The waterland Oct 21, 2008
The Szigetköz is a plain region in Western Hungary, part of the Little Hungarian Plain. The name literally means island alley, because the territory is located on an island. Its borders are the Danube and its branches; with a length of 52.5 km, with an average width of 6-8 km, and with a territory of 375 km², the island is Hungary's largest one.
It is said that from mental and spiritual aspect basically there are two types of the most glorious and most profound landscapes: either the ones where the encounter of more than one kind of landscape produces hosts of borderline phenomena, interferences, modified features, or on the contrary when all the dimensions of one landscape are interwoven by one characteristic (e.g. high mountains or alkali areas etc.). Szigetköz belongs to the latter: even if water cannot be seen everywhere, the presence of it is always perceptible – in the aroma of the air, in the haze at dawn, in life swarming in the sunshine.
The area of present Szigetköz sank in the Pliocene and became a vast flat basin, which was covered with a thick bed of gravels by the primeval rivers meandering here (Proto-Rába, Proto-Nyitra etc.) Entering into the Carpathian Basin the inclination of the Danube decreases, the flow gets slower and thus losing energy the river is unable to carry on its alluvium – the alluvium deposited like that produces one of the most beautiful parts of the whole of the Danube, the wonderful water-world of Szigetköz and (Csallóköz on the left bank).
The landscape was characterized by continuously changing dead branches, beds changing their location, deteriorating and building islands and alluvial cones. The vegetation of the area settled on this animated scene trying to tie, to stabilize these islands and riverbanks with the roots of the plants. Man living here was always moving their settlements to a momentarily unflooded hill therefore the villages in Szigetköz practically moved around the whole area of the region, which is traceable in the names of fields and districts.
After the river regularization villages moved to the side free from flood, the flow of the main branch gathered speed, therefore the bed became deeper and distant dead branches received fresh water less and less often and siltation began. The nightmare of the end of the twentieth century, the river barrage at Bős just 'crowned' this process: Szigetköz began drying out.
Nevertheless, several parts of the area between the Mosoni-Danube and the main bed of the Danube remained one of the most valuable parts of the river more or less recalling the original sate of things. The unforgettable world of Szigetköz is still recalled by the unbelievable exuberance of larger and smaller dead branches, side-beds, gallery forests in flood plains, marshy, wet meadows, shallows. (Nature conservation tries to maintain the survival of the remains of the former water-world.)
The still traceable exuberance of plant and animal communities were shaped by the combined effects of several environmental factors. The profusion of species of communities associated with water is still enriched by the fact that species belonging both to Alpine and Pannon flora can be found in the area. Until the last centuries the mostly impenetrable vegetation of flood plains often served as a resort or a place of refuge for quite a few plants which remained here after the ice-age.
Reed-grass associations live either tied to the bottom or floating on the quiet open water of dead branches and reed-bulrush-sedge associations can be found on the edges of low banks. There are scrub willows on the wet parts (on lower areas and on the wide banks), the soft wooded strip of willows-poplars is a bit higher, then hard wooded gallery forests, oak-ash-elm forests can be found on the drier areas.
In the willow-poplar strip there are alder groves or mixed alder groves at several places. The alder groves are often mixed with grey alder (Alnus incana), or fluttering elm at other places. These areas are often turned into an impenetrable jungle by the wild vine and patches of the otherwise rare black currant (Ribes nigrum) can often be found.
The European bird cherry (Prunus padus), the great maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), the wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana), the cornel (Cornaceae sp.) and the hawthorn (Crataegus) grow in the hardwooded forests of higher areas, yellow anemone, ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria), the broad-leaved Solomon's-seal (Polygonatum sp.), the lily-of-the-valley and several species of orchids bloom at lower parts. The rarest plants of the area are the fly-orchid and the early spider-orchid an the oranfe lily (Lilium bulbiferum).
The fauna of Szigetköz reach of the Danube also houses a lot of things of interest. The presence of more than fifty species of fish have been proved, with typical mountain species like the rainbow-trout, as well as the ones characteristic of slow stagnant water e.g. the weather-fish.
The avifauna is astonishingly rich, masses of water-birds, small song birds and rare birds of prey are provided with habitat here – more than two hundred species of them live and hatch in Szigetköz. There are larger and smaller colonies of herons (with common and purple herons dwarf herons, little egrets, great white herons, night herons), the black stork nest in the more hidden places, several duck species (ferruginous duck, garganey, shoveler, mallard) can be seen on the water.
Besides the wild cat and the otter the currently most precious species of the fauna is the beaver.
Szigetköz had been an inhabited area even before the Magyar conquest in the 9th century. Man in Szigetköz, whose lifestyle and activities were associated with water, settled on clearings free of flood for centuries. The most characteristic occupations were fishing, hunting, fowling, felling of trees, but animal husbandry was also important in the forests and on the islands so was swimming cattle and swine fed on mast from island to island. In addition to that there was a fairly rare occupation surviving for a long time – rare at least in Hungary – gold-washing, which is still pursued by some eccentric experimenting people. A fair amount of washed gold coming from layers of schist of the Alps deposited in Szeigetköz, which can still be observed with a little patience by anybody in the mood to experiment.
A few relics of traditional architecture can be seen at several places in the villages of Szigetköz, as well as some nice examples of baroque and neoclassic architecture of churches and manor-houses.
There are well maintained bicycle paths and camp sites for visitors in Szigetköz.
Part of the list Top 15 Things to see in Little Hungarian Plain
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