Until recently it was believed that this alkaline steppe was formed by the clear cutting of huge forests in the Middle Ages, followed by measures to control the course of the Tisza River, allegedly resulting in the soil's current structure and pH. However, Hortobágy is much older, with alkalinization estimated to have started ten thousand years ago, when the Tisza first found its way through the Great Hungarian Plain, cutting off many streams from their sources in the Northern Mountains. The formation was finished by grazing animals, mastodons, and wild horses during the Ice Age, followed by domesticated animals.
One of its most iconic sites is the Nine-holed Bridge. Traditional T-shaped sweep wells dot the landscape, as well as the occasional mirage of trees shimmering in the reflected heat of the Puszta. Hortobágy has also had negative connotations. Hortobágy was a place where Hungarian Stalinists sent their political opponents to work in forced labour, especially after the Resolution of Informbiro (Cominform or Communist Information Bureau). In much the same way as prison Goli otok functioned in Tito's Yugoslavia (see Tito–Stalin split) and Bărăgan in Romania.
^"Hortobágy National Park, The Hungarian Puszta" (PDF). Nomination file for inscription of the Hortobágy National Park to the World Heritage List. Ministry for Environment and Regional Policy, Republic of Hungary. 1999. pp. 4–5. Retrieved 2010-06-21.
^"Ce zicea Tito, ce povestea Dej..." (in Romanian). 2007-05-08. Retrieved 2010-06-21. In duminica de Rusalii a anului 1951, de pe granita noastra cu Iugoslavia au fost “dislocati in Baragan” circa 50.000 de “titoisti”. In aceeasi zi, mii de maghiari au fost deportati in pusta Hortobagy.