Historians as Nation-Builders: Central and South-East Europe

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European Imperialism in the 19th Century The industrial revolution and pressure from a growing population in Europe led to a new phase of colonial expansion. The British Empire: Statutes and Administration With the development of new forms of rule for its dominions and Crown colonies, the British Empire developed into a colonial mosaic. France and its Colonies After , France was stripped of most of its first colonial empire. Conquest of Africa: a period of incubation In the early 19th century, the European presence in Africa was limited to trading posts scattered along the coast.

Exploring Africa Throughout the 19th century, European powers sent out explorers, scientific expeditions and military forces to Africa in order to establish their presence as colonial powers. European Expansion in the Far East, Territorial gains were relatively limited during this period, but the Opium Wars and the imposition of one-sided treaties on Asian countries heralded a new period of European expansion. Their influence lasted much longer, specifically in Esztergom.

Ideologies and National Identities

Along with him went the political and administrative power of the Hungarian Kingdom. It was never to return. This had long lasting ramifications extending right up to the present. Budapest eventually grew into a metropolis of two million.


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Esztergom has a hundred times less population. Though Esztergom remains the seat of Catholicism in Hungary today, it gets much less attention despite holding a prime position along the Danube in a location that is less than half a kilometer from Slovakia. The Chain Bridge was completed in as the first bridge built across the Danube in Hungary. When the Maria Valeria Bridge was finished in , Budapest already had two bridges crossing the Danube and was about to add a third. The Maria Valeria Bridge went on to suffer an eight-year period from where it was incapacitated due to damage incurred by fighting between Czechoslovakia and Hungary following the First World War.

It was during the Second World War that the original steel structure suffered a fatal blow. The Maria Valeria Bridge, along with the most important bridges in Budapest, were either blown up or semi-sunk in the roiling waters of the Danube. The Chain Bridge was reconstructed a mere four years after it was sunk.

It took 57 years before the Maria Valeria Bridge was rebuilt. It would have been unthinkable for the national capital to go without a bridge over the Danube. As for Esztergom it would have to wait until the Iron Curtain collapsed. It was impossible not to notice the neat little border post that was still standing on the left side of the bridge. Not long ago it had been manned around the clock. Now the post was little more than an exquisitely maintained relic.

An artifact from a time when the borders of Eastern European nations consisted of something more than ideas. It was hard to imagine how different things were just fifteen years before. There was no bridge and getting into or out of Hungary required a traveler to show the proper documents. The reconstructed Maria Valeria Bridge was a giant step in bridging that divide, but for Hungarians it was a throwback to a golden age.

The Kingdom of Hungary had been exploding with economic growth when the bridge was built in the late 19 th century. It tied a unified kingdom together, rather than two nations as it does today. At best, Hungary and Slovakia are not quite friends, but can hardly be considered foes. The bridge ties them to a common commercial culture. The shrinkage of travel time and eradication of what was once a dangerous river crossing, can cause people to sometimes forget that the Danube is a real border in this area.

It has often divided more than connected its northern and southern shores in modern times. The Danube was the great facilitator of commerce for centuries, but when the Maria Valeria Bridge was destroyed during World War II the river became an almost insuperable barrier to commerce.

The present bridge on which I stood was both a facilitator of transport and commerce. Five years after it was reopened in , traffic had grown twenty fold.

Europe's colonial expansion, 1820-1939

One out of every four people in the town were out of work. The bridge changed that situation for the better as cross border commerce soared. Esztergom and Sturovo became intimately reconnected.

The divide between Esztergom and Sturovo was bridged by a return to Habsburg history in the form of an old name brought back to life. Names have a weighty symbolism in this region for the history they represent. When the Maria Valeria Bridge was blown up in , it would seem that this was the last anyone would hear of that name. The Habsburgs were history and after the imposition of communism nothing more could or would be said.

A resurgence of nostalgia for the Austro-Hungarian Empire occurred after the collapse of communism. Never mind that the good old days were not so good, but they had been better than most. Maria Valeria was a nostalgic rather than national name. One that could easily be resurrected when the bridge was reconstructed.

There was opposition in the form of political correctness. Some felt that it would be better to avoid giving the bridge a name related to Austria-Hungary. When the time came to choose between that apolitical name and the historically intriguing Habsburg one, imagination, history and nostalgia won out. The resonance of that lost world helped build a bridge that reconnected past and present.

All it takes is one moment to turn a place into something special for me. It is often a moment that manages to bring me closer to what fascinates rather than interests me. The difference between a fascination and an interest is the difference between something that lasts forever and something that is fleeting.

Esztergom provided me with an unforgettable moment of fascination that six years later remains more than a memory. The moment of fascination arrived as so many memorable things in life do, unexpectedly. My focus in Esztergom had been threefold from the start. Go dip my toe in the mighty Danube, visit the Castle ruins and spend time at the giant domed Basilica.

The Basilica, on a distant hilltop half hidden by mist, was just coming into view. This would have usually been cause for excitement, but its dome looked so faraway as to seem unattainable. It only served to remind me of just how far I still had to walk. In the meantime, I proceeded to wander sleepy eyed down an anonymous street. I meandered past residences of people who I imagined were just as miserable as I was at that very moment.

People who went to work for forty years, retired and slept for the rest of their lives. These false assumptions were more about my mood than a reality I could never really know. I had done next to nothing and was already exhausted by the perpetual gloom. I was caught somewhere between restlessness and listlessness. Harmony In Dissimilarity — A Logical Symmetry My grey mood suddenly vanished at the sight of a structure that focused my attention.

Along the road of anonymity, I came upon a domed church with two smaller steeples. The entire edifice was designed in the round with a single exception, a neo-classically styled entryway with a columned portico. The design managed to incorporate two disparate styles into one. The columned portico looked as though it had been grafted onto the circular structure.

Central Europe - Wikipedia

At the same time, the church had a logical symmetry. In my experience, it is rather rare to see architecture with such stylistic dissimilarity that creates harmony. It may have been inspired by neo-classicism, but the overarching effect was of two disparate parts that had been made to fit together.


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  • I snapped several photos of the church. This was a memory worth capturing in my own personal memory bank. The church looked to be well past its prime. Paint and plaster on the exterior were chipping and the Doric columns had aged without grace. This was a temple to faith that did not soar so much as survive.

    It reminded me of people who show their age. On either side of the steps leading up to the entrance, were two and half meter tall angels sculpted in marble. Each was grasping a large cross close to them, while they rested a hand on heart.

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