places. Hortobágy was never densely populated, and its few villages were destroyed during the Tartar and Turkish invasion. The monotony of the grasslands is punctuated by the burialmounds and guard-mounds of the Nomad peoples that lived here thousands of years ago.
During thousands of years the wild animals grazing on the grasslands of Hortobágy, the aurochs and wild horses, were gradually replaced by domesticated animals. A large number of tough, undemanding long-haired sheep and grey cattle can be found here. Less ancient species are the curly bristled mangalica pig, which gives good bacon, and the Nonius horse. The ancestors of the latter were imported to the Hortobágy from Normandy in the early 19th century. The visitors are amazed at the skills of the horsemen and at the sight of the galloping herds of horses.
The herdsmen living on the grasslands do not have permanent buildings for themselves or their animals. Most of the ancient herdsmen's buildings are very simple but also practical, made chiefly of reed.
The sweep-pole wells for watering the animals have become symbols of the Hungarian grasslands. Inns were built 10-12 km apart along the commercial roads crossing the plains, where travellers could rest and the herdsmen turn in for the night. Tourists still like to visit these inns. In the tourist centre of the settlement of Hortobágy, in the former cart stall of the Nagycsárda [Great Inn] there is today a Herdsmen's Museum where the history and memorabilia of the herding life are shown. A stone bridge was built across the river Hortobágy in 1827, on the road connecting Budapest with Debrecen, and from the number of its arches it is known colloquially as Kilenclyukú híd, which means "bridge with nine holes".
Help in getting to know the protected flora and fauna of the National Park is given by four show areas and study trails. Before setting out, it is worth inquiring at a tourist information office or at the Directorate of the National Park to make sure which sections of the territory are open to visitors. Of the regular programmes, the National Goulash Contest and Shepherd‘s Meeting, the Hortobágyi Equestrian Days and the August Bridge Fair are the best known.
Further information:
Hortobágy National Park Headquarters
(Hortobágyi Nemzeti Park Igazgatóság)
H-4002 Debrecen, Sumen u. 2.
Tel.: +36 52/529-935, 529-920
E-mail: hnp@www.hnp.hu
Honlap: www.hnp.hu