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Remnants of the Körös culture suggest that these goddess-worshipping people lived in the Szeged area 4000 or 5000 years ago, and one of the earliest Magyar settlements in Hungary was at Ópusztaszer to the north. By the 13th century, the city was an important trading centre, helped along by the royal monopoly it held on the salt being shipped in via the Maros River from Transylvania. Under the Turks, Szeged was afforded some protection since the sultan's estates lay in the area, and it continued to prosper in the 18th and 19th centuries as a royal free town.

The watery fingers of the Tisza almost wiped Szeged off the map in 1879 but the town bounced back with a vengeance and an eye for uniform architecture. Since WWII, Szeged has been an important university town - students marched here in 1956 before their classmates in Budapest did - and a cultural centre.