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Culture - Top 10 sights
Bratislava Castle or Hrad sits on a hill overlooking the city. Initially a Roman frontier post, there has been a castle at this site since the 9th century. In 1881, it was reduced to rubble due to a fire and wasn’t reconstructed until the mid 1900s. Its appearance has been likened to an upside down table with four corner towers that look like table legs. In spite of its drab exterior the Castle is worth a visit for the museums housed inside as well as the panoramic views over the city.
Much of the castle is kept for official functions or travelling exhibitions, but it is also home to The Music Museum, as well as exhibits from The National Museum. The entrance is almost worth the price of admission, with its extremely elegant, wide, white marble staircase, gilt-edged ceiling, and huge, gold-framed mirrors.
The various rooms of The History Museum and the National Museum a worth to visit. A large section was devoted to art – approximately 3500 paintings, statues, and prints by domestic and foreign artists grouped according to theme. Religious art in one room, painting and portraits of royalty such as Maria Theresa and Maria Antoinette in another, more portraits and finally, sculpture and modern art such as Julius Koller’s question mark canvas. One of the highlighted displays was copies of 15th century altarpieces and church statues done by Paul of Levoca and many of his students.
Other rooms, large enough to double for warehouses, were filled with coloured Slovakian glassware, carved wooden furniture, clocks, weapons, helmets and armor. There is an impressive display of silver with bowls, plates and utensils from the 17th to 19th century. Also impressive was a Renaissance jewel chest, circa 1600, and a replica of the crown of the Hungarian kings. Near the crown was a steep flight of stairs leading to the Crown Tower, a small enclosed tower offering 360 degree views of the city.
Speaking of stairs, the castle has lots of them, so those with mobility issues might want to check for handicap access before visiting. Note there is a small café on the top floor where you can take a break.The castle is open from 9am to 5pm, Tuesday through Sunday. To get to the castle from Old Town, cross the busy motorway through the underpass by St. Martin’s Church. You’ll then head uphill, past the pretty yellow and white House of the Good Shepherd, which now houses a clock museum.
St Martin's Cathedral
Situated on the edge of the Old Town, St. Martin’s Cathedral is Bratislava’s foremost Gothic structure. The church, originally built in the 13th century in the Romanesque style, was replaced by a 3-nave Gothic Dome in the late 14th century. The new St. Martin's Cathedral was consecrated in 1452 and underwent several lengthy reconstructions in later centuries. In the 16th century, the Dome became the coronation church of Hungarian kings and there were 19 Hungarian Emperors (including Maria Theresia) crowned in the cathedral until the 19th century. The cathedral was actually built into the town's outer walls as part of its fortification.
The cathedral has three naves, with several chapels added from time to time over the centuries. Its most famous work of art is an 18th century statue of St. Martin and the Beggar sculpted by famous Austrian baroque sculptor Raphael Donner. Another sight not to miss is St. Stephen's Crown, a 1m high copy of the Hungarian royal crown placed on the church tower, some 85 meters (280 feet) above town. Over the portal that used to be the cathedral's main entrance, there is a Gothic relief depicting the Holy Trinity.
Facing the rear of the church after walking in, there is a gallery where the king could sit above the congregation during services. On a tablet underneath this gallery on the rear wall of the church is a notice commemorating Beethoven's op. 123, which premiered here during the 18th century. The especially vivid stained glass in St Martin's draws the viewer forward into the main body of the church, where thick columns support the church roof. In the section of the ceiling over the high altar, where the choirstalls house a number of tiny carved men and beasts, the Hungarian colours of red, white, and green are everywhere among the intricate gold and colour designs. Unless the church is going through one of the numerous renovations caused by vibrations from the New Bridge Traffic, admission is available from 10am to 4:45pm free of charge.
The surroundings of St Martins are as memorable as the structure itself. In the cathedral’s case, this includes the picturesque remains of outbuildings in a spacious staired courtyard, and a working seminary with robed adepts on a cobblestone side street. A small but significant neighbour of the cathedral is a monument to the synagogue, which stood next door for centuries until the communist government demolished it around 1970 to make room for the new bridge.
The Palace, built in 1778 and located in the centre of Old Town is considered as one the most beautiful building in Bratislava. Its pale pink and white exterior is topped with various marble statues and a large cast iron cardinal’s hat. The hat is a symbol of the Archbishop, for whom the palace was built, and of the various cardinals who lived here throughout the years.
The palace is filled with large oil portraits of Hapsburg royalty, including one from 1742 of Marie Therese at her coronation. Individual rooms are sparsely furnished, which causes you to focus on what is there – large, sparkling crystal chandeliers and walls adorned with six English tapestries from the 17th century that had been hidden in the palace walls and discovered during renovations in the early 1900s. The tapestries depict the story of Hero and Leander, young Greek lovers who lived on opposite sides of the Hellespont. Hero lit a lamp in her tower to guide Leander in his nightly swim to visit her. One night, a storm caused the lamp to burn out, and without that focal point to guide him, Leander was unable to find the shore and drowned. When Hero found out about Leander’s death she took her own life – very much a Greek Romeo and Juliet.
