A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Bratislava

End of August 2021, I am on the road again, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, in Slovakia: Bratislava – Nitra – Zilena – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

After a wonderful day with my long year friend(almost sixty years) in Munich, I continue my way to Bratislava. On Friday night, August 20th, I park my car under the Opera in the city centre. Nearby, I have booked a room in the hotel Art William at Laurinska street. The hotel hides in the yellow building with the arcades – a lady speaking Russian (and enjoying it) helps me to find the entry.

The hotel  was good for sleeping quietly, as the windows open to a courtyard. However, I  had to live with the somewhat sloppy service (breakfast out  of plastic boxes, room not cleaned up). 

 

After having arrived in the evening, I explore the city centre, a pretty and busy pedestrian area

Leaving my hotel, I find myself in the middle of the pedestrian area of Bratislava. 

The Ulica Ursulinska is the first street branching off from Laurinska. 

Here this shop invites me to buy flowers.

At the end of Laurinska, the “man at work” attracts tourists to make selfies. What a wonderful humour. 

There are many more such statues in the city centre.

Beautiful palaces line the streets such as the Rokoko Mirbach palace near the main square.

The Hviezdoslavovo námestie borders the pedestrian area. The memorial commemorates the poet and literature translator Hviezdoslav (1849-1921) who helped shape the Slovak language.

The square looks more like an alley. The people enjoy the warm summer evening under the trees. Many restaurants are inviting for coffee with cake or for dinner.

Now I am in Ulica Kapitulska and look into Farska, towards Kostol Pvysenia Svateho Kriza (Resurrection Church). I like the two lizards.

Night falls. I am at the main square (Hlavné Námestie) with the old city hall (the tower is from the 13th century). Just next to the city hall is the baroque church of the Jesuits. The Maximilian fountain (also called Roland fountain) has been constructed in 1572 by order of Maximilian II, king of Hungary.  

It is getting dark. The warm summer evening invites people to sit sit outside, which makes me believe that I am somewhere in Italy. 

In the dark, the network of streets confuse me. I discover this view of the city hall tower “from behind”. 

Then I find Saint George adorning this elegant courtyard.

Back in Ursulinska, I have a cold drink in a cosy courtyard. 

 

Back in the city centre by daylight

In the morning and at daylight, I return to the city hall approaching it from “behind” through the courtyard.

From here the city hall tower can also be seen. Some open air performance seems to take place.

Across the city hall is this art nouveau building; I took the photo with the Maximilian fountain in the foreground.

Also on the main square, Napoleon leans over the bench, cross-armed. Another one of the charming statues.

Michael’s gate is under restoration. The gate originates from the 14th century and was renovated by Maria Theresa in the 18th century. It is the only gate of the Bratislava fortification wall that remains today. 

 

Saint Martin’s Cathedral

Saint Martin’s Cathedral is bordering the city centre. The expressway, built in the 1970’s, cuts brutally between the old city centre and the castle hill. The relatively modest church was the place, where 18 kings of Hungary were crowned in three centuries, and therefore a copy of Stephan’s crown tops the belfry.  

The neighbourhood of Saint Martin’s Cathedral was the Jewish quarter with the Synagogue, all destroyed, when the expressway was built. The exhibition commemorates the former Jewish settlement. 

The church has an unostentatious appearance inside. As a protestant (used to unostentatious churches) I would say, the atmosphere invites to meditate.

The statue of  Saint Martin had once been part of the altar from the 17th century. The altar, including Saint Martin, was removed, when the cathedral was purified from baroque elements to appear in gothic style again. Later, the beautiful Saint Martin, dressed like a Hungarian hussar, returned to the church. He is cutting his coat to give half of it to the beggar.

 

Climbing the castle hill

A tunnel allows to get to the castle hill. It is separated from the old town by the express way that leads to the hanging bridge with the “Ufo”, which is topped by the restaurant high above the Danube and above the busy traffic.  

The entrance to the castle area is open.

From the terrace, I enjoy the view of the city centre of Bratislava with Saint Martins Cathedral and the Danube. You can see well, how the express way cuts into the heart of Bratislava.

The castle hill has an old tradition. It had been used by the Romans. It withstood all attacks during medieval times and was restored by Maria Theresa for her son-in-law Albert von Sachsen-Teschen. Then the castle decayed. It was restored again after 1945, to the appearance of the 17th century.

Behind the castle, the well-groomed baroque garden invites to sit down.

Another option for a rest are the “castle” chairs below the castle.

I leave out all the museums offered inside the castle to avoid being exposed to Covid. 

I find a cosy coffee place near the statue of the witch and then return to the city centre.

 

The Grassalkovich palace is where the president resides

To the north of the city centre, the Grassalkovich palace has been beautifully restored to become the seat of Slovakia’s president.  

