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.
One of the focal points for any visit to Budapest is the St. Stephen’s Basilica. Located in the Inner City District, it is in the heart of the old town region with all of the restaurants and shopping. Visiting the basilica is free, but there is a recommended donation of 200 Ft (~2 euros) for entering the cathedral. The inside of the cathedral is quite beautiful with all of the ornate gold arches and wonderful domes. Another highlight of the basilica is the observation deck, which has spectacular panoramic views of the city from a different perspective than those of the Castle District or the Citadel.
We actually visited St. Stephen’s Basilica twice, once on a rainy day to see the interior of the cathedral and then a second time when the weather was better to go to the observation deck and take photographs of the city. Due to its central location, the cathedral can be quite crowded with tourists, so you’ll want to be patient as you walk around the cathedral. Depending on the time of year, there can also be long lines waiting to get up to the observation deck, but we didn’t have too long of a wait while we were there.
St. Stephen’s Basilica also offers organ concerts at different times during the week and a schedule is available if you are interested. The cathedral is named after St. Stephen I, who was the first king of Hungary. Construction began in 1851 and it wasn’t completed until 1906. The domes of the basilica and the Parliament Building are the same height and they dominate the skyline of the Pest side of the Danube River. They were purposely created to be of equal height in order to symbolize the balance between church and state in Hungary.
It is possible to get guided tours of St. Stephen’s Basilica, but we found that most people just tour the cathedral on their own. The basilica is one of the most important sites to visit during a trip to Budapest and we would definitely recommend taking the time to go the observation deck for the views.
Visiting the Lucca Cathedral was one of the highlights of the time that we spent touring the city of Lucca in Italy. One of the most fascinating things about the cathedral is the different colors of the bell tower due to the different materials that were used in its construction. The base of the tower is made of quartz stone, while the top floors are made of white limestone, making for an interesting contrast. Another interesting feature of the cathedral are the three arches that are part of the entrance. One of the arches is smaller than the other two due to the fact that the bell tower existed at the time of the construction and the architects reduced the size of the third arch to accommodate the tower.
Construction began on the Lucca Cathedral in 1063, but there were many changes over the years, including Gothic features that were added in the 14th century. There is some very interesting artwork and reliefs within the church, but one of the most important objects within the cathedral is the Holy Face of Lucca, also known as the Sacred Countenance. It is a wood crucifix with the image of Christ that was carved in the 1st century and is the most precious relic in Lucca. Another interesting feature within the Lucca Cathedral is the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, which is considered to be a masterpiece.
Another interesting feature of the Lucca Cathedral are the columns on the façade that are of varying styles. Legend has it that the city commissioned three different artists to design the columns for the cathedral. When the artists presented their work, the town’s people apparently decided to use the columns from all three without paying them for their work. In addition to the columns of the façade, the marble entranceway is quite stunning with more unique columns and detailed reliefs above the doors.
Lucca Cathedral is definitely one of the most prominent buildings in the city of Lucca. With its unique coloring, beautiful artwork, and interesting design, it is different than most of cathedrals that we visited in Europe. Lucca itself is a wonderful walled city with medieval architecture and is worth at least visiting when in Tuscany. In addition to the Lucca Cathedral, there is also the Torre Guinigi, which is a tower with trees on the roof that provides wonderful views of the city.