Another major attraction in the palace is the ornate Hall of Mirrors. Although built on a smaller scale than Versailles, the Hall is still an impressive sight as well as being historically significant. It was here that Napoleon and Francis I signed the Treaty of Pressberg (Bratislava’s former name) in 1805, after the Battle of Austerlitz where 50,000 Russian, French and Austrian troops were killed.Other points of interest are the fountain and statue of St. George in the courtyard and the St. Ladislaus chapel. The palace is open from Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 5pm.
Second Church of St. Elizabeth, The Blue Little Church
It is one of the most beautiful pieces of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.
The Second Church of St. Elizabeth or the Blue Little Church (Modry kostolik) was built from 1907-1913 according to the design of Hungarian architect Odon Lechner. Today, the Blue Church also has a high school and rectory.
The Blue Church has one nave and a cylindrical tower and the exterior design is of the Hungarian Art Nouveau style and is decorated with bright and beautiful blue majolica tiles. Majolica is a tile indigenous to Slovakia and is manufactured in the city of Modra (Western Slovakia). The roof is also decorated with glazed blue tiles.
Church is situated at Bezrucova street which is a short walk from Main Square. You definitely should make a special trip to see this work of art and beauty if you visit Bratislava.
Grassalkovich Palace - Slovakia's White House
Now the home to Slovakia's President, Grassalkovich Palace was once the home and meeting place for several members of the Austro-Hungarian and Habsburg aristocracy.
Grassalkovich Palace was built in the 1760's by Count Anton Grassalkovich, the President of the Royal Hungarian Chamber and advisor to the Empress Maria Theresia. It is said that the inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen introduced several of his inventions, including a speaking machine, in the palace's State Rooms.
Grassalkovich Palace is guarded 24 hours a day by an honour guard who can be seen marching in front of the castle daily by visitors. Grassalkovich Palace is situated in a huge, open park with a Baroque garden that is open to the public, even when the President is in residence.
Grassalkovich Palace is located in the Hodzovo Namestie (Hodza Square). It is beautiful especially during the Christmas time as all building is perfectly and detaily illuminated. Even the trees in the gardens are unforgettable.
Devin Castle above the confluence of the rivers Danube and Morava is one of the three oldest historically acknowledged castles in Slovakia. The village of Devin is now a part of Bratislava. Oldest traces of settlement there date back to the 5th century B.C. Due to its advantageous geographical position, it was able to control the most important trade routes along the Danube as well as one part of the Amber Road. In the 1st century B.C, the territory was populated by Celts. The castle played an important role as a boundary fortress as a part of the Limes Romanus fortifications against enemies at the times of the Roman Empire and as a military station and trade centre at the times of the Great Moravian Empire the first Slavic state. The first written reference to the castle and its ancient name – Dowina comes from 864. After the fall of the Great Moravian Empire, the castle served again as a boundary fortress under the reign of the Hungarians. The castle was altered in 13th and 16th century and destroyed by Napoleon's troops in 1809. Archeological research began in the 30s of the 20th century.
Devin Castle has been a National cultural monument since 1961. Nowadays the castle serves as a museum. The middle-castle is used as a show-room for seasonal exhibitions concerning history of the castle which artefacts date back to the ancient times and Middle Ages. The caves are used as a show-room for permanent exhibition under the name "Architectural development of Devin Castle". The displayed artefacts date back to 12th - 19th century.The castle is open to the public May-October daily except for Mondays from 10am to 5pm and on weekends from 10am to 6pm. The castle is accessible by car (direction Karlova Ves and Devin), public transport (bus No. 29 from bus stop under the New Bridge - Novy most ), boat, bicycle or walking. The boat leaves twice a day from a special port near the city centre (Fajnorovo nabrezie 2 - Fajnorovo Embankment). From April 25 to May 21 and from August 29 to September 17 the boat leaves the port in Bratislava at 11am and 4pm. From May 23 to August 27 the boat leaves the port at 10 am and 2:30 pm. It is possible to carry a bicycle.
Old Town Hall
Originally the site of a towered house in the 14th century, the old town hall arose in the 15th century by connecting several burgher houses, and then went through several reconstructions in the course of the centuries. After the earthquake of 1599, it was reconstructed in Renaissance style, while the town-hall tower was rebuilt in baroque style in the 18th century. In 1912 the rear wing was constructed in neo-renaissance style from the side of the courtyard, and neo-gothic style from the side of the Primacial square.
The town-hall tower was of defensive nature. At the bottom, you can find a table with the date of February 1850, marking the high water level when the Danube flooded. Left of the Gothic window, there is immured a cannon ball commemorating the attacks of Napolenonic troops in 1809. At the corner of the tower, the statue of Madonna of 1676 is located. Decisions of the assembly, royal decrees and orders of the town council were announced from the balcony of the tower in the past. Note a fresco of an old man of 1533 as well as a statuette of the Hungarian King - St. Ladislaus.
The Municipal museum is the oldest museum in Bratislava, as it was founded in 1868. Entrance to the exhibition of the feudal justice system and history of the town is in the corner of the courtyard.
