The plans were ready by 1868 to build a Canal Grande instead of the today well-known Grand Boulevard of Budapest. What went wrong?
In the first half of the 19th century, everybody was afraid of the River Danube because of the many horrid floods the city survived before (we wrote about the most significant floods in Hungary HERE). However, an engineer, Ferenc Reitter, wanted to use the river to help the industrial revolution that finally started in Hungary in the 1860s. Therefore, he
planned a ship-canal in the heart of today’s Budapest
in the place of what we know today as the Grand Boulevard of the Hungarian capital.
He believed that this would not only reduce the chance of a devastating flood but could also help the city to become an industrial and commercial metropolis. Furthermore, the territory on which today the Grand Boulevard is was one of the distributaries of the Danube. Thus it lies deeper than its neighbourhood, and it needed only some riverbed dredging to become passable for ships – thought Mr Reitter.
Reitter believed that the ships moving in the canal would balance the transport of goods in the city and would help
create new docks and stores.
Many thought then that since a big city can only develop near a river, it would result in a long but thin Budapest along the Danube. Reitter said that with the help of the canal, such a strange situation could be avoided.
The Ministry of Transport accepted his plans in 1868, and even an association was founded that year to oversee the preparations. It came to light very early that the project needs tremendous money, and the country cannot bankroll it so it can be fulfilled only with the help of entrepreneurs. And
this is where all problems started.
Businessmen planning to invest money in the project did not want to develop shipping on the Danube but wanted to win a fortune on real estate jiggery-pokery. Therefore, they would have demolished all buildings in the neighbourhood of the canal and wanted to receive 25-year-long tax relief, as well.
Economists said that the project is too expensive because the main distributary of the Danube can be made navigable for only 1/10 of its costs. They added that though rivers are important in transport and trade, thanks to the developing Hungarian railway network, they are no longer the only opportunity to move a large number of goods in long distances.
Scientists cleared that the canal would be very shallow so bigger ships would not be able to enter the canal. Furthermore, the water in it would move very slowly because of the many curves so it would easily become
a hotbed for mosquitoes and pathogens.
Finally, the city would require many bridges which are also very expensive.
As a result, the entrepreneurs left the project, and since the government did not want to take out a loan for it, the parliament decided on 1871 to build a boulevard where the canal would have been. Interestingly, Ferenc Reitter was part of the committee designing it, and he died just a couple of years later after his original initiative was killed.