Hortobágy National Park
The first and so far the biggest National Park of Hungary was established - after several decades of preparatory work supported by Nobel prize laureates - in 1973 on a 52000 ha area. This original area is entirely an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The recent (1999) area is about 80000 hectares. Wetlands of international importance occupying about one third of the HNP area are protected by the Ramsar Convention.
The Hortobágy National Park has been inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO on the 1st of December in 1999 in the category of cultural landscapes, based on cultural criteria iv and v. According to its brief description "the Hortobágy is a vast area of plains and wetlands that have been used by humans for grazing their domestic animals for more than two millennia.
The Hortobágy National Park (HNP) Directorate manages Hajdú-Bihar-, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok-, Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg counties as well as the Tisza lake of Heves County. In the 1500 square kilometres of protected areas there are mainly lowland habitats and even 2 hills at the foot of the north-east Carpathians, namely, the Kaszonyi and the Tarpai. The HNP Directorate conserves the natural habitats of the Hortobágy National Park on the largest grassland of Central Europe, four landscape protection areas and twenty smaller independent protection areas.
The regular flooding of the Tisza provided local farmers with fertile pastures for their herds and allowed for Hungarian Grey Cattle to be exported to Western-Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Important trade roads were established for this activity. These roads later became known as the "salt-roads" on which salt was transported from the salt mines of Transylvania. Wayside inns called "csárda" along main roads were built at the end of the 17th century and at least forty of them were still in existence within the last century. However, only about 5 of these inns currently exist. In the years of large-scale flooding, bridges offered the only means of crossing the land. The Nine-Arch bridge was built for that purpose. Damming of the Tisza river started in 1846 at Tiszadob. The channelized, regulated river, robbed of its meandering tributaries, was not able to flood the nearby land with its fertile sediment, resulting in the disappearance of marshes and loss of irrigation to the Hortobágy. The regulation of the watercourse, along with changes in precipitation and temperature, lead to the extension of alkaline soil. Efforts to restore fertility to the area started in the fifties. Artificial channels were created all over and industrialised, agriculture was forced upon the Hortobágy. The "puszta", with its domestic animals, pastures, waters, flora, fauna, shepherding, fishing and peasant life-style became an obsolete remnant of the past and its extinction was just a matter of time.