Hungary’s backup capital

Did you know that Debrecen has been Hungary’s capital twice in the country’s history? First in 1849, during the Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-49 against the Habsburgs, the revolutionary government moved its headquarters from Pest-Buda to Debrecen. And then again in 1944-45, when the Provisional National Assembly was convened here. Each time represented dramatic episodes of revolution and war when the Reformed Great Church and the Reformed College of Debrecen became iconic venues of momentous historic occasions.

Debrecen, the “Calvinist Rome”

On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg (in today’s Germany) that triggered a series of reforms worldwide in all fields of life. The religious reform movement soon set its foot in Debrecen too and the city became a bastion for the Lutheran, and later Calvinist, theology and faith, greatly influencing the city’s culture and development. Debrecen is the home of the Reformed Theological University (Debreceni Református Hittudományi Egyetem) – founded in 1538 – and the Reformed Great Church (Református Nagytemplom) that was built between 1805 and 1824 and is the largest Protestant church in Hungary. Even today the largest part of the population of Debrecen belongs to the Protestant religion (25%), followed by the Roman Catholic religion (11%).

The Phoenix, an important symbol of Debrecen

A common sight in Debrecen is the image of the legendary creature, the Phoenix. Emerging from fire from a top the crown of Debrecen’s coat of arms, the phoenix symbolizes the never-ending renewal of the city. The image appears in a number of landmarks, such as the mosaic of 180,000 pieces of Venetian glass covering a prominent spot in Kossuth Square, the design of the commemorative Millennium fountain, or the bodies of the popular streetcars. In addition, Hungary’s second largest events hall to be found in Debrecen, the Főnix (Phoenix) Arena, was also named after this mythological creature.

Debrecen has been a market town for almost 600 years

In 1361, King Louis the Great granted a royal charter with royal city rights to Debrecen, making it a market town, which resulted in economic development by way of especially the cattle trade, animal husbandry, crafts and the fairs held here. The city was famous for its horses and livestock as far back as the middle ages and as a result, became the richest city in Hungary. Piac utca – meaning Market Street –, the proud venue of the famous town fairs in days of old, or the slightly gaudy, downtown merchant houses erected at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, are still very much organic parts of “civic” life. Even today Debrecen hosts a large number of markets throughout the year, including the prominent St. Michael’s Day Fair (Mihály napi vásár) held twice a year (in May and October), fortnightly antique fairs and seasonal craft fairs. It also has a large number of daily farmers’ markets spread across the city, as well as a large open-air flea market (Zsibogó) that are highly popular among the inhabitants and the visitors of the city.

Debrecen has a two-hundred-year-old spa culture

In 1820, the discovery of a 65°C thermal spring on the verge of the Great Forest (Nagyerdő) put Debrecen on the wellness map. Spa culture sprung up around it and has been a part of daily life for many ever since. At the Aquaticum Spa, thermal water temperatures are typically between a perfect 34-38°C by the time the water is fed into the baths. The water is famed for its mineral content and its healing properties and consequently, there is a range of treatments (40 different balneotherapy options) available onsite that are not to be missed. The Kerekestelepi Thermal and Outdoor Pool also offers two thermal ponds as well as a gradually deepening pool with cold water to its visitors. The thermal water is beneficial to patients suffering from hyperacidicity, rheumatism and various diseases.