SZEGED straddles the River Tisza like a provincial Budapest, as cosmopolitan a city as you'll find on the Great Plain, with a friendly atmosphere that's mainly thanks to the students from the university. The old city's eclectic good looks have been saved by placing the ugly modern housing and industry over the river, in the suburb of Újszeged. Though Kőrös folk settled here four to five thousand years ago, and the town flourished after 1225 because of its royal monopoly over the salt mines of Transylvania, Szeged's present layout dates from after the great flood of March 1879, which washed away all but 300 homes and compelled the population to start again from scratch. With aid from foreign capitals (after whom sections of the outer boulevard are named), the city bounced back, trumpeting its revival with huge buildings and squares where every type of architectural style made an appearance.
During Communist times Szeged University was at the forefront of student protests in 1956, and one of the seedbeds of the peace movement and punk rock scene in the 1980s. More recently, the wars in the former Yugoslavia led to a boom in cross-border smuggling and Mafia activity, which made Szeged notorious in Hungary and enriched the local economy at a time when other cities were feeling the pinch.