Welcome to Bratislava, Slovakia
Posonium, Pressburg, Pozsony, Prešporok, Istropolis – these have all been names of the capital of Slovakia – Bratislava, although it’s current and official name has been used since 1918. The name changed due to historical developments, for example – during the age of Duke Braslav, Bratislava was called Wratisslaburgium and later in history the name was Preslava civitas.
Although the name has changed a lot, Bratislava has always been the centre of the Slovak area and later of the independent Slovak Republic of which it remains the capital today. It has about half a million inhabitants and is located by the river Danube near the state borders of Slovakia with Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Bratislava has rich history of Celts, the Roman Empire, the Habsburgs and Maria Theresa, that influenced the development of the Bratislava city.
Bratislava became the official capital of Slovakia in 1968. Since then it has survived many political changes such as the communist regime and the peaceful Velvet revolution in 1989. Since 1993 Bratislava has been the capital of the independent state – the Slovak Republic. Today, Bratislava is the political, cultural, educational and economic centre of Slovakia.
Bratislava is the seat of the Slovak parliament, presidency, ministries, Supreme Court and central bank. Bratislava is also the centre of cultural life in Slovakia. The Slovak National Theatre, Slovak National Gallery, Slovak National Museum and Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra are based here.
The city is likewise the most important centre for education and science in the Slovak Republic. The first university in the Slovak area founded in 1465 by King Matthias Corvinus and called Academia Istropolitana (Academy of the Danube City) was based in Bratislava. Today, Bratislava as the largest and capital city of Slovakia is the seat of the largest university in Slovakia – Comenius University, the largest technical university in Slovakia – the Slovak University of Technology and University of Economics, the Academy of Performing Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts and Design. As well as universities, the Slovak Academy of Sciences with its 70 scientific institutions is also based here.
Bratislava is a modern city with rich history, beautiful sights, breathtaking views, cosy cafes and restaurants and a unique atmosphere. Being smaller in size, Bratislava is the perfect getaway for people who like to get to know a town on foot, as most of its historical sites – big in importance, are within walking distance.
The Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising
The Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising over the Danube was built between 1967 and 1972 and quickly became the landmark of the city. The architects, J. Lacko and A. Tesar, designed it as a cable-bridge with one pylon and one cable-stayed plane. On the peak of the pylon is a restaurant, 80 metres above, connected to the bridge via pylons, in one is the lift and in the other stairs. The bridge is 431.8 m long and 21 m wide. The weight is 7537 tons.
The landmark of the city, Bratislava castle, is on the hill overlooking the Old Town. The first mention of the city is from the year 907 in the Annals of Salzburg and it is connected with the battle between Bavarians and Hungarians. The peak of the hill was inhabited in the late Stone Age and the Celts are said to have been the first known settlers who established “Oppidum”, a fortified settlement.
Limes Romanus, the Roman border, ran through the area for four centuries. At the time of the Greater Moravia, a fortress was built by the Slavs and became an important centre of the empire.
In the 10th century, Bratislava became an intrinsic part of the growing Hungarian Empire. The stone castle with the church of Saint Salvator were built in the 11th century. During the reign of Sigismund of Luxemburg, the castle was rebuilt in Gothic style and acted as a fortress in the crusade against the Hussites. The new entrance, Sigismund gate, was built in the same period, as well as 7-metre wide walls in the Western side being built. The castle well was built in 1437.
In the 16th century, Emperor Ferdinand had the castle rebuilt according to the Renaissance style, and later on, in the 17th century, it was rebuilt according to the Baroque style and at that time, it became the seat of the district governor Palffy. During the reign of Maria Theresa, the castle was reconstructed according to the needs of her brother-in-law Albert, the Governor of Saxony and Cieszyn Silesia, who was a devoted art collector and placed his collection in there. The collection was later moved to Vienna – today’s Albertina gallery.
St. Martin's Cathedral
The Gothic church was built in the place of the original Romanesque church and is a reminder of the period when Bratislava was the place of coronations of Hungarian kings. The pointed arch with tympanum dominates the interior. Its inner part is beautifully decorated with the relief of the Holy Trinity.
