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.
During our trip to Tuscany, Italy, one of the places that we visited was Lucca. It was a day trip from Florence that took us to both Lucca and Pisa. Lucca itself is a wonderful little city with beautiful and historic architecture. Located in the heart of the city is the Torre Guinigi (Guinigi Tower), which is one of the few tower houses that were built in Lucca. If you plan a visit to Lucca, the Torre Guinigi should not be missed with its oak trees on the roof and amazing views.
Built in the late 1300’s by the Guinigi family, who were wealthy merchants in the area, the tower certainly stands out amongst the other buildings in Lucca. The climb up the 235 stairs to the top of the 125 foot tower is certainly worth it as you are rewarded with amazing views of the historic city. If the views of the city weren’t enough, the roof garden with its oak trees for shade are equally fascinating. One can imagine the wealthy Guinigi family sitting on the rooftop to escape the heat of city below with its warm breezes and wonderful shade trees.
As you look down at the rooftops from the Torre Guinigi, you get a true sense of the narrow, winding streets of the city. The Lucca Cathedral, or Cathedral of Saint Martin, clearly dominates the cityscape. The color variations of the church tower are even more dramatic when viewed from the Guinigi Tower. The cathedral, which dates back to 1070, is also something that should not be missed when visiting Lucca.
There is a small fee in order to go to the top of the Torre Guinigi, but it is certainly worth the nominal price. We visited during the off-season, so there were no other tourists with us as we went to the roof to enjoy the views of the city and the Tuscan countryside. Unfortunately it was an overcast day, but that didn’t diminish how beautiful the scenery was from the rooftop.
With historic streets lined with timber framed buildings, Strasbourg is a beautiful city that will transport you back in time. Sitting on the border of France and Germany, the city has been under the control of both nations at different times in it’s history, but it maintains a uniquely independent nature. Strasbourg is also the largest city in Alsace and it is the official seat of the European Parliament.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg dominates the skyline of the city and its tower made it the tallest building in the world for hundreds of years. Although less famous than the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris, it is a beautiful example of the classic Gothic architecture. In addition to the stained glass windows and religious artwork, the cathedral also houses an astronomical clock that was built in the 1800’s. The current clock is the third to be built in the cathedral and is as fascinating as the one that can be found in Prague.
Without a doubt, the highlight of visiting Strasbourg is simply walking the streets of the old town and seeing the medieval architecture. Sitting on the Rhine river, there are many canals within the city and we would certainly recommend taking a river sight-seeing tour of Strasbourg to gain a different perspective. Although not as ornate as the cathedral, St. Thomas’ Church in the heart of old town is just as fascinating with its clock tower and unique architecture.
There are many options for dining in Strasbourg as well, whether you are in the mood for classic French cuisine or would prefer some authentic German dishes. If you are a fan of wine, you won’t be disappointed as the city is close to the start of the Wine Road of Alsace with many vineyards in the region. Even if you don’t drive down the entire route, it is certainly worth going for a wine tasting while you are in the area.
Obviously, there are many towns that maintain their medieval architecture, but Strasbourg is certainly one of the prettiest. We happened to visit during the holiday season and many of the various shops and hotels were adorned with elaborate, festive decorations. Regardless of the time of year, you should expect large crowds of tourists in the area, but especially during the summer when people flock to the area because of the wine road.