Rebuilding of Szeged after the great flood

Rebuilding of Szeged after the great flood

The 1879 flood in Szeged practically leveled the city, which was then built of adobe houses with irregular lines, to the ground. Although the steadily rising flood levels since 1855 and the floods of the 1870s highlighted the weakness of the embankments and the lack of organised protection, no planned intervention was made.   

Szeged was then flooded by almost 3 metres of water, which cost the lives of 146 people. Few buildings survived, as the flood waters receded after 186 days. During this period, the population travelled on floating walkways made of planks and on boats. After the disaster, the most important thing was to remove the remaining water, which required the construction of a reed wall and continuous pumping. The site was also visited by Franz Joseph I, and the news of the disaster hit the international press, with 35 countries providing financial aid in addition to domestic support. This unprecedented international cooperation helped to rebuild the city in 4 years. 

The natural disaster provided an opportunity to apply modern urban planning principles to the reconstruction process. This was designed by Lajos Lechner, who had already proven his skills in a previous competition for the redevelopment of Budapest. He had the opportunity to meet all the requirements of a modern city, which is why he improved transport, took care of accessibility to workplaces and the air and sunlight needs of the population. The result was a compact round-trip system, which has since provided the opportunity to develop a rational public transport network and to use features that are also within cycling distance. 

Community planning was active in the newly built city, as Lajos Lechner and his designer team consulted with almost all the families who had lost their homes about their newly parcelled property and the building that could be built on it. The height, type and building material of houses throughout the town were regulated to ensure that they would be strong enough to withstand another flood. Twenty different designs of model houses were produced, which could be built better, but not simpler. The roads with solid pavement were named after the countries that provided them, as a gratitude for international support.

Even before the reconstruction started, the issue of afforesting the city was given high priority, and 300 000 saplings (a mixture of ornamental and fruit trees) were collected in response to a public call for tenders. At the same time, a modern sewage system was constructed, dividing the city into 4 parts, each of which could be independently drained. In four years, a total of 26 two-storey, 211 single-storey, 836 high-rise, 1560 ground-floor dwellings were built, as well as 594 workshops, stables and farm buildings.