The church has 4 chapels, namely the chapel of canons, the Gothic chapel of Žofia Bavorská (Sophia of Bavaria), the chapel of St. Anne and the Baroque chapel of St. John Almsman. The portal of the southern entrance hall shows the oldest examples of renaissance architecture in Slovakia. Between 1563 and 1830, the cathedral was the coronation place of Hungarian kings and queens. To commemorate this, a copy of the Hungarian royal crown, weighing 300 kg is put on the gilded cushion with the size of 2x2 m, is on top of the 85-metres tall gilded tower. The event is celebrated at the beginning of September.
Hviezdoslav Square and the statue of Hviezdoslav
Hviezdoslav Square is the biggest square in the centre of the Old Town of Bratislava, between The Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising and the Slovak National Theatre. The square is named after Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, great Slovak poet, dramatist and translator, although it used to have many names in the past, for example – Kossuth Lajos platz, Radetzky platz and Promenade.
The square is pedestrian zone with many trees, a podium, fountains and a larger-than-life-size statue of Hviezdoslav. The statue was unveiled on 26th September 1937 and was based on the design of the academic sculptors V. Ihriský and J. Pospíšil.
The best known and most special building near the square is the historical building of the Slovak National Theatre, but there are also the buildings of the Carlton Hotel, German and American embassies and many bars and restaurants.
The Main Square has an abundance of historic and cultural sights. The most important monument is the Old Town Hall. There are a lot of embassies, such Japanese, Greek or French, as well as a lot of palaces, such as Paluday Palace, Aponi Palace, forming a part of the Old Town Hall, Vice Governor's Palace and Kutscherfeld's Palace.
4 bronze statues
The statue commemorates a unique personality of the city’s history. He was neither a politician, nor sportsman not even a soldier. Schöne(r) Náci, real name Ignác Lamár, remains in the memory of people as a distinguished personality of the city. He was born in 1897 and he became famous due to his habit of walking through the streets of the city in an elegant suit and top hat. He bowed in front of ladies and gave them flowers or sang.
This is the unique feature of Bratislava – nowhere else in the world has a statue peeping out of a manhole. After it had lost its head twice due to inattentive drivers, the municipal representatives decided to place a unique road sign next to it.
One of the most popular places to take photos is by the bronze statue of a Napoleonic soldier leaning on a bench in the Main Square in the Old Town. The author is the sculptor Juraj Meliš. The Napoleonic army entered the city twice. The first time they entered the city, it was in December 1805 when 300 riders and 9000 infantry soldiers marched in the streets. The armistice was signed in the Primate's Palace after the battle of Austerlitz. After that, Napoleon himself entered the city.
The life-size statue of paparazzo attracts tourists in the Old Town. He peeps out on Laurinská ulica (Laurinska street) holding a camera. It seems that he’s taking photos of Bratislava celebrities leaving the bar nearby.
Old Town Hall
The history of the Old Town Hall dates to the beginning of the medieval period of the city, precisely to the 13th century. The original Romanesque house of Mayor Jakub became the property of the city and later on Unger’s and Pawer’s houses were added to it.
The old Town Hall has been closed since the 11th August 2008. The Church of St. Ladislav has Neo-Gothic reconstruction with unique paintings from the 15th century. The Renaissance arcade was added in 1581. The City Museum is in the Town Hall and is the oldest in Bratislava, although it is closed now due to reconstruction. There are exhibitions of feudal justice, the interior of Town Hall and the original equipment of medieval court. The summer brings the opportunity to go to various cultural events and in the tower, to attend various concerts.
The Primate's Palace (1778 - 1781) was built instead of the original palace of the archbishop of Ostrihom. The facade is in classical style and it is decorated with allegorical statues by J. Kögler and F. Prokop as well as vases by J. A. Messerschmidt. On the top of the tympanum, there is the coat of arms of Cardinal Jozef Batthyányi, the first inhabitant of the palace. The building is decorated with an iron hat that weighs 150 kg.
The allegorical statues symbolise the personal qualities and ranks of the cardinal. The peace treaty between France and Austria was signed in the Hall of Mirrors on 26th December 1805. The palace is the office of Bratislava mayor, and the Hall of Mirrors hosts concerts.
There is also a collection of English tapestries from the 17th century from the royal weaving mill in the city Mortlake. They were found in the reconstruction in 1903 and are well worth seeing.
In the courtyard, there is a statue of St. George, the legendary knight fighting the dragon. According to the legend, the statue of St. George is based on Archbishop Jozef and the fight symbolizes the battle against reformation. The legend says that George saved the virgin Dubravka from the arms of the dragon and married her. It is said that each year on St. George, the knight returns on his horse and bows to the city.
