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.
There are several options for taking a day trip out of Budapest, Hungary, some within the country and some to neighboring countries. One of the most popular is to Vienna, Austria, which is about 3 hours from Budapest, but since we have been to Vienna previously, we decided to go to Bratislava in Slovakia. Located about 2 hours outside of Budapest, Bratislava is an interesting city with a rich history. It is the largest city in Slovakia as well as the capital of the country. In addition to getting to visit the city of Bratislava, it also gave us an opportunity to see the Hungarian countryside.
The history of Slovakia is somewhat complex as it was part of Hungary for centuries until Hungary was broken up into Nation States and the country of Czechoslovakia was created in 1918. Then, in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia split and Bratislava became the capital of the new nation. As one can imagine, with a history that spans back centuries, but with their independence being relatively young, their is a true sense of national pride. Although there is some mistrust of Hungary due to the fact that Hungary retook the region during WWII, it seems that recently they have come to appreciate the relationship and the tourism that comes from Budapest.
Our tour started by visiting the Slavin War Memorial, which honors the 6,845 Soviet Union soldiers who died freeing the country from German occupation. The highlight of visiting the memorial are the amazing views of the city, the Bratislava Castle, and the modern bridge with the UFO restaurant suspended above it. From the views of the city, it is clear that Bratislava is a city that is growing and many modern skyscrapers are starting to dominate the skyline. Obviously, our tour was focused on the historic areas of the city.
Following the memorial, we stopped at the Bratislava Castle. Although you can’t enter the castle as it is now the home of government offices, walking the grounds is quite beautiful with its gardens and fortress walls. The original castle was destroyed and the current castle was rebuilt in the 1950’s, although a few of the original features remain. There have also been recent renovations to the castle, including the adding of a statue of King Svatopluk I, who was a Moravian ruler.
Finally, we spent time in the old town area of Bratislava. St Martin’s Cathedral is certainly the focal point of the area and was actually where the kings of Hungary were crowned for over 300 years. The tower of the church is modeled after the Hungarian crown and is another example of the complex history of the area. As with most cities in Europe that were once surrounded by medieval walls, the walls were taken down centuries ago to allow the cities to grow, but one of the gates, Michael’s Gate, still remains and is one of the most interesting features in the city. There are also many historic mansions that were built by the wealthy aristocrats in the region that have now been converted into stores, restaurants, and hotels.
We had originally scheduled our tour for earlier in the week, but the weather forecast for the day of our tour called for rain and cold temperatures, so we rescheduled it to later in the week. We were definitely happy with that decision since the weather was decidedly better, although still cool and overcast. Bratislava is definitely worth visiting if you have the opportunity and we are glad that we decided to add it to our itinerary.