October 29, 2012
Bratislava is Slovakia’s capital and largest city. It is also the country’s economic hub, its most highly industrialized region, the site of its most important university and numerous research institutes, and the home of a thriving arts community. In many ways Bratislava dominates modern Slovakia.
The strategic site of Bratislava and its immediate vicinity has been occupied for several thousand years. The hill that is now crowned by the city’s distinctive, square castle has been inhabited at least since Neolithic times, and Celtic remains from a few centuries BCE are also found there. Later the site was taken over by the Romans, forming part of their far-flung defenses; they called it Posonium. Around 1000 CE the area was incorporated in the Kingdom of Hungary and called Poszony after Posonium.
In 1526 the Hungarian state suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks and lost most of its territory. From 1536 until 1783 Poszony (also known by its German name Pressburg) served as the capital of the remaining state, known as Royal Hungary. Coronations of the kings and queens of Hungary were held in the city’s great Cathedral of St. Martin from 1563 until 1830.
In 1919 Poszony/Pressburg was renamed Bratislava (reflecting an ancient Slavic name) and designated as the capital of Slovakia within the newly-established Czechoslovakia. Since 1993 it has been the capital of the Slovak Republic.
The skyline of the old city as seen from across the River Danube. The square Castle sits atop the highest hill. St. Martin’s Cathedral, its tower capped by a green and gold roof, is to the right. In between are situated the remains of the old city, recognizable by the steep, red-tiled roofs. Many historic structures were demolished when the Communists built the bridge seen on the left.
Bratislava seen from the Castle. In front is the old city, behind are new commercial buildings, and in the far distance a large group of apartment blocks typical of the Communist era.
St. Martin’s Cathedral seen from the Castle. The kings and queens of Hungary were crowned in this cathedral for 250 years.
Brass marker set in a street of the old city. Markers like this one show the route taken by the coronation procession from the Castle to the Cathedral.
The tower of St, Michael’s Gate. The old city of Bratislava was once ringed by massive walls, with gates and towers providing access at selected points. Most of the walls have been demolished; St. Michael’s Gate is the principal remnant of these ancient defensive fortifications. The banner advertises the Bratislava Musical Festival held at many venues throughout the city each year.
Flags fly from the Primatial Palace. Built in the 18th century as the residence of the archbishop of Esztergom, the palace now houses the mayor’s office and is the venue for many public functions. The flags represent, from the left, the Slovak Republic, the European Union, the city of Bratislava, and the Bratislava Music Festival.
The 18th century palace built originally for Count Grassalkovič, adviser to Empress Maria Theresa. Today it serves as the residence of the president and is the venue for many state functions. It fronts on Hodža Square (Hodžovo námestie), named after Michal Miloslav Hodža, my great-granduncle.
Many of Bratislava’s grand, old buildings are built around a courtyard that is reachable by a passage leading in from the street. These courtyards often contain gems of great beauty, such as this statue of St. George and the Dragon in the courtyard of the Primatial Palace.
The ground floor of this building houses a restaurant; its courtyard provides access and has been redone in modern style.
A passageway in the old city, now housing a variety of shops.
In medieval times it was customary to advertise the nature of a shop by a symbol. In this way even the illiterate could recognize a butcher shop, a smithy, and so forth. The dragon was a common symbol for a pharmacy, as seen in this splendid specimen in old Bratislava.
Bratislava’s best-known mailbox. Public art from many eras is abundant in the city and throughout Slovakia.
The younger generation poses with one of Bratislava’s favorite whimsical sculptures, Čumil emerging from a manhole.
You never know who might be lurking around the corner!
There is also much of modern interest in and near Bratislava, such as these pieces in the sculpture garden of the private Danubiana Museum situated among the channels of the River Danube some 15 km. outside the city.