The bronze roof with the cupola of Michael's Gate is one of the symbols of Bratislava. The original Gothic tower from the middle of the 14th century was rebuilt into Baroque style between 1753 and 1758.
The tower is 51 meters tall and has 7 floors. When standing on the upper terrace, you can see the historic part of the city. On the top is a statue of St. Michael killing the dragon. The copy of a canon is the invitation to the Museum of weapons. Below the tower, there is the "Zero Kilometre Pointing" to 29 capitals and their distance from Bratislava.
The Grassalkovich Palace (President's palace) and the gardens
The Rococo summer palace was built for the head of the Hungarian Royal Chamber and the advisor of Empress Maria Theresa, Count Antal Grassalkovich, in 1760. The luxurious palace was the centre of the social life of nobility and today is the seat of the President of the Slovak Republic.
The palace is closed to the public, but the garden is open. The garden/park is also known as Grassalkovich's garden as well as the President’s palace garden. It was originally designed as a French garden and it has become a popular place for relaxing walks and concerts since 1919. There is an equestrian statue of Maria Theresa, the fountain Youth by the distinguished Slovak sculptor Tibor Bártfay, and some modernistic statues from contemporary artists. In the park is the alley of Presidents, where each President plants a little oak.
Rococo Mirbach's palace was built by Michael Spech, a Bratislava brewer, between 1768 and 1770. The last owner, Count Emil Mirbach, left the palace to the city with the request that it would be transformed into the Gallery of the city Bratislava. His wish was fulfilled and there is the exposition of Central European Baroque painting and sculpting. There is a space dedicated to short-term exhibitions. In the courtyard, there is an exhibition created by pompous statues of Triton and a nymph by Viktor Tilgner depicting a woman sitting on the shoulder of a strong half-man and half-snake.
Academia Istropolitana is the first Humanism university of the Hungarian Kingdom. It was established in Bratislava in 1465 by King Matthias Corvinus and has a tremendous impact on the development and spreading of Humanism philosophy in Hungary.
Johannes Müller Regiomontanus (1436 – 1476) belonged among the teachers of the university. It was an important European teacher who lectured on the movement of the Earth around the Sun, over 100 years before G. Galilei. Nowadays, there is the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. The school was cancelled after the death of King Matthias in 1490, when the building was gained by Bratislava chapter and superior.
Kern's house is on the corner of Rybárska brána (Fisherman's Gate) and Hviezdoslavovo námestie (Hviezdoslav square). Fisherman's Gate was one of the four entrances to the medieval city together with Laurinská, Michalská and Vidrická brána (gates).
Maria Theresa let the gates as well as city fortifications tear down allowing the city to grow. The ruins of the gate can be seen below the glass cover in front of the historic Slovak National Theatre. This unique presentation of the archaeological finding was awarded by the Europa Nostra of the European Union in the category of cultural heritage in the year 2002.
The building of Reduta was built in ecclesiastic style on the place of Baroque granary from the 18th century between 1911 – 1915. The building was designed by two Budapest architects D. Jakab and P. Komor. It is the place of balls and cultural events. The concert hall is the seat of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and each year, the Bratislava Music Festival takes place in here. The building was the traditional place of parties, cultural events and gatherings of people. There are also the casino and the restaurant.
The Neo-Classical building originally belonged to Count Frantisek Zichy. The family is famous, because Heinrich Marschner, one of the founders of German Romantic opera, worked as a music teacher. Nowadays, the palace is used as a place for weddings and cultural events.
Three older houses had been joined to create the district house which had stood in the place up to the middle of the 19th century. When the district house was moved to District Square, Count Palffy let the house rebuilt into his own palace. The rear part of the building was torn down in 1885 and it was replaced by the Neo-Baroque palace (Hviezdoslavovo námestie (square) 18 – nowadays Academy of Fine Arts and Design).
During the latest reconstruction, archaeologists found the remnants of a Gothic house with the tower from the 14th century and these remnants are visible in the interior of the building. Archaeological research in the basement showed Roman and Celtic artefacts. There are some indications, according to the equipment found, that a Celtic mint worked in the city for some time.
Nowadays, there are some collections of the City Gallery of Bratislava – Gothic paintings on glass and statues, the painting of Holland and Flemish masters of the 17th and the 18th centuries and Italian masters from the period from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Temporary exhibitions also appear in the palace.