On one side, Buda, and on the other, Pest. The Danube has been a mighty natural barrier between the two since both shores were first settled. This was how matters stood in the early 19th century, when ferries were the only option for inhabitants wanting to get from one shore to the other. During the coldest winters, the river’s icy crust meant there was another possibility: cross it on foot, or, for the richest strata of society, by horse and carriage.
Over time, the traffic to and fro grew in volume. The pontoon bridge set up across the gap was being overwhelmed. On top of it all, rough weather played havoc with its delicate structure, putting travellers at risk.
The need to build a secure, permanent bridge linking Buda and Pest was becoming urgent. In 1839, Count István Széchenyi spent an entire week attempting to make a safe crossing of the river, and after this ordeal undertook to find funding for such an enormous project. The Hungarian aristocrat turned to Britain for know-how, and the prestigious engineers William Tierney Clark and Adam Clark designed and oversaw construction of a new bridge.
Ten years later, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge was opened. Crowds of residents from the twin cities joined the local authorities for the event. The construction impressed not only because of its evident usefulness, but also its beauty and size: at 380 metres long and 16 wide, it was Europe’s largest bridge. Soon afterwards, its grandeur was increased with the installation of two impressive lions, made by János Marschalkó. The story goes that the sculptor was so proud of his creations that he challenged people to find the tiniest flaw in his stone beasts. One child took him up on the offer and soon found a problem in the carvings: the impressive felines had no tongues. It is said that, upon hearing of this defect, the colour and expression of Marschalkó’s face changed dramatically. However, this did not last long, since a moment later he cast himself to his death in the waters of the Danube.
However, like all good legends, there are two versions of the story. The other, less melodramatic but considerably more credible, is that the sculptor simply remarked that these were lions, and not dogs, and therefore why should they have their tongues hanging out?