Before the arrival of the Magyars, several different tribes lived in the area of present-day Debrecen. Our ancestors took the area at the end of the 8th century and it has been continuously occupied by Magyars and is thus one of the most ancient of all Hungarian cities. During its history Debrecen often found itself on the border of big empires and peoples.
From the Antiquity to the 16th century
The vicinity of Debrecen was already inhabited in ancient times. At the crossroads of highways from the four points of the compass, Debrecen was born from the merging of several villages. The meaning of its name is “let it live, move”.
In 1361, Louis I granted a royal charter to Debrecen, making it a market town, which resulted in economic development by way of especially the cattle trade, animal husbandry, crafts and the fairs held here. Debrecen soon became one of the largest and richest towns of Hungary.
From the 16th to the 18th century
The religious reform movement of 1536 soon took roots in Debrecen, whose population became predominantly Protestant from the mid-16th century. In 1538, the still operating Debrecen Reformed College, often mentioned as “the school of the country” was founded. During the Ottoman rule, starting in 1541, when Hungary was split into three parts, Debrecen managed to maintain its independence through clever diplomacy and generous gifts.
On 11 April 1693, Leopold I elevated Debrecen to free royal town status, and set as a condition the return of the Roman Catholic Church to the “Calvinist Rome” after a century and a half. By this time, the city was an important cultural, commercial and agricultural center.
The 19th century
In the first half of 1849, during the country’s war of independence, the Hungarian government fled here for five months: they brought the Holy Crown, and so Debrecen became the temporary capital and the “guardian city of liberty”. It was here, in the Great Church, that the dethronization of Habsburgs and the independence of Hungary were proclaimed by Lajos Kossuth.
In 1857, the railway line between Budapest and Debrecen was completed, and by the late 19th century, as part of the large-scale constructions and modernization of the city, Hungary’s first steam tramway was also built here.
The 20th century
As a result of the peace treaty after World War I, the city’s role changed: with Hungary losing a considerable portion of its eastern territory to Romania, Debrecen became a border city.
Towards the end of World War II, bombings and other military actions caused severe damage in the city, and more than half of the buildings were destroyed. At the turn of 1944 and 1945, Debrecen once again briefly served as Hungary’s capital.
The 1950s was characterized by large-scale industrialization in the city. On October 23, 1956, the revolution also started in Debrecen, even before the demonstrations in Budapest. It was here that the police forces first turned against the demonstrators, the first shots were fired, and the first casualties of the revolution were also in Debrecen.
In the period after 1956, industrialization continued, the population of the city increased significantly, and housing estates were built on the outskirts.
Since the political transformations
After the political transformation in 1989-1990, Debrecen started to witness phenomenal development. New communal places and institutions were created and the existing ones were renewed in the new millennium.
In August 1991, Pope John Paul II visited Debrecen, which was a symbol of the reconciliation between the Roman Catholic and the Reformed churches. As a result of his intervention, the Debrecen-Nyíregyháza Roman Catholic Diocese was formed in 1993.
By the first decade of the 21st century, Debrecen has become an economic, administrative, cultural and educational center of Eastern Hungary. Scheduled flights started from the second international airport of the country operating a permanent border station. The presence of several multinational companies and the 30,000-student university, including thousands of international students, lends the city a distinctively cosmopolitan atmosphere.