Debrecen(approximate pronunciation: "deh-breh-tsen", Debreţin in Romanian, Debrecín in Slovak, Debreczyn in Polish) is the second largest city in Hungary after Budapest. Debrecen is the regional centre of the Northern Great Plain region and the capital of Hajdú-Bihar county.
"Who in his sane mind would build a city in the middle of a plain with no hill and no water?" people once asked about Debrecen, yet the city has grown into a vibrant center of culture, arts and science. The economy of the city has also been developing quickly in recent years due, in part, to foreign investment.
The city is somewhat isolated due to poor transport links connecting the city to Budapest, Hungary's main transport hub and due to the fact that Hungary's transport system is very centralized. This has retarded the city's tourist and economic potential. However, there will be improvements to the current highway (main road) and modernisation of some parts of the rail tracks between the capital and Debrecen as part of Hungary's mainly EU-funded National Development Plan for 2004 to 2006. Debrecen Airport (the second largest in Hungary) has recently undergone modernisation in order to take more international flights.
In the longer term, Debrecen's proximity to Ukraine and Romania may enable it to develop as an important trade centre and transport link for the wider international region.
In 1361 King Louis the Great grants the citizens of Debrecen the right to choose the town's judge and council. This opened new opportunities for the town. By the early 16th century Debrecen was an important market town. Between 1450 and 1507, it was a domain of the Hunyadi family.
Being close to the border of the country and having no castle or city walls, Debrecen often found itself in difficult situations and the town was saved only by the diplomatic skills of its leaders. Sometimes the town was protected by the Ottoman empire, sometimes by the Catholic European rulers or by Francis II Rákóczi, prince of Transylvania. This led the town's citizens to be open-minded and Debrecen embraced the Protestant Reformation quite early, earning the moniker "Calvinist Rome". At this period the inhabitants of the town were mainly Hungarian protestants.
In 1693 Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor elevated Debrecen to free royal town status. In 1715, the Roman Catholic Church returned to Debrecen, and the town gave them a place to build a church, so the Piarist monks could build the St. Anna Cathedral. By this time the town was an important cultural, commercial and agricultural centre, and many future scholars and poets attended its Protestant College (a predecessor of today's University of Debrecen).
In 1849 Debrecen was the capital of Hungary for a short time when the Hungarian revolutionary government fled there from Pest-Buda (modern-day Budapest.) In April 1849, the dethronization of Habsburgs (neglected after the fall of the revolution) and the independence of Hungary was proclaimed here by Louis Kossuth at the Great (Calvinist) Church (Nagytemplom in Hungarian.) Debrecen also witnessed the end of the war of independence; the battle in which the Russians, the allies of the Habsburgs, defeated the Hungarian army was close to the western part of the town.
After the war, Debrecen slowly began to prosper again. In 1857 the railway line between Budapest and Debrecen was completed, and Debrecen soon became a railway junction. New schools, hospitals, churches, factories, mills were built, banks and insurance companies settled in the city. The appearance of the city began to improve too: with new, higher buildings, parks and beautiful villas it no longer resembled a provincial town and began to look like a modern city. In 1884 Debrecen became the first Hungarian city to have a steam tramway.
After World War I, Hungary lost a considerable portion of its eastern territory to Romania, and Debrecen once again became situated close to the border of the country. Tourism provided a way for the city to begin to prosper again. Many buildings (among them an indoor swimming pool and Hungary's first stadium) were built in the central park, the Nagyerdő ("Big Forest"), providing recreational facilities. The building of the university was completed. The Hortobágy, a large pasture owned by the city, became a tourist attraction.
During World War II Debrecen was almost completely destroyed, 70% of the buildings suffered damage, 50% of them were completely destroyed. A major battle, the Battle of Debrecen, occurred near the city in October 1944. After 1944 the reconstruction began and Debrecen became the capital of Hungary for a short time once again. The citizens began to rebuild their city, trying to restore its pre-war status, but the new, Communist government of Hungary had other plans. The institutions and estates of the city were taken into public ownership. This forced change of the old system brought new losses to Debrecen (half of its area was annexed to nearby towns, and the city also lost its rights over the Hortobágy. However, the newly built blocks of flats provided housing for those who lost their homes during the war.
Debrecen is also the birthplace of Paul Laszlo.