Hortobágy

Hortobágy
Photo by Els Slots.

Hortobágy National Park - the Puszta is the biggest grassland that remains in Central Europe.

Hortobágy sustains a pastoral society with cattle, sheep, oxen, and horses, tended by herdsmen. The landscape features numerous manmade structures such as Early Bronze Age burial mounds, tells that mark the sites of ancient settlements, bridges, and csárdas (inns).

Community Perspective: “It evokes flatness and dullness and general boredom”, according to Nan quoting a German proverb. Large parts of the WHS are protected and can officially only be visited with a special permit (although this doesn’t seem to be frequently checked). Hubert and Clyde have pointed out some things (birds) to see in the areas that you can explore on your own. Tiszacsege fish csarda is recommended for an authentic lunch.

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Community Reviews

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Clyde

Malta - 26-Dec-22 -

Hortobágy by Clyde

I visited this WHS in 2022 and didn't have high expectations. However, from the moment I arrived on the never-ending flat terrain to the moment I left, I was positively surprised. Having read Hubert's and Nan's reviews, I made an extra effort to put aside my birdwatching bias, and I tried to focus on also covering the man-made structures which shaped this cultural landscape.

You'll notice you have reached the Hortobagy plains, once wherever you look the sky meets the land on the infinite horizon. The landscape of this romantic region has inspired countless works by celebrated painters and some of the greatest Hungarian poets have sung its praises, a bit like the Tuscan landscape of Val d'Orcia. Especially in spring, gazing at the endless flat panoramas, the breeze will take you by surprise with its scent of sweet chamomile and mint. The only noises are the stamping of hooves, the ringing of cattle bells and perhaps the wafting of birds' wings. The steppe landscape of Hortobagy reminded me of the Saryarka Kazakh steppe landscape on a much lesser scale or the El Rocio horseback landscape near Donana National Park in Spain. However, Hortobagy is a unique example of harmonius interaction between human beings and nature.

The earliest human settlers left their imprint on the landscape in the form of so-called kurgans (kunhalom), or rounded burial mounds visible on the endless horizons. Besides their archaeological and cultural value, these tumuli provide a habitat for vegetation characteristic of the Puszta, such as crested wheatgrass and feather grass, furrowed fescues and the butter-yellow Austrian sage, Jerusalem sage, royal midget and mullein. In total today there are still between 1,300 and 1,700 mounds dating from the Copper and Bronze Ages. Most of them were built by the Neolithic people or nomadic tribes (Thracians, Illyrians, Dacians, Celts, Scythians and Sarmatians) on higher areas, so as to be protected from floods. The mounds known as kurgans were originally used for burials (later also reused as lookout posts or border markers), while the "tell" (living) mounds were dwelling places.

In as early as the 15th century, huge herds of grey cattle grazed on the swampy pastures of Hortobagy. Herdsman drove their animals out to pasture after the thaw, and kept them in the open until the first snows enough just to build dams. It is also vital that certain regions can still be inundated with water when and where necessary. Otherwise, the Hortobagy Pustza (which actually means "salt desert") would quickly look like a desert. Apart from the pastoral and agricultural structures, such as sheds, barns, dwellings, or the characteristic sweep wells or shadoofs, deep inside the Hortobagy plains there are also the csárdas or 18th and 19th century provincial inns for travellers, and for 2 nights I stayed in one that is used as a local guesthouse. The most popular touristic way of exploring the natural landscape is to book a tour on an ox-driven cart with modern wheels or by train to the different fish ponds. However, since I explored the restricted natural area, signposted everywhere, very early in the morning (like Els) to improve my chances of spotting fauna and avifauna as well as to escape the heat, there was no way for me to buy or pay for a ticket.

