What do you associate with Hungary?
Composers like Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók, whose music often mirrored the distinct rhythm of the Hungarian language?
The Austro-Hungarian empire?
Paprika, the spice made of ground dried red peppers and the most characteristic ingredient of Hungarian cooking?
Gulyás (goulash), the savory soup seasoned with generous amounts of paprika?
Or, perhaps, Esterházy dessert, with its chocolate buttercream sandwiched between four layers of sponge cake?
All are part of the heritage of Hungary, a small central European country with a dramatic, 1,100-year history.
The name of the Hungarian people and language, in their own tongue, is Magyar. The English word, "Hungarian," is derived from the German, which has roots in the medieval Latin "Hungarus."
Hungary is one of the few countries in Europe to be surrounded by land on all sides. It is approximately the size of the state of Indiana, bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine to the northeast, and Romania to the east. Hungary's neighbors also include three former Yugoslav republics: Serbia and Croatia, to the south, and Slovenia, to the west (where Austria also borders the country).
More than half of Hungary is farmland. Its most important crops are wheat and corn, and its warm, sunny summers create ideal farming conditions.
Hungary is home to Central Europe's largest lake, Lake Balaton. You'll also find in Hungary the world's second-largest thermal lake, and the largest thermal water cave system. Indeed, the country is well known for its wellness and spa hotels, most of which are located in Budapest, Gyula, Hajdúszoboszló, Héviz (which literally means "hot water"), Sárvár and Zalakaros.
The capital city of Budapest is often called the Queen of the Danube, because it lies on the banks of the famous Danube River, Europe's second longest.
One out of every five of Hungary's ten million people lives in Budapest, a city created by the union of the towns Buda and Pest in 1873.
The part of town that was once Buda lies on the Transdanubian side of the Danube and, like the rest of the region, is hilly. The area once called Pest is where most of the inhabitants of Budapest live today.
The first Hungarians probably lived on the southern slopes of the Ural Mountains, and moved westward across the Russian steppes during the fifth century. Linguistic evidence suggests that they came into contact with Turkish and Iranian groups before finally conquering the Carpathian basin, where the nomadic tribes settled in the ninth century.
In the grasslands along the Danube River, they found grazing land for their sheep and cattle.
Hungary's first monarch, King Stephen I, or István, ruled from A.D. 997 until 1038. He was a strong leader who converted the Magyars to Christianity and united them under a central government.
Today, the king has been made a saint. Every August 20th, Saint Stephen's Day is celebrated with live performances on and over the Danube River. The highlight of the day's festivities is a spectacular fireworks display.
St. Stephen's Day is also called the "Day of the New Bread." Hungarians consider bread to be the basis of life. August is the month when the wheat harvest is brought in, and the first new flour of the year is used to bake new bread.
King Stephen was followed by weaker figures, who made Hungary an easy target for the Mongols in the mid-1200s. When their leader died, they left.
The reign of King Mattias Corvinus, between 1458 and 1490, was a high point in Hungarian history. King Matthias had a strong government backed by a powerful army. He sponsored artists and scholars, making Hungary an important cultural center. This period also left its mark on Hungarian culinary traditions, which were blended with western European techniques.
In 1526, the Turks took over much of Hungary. Their harsh rule lasted until the end of the 1600s, when they were defeated by the Habsburgs of Austria. The Habsburgs ruled Hungary with a heavy hand until an uprising, lasting from 1703 until 1711, forced them to allow the Hungarians more self-rule.
The mid-1800s was a time of revolution in many countries in Europe, and Hungary was no exception. Idealistic young people, led by the poet Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849), started a revolt on March 15th, 1848. The day remains an important national holiday.
The liberal politician, Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894) became the first governor of Hungary. There was a fight for freedom, but the Habsburgs put down the revolt in 1849.
The tide turned in 1867. With Austria having lost two wars, Hungary could force the weakened country into a dual monarchy: Austria-Hungary. This arrangement made Austria and Hungary two equal countries with one ruler. Although this gave Hungary more control over its own affairs, many Hungarians still wanted complete independence.
Others, too, sought independence. In 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip, who called for the emancipation of Bosnia and the unification of the slavic states. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, sparking the beginning of World War I. Shortly after Austria-Hungary's defeat at the end of the war, Hungary declared itself an independent republic. The country shrunk to its present-day size according to the terms of the peace treaty following World War I.
In World War II, Hungary became an ally of Nazi Germany when Adolf Hitler promised to restore some of the territory that Hungary had lost in World War I. But Hitler soon turned on his Hungarian allies and controlled the country until the Germans were defeated in 1945. The country was left in ruins.
Hungary became a Communist country soon after the end of the war. In 1956, a revolution was crushed by Soviet tanks. The revolution, which is remembered every year on October 23rd, was followed by yet another wave of emigration.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Hungary in 1989 became an independent republic again. Ten years later, the country joined the NATO alliance, and in 2004 it became a member of the European Union.
As a tourist destination, Hungary ranks eleventh among European countries, attracting more than fourteen million international tourists in 2015.