History of Bratislava
Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, was founded by the Celts in the 2nd century BC. Being close to the Austria Hungarian border, Bratislava was subject to many power struggles. Bratislava served as capital of Hungary from 1574-1784 during the Ottoman rule before the Austro-Hungary Monarchy reigned.
In the early 1900’s the Czechs and Slovaks declared the creation of Czechoslovakia and Bratislava became a part of this country. After World War II, Czechoslovakia fell under communist rule. The new country Slovakia was created in 1993.
Bratislava, with a population of 450,00, is Slovakia’s largest city. It occupies both banks of the Danube River. The city’s lovely Old Town, that is easily walkable, is on the north side of the river.
Sights to See
We started off on a cold, yet sunny day from port across from the SNP Bridge. The SNP Bridge, also known as the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising took five years to build between 1967 and 1972. The bridge is suspended from only one pylon on the south bank of the Danube. On the top of the pylon is a saucer shaped restaurant that affords sweeping views of the city.
Slovak National Theatre
From the port, we walked to the Slovak National Theatre. The neo-Renaissance structure, located on the east side of Hviezdoslavovo Square, was constructed between 1884-1886. The theatre features ballet and opera performances.
Hviezdoslavovo Square is named for Slovakia’s most famous poet, Hviezdoslav, whose statue marks the square. The square, located between the theater and bridge, dates back to the Hungarian Empire. The square is popular for cultural events and holds a Christmas market with an ice-skating rink in December.
Speaking of statues, keep an eye out for several statues, from historic to modern, around town. The oldest statue in Old Town Bratislava is on Panská Street not far from St. Martin’s Cathedral. It is said that the figurine which is above eye level in the building facade depicts a young boy sitting on a toilet who wanted to see the royal procession passing along the coronation route.
The Coronation Route
The coronation route began at St. Martin’s Cathedral where 11 Hungarian kings and 8 queens were crowned between 1563 and 1830. The route follows Panská Street and turns toward Michael’s Gate. The former route is marked by gold crowns embedded in the pavement, so it is possible to follow the path the royalty took.
St. Martin’s Cathedral
Obviously, with so many kings and queens being crowned St. Martin’s Cathedral, this Gothic edifice, located just off the edge of Old Town, is the most important religious structure in Bratislava.
From the Cathedral, we turned on Michalská which afforded us a wonderful view of Michael’s Gate, the only surviving gate to the medieval city. The tower, constructed in the first half of the 14th century, now houses the Museum of Weapons and Town Fortifications.
Old Town Hall
After admiring the gate, we turned into Old Town and entered Hlavné Square, home to one of Bratislava’s Christmas markets. Located on the northeast side of the square is Old Town Hall. The hall was created in the 15th century by combining a number of residences together. A neat historic relic can be found in the outside wall of the town hall to the left of one of its windows: a cannonball!
Inside, the hall hosts the City Museum which features the history of Bratislava. Walking around to the backside of the building provides visitors a nice view of its colorful roof. Also, on the backside of the building is another square, Primaciálne.
The most beautiful Palace in Bratislava, Primatial Palace, is located on this square, thus the name. The Palace, built between 1778 and 1781, champions a neo-Classical pink and gold façade. The palace now seats the mayor of Bratislava and is partially open to the public.
Of course, being in Bratislava in December, we visited the Christmas Markets. The biggest market is located in Hlavné Square. It included many hot wine and food stalls. We ordered a pork and grilled onion sandwich as well as a Nutella Lokše. A lokše is a potato pancake. The traditional Slovakian dish is similar to a crêpe.
A medium-sized market, at Hviezdoslavovo Square, sells similar goods to those in Hlavné Square; candy, food, Christmas ornaments, hats and gloves and more.
For a small, five-stall market that includes a stall with live goats munching on hay, visit the courtyard on the backside of Old Town Hall.
From the Christmas markets, we meandered to the northwest corner of Old Town, exited to the main street, crossed the bridge, and climbed up the hill to the Bratislava Castle. We debated walking up the hill as the castle looked a little far away, but it was an easy walk and worth it.
The original castle was strategically located on ancient trade routes. It underwent many changes over the centuries and burnt down in 1811. It was rebuilt in its original Baroque style the 1950’s and now houses the Slovak National Museum. Its surrounding gardens and terrace provide spectacular views of Bratislava. A nativity scene complete with a live donkey, sheep and goat may be found in its courtyard.
We ended our afternoon at the castle and slowly made our way back to Old Town and to our boat to continue our cruise up the Danube. What an enjoyable day! ETB
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