So shortly after sunrise, after passing over the nine arched bridge, I drove past the only small petrol station just out of town and parked near a not so tall birdwatching tower near the main road which is the starting point to the Szalka-Halom Nature Trail which offers a very good overview of both the cultural and especially the natural qualities of the Pustza landscape. The nature trail is a loop which starts at the highest elevation, i.e. the kurgan which lends its name to the nature trail, and descends to lower habitats ending at an alkaline marsh. The burial mound was constructed by nomadic peoples of the steppe, who arrived there well before the Hungarians. The length of the trail is approximately 1 kilometre taking about 45 minutes (without photo or nature-viewing stops). The trail follows the right hand side of a small grove just opposite a few pastoral and agricultural structures with lots of cows, racka sheep (with their long spiralling horns), and chained pastoral dogs. After reaching the left hand side of the grove, a dry steppe grassland opens up. Approaching Road 33, the habitat gradually becomes damper, and consequently the vegetation changes to alkaline meadow and marshes. The microclimate greatly differs within just a matter of a few millimetres or centimetres between the alkaline soils known as micro berm or szikpadka, and the lower barren areas, readily signalled by the different plants.

The area is in fact a mosaic of milfoil and wormwood alkaline steppe and loess steppe grasslands, alkaline wastelands, alkaline meadows and marshes. Whilst the most sodic areas are quite barren, sustaining but a few plant species, they are covered with a pretty flower blanket mostly of chamomile and buttercups in full bloom in April and May. Hungary's largest rook (Corvus frugilegus) colony nests in the grove next to the burial mound, together with kestrels and red-footed falcon (photo). On the left hand side of the grove, there is another higher birdwatching tower from where you can easily spot kestrel nests (lots of nestlings when I visited), owls, smaller birds and the rarer red-footed falcons. Shortly after descending from the birdwatching tower, probably since it was still quite early, near the nyiro marshland I startled a group of wild hares which ran back to their burrows and in turn startled a wild deer which leaped across the flat steppe and hid inside the corn fields near the main road. The temporary water bodies appearing mostly during spring attract rich birdlife. Huge flocks of geese can be observed here, among them the rare and strictly protected red-breasted geese and lesser white-fronted geese which accompany the flocks of greater white-fronted geese. If you're really lucky, the Pustza is the best habitat to spot the bustard, Hungary's largest bird. In spring and summer, you'll definitely also spot lots of storks.

The area close to the nine arched bridge comes alive later in the day with a sort of small market with locals selling lots of handicrafts. From 1st July to 15th September one can go for a boat ride (organised by a local guy running a small company called Csonaktura) from near the bridge. The UNESCO WHS marble plaque or marker can also be found here. All in all, I really enjoyed this WHS and I would gladly revisit for a short stop by car whenever I opt for a road trip to Romania and/or Bulgaria.


Nan

Germany - 28-Jul-21 -

Hortobágy by Nan

Following in Hubert's footsteps and not withstanding his two merciless reviews of the two eastern Hungarian world heritage sites, I combined a visit of Tokaj with a visit of the Puszta, i.e. Hortobagy. Now, in German comparing a place to the Puszta is never a compliment. It evokes flatness and dullness and general boredom. So, even discounting Hubert's review, I wasn't hoping for much.

Interestingly, the Hungarians have marketed the Puszta quite strongly to tourists. Hungary was already a tourist destination for western tourists before the Iron Curtain came down. Visits to the mystical Puszta were then (and still are) popular day trips for visitors to Lake Balaton or Budapest. Just google Puszta Day Trip. You get to see the traditional Hungarians living authentic traditional lives, riding traditional horses, sitting in traditional carriages... A true authentic experience.

To make sense of the Puszta, I think it's worth to go back a bit in history to the founding of Hungary. Hungary forms the western most part of the Eurasian steppe: the Hungarian Plain. The Eurasian steppe was for millennia ruled by horse nomads with wave upon wave entering Europe. There were the Scythians, the Huns, the Goths, the Avars, the Bulgars, the Mongols and many more.

These horse nomads would run into two problems over time. First and immediate, the mountains of central Europe (Carpathians, Alps) were not suited to horse archer warfare. Second, they would lose their edge over time and either the settled people such as the Byzantines would beat them back. Or a new horse archer clan would show up and replace them.

