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 what is now Szeged was an important trading centre, helped by the royal monopoly it held on the salt shipped in via the Maros River from Transylvania. Under the Turks, Szeged was given 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 choked Szeged off the map in 1879, when the river burst its banks, leaving fewer than 300 houses, out of an estimated 6300, standing. At least 600 people died and 60,000 were made homeless. The town bounced back and rebuilt in great haste. As a result, Szeged has an architectural uniformity unknown in most other Hungarian cities, and the leafy, broad avenues that ring the city in an almost perfect circle were named after the European cities that helped bring Szeged back to life.