The historic old town district in Bratislava, Slovakia is a fascinating area with wonderful medieval architecture. It is a very popular area for tourists as well as different artists selling their crafts or playing music. Like many other medieval cities where the city center was originally surrounded by walls, most of the walls have been removed to allow the city to grow, but some of the original walls remain as well as one of the original gates. St Martin’s Cathedral is also a dominant feature of the old town with its bell tower making it the tallest building.
The wealthy citizens of the area all built their homes within the walls of Bratislava, each trying to show their prestige, which makes walking the streets of old town architecturally interesting. Michael’s Gate, or St. Michael’s Tower, is the only remaining entrance to the fortified city of the four original gates that previously existed. It is certainly one of the most recognizable features of Bratislava with its clock tower and it was the gate that future Hungarian kings would enter through while on their way to be coronated in St. Martin’s Cathedral.
Like all cities in the region, the history of Bratislava is one of occupation from a variety of different conquering armies. Much of its history was under the rule of Hungary and for several centuries it served as the location where the kings of Hungary were crowned. There are crown emblems in the cobblestone streets that denote the path that the king would follow from his coronation to the celebration of the citizens. During this period, from 1563 to 1830, the kings were coronated in St. Martin’s Cathedral making this church an important location for both Slovak citizens as well as Hungarian.
In addition to the different buildings in Bratislava’s old town, there are also several statues and monuments that are worth seeing as well. Some of the most well known are the Watcher, which is a worker coming out of a sewer to look up women’s skirts, and the Schone Naci Statue, which is a statue of a former citizen who was extremely friendly and had a childlike demeanor. Crowds gather around these statues to take photos of themselves with them, which isn’t particularly our style.
We spent about three hours wandering around the streets of Bratislava’s old town and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. The buildings are quite colorful and architecturally interesting making every street unique. Although there were quite a lot of people on the streets, we found our time in Bratislava to be quite relaxing and even bought a piece of art from an artist near the main square.
Sitting on the hill above the city of Bratislava is the historic Bratislava Castle, the Bratislavský hrad in Slovak. The original castle dates back to the 13th century, but it was obviously modified many times over the centuries. By the early 1800’s, the castle was in a state of deterioration and was being used by the military for barracks. It was also damaged more during the world wars, but in 1953 the decision was made to restore the castle to its former glory and it is now a popular tourist site within the capital city of Bratislava.
We visited the Bratislava Castle in May, so the gardens were just beginning to bloom, but we can certainly can imagine what they must look like in the summer months. The castle itself is a rectangular building with four towers, one on each corner. Although there is apparently only a single window left from the original building, the castle is still quite beautiful. We spent about an hour walking the grounds and enjoying the wonderful views of the city below. There is also a statue of King Svatopluk that was added to the courtyard in 2010, which apparently caused some controversy.
The history of the region, with its importance to Hungary and then recent gain of independence, the Bratislava Castle is a source of pride to the people of Slovakia. It is an interesting theme that we found during our tour of Bratislava of how the castle and the city were a seat of power for Hungary for centuries, which obviously is a frustration for Slovakians, but at the same time the country has recognized the importance of this period as part of their own history. Add to that the other occupations, including that of the Soviet Union, and the country has overcome a variety of historical obstacles. Needless to say, any visit to Bratislava should include going to the castle that overlooks the city.
As we’ve been going through our photographs from Budapest and Bratislava (over 1,700), we have found a few unusual photographs. Regardless of where you travel, you will often find statues that focus on the hands of the subject as the can be very expressive. Whether it is welcoming, comforting, an offering of peace, or fists of aggression, the hands can be as emotional as the eyes. One of the photographs that we’ve included here was taken at the hotel bar where we were staying in Budapest. After a long day of walking around the city, we stopped for a glass of wine and there was a weird green light that glowed underneath the bar top. It actually made for a strange effect and we couldn’t help but take a photograph of our hands. Do you ever find yourself taking photographs of odd subjects during your travels?