New series: Bridging Europe

17-10-2003

The Maria Valeria Bridge once linked Sturovo and Esztergom. It was built in 1895 and joined the Lower and Upper parts of the Hungarian kingdom. But at the end of World War 2 escaping German troops destroyed it. During all of the communist years it was not rebuilt - and the two communities - Hungarian Esztergom and Slovakian Sturovo were divided by the Danube. The bridge lay in ruin for 56 years until the Slovak Republic and Hungary set about restoring the bridge with help from the EU. It finally re-opened in 2002 and again serves as a unifying symbol between the Hungarian and Slovak communities.

Old friends Miklos, Laci and Imro are pensioners. All of them remember the old ruined bridge and the ferry transport from one bank to the other. Sitting on a bench on the left riverbank they say that the ruin served as a memorial to the WWII atrocities. Nevertheless, they like the newly reconstructed building much more.

Miklos: "This is the second reconstruction. The bridge was first destroyed in 1920. It started operating back in 1927 only to be destroyed again in 1944. The only reminders of the bridge were its edges projecting from either bank."

Laci: "When they were building this bridge in 2001, I can tell you that as a pensioner I was sitting here and watching them for 4-5 hours every day. The workers must have thought I was a European Commission watchdog."

The European Union has helped by covering 50% of all reconstruction expenses, which represents 10 million EUR. Being Sturovo born, Mr. Laci closely observed every detail of the construction from the renewal of the two pillars until the spectacular new arches of the bridge were ceremonially put into place.

Laci: "And I say it was malice from the communist governments of both countries that they didn't want to repair this bridge for over 50 years. This reconstruction has promoted Sturovo from being a town on the Slovak periphery into a European centre."

The opening of the Maria Valeria Bridge represents a special event in the career of Sturovo's mayor, Jan Oravec. The bridge has brought investors to the region, as well as more tourists and international traffic. The standard of public services is at European level too. And thus, Jan Oravec could tell the prime ministers of both countries at a commemorating ceremony of the bridge opening:

Oravec: "I doubt whether you have ever made a decision before that has made ordinary people so happy."

I have just passed the border crossing in Sturovo, at the foot of the Marie-Valerie Bridge. It's a beautiful weather. The Danube is over 500 m wide in this place. The river is right under me and as I was told it's about 17 m deep here. On my left hand, there's Slovakia, on my right there's Hungary, and I'm facing the basilica in Esztergom where I am to go right now.

I can see you here with a group of Japanese tourists moving around the basilica but are you going to cross the river over the bridge?

Woman: "Being a Hungarian tour-guide, we never move towards the Danube, we never get across the river because it is not included into program."

And do you personally walk through the bridge to have a look from the other side at the basilica?

Woman: "I've been there a couple of times. You get a gorgeous view from over there. Gorgeous view of the river, the basilica and you may think about the history as well where you are what it used to be and what we are going to face in the future."

Standing on the top of the hill, where there's the Esztergom basilica right behind me, I realized that every bridge has two sides. Whereas from the Slovak side the basilica looks beautiful and that is the perfect view, the view over the Slovak side of the Danube River is not as picturesque. Nevertheless, this is the advantage of Sturovo and the main reason why the Marie-Valerie Bridge is so important for the Slovak side of the Danube River. The Marie-Valerie bridge brought chance to live better lives and to reach European standard for all the citizens of the once forgotten small town of Sturovo.

17-10-2003