Two exceptions to this rule are the Bulgars and the Magyars. While the Bulgars settled in Bulgaria (and we can thank them for the Madera Rider), the Magyars settled in Hungary and kept the country ever since. At their heart, they were a horse archer/nomad, warrior people and I think this image is part of the national psyche. As such, the Puszta with it's supposedly original way of life is a national symbol of Hungary's origins.

I stress national symbol. I am not convinced this type of site should be on the list to begin with. It's nationalistic myth building akin to the Walhalla or the Lorelay in Germany. And frankly, the entertainment of the Rhine around the Loreley or the Danube around Walhalla seem higher. At the end this is a boring grass plain with heavy agricultural use, the type of which I can see in Northern Germany plenty.

The best part of the site might be the plants and animals living in the area. And I was briefly inclined to award 1 Star for birding (not that I care or know much about birds) or the landscape. But then I realized that this is a purely cultural inscription, so nature does not play a role in evaluating the site. As such, I have to concur with Hubert.

Getting There

Buses and trains run between Debrecen and Füzesabony/Eger. The buses stop along the main road, the train runs further North (1km or so). If you want to visit the fish pond, the train is the better option.

At the fish pond, you can take a steam engine. Walking along straight roads in the dull Puszta is not a very enticing prospect. Unfortunately, the train was already sold out when I came.

 

 


Els Slots

The Netherlands - 29-Jun-19 -

Hortobágy by Els Slots

Hortobágy National Park - the Puszta is a steppe landscape where man has left only temporary structures. Shepherds graze their horses, cows and sheep (species adapted to local conditions) here on the barren land. Fishponds were built in the early 20th century to vary the land use more. The park is also known for its variety of bird species. I had planned to focus mainly on the park’s natural features (though it’s a cultural site on our List) and I even brought a travel guidebook to make the most of it. 

I had 1 full day here (stayed for 2 nights) and focused on Route 1 described in the guidebook. This is an all-day circuit by car, with stops and short walks along the way. Officially you do need a permit to visit any site in the national park that lies off the main road, but since the Visitor Center wasn’t open yet at 8 am when I went out I decided to start without one (in the end I never encountered any controls).

The route first goes eastwards from the town of Hortobagy, on the busy road B33. There you’ll find 3 lookout towers. I climbed 2 of them – they provide wide views over the plains but you actually don't see anything of much interest. Afterward, you turn left off the main road and make a full loop via the northern side of the park. Here too the road is busy at first and there is a town with traffic lights, supermarkets and people who are just doing their daily things. The whole ‘steppe’ thing feels pretty small-scale if you have ever been outside of Europe.

The best part of the route lies along the road between Telekháza and Hortobagy. This road is full of potholes, but that does make people not drive so fast (and they probably avoid it as well). For me, it was handy that I could just stop the car at the side of the road when I saw something interesting. I was mainly looking for a sozlik, a ground squirrel that only occurs on the steppes of Eastern Europe. They like to stand on their hind legs and I thought I found one in front of a row of straw bales. However, when I zoomed in closer, I noticed its large ears so it must have been a hare.

Still from the same road, I saw an old burial mound (known as kurgan). They were made by nomads and date back to the Stone Age. A bit further on I got out for a walk to one of the fish ponds. The walk starts at 2 rusted water towers - you follow the path first to the right and then to the left at a metal shed. The path runs between 2 fish ponds, but the shores are so overgrown with reeds that you cannot see anything of the ponds. After 15 minutes of walking you arrive at a wooden watchtower. Just like the others I climbed on this day, it is not exactly in perfect condition - there is always a beam loose or a hole in the wood. However, here the climb is well worth it because it gives you a view of both fish ponds. The trail is not signposted, so that does keep it exclusive and there were no other visitors present.

