Exploring Budapest’s Lions Without Tongues

Crossing Chain Bridge in Budapest

Legend persists in Budapest that the four stone, sculpted lions at the corners of Chain Bridge have no tongues. There exists no particular authority about the public perception of the lions placed in 1852, a few years following completion of the bridge between Buda and Pest.

Some even say more than 15 decades after their creation that their sculptor, János Marschalkó, after criticism for omitting the tongues, hurled himself into the Danube River. The legend goes on that he didn’t survive the leap and thus became the first suicide from jumping from the bridge!

The tale (in whole or parts) is repeated regularly to tourists viewing or walking across the beautiful old bridge that was completed in 1849.
Chain Bridge Looking Toward Pest

Correctly the bridge is the “Széchenyi Chain Bridge” connecting Buda with Pest. István Széchenyi  was a major supporter of its construction but the bridge is normally referred to only as the “Chain Bridge.” The bridge has become a well-known Budapest feature. It has been shown in several movies and in 2001 Hungarian stunt pilot Péter Besenyei flew upside down under it!

The bridge was greatly destroyed by retreating Nazi’s in 1945. It was reconstructed and enhanced in 1949 but kept true to the initial design. Surprisingly, through two world wars and Soviet occupation, the lions have been undamaged! They are often a background for photos.

So, returning to the legend… Did Marschalkó throw himself from the bridge to his death? No, he died at an old age of natural causes.

Do the lions have tongues? Marschalkó placed a wager knowing full well that they did and gave the winnings to charity. The tongues are at rest on the bottom of the lion’s mouth and can’t be seen from the angle below them. They can only be seen by looking down into the lion’s mouth.

So the sculptor who was mocked was vindicated. But the tale is a good one to tell curious tourists by those living in Budapest who know the truth.

Chain Bridge, the First Bridge Connecting Buda (in the background) and Pest

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