Novy Most (New Bridge) and Observation Deck
If you want more spectacular views of Bratislava and its castle, it is worth a climb up to the observation deck on top of the Novy Most Bridge on the outskirts of the Slovak capital.
Novy Most or Most SNP (New or SNP Bridge) was completed and opened to traffic in 1971. Unlike most monstrosities of Slovak Communist architecture, the Novy Most and tower actually blend into Bratislava''s centuries old architecture. Situated about 300 feet above the Danube River, the Novy Most, to me looked like the Seattle Space Needle from the distance.
There is a walkway for pedestrians to walk to and from Novy Most. Take the elevator to the observation deck. After a quick ride up, you arrive at the observation deck where there is popular but expensive restaurant UFO (you have to make the reservation for eating).
There are the souvenirs available at the Novy Most observation deck, and it is open almost daily for visitors to see and take photos of the panorama of Bratislava that surrounds it. It is worth about one or two hours of your time when you visit Bratislava.
St. Michael's Street and St. Michael's Gate
St. Michael's Gate and Street are one of Bratislava's popular sights and is a quaint street lined with many shops and restaurants. In the summertime, the Michalska Ulica is teeming with tourists, street bands, and locals enjoying the cool Slovak summer nights.
Most of the building on the Michalska Ulica (street) date from the 18th Century and have survived several wars, occupations, and Communist rule, which was notorious for tearing down old, historic buildings throughout then-Czechoslovakia and replacing them with unattractive cell-block like high-rise apartments.
On the top of the street there is St. Michael's Gate - the only preserved gate of the medieval city fortifications. Its Gothic foundations were laid in the 1st half of the 14th century. During 1511 - 1513 it was heightened, and during 1753 – 1758 it was rebuilt into its present appearance when a statue of St. Michael was placed on the top of the 51-metre high tower. At present, the Museum of Weapons and City Fortifications is located within the tower. After seeing many arms dating from Medieval times to the Present, you can go out on the balcony on the top floor, from where you can see the most spectacular view of Old Town Bratislava and The Castle in the near distance.
Day or night, all seasons, St. Michael's Street and Gate are not to be missed during your trip to Bratislava.
The Slovak National Theatre (Opera & Ballet House)
The Slovak National Theatre is the oldest Slovak professional theatre. It has 3 ensembles (drama, opera and ballet). It was founded in 1920 after the creation of Czechoslovakia as a cooperative and became a state-run company in 1945. Between 1920 and 1945, there was also a musical ensemble. Initially, all 3 ensembles were active at the old Slovak National Theatre building. Till early 2007, the drama company performed at the P. O. Hviezdoslav Theatre and chamber theatre called Malá scéna SND (SNT Small Stage). Since 2007, the ensembles perform only at the old Slovak National Theatre building and the new Slovak National Theatre building opened in April, 2007.
Bratislava is proudly considered as the city of opera. In the past, the giants of music like Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Rubinstein, and Hummel acted here. The present opera of the Slovak National Theatre are world-known by their classical performances and brought up the opera stars like Peter Dvorský, Lucia Popp or Edita Gruber. It is very popular amongst the visitors for its quality and at the same time favourable prices as well. Opera performances are subtitled in Slovak or Germans. Evening performances starts at 7 pm. Find actual schedule at the Slovak National Theatre website.
Old Slovak National Building - the Neo-Renaissance Slovak National Theatre, standing at the end of the long Hviezdoslav Square (Hviezdoslavovo námestie), was built in 1885-1886 during the time of Austria-Hungary, based on a design by the Viennese architects R. Fellner and H. Helmer, who designed theatre buildings in 10 European countries. It was opened as the City Theatre on September 22, 1886 with the opera Bánk Bán of F. Erkel. Bratislava native sculptor Victor Tilgner crafted the famous Ganymede's Fountain in 1888, now located immediately in front of the theatre.
The new building - the design of the new building was begun in the early 1980s, and construction started in 1986. Due to a lack of funds, the building was under construction (with long interruptions) for 21 years. The building was finally opened on April 14, 2007 and it houses all three ensembles of the Slovak National Theatre, although the ensembles continue to use the old building in the Old Town in parallel. The building is designed to hold 1700 spectators at a time in its three sections.
The historical buildings of the opera of the Slovak National Theatre or the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra – Reduta are often used for the organization of many cultural and social events.
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra (Slovak: Slovenská filharmónia) is the premier symphony orchestra in Slovakia. Founded in 1949, the orchestra has resided since the 1950s in the Baroque Reduta building(behind Hotel Carlton. Besides giving seasonal concerts, it also plays regularly at music festivals throughout Europe, and has made international tours to Cyprus, Turkey, Japan, and the United States. The orchestra has produced many critically acclaimed recordings, especially on the Naxos label. It held its 66th season in 2014. The body consists from these ensembles: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Slovak Philharmonic Choir, Bohdan Warchal Slovak Chamber Orchestra and other chamber orchestras. Find all details of all ensemles and schedule of its performances on Slovak Philharmonic Website. .
Other musical events - annually in Bratislava are held many other cultural events. Among them the best-known are Bratislava Music Festival (BHS) in September and Bratislava Jazz Days (BJD) in October.