The area around Debrecen has been settled since earliest times. When the Magyars arrived late in the 9th century, they found a settlement of Slovaks here who called the region Dobre Zliem for its ‘good soil’. Debrecen’s wealth, based on salt, the fur trade and cattle raising, grew steadily through the Middle Ages and increased during the Turkish occupation; the city kept all sides happy by paying tribute to the Ottomans, the Habsburgs and the Transylvanian princes at the same time.
By the mid-16th century much of the population had converted to Protestantism and churches were being erected with gusto, earning the city the nickname ‘Calvinist Rome’. Debrecen played a pivotal role in the 1848–49 War of Independence, and it experienced a major building boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.