The park behind the palace is open to the public.

Maria Theresia is venerated here. Majestically she rides the horse.

 

The Elisabeth church, also called blue church: Joyful Jugendstil

My guidebook proposes to visit the Elisabeth church or “blue church” to the east of the city centre. 

Built around 1910, it is a fine example of the Hungarian Jugendstil. 

It is not the only Jugendstil building in Bratislava, but it is said to be the most beautiful example – and I like it.

 

Good-bye Bratislava

After a delicious dinner with an excellent local Slovak wine of Miro Fondrk, I end my day in this small court yard in Ursulinska drinking a fruit juice made out of lemon and kiwi.

Stefan, your home town is marvellous! You must have missed it, after having left it in 1968. Great that you can visit it again.

 

Some background information about the history of Slovakia

Until 470 A.D.: Celts, Romans and Huns

  • 100 B.C.: Bratislava is a Celtic settlement at the so called amber trade route.
  • Until 370 A.D.: The Romans have temporary settlements in the area.
  • Until 455: The Huns invade the area.

Until 10th century: The Slavs arrive, are then ruled by the Avars, become independent (king Samo, Nitrava) and then part of the Great Moravia State. It is now that Cyril and Methodius, requested by Moravia from Byzantium, translate the Bible to Slavic. (Though Slovakia is a Roman catholic country today, the orthodox cross is part of the coat of arms. In addition Cyril and Methodius are venerated in the country).

  • 5th century: In the migration period, the Slavs arrive. There was a fortress at Bratislava.
  • 6th century: The Avars arrive and subdue the Slavs.
  • 623/24: The Slavs stand up, guided by the Franconian merchant Samo. Samo becomes king of the Slavs and rules until 658/58. After his death, there are no reported chronicles.
  • Around 800: Two major empires, Nitrava and Moravia, are reported.
  • 833: Moravia subdues Nitrava. The Great Moravian State is a Christian Empire that reports into Franconia and then reaches out to Byzantium. 
  • 864: Byzantium sends the brothers Cyril and Methodius to Nitra. They translate the Bible to Slavic to make it accessible for the population. The Pope approves Slavic for liturgy, along with Greek and Latin. Cyril dies in Rome and Methodius is appointed as the Moravian archbishop (870-885). After his death, the priests sticking to the Slavic liturgy are expelled. They move to Macedonia (Clement) and Bulgaria (here supported by tsar Boris I). 
  • The Great Moravian State exists until 906.

906-1918 Today’s Slovakia is part of Hungary and, after the defeat of Corvinus by the Turks, it is what remains from Hungary, inherited by Habsburg that step by step reconquers Hungary from the Turks

  • Around 900: The Hungarians immigrate and, in 906, conquer, what is Slovakia today.
  • 1241: The Mongolians invade and attack the fortress of Bratislava. It withstands their attacks. 
  • 13th century: Jews and Germans settle.
  • 1521: Slovakia switches to the protestant religion (and will move back to the catholic belief in the 17th century).
  • 1526: The Hungarian king Corvinus is defeated by the Turks.
  • 1536: The area of Slovakia is more or less all that remains from Hungary. By inheritance it belongs to the Habsburgians that make Bratislava the capital of Hungary. 
  • 1563-1830: The coronation of the (Habsburgian) kings takes place in Saint Martin’s church at Bratislava.
  • 18th century: Maria Theresa enjoys residing in Bratislava and promotes the city. Palaces in the city centre tell us about this. 
  • 1731: Emperor Joseph II moves the Hungarian capital back to Budapest and Bratislava is now a “suburb” of Vienna. 
  • The Slovak self confidence continues to exist. Several times, the Slovaks rise against the Habsburgians – without success. In 1787, Antony Bernolák creates a unified Slovak script. However, the Hungarian upper class enforces Hungarian as official language, also for schools. In September 1848 there is a major Slovak uprisin. 

1918-1992: For 70 years, Slovakia is part of Czechoslovakia, though being independent during the Second World War

  • 1918 Czechoslovakia is founded with Prague as the capital. Though part of this country, Bratislava feels more related to Austria or Hungary.
  • 1939-1945 Slovakia is independent, guided by president Josef Tiso.
  • 1945 Czechoslovakia is established by brutal force and Slovakia becomes a federative republic.
  • 1948 Slovakia loses the status as a federative republic.
  • 1990 Slovakia becomes a federative republic again within Czechoslovakia.

1992 – today: Since almost 30 years, Slovakia has been independent with the capital Bratislava. 

  • 1992 Slovakia becomes an independent state. 
  • 2004 Slovakia joins the Nato and the European Union.
  • 2009 Slovakia introduces the Euro.

 

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018
  • Wikipedia entries about Slovakia, Great Moravia, and the Glagolitic Script