The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is a suspension bridge named after István Széchenyi, a major supporter of its construction, but is most commonly known simply as the Chain Bridge. It was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in the city, and was opened in 1849. It has asserted an enormous significance in the country’s economic, social and cultural life.
Its cast iron decorations and construction, radiating calm dignity and balance, have elevated the Chain Bridge to a high stature in Europe. It became a symbol of advancement, national awakening and the linkage between East and West.
The bridge is anchored on the Pest side of the river to Széchenyi Square, adjacent to the Gresham Palace and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and on the Buda side to Adam Clark Square, near the Zero Kilometre Stone and the lower end of the Castle Hill Funicular, leading to the Buda Castle.
The bridge was designed by the English engineer William Tierney Clark in 1839, after Count István Széchenyi’s initiative in the same year, with construction supervised locally by Scottish engineer Adam Clark. It is a larger scale version of William Tierney Clark’s earlier Marlow Bridge, across the River Thames in Marlow, England.
The bridge was opened in 1849, and thus became the first permanent bridge in the Hungarian capital, after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. The current name of the bridge was given 50 years after its opening.
At the time, its centre span of 202 metres was one of the largest in the world. It was designed in sections and shipped from the United Kingdom to Hungary for final construction. The lions at each of the abutments were carved in stone by sculptor János Marschalko. They are visibly similar in design to the famous bronze lions of Trafalgar Square by Edwin Henry Landseer and Carlo Marochetti (commissioned in 1858 and installed nine years later), but they were earlier – installed in 1852. They are also smaller and when viewed from below, they appear to lack tongues.
The bridge’s cast iron structure was updated and strengthened in 1914. In the times of World War II, the bridge was severely damaged during the Siege of Budapest, and was rebuilt and reopened in 1949.
In 2001, Hungarian stunt pilot Péter Besenyei flew upside down under the bridge, a manoeuvre that became a standard in Red Bull air races today. The bridge is featured in the 2002 movie “I Spy” and can be seen at the beginning of Katy Perry’s music video “Firework”.