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With a land area of 92,103 square kilometers, Hungary is roughly the size of the state of Indiana. It measures about 250 kilometers from north to south and 524 kilometers from east to west. It has some 2,258 kilometers of boundaries, shared with Austria to the west, Yugoslavia to the south and southwest, Romania to the southeast, the Soviet Union to the northeast, and Czechoslovakia to the north.
Hungary's modern borders were first established after World War I when, by the terms of the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, it lost more than two-thirds of what had formerly been the Kingdom of Hungary and 58.5 percent of its population. With the aid of Nazi Germany, the country secured some boundary revisions at the expense of parts of Slovakia in 1938 and Carpatho-Ukraine in 1939 and at the expense of Romania in 1940. However, Hungary lost these territories again with its defeat in World War II. After World War II, the Trianon boundaries were restored with a small revision that benefited Czechoslovakia.
Most of the country has an elevation of fewer than 200 meters. Although Hungary has several moderately high ranges of mountains, those reaching heights of 300 meters or more cover less than 2 percent of the country. The highest point in the country is Mount Kekes (1,008 meters) in the Matra Mountains northeast of Budapest. The lowest spot is 77.6 meters above sea level, located in the Hortobagy.
The major rivers in the country are the Danube and Tisza. About one-third of the total length of the Danube River lies in Hungary; the river also flows through parts of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Austria, Yugoslavia, and Romania. It is navigable within Hungary for 418 kilometers. The Tisza River is navigable for 444 kilometers in the country. Less important rivers include the Drava along the Yugoslav border, the Raba, the Azamos, the Sio, and the Ipoly along the Czechoslovak border. Hungary has three major lakes. Lake Balaton, the largest, is 78 kilometers long and from 3 to 14 kilometers wide, with an area of 592 square kilometers. Hungarians often refer to it as the Hungarian Sea. It is Central Europe's largest freshwater lake and an important recreation area. Its shallow waters offer good summer swimming, and in winter its frozen surface provides excellent opportunities for winter sports. Smaller bodies of water are Lake Velence (26 square kilometers) in Feher County and Lake Fertö (Neusiedlersee--about 82 square kilometers within Hungary).
Hungary has three major geographic regions: the Great Plain (Nagy Alfold), lying east of the Danube River; the Transdanube, a hilly region lying west of the Danube and extending to the foothills of the Alps; and the Northern Hills, which is Austrian a mountainous and hilly country beyond the northern boundary of the Great Plain.
The Great Plain contains the basin of the Tisza River and its branches. It encompasses more than half of the country's territory. Bordered by mountains on all sides, it has a variety of terrains, including regions of fertile soil, sandy areas, wastelands, and swampy areas. Hungarians have inhabited the Great Plain for at least a millennium. Here is found the puszta, a long, and uncultivated expanse (the most famous such area still in existence is the Hortobagy), with which much Hungarian folklore is associated. In earlier centuries, the Great Plain was unsuitable for farming because of frequent flooding. Instead, it was the home of massive herds of cattle and horses. In the last half of the nineteenth century, the government sponsored programs to control the riverways and expedite inland drainage in the Great Plain. With the danger of recurrent flooding largely eliminated, much of the land was placed under cultivation, and herding ceased to be a major contributor to the area's economy.
The Transdanube region lies in the western part of the country, bounded by the Danube River, the Drava River, and the remainder of the country's border with Yugoslavia. It lies south and west of the course of the Danube. It contains Lake Fertö and Lake Balaton. The region consists mostly of rolling foothills of the Austrian Alps. However, several areas of the Transdanube are flat, most notably the Little Plain (Kis Alfold) along the lower course of the Raba River. The Transdanube is primarily an agricultural area, with flourishing crops, livestock, and viticulture. Mineral deposits and oil are found in Zala County close to the border of Yugoslavia.
The Northern Hills lie north of Budapest and run in a northeasterly direction south of the border with Czechoslovakia. The higher ridges, which are mostly forested, have rich coal and iron deposits. Minerals are a major resource of the area and have long been the basis of the industrial economies of cities in the region. Viticulture is also important, producing the famous Tokay wine.
The country's best natural resource is fertile land, although soil quality varies greatly. About 70 percent of the country's total territory is suitable for agriculture; of this portion, 72 percent is arable land. Hungary lacks extensive domestic sources of the energy and raw materials needed for industrial development.
Temperatures in Hungary vary from -28 C to 22 C. Average yearly rainfall is about sixty-four centimeters. Distribution and frequency of rainfall are unpredictable. The western part of the country usually receives more rain than the eastern part, where severe droughts may occur in summertime. Weather conditions in the Great Plain can be especially harsh, with hot summers, cold winters, and scant rainfall.
By the 1980s, the countryside was beginning to show the effects of pollution, both from herbicides used in agriculture and from industrial pollutants. Most noticeable was the gradual contamination of the country's bodies of water, endangering fish and wildlife. Although concern was mounting over these disturbing threats to the environment, no major steps had yet been taken to arrest them.
SOURCES: Library of Congress Country Studies/Area Handbook