Between the Tisza river and the eastern Hungarian town of Debrecen stretches the Hortobágy (Puszta), a lowland prairie covering an area of 2300sq.km (888sq.mi.), at one time the flood plain of the Tisza. The countryside is composed mainly of barren land with relatively infertile soil, wide areas of grass-covered steppes and pasture. Large herds of cattle and sheep and horse-paddocks bring to mind romantic pastoral tales of the Puszta of old.HistoryDuring the period of the migration of Indo-European peoples the Hortobágy was relatively thickly populated. Attacks by tribes from eastern Europe and Asia (especially Tartars and Turks) caused many to flee the Puszta, with only spasmodic growth in the few towns and villages. From the 14th C onwards the region - especially that part which enjoyed the protection of the town of Debrecen - developed a pastoral system involving the rearing of gray cattle and sheep, together with the breeding of horses. When the course of the River Tisza was changed a part of the Hortobágy region became noticeably barren and depopulated now that the land no longer benefited from the deposits of natural fertilizer previously found in the mud deposited when the river flooded its banks every year.In the late 19th and early 20th C, attempts were made to develop the Hortobágy to meet the needs of large-scale agriculture. After the Second World War various melioration measures brought at least localized improvements in soil quality. Two canals running parallel one to the other and working in conjunction with the little Hortobágy river helped to irrigate fields.Present dayTraditional pastoral life has gradually disappeared from the Hortobágy and now remains only in the form of folk-lore and simple tourist attractions. Large agricultural combines, formerly state-owned, which are concerned with the production and sale of greenstuffs and the rearing of livestock (mainly Hungarian cattle and sheep) as well as the breeding of horses, are gradually being returned to private ownership following the collapse of Communism. In some places rice-cultivation and fish-farming are playing an ever-increasing role.
Hortobágy National Park
In 1973 the central region of the Hortobágy Puszta, an area of 690sq.km (266sq.mi), was declared a nature reserve, in an attempt both to safeguard the varied fauna and flora and to preserve the traditional farming and pastoral methods which have been employed on the Hungarian Plain since the 14th C.Extensive areas of grassland interspersed with clumps of oak and maple trees, and large expanses of reeds dominate the landscape. Water-lilies, floating motherwort and other aquatic plants are nearly as common as camphor, camomile, mugwort and aster. In spring and autumn the Hortobágy provides a resting-place for vast numbers of migrant birds, including various species of heron, spoonbills, white geese, reed-warblers, waders, rare black storks, falcons and eagles. Also frequently seen are wild boar, otters and ground-squirrels. Descendants of many hundreds of years of animal rearing include the Hungarian Steppe cattle, the long-horned sheep, the nonius horse and the komondor and puli dogs so beloved by the shepherds. The occasional water-well and shepherd's dwelling complete the picture.