One of the most common linguistic frustrations of tourists in Budapest is when they inquire from passers-by how to get to Széchenyi fürdő, locals cannot figure out what they are trying to say. Although most phrasebooks attempt to help by providing some sort of transcription like Rick Steves’ guide: (SAY-chehn-yee) or Wikipedia using IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) [ˈseːtʃeːɲi], most probably it won’t work. Pronunciation guides like Forvo are reliable, although the quality of the recording is not always the best.

The largest medicinal bath (gyógyfürdő) of Budapest, Széchenyi, built in 1913, was of course named after ”the greatest Hungarian” i.e. Count István Széchenyi, as his lifetime rival Lajos Kossuth once called him.

His surname derives from Szécsény, a lovely small town in the northern county of Nógrád boasting to have hosted the Diet (Parliament) in 1705 where Ferenc Rákóczi II, the ruling Prince of Transylvania was elected commander-in chief of the Hungarian rebel forces at the height of his War of Independence against the Habsburgs.

Hungarians are reminded daily of the Count, and with good reason. Not only was the first bridge Széchenyi Lánchíd, (which he initiated and financed) named after him but also the square (Széchenyi tér) on the Pest side of the bridge where the building of the Academy of Sciences stands, which was founded in 1808 after Széchenyi offered one year’s income from  his estate for the purposes of a learned society. Even if you are not familiar with all these facts about him, you can see his portrait daily on the HUF 5000 banknote.

Some might think that the National Széchényi Library (Országos Széchényi Könyvtár) housed in the Buda Castle Palace is also named after him, but actually it bears his father’s name, Count Ferenc Széchényi, who founded it in 1803 but he spelt his surname with two ‘é’-s.

If you’re interested in knowing more about Count István Széchenyi, read his brief life-story in the series of Famous Hungarians on our webpage: