The origins of the name Normafa (meaning ‘Norma Tree’)
as the name suggests, the capital's best-known hiking destination, Normafa, is named after a tree. An ancient old beech tree fell in 1927 due to a lightning strike after surviving the storms for many centuries. Legend has it that it sprouted when King Matthias was born, and some believe that the great king took a nap in its shadow. Perhaps not as early as the 1400s, this tree with its huge trunk had certainly been watching over the Svábhegy for many centuries.
The old Swabian residents just called it Viharbükk, meaning Strom Beech, as the name Normafa was used first only in the mid-19th century. The area has always been popular with hikers, including the troupe of the National Theatre. In 1840, at such an excursion, the beloved actress of the age, Róza Schodelné Klein had her imagination captured by the huge, solitary beech tree, which closely resembled a scene from Bellini’s opera Norma, so she sang the Norma Aria under the tree. From then on, the beech tree was called Normafa, and the name was gradually used for the meadow around the tree as well, boasting an unobstructed lookout on the capital. The memory of the Normafa is today preserved by a plaque erected in 1967 in memory of the famous tree.
The lines of the poet Gábor Devecseri, who was also a resident of Svábhegy, were engraved on the plaque:
In ancient times your foliage swayed in the wind,
The merry song of festive climbers surrounded you,
In future times a song will rise from your foliage,
Conquering bleak indifference, conquering an angry storm.”
Sportive life at Normafa
Since the 17th century, Svábhegy has been a popular destination for hikers, tourists, and those wishing to relax and unwind. Initially, visitors were attracted by the fine hunting grounds (that is how Disznófő, meaning pig’s head, got its name), but visiting the places of pilgrimage (the Pauline monastery in Zugliget) became more and more popular. From the early 1800s, with the rapid growth of the city of Pest, the summers were unpleasant in the crowded city centre due to the lack of trees, gardens and parks, and people looked at the forests of the outskirts with longing. The shaded restaurants of nearby Zugliget soon started seeing more and more guests arriving in horse-drawn carriages. The Swabian restaurants of the Svábhegy were also very popular among the bourgeoisie, politicians and artists.
Constructions at Svábhegy were jump-started in 1871 when the cable car (fogaskerekű) was built, followed by the extension of the line to Széchenyi-hegy in 1890. With the advent and spread of motor vehicles, high-quality roads were also needed, which gave new impetus to population growth on Svábhegy. By 1920, car races were held on Svábhegy. (Source: Dr László Siklóssy: Svábhegy Budapest, 1929.)
Normafa had two ski jumping ramps built in the 1920s, one small and one large, hosting domestic championships and international ski jumping competitions.
A book describing the history of the Svábhegy Association talks about sportive life at Svábhegy:
The history of Svábhegy is interspersed with tourism. The first guidebook was published in 1844, followed by further revisions with more pictures, which also included detailed tour descriptions.
A popular pastime on snowy winter days was sledding. To promote sledding, a toboggan run was built before World War I where sledding resumed after the war, even hosting competitions.
There have been records of skiing since 1895. Normafa was obviously popular, but there were also the slopes leading to Virányos and Máriamakk. With the construction of the jumping ramp, ski jumping also set out on the path of conquest to the delight of competitors and spectators.
The flourishing sports life was halted by World War II, but was soon revived.
The first electric-powered ski lift was constructed in 1971 on the pistes of Kis-Normafa. It is no longer in operation, just as the former two jumping ramps are now also history. The ski lift was demolished, though it once transported hundreds of people to the top of the slope every hour. Even though skiers can only get back to the mountain by human force, Normafa is still immensely popular with skiers, sledgers and snowboarders in the snowy months. Several ski schools hold their workouts here on weekends, and they also have plastic slopes nearby where children can learn to ski on snowless days. (Source: sielok.hu skiers' website)
From the pistes of Svábhegy it is easy to reach the school in Zugliget through forest roads and clearings, moreover, before the widespread use of cars (by the mid-1960s) people could slide down the road to Zugliget all the way to the old tram terminal.
Many slopes previously suitable for skiing are now covered with bushes, such as the gentle slope north of Szilassy Road, which used to be a popular student track.
Doing sports at Normafa is still held in high esteem: skiing, cross-country skiing, running, hiking, cycling, dog walking and Nordic walking attract many people of all ages seeking a spot for unwinding.