Budapest is the seat of the government of Hungary, of the parliament, and of all the highest official authorities - civil, military, judicial and financial. It is the meeting-place, alternately with Vienna, of the Austro-Hungarian delegations, and it was elected to an equality with Vienna as a royal residence in 1892. It is the see of a Roman Catholic archbishop. The town is administered by an elected municipal council, which consists of 400 members. As Paris is sometimes said to be France, so may Budapest with almost greater truth be said to be Hungary. Its composite population is a faithful reflection of the heterogeneous elements in the dominions of the Habsburgs, while the trade and industry of Hungary are centralized at Budapest in a way that can scarcely be affirmed of any other European capital. In virtue of its cultural institutions, it is also the intellectual and artistic centre of Hungary. The movement in favour of Magyarizing all institutions has found its strongest development in Budapest, where the German names have all been removed from the buildings and streets.
The wonderful progress of Budapest is undoubtedly due to the revival of the Hungarian national spirit in the first half of the 19th century, and to the energetic and systematic efforts of the government and people of Hungary since the restoration of the constitution. So far as Hungary was concerned, Budapest in 1867 at once became the favoured rival of Vienna, with the important additional advantage that it had no such competitors within its own sphere as Vienna had in the Austrian provincial capitals. The political, intellectual, and social life of Hungary was centred in Budapest, and had largely been so since 1848, when it became the seat of the legislature, as it was that of the Austrian central administration which followed the revolution. The ideal of a prosperous, brilliant and attractive Magyar capital, which would keep the nobles and the intellectual flower of the country at home, uniting them in the service of the Fatherland, had received a powerful impetus from Count Stephan Széchényi, the great Hungarian reformer of the pre-Revolutionary period. His work, continued by patriotic and able successors, was now taken up as the common task of the government and the nation.
Thus the promotion of the interests of the capital and the centralization of the public and commercial life of the country have formed an integral part of the policy of the state since the restoration of the constitution. Budapest has profited largely by the encouragement of agriculture, trade and industry, by the nationalization of the railways, by the development of inland navigation, and also by the neglect of similar measures in favour of Vienna.
From that time to the present day the record of the Hungarian capital has been one of uninterrupted advance, not merely in externals, such as the removal of slums, the reconstruction of the town, the development of communications, industry and trade, and the erection of important public buildings, but also in the mental, moral and physical elevation of the inhabitants; besides another important gain from the point of view of the Hungarian statesman, namely, the progressive increase and improvement of status of the Magyar element of the population. When it is remembered that the ideal of both the authorities and the people is the ultimate monopoly of the home market by Hungarian industry and trade, and the strengthening of the Magyar influence by centralization, it is easy to understand the progress of Budapest.
Politically, this ambitious and progressive capital is the creation of the Magyar upper classes. Commercially and industrially, it may be said to be the work of the Jews. The sound judgment of the former led them to welcome and appreciate the co-operation of the latter. Indeed, a readiness to assimilate foreign elements is characteristic of Magyar patriotism, which has, particularly within the last generation, made numerous converts among the other nationalities of Hungary, and - for national purposes - may be considered to have quite absorbed the Hungarian Jews. It has thus come to pass that there is no anti-Semitism in Budapest, although the Hebrew element is proportionately much larger (21% as compared with 9%) than it is in Vienna, the Mecca of the Jew-baiter.
Budapest has long been celebrated for its mineral springs and baths, some of them having been already used during the Roman period. They rise at the foot of the Blocksberg, and are powerful chalybeate and sulphureous hot springs, with a temperature of 80°-150° Fahr. The principal baths are the Bruckbad and the Kaiserbad, both dating from the Turkish period; the St Lucasbad; and the Raitzenbad, rebuilt in 1860, one of the most magnificent establishments of its kind, which was connected through a gallery with the royal palace in the time of Matthias Corvin. There is an artesian well of sulphureous water with a temperature of 153° Fahr. in the Stadtwäldchen; and another, yielding sulphureous water with a temperature of 110° Fahr., which is used for both drinking and bathing, in the Margaret island. The mineral springs, which yield bitter alkaline waters, are situated in the plain south of the Blocksberg, and are over 40 in number. The principal are the Hunyadi-János spring, of which about 1,000,000 bottles are exported annually, the Arpad spring, and the Apenta spring.
The largest and most popular of the parks in Budapest is the Városliget, on the north-east side of the town. It has an area of 286 acres, and contains the zoological garden. On an island in its large pond are situated the agricultural (1902-1904) and the ethnographical museums. It was in this park that the millennium exhibition of 1896 took place. A still more delightful resort is the Margaret island, a long narrow island in the Danube, the property of the archduke Joseph, which has been laid out in the style of an English park, with fine trees, velvety turf and a group of villas and bath-houses. The name of the island is derived from St Margaret, the daughter of King Bela IV. (13th century), who built here a convent, the ruins of which are still in existence. To the west of Buda extends the hill (1463 ft.) of Sváb-Hegy (Schwabenberg), with extensive view and numerous villas; it is ascended by a rack-and-pinion railway. A favourite spot is the Zugliget (Auwinkel), a wooded dale on the northern slope of the hill. To the north of ó-Buda, about 4 m. from the Margaret island, on the right bank of the Danube, are the remains of the Roman colony of Aquincum. They include the foundations of an amphitheatre, of a temple, of an aqueduct, of baths and of a castrum.
The objects found here are preserved in a small museum. To the north of Pest lies the historic Rákos field, where the Hungarian diets were held in the open air from the 10th to the 14th century; and 23 m. to the north lies the royal castle of Gödöllö, with its beautiful park.