Later in the day, I ticked off some more sights in the area, such as the Shepherd’s Museum and the Nine Arch Bridge. I had eaten at the historic Hortobagy Csarda the evening before, although I found better food the next day at the Tiszacsege fish csarda. I even bought a permit (1000 forint / 3 EUR) at the Visitor Center to check out some more fish ponds. I tried hard to enjoy it all, but there are so many annoying things that kept distracting me from a satisfying visit. The permit system, the lack of information, the limited parking possibilities (or when there is, the payment for it), the busy roads and speeding locals. My best memories comprise encountering the shepherds and their herds in the fields early morning and late afternoon light.

Read more from Els Slots here.


Hubert

Austria - 12-Mar-15 -

Hortobágy by Hubert Scharnagl

Puszta, a well-known term that is inseparably linked to Hungary. But what can be expected from this WHS? The last remains of an unspoilt cultural landscape with traces of the interaction between man and nature and pretty examples of rural architecture - sounds pretty good? Or flat and vast grasslands that looks the same in every direction, a paradise only for bird watchers - sounds rather dull and boring? To answer right away: it's a bit of both, but for me the boring parts outweigh the interesting impressions.

The village of Hortobágy is the centre of the park, here you find the visitor centre, the best-known csárda (with pretty good food), a shepherd's museum, and the Nine Arch Bridge (looks better on photos than in reality). Hortobágy has various opportunities for accommodation, we stayed for one night and were lucky to get the last available room in the hotel next to the visitor centre. There are also nice examples of vernacular architecture in and around the village and the nearby Mata Stud. The photo shows a farmhouse with an upstanding steep well, the symbol of the Puszta.

Large parts of the WHS are protected and can only be visited with a special permit and a guide, but there are three trails where the National Park is accessible (day tickets at the visitor center). First we went to the fish ponds at Halasto, a large system of artificial ponds that were created about hundred years ago, mainly for carp culture. Today the ponds are the habitat and breeding area for numerous rare water birds. We took the restored narrow gauge railway that rumbles five kilometres along the main dike up to the terminal stop, but you can also hike or ride by bike. Forty-five minutes until the ride back was more than enough time to stroll on the boardwalk through the reeds and to climb the look-out. We saw a herd of water buffalo on the train ride, but only few birds and few bird watchers. The peak season is in spring and September when migrating birds, geese and cranes, take a rest at the fish ponds. The train operator raved about a unique and memorable spectacle. Well, bird watching is not one of my greatest passions, so I'll never know.

The next day we went to the Szálkahalom trail, about eight kilometres east of Hortobágy on the road no.33, which runs right across the National Park. Just behind the parking lot is one of the kurgans, a burial mound from the Early Bronze Age. Actually just a low hill, without the information board no one would notice. Apart from that: farm buildings, small wood, and the Puszta - the main thing to see is that there is nothing to see, only the steppe soil, a few scattered trees and the horizon. We really tried to get the best out of this WHS and went to a third spot, the 'Egyek-pusztakócs', the trail starts at a parking lot about 20 kilometres west of Hortobágy. Again, a section with the characteristic salt soil and grass. The main sights are a marshland with reed and an isolated farm. But we did not go all the way, halfway we came to a fencing with gray cattle, really handsome animals with impressive horns. We took this as the highlight of the visit and returned to continue our trip.

Don't get me wrong, the Hortobágy National Park is a unique landscape. In Western Europe, similar areas have disappeared long ago due to intensive agriculture. It is worth to be protected and the inscription seems to be justified, but this WHS did not fill me with enthusiasm.


John booth

New Zealand - 05-Dec-12 -

Hortobágy by john booth

My visit to Hortobagy coincided with a fair in the village, to which people from all over Hungary had come. So besides seeing the heart of the National Park, there was also entertainment and traditional handicrafts and food.

However I had come to see the Puzta, so I was directed to Mata, the horse stables to the north of the village. Here I joined a fleet of horse-drawn carts for an inpection tour of the horses, sheep, oxen, water buffalo and grey cattle, all spread out across the grassy plains.

Trains from Eger to Debrecen call at Hortobagy station, situated midway between the village and Mata.


