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Why Does Debrecen Celebrate City Day on the 11th April?

*UPDATE – ALL CELEBRATIONS ARE CANCELLED DUE TO COVID19 VIRUS*

The 11th of April is celebrated each year because this day marks the date when Debrecen was established as a Free Royal city and the independence it was granted.

Debrecen city was first documented in 1235, as Debrezun. Some believe that the name derives from the Turkic word “debresin”, while others say that it has Slavic origin and means ‘well-esteemed’. 

Debrecen thrived during the middle of the 13th century, becoming more important than some of the small villages of the area.  This was due to its location on important trading routes from East to West, as a result of which it became an important trading post.

The religious protestant reform movement of 1536 soon took root in Debrecen and its population became predominantly protestant from the mid-16th century. In 1538, the still operating Debrecen Reformed College, often mentioned as “the school of the country” was founded. During the Ottoman rule, starting in 1541, when Hungary was split into three parts, Debrecen managed to maintain its independence through clever diplomacy and generous gifts.

The end of the 17th century was an important milestone in the history of Debrecen. On 11 April 1693, Leopold I granted Debrecen the status of “free royal city”, and set as a condition that the Roman Catholic Church should return.

With this status, Debrecen had the right to set up its own judiciary, local government, and parliamentary representation. The city also had the right to develop its civil donation, ministry law, fair trade, goods stop and customs collection rights. 

The return of the Roman Catholic Church was a mandatory condition as stipulated in the Acts of governance, points of Act No. 108 of 1715, Debrecen had to allow the Roman Catholic Church to return to the city after a forced absence of two and a half centuries. The Piarist monks undertook the mission and soon their church, St. Anne’s Cathedral was soon rebuilt on the plot donated by the city. 

By giving Debrecen the status of “free royal city”, Debrecen once again embarked on the path of development. At the beginning of the 19th century, Debrecen had approximately 40,000 inhabitants – more than Bratislava or Pest, Buda. The majority of the city’s inhabitants were engaged in agriculture and livestock breeding, however, the industry also started to strengthen by operating with more and more mills and guilds in the city.

The status also brought changes to the coat of arms of Debrecen, which are shared with the Great Reformed Church. The first known coat of arms of Debrecen dates from 1560. Its main figure is the Paschal Lamb holding a flag with his right foot. In 1600 Rudolf, king of Hungary added the two open books and the crest with the phoenix to the arms. The agnus dei, (the lamb of god), stands on two books that symbolize the Old and New Testaments as well as referring to the book culture of the city. 

When Emperor Leopold I made Debrecen a free Royal town in 1693, he officially granted the arms. The palm tree and the sun were new elements to the grant. The palm symbolizes the city which gains strength from the burdens, while the sun represents the divine providence guarding the town. The arms were used until the 1950s, when the city adopted a more ‘modern’ communist logo, as shown below.  In 1989 the municipality of Debrecen – in the spirit of the historical heritage – adopted the coat-of-arms that were first granted on April 11, 1693 .

Debrecen Emblem (Coat of Arms)

Due to the significance of the provision of Leopold I in 1693, 11st of April 11 was declared the day of the city (Debrecen day).

On this day, city leaders raise the city flag and national flag in front of the Old Town Hall and the whole city celebrates this day with diverse events, including the City Celebration Assembly.

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