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Frozen River

Winter of '63

Although ice-floats appear on the Danube every year, those times when the river froze completely and people were able to cross the thick ice plate on foot are gone. Nowadays this is very unlikely to happen. The elderly may still remember the last time when it happened, during the winter of 1963.

The frozen Danube was not considered a rare occurrence in the past. The former shape of the river before its regulation, did not require a really persistent and extremely low temperature. The waters rolling slowly in its shallow riverbed, doted with lots of tiny isles froze much more easily, than today’s narrowed river course with a deepened bed. Just below freezing point for a longer time was enough. Rivermen always considered it a bad omen when drifts of ice appeared on the river, for when the milder weather arrived during spring, usually from the west, the break-up was about to begin. Ice-float coming from the west mainly encountered a thick ice plate in the Carpathian Basin, therefore they piled up and jammed the river, then swelled it wayout. When an adequate amount of water was accumulated and the pressure was increasing, the ice-jam risen and floated along. This usually meant that the massive travelling weight laid waste to all it came across until it bumped into a larger obstacle – island, forest or a building- and stopped again.

The frozen Danube always made it easy to get to the other shore, and that generally meant nothing good for the residents. During the winter of 1241-42 the Tatars were only able to destroy the Transdanubian counties by crossing the river on its massive ice layer. Armies consistently chose a harsh winter for their planned raids and conquers, when the river was not holding them back, the ice was quite often strong enough to withstand an armed mass with mounts and even carts or wagons.

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