Prilot

France - 03-Aug-08 -

We came to Hortobagy this year on July , only one day because it was on your way to Romania: but we'll come back ; Patkos Csarda Motel is a lovely place; Puszta Camping can be fine too. We love hungary food. And there is such a lot of different birds, even if we dont't stay there during a long time; we spent a good time in a boat on the Tisza Lake and magyar people are so kindly; we can speak english with young people.


anna

slovakia - 01-May-05 -

I visited Hortobagy last year and stayed there for one week which I see optimal. The tourists come mainly for one day which is nothing - there are too many places to be seen. I would add to the text that there are living unique sorts of animals (e.g. grey cattle) and hundreds of birds species partly living there and partly migrating. I see the last year price of entry pass reasonable. In the village Hortobagy there are 3 hotels of differrent comfort and of course prices, camping and some offers for private accomodation - everybody can choose.


Site Info

Full Name
Hortobágy National Park - the Puszta
Unesco ID
474
Country
Hungary
Inscribed
1999
Type
Cultural
Criteria
4 5
Categories
Cultural Landscape - Continuing
Link
By ID

Site History

2003 Name change

From "Hortobágy National Park" to "Hortobágy National Park - the Puszta"

1999 Inscribed

1988 Rejected

Has RAMSAR and Biosphere inscription but not important enough for WHS

1988 Requested by State Party to not be examined

Locations

The site has 1 locations

Hortobágy

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The site has

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Ecology
Geography
History
Human Activity
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Timeline
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7241gabi A. Mehmet Haksever Alessandro Alexander Barabanov Alexander Lehmann Alfons and Riki Verstraeten Ali Zingstra Andrea Szabo Andrew Wembridge Argo Astraftis Atila Ege Bamse Bazikoln Bin Bodil Ankerly Bori Sári Boroka Szamosi Brendan Carroll Caligari Carlos Sotelo Cav004 Cezar Grozavu Christian Wagner Clyde Craig Harder Dachangjin3 Dagmara Dan Pettigrew David Aaronson & Melanie Stowell David Marton Debatecoach Devenyi Dibro Dimitar Krastev Dradrienn Drazsika Dutchbirder Els Slots Erik Jelinek Eva Kisgyorgy Fkarpfinger Flamingogirl G.L. Ingraham Gabor Geert Luiken George Evangelou George Gdanski GeorgeIng61 Gi Gonçalo Elias Gucsie Gwythyr Hanming Harry Mitsidis Hopehu Hubert Hungarian Geographic Hurrvinek Iain Jackson Ivan Rucek Jagnes Jancidobso Jarek Pokrzywnicki Jaroslav Klement Jduffhue Joel on the Road John booth Jonas Kremer Jos Schmitz Jose Antonio Collar Joyce van Soest Judit Dalla Judith Tanner KarenBMoore Krafal_74 Krisztina zill Kurt Lauer Kutasp Lanyapirosajtomogott Lara Adler Laszlo Buga Lisu Marian Lorenzo Mejino Lucas Del Puppo Luis Filipe Gaspar Luke725 Luke725 MHasuly MMM Marianna Markus Marta Lempert Martina Rúčková Marton Kemeny Melinda Baumann Michal Marciniak Mikko Mkborys MulhauserPetra Nan Nanvano Nihal Ege Noralelkes Patrik Peter Lööv Philipp Leu Philipp Peterer Q Randi Thomsen Reza Roger Ourset Roman Bruehwiler Roman Koeln Roman Raab SHIHE HUANG Schnitzel Sergio Arjona Serimari Shandos Cleaver Shkedy_uri Solivagant Stanimir Stanislaw Warwas Svein Elias Szabo Viktoria Szucs Tamas Tamara Ratz Tarquinio_Superbo Tcchang0825 Teebs Tevity Thomas Buechler Thomas van der Walt Tino A Offner Triath Tsunami Vanessa Buechler Vanjavod Vencisak WalGra Walter H. Werner Huber Wojciech Fedoruk Wolfgang Hlousa WolfgangHl YaroMir Yevhen Ivanovych Zoë Sheng Zsuzsanna Forray