Debrecen , (approximate pronunciation, Deb-ret-sen, known by alternative names), is the second largest city in Hungary after Budapest. Debrecen is the regional centre of the Northern Great Plain region and the capital of Hajdú-Bihar county.
The city used to be somewhat isolated from Budapest, Hungary's main transport hub. However, the new sections of motorway M3 (M35) have already significantly decreased travel times. Also, there have been improvements to the current highway (main road) and modernisation of some parts of the rail tracks between the capital and Debrecen as part of Hungary's mainly EU-funded National Development Plan for 2004 to 2006. Debrecen Airport (the second largest in Hungary) has recently undergone modernisation in order to take more international flights.
For local transport in the city see Public transport in Debrecen.
Before Hungarians occupied present-day Hungary, a number of different tribes lived in the area. The town came into existence by the merging of the small villages of the area.
In 1361 King Louis I of Hungary granted the citizens of Debrecen the right to choose the town's judge and council. This opened new opportunities for the town. By the early 16th century Debrecen was an important market town. King Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor, as part of a treaty with Serbian ruler Despotus Stefan Lazarević, gave him Debrecen as a gift in September of 1411. A year after Lazarević's death in 1426, the lord of Debrecen became Despotus Đurađ Branković of Serbia, Stefan's succesor. Between 1450 and 1507, it was a domain of the Hunyadi family.
During the Ottoman period, being close to the border and having no castle or city walls, Debrecen often found itself in difficult situations and the town was saved only by the diplomatic skills of its leaders. Sometimes the town was protected by the Ottoman empire, sometimes by the Catholic European rulers or by Francis II Rákóczi, prince of Transylvania. This led the town's citizens to be open-minded and Debrecen embraced the Protestant Reformation quite early, earning the moniker "Calvinist Rome". At this period the inhabitants of the town were mainly Hungarian calvinists. Debrecen became sanjak between 1541-1693 and orderly bounded to eyalets of Budin (1541-1596), Eğri (1596-1660) and Varat (1660-1693) as Debreçin.
In 1693 Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor elevated Debrecen to free royal town status. In 1715, the Roman Catholic Church returned to Debrecen, and the town gave them a place to build a church, so the Piarist monks could build the St. Anna Cathedral. By this time the town was an important cultural, commercial and agricultural centre, and many future scholars and poets attended its Protestant College (a predecessor of today's University of Debrecen).
In 1849 Debrecen was the capital of Hungary for a short time when the Hungarian revolutionary government fled there from Pest-Buda (modern-day Budapest.) In April 1849, the dethronization of Habsburgs (neglected after the fall of the revolution) and the independence of Hungary was proclaimed here by Louis Kossuth at the Great (Calvinist) Church (Nagytemplom in Hungarian.) Debrecen also witnessed the end of the war of independence; the battle in which the Russians, the allies of the Habsburgs, defeated the Hungarian army was close to the western part of the town.
After the war, Debrecen slowly began to prosper again. In 1857 the railway line between Budapest and Debrecen was completed, and Debrecen soon became a railway junction. New schools, hospitals, churches, factories, mills were built, banks and insurance companies settled in the city. The appearance of the city began to improve too: with new, higher buildings, parks and beautiful villas it no longer resembled a provincial town and began to look like a modern city. In 1884 Debrecen became the first Hungarian city to have a steam tramway.
After World War I, Hungary lost a considerable portion of its eastern territory to Romania, and Debrecen once again became situated close to the border of the country. It was controlled by the Romanian army for a short time in 1919. Tourism provided a way for the city to begin to prosper again. Many buildings (among them an indoor swimming pool and Hungary's first stadium) were built in the central park, the Nagyerdő ("Big Forest"), providing recreational facilities. The building of the university was completed. The Hortobágy, a large pasture owned by the city, became a tourist attraction.
During World War II Debrecen was almost completely destroyed, 70% of the buildings suffered damage, 50% of them were completely destroyed. A major battle, the Battle of Debrecen, occurred near the city in October 1944. After 1944 the reconstruction began and Debrecen became the capital of Hungary for a short time once again. The citizens began to rebuild their city, trying to restore its pre-war status, but the new, Communist government of Hungary had other plans. The institutions and estates of the city were taken into public ownership. This forced change of the old system brought new losses to Debrecen; half of its area was annexed to nearby towns, and the city also lost its rights over the Hortobágy. In 1952 two new villages – Ebes and Nagyhegyes – were formed from former parts of Debrecen, while in 1981 the nearby village Józsa was annexed to the city. The newly built blocks of flats provided housing for those who lost their homes during the war. In the following decades Debrecen was the third largest city of Hungary (behind Budapest and Miskolc), and became the second largest in the 1990s when the population of Miskolc decreased.
Debrecen is home to a large university, University of Debrecen, whose main building is a widely recognized work of architecture. The university has many departments and is a major research facility in Europe. Debrecen is the site of one of the most important choral competition, Bela Bartok International Choir Competition, is and member cities of the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing.
The city has hosted several international sporting events in the last years, for example in July 2001 the second World Youth Championships in Athletics and in October 2006 hosted the first IAAF World Road Running Championships and also the 2007 European SC Swimming Championships.
The city was officially an applicant city to host the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010.