Today was a wonderful day in Bratislava. At the weekend I was delighted to spend time in Vienna and get to know it better but I already had a feel for that city having been there briefly a few times. Bratislava and Slovakia were a whole different ball game for me – totally new and I didn’t know what to expect.
As you can see from the map, like a lot of central European countries Slovakia is totally landlocked, with borders with five countries; Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, and Hungary. I always imagine these countries like a group of children elbowing each other – borders going back and forward over the years.
Slovakia is a very mountainous country and has ski resorts. It also has lots of caves, apparently more than 2,000.
The population of Slovakia is the same as Ireland, about 5 million and comprises mostly ethnic Slovaks. Slovak is the language spoken. I made great use of google translate when getting my hair cut this morning.
I did a quick revision of Slovakia’s history for myself and here are some important dates/events:
- From the 11th century, what is now modern day Slovakia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary, until 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed.
- The 18th century was a period of great prosperity for Bratislava as the most important town in the Hungarian Kingdom. Maria Theresa reigned from 1740 – 1780.
- In 1918, during the chaos following the break-up of Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia was formed. In 1919 Bratislava joined Czechoslovakia.
- In 1939 Bratislava became the capital of the Nazi satellite Slovak state
- After World War II, Czechoslovakia was reconstituted
- 1947-48 the Communist era began
- 1989 the Velvet Revolution contributes to fall of communism
- 1993 Bratislava becomes the capital of newly-established Slovak Republic. (The full and official designation for Slovakia is the Slovak Republic and hence both terms refer to the same nation-state)
- 2004 Slovakia joins EU
- 2009 Slovakia joins Eurozone
I hadn’t realised that Slovakia is a high-income advanced economy with a very high standard of living and performs very favourably in measurements of civil liberties, press freedom, internet freedom, democratic governance and peacefulness. Slovakians have universal health care, free education – I checked and third-level is free, no fees. Though after 26 one has to pay fees because people were becoming eternal students! Slovakia has one of the longest paid maternity leave in the OECD – I asked the guy cutting my hair this morning how long paid maternity leave is here – it’s 3 years with decreasing percentage of your salary.
According to the World Economic Forum, (February 2016), Slovakia was the 7th fastest growing European economy at 3.2%, (behind Ireland in 1st position at 4.5%). 90% of citizens own their own home.
Interestingly Slovakia is the world’s largest per-capita car producer and the car industry represents 43% of Slovakia’s industrial output and a quarter of its exports. I checked up and brands manufactured here include Volkswagen, Skoda, SEAT, Audi, Porche, Peugeot, Citroen, Kia. A lot!
Bratislava has lots of medieval towers, palaces and grand 20th-century buildings. Apparently it has the world’s highest per capital number of castles and chateau – what a boast! It underwent a construction boom since 2000. Now, it’s beginning to sound a bit like Ireland!
The old town of Bratislava is really interesting, it’s totally pedestrianised, full of cafés and lots of young people. With the beautiful weather and people sitting outside, it had a lovely feel.
I took a walking tour of the old city. Uploading these photos was fast – their wifi is hot!
Primatial’s Palace on Primatial Square. (They use the term palace for any big, significant house.) During reconstruction of this palace in the early 20th century, six important, very valuable tapestries from London were found behind the wallpaper!
One side of the old Town Hall, I love the coloured roof
A medieval well uncovered in the seventies.
Main (and Primatial) Square served as a market place.
Note the detail on both sides of the entrance shown in the two photos below – on the extreme left is a knife – knifes weren’t allowed to be longer than than this one, otherwise they were weapons. On both sides of the entrance are length measures.
A mark on the wall showing the Danube water level in 1850.
The other side of the Town Hall, (see earlier photograph) on Main Square. It’s interesting the different styles side by side in this building built in different periods.
A protestant church beside the Town Hall, (Note no steeple. The steeple to the right is on a building in the background.)
Behind the fountain, a building in the Secessionist style. (There are a few more buildings in this style in the city.)
Like Vienna, Bratislava had a rich music tradition. (I forgot to cover that in my Vienna post!) Plaques showing buildings with connections with Mozart and Lizst. Beethoven was a music teacher for a girl who lived in the corner house below.
A glimpse of Bratislava Castle in the distance. (There is also another castle – Devin Castle about 10km from Bratislava.)
Michael’s Gate, (a northern gate), is the only gate that has been preserved from the medieval fortifications and it ranks among the oldest of the town’s buildings.
The places where the other three gates were are marked by a suspended gate and bronze plaques in the ground.
This building housed a pharmacy. (I was so near it, I couldn’t get a shot of the full building.)
Note the signs on the pharmacy building in three languages, the languages in order Hungarian, Slovakian and German. Apparently until the mid 20th century, many people spoke all three languages. When we were doing up our house in Sligo, the builder had two great guys working for him – a Pole and a Slovak. Though neither spoke the other’s language they could understand each other and had worked out a common language which they spoke together.
St Martin’s Cathedral under renovation. This was the city’s most important Cathedral as it was where coronations took place when Bratislava was the capital of Hungary.
The bronze plaques mark the procession after a coronation – there are about 200 of these in the city.
A memorial to the Jews who died during the Holocaust
Some old walls visible near the former Jewish Quarter. The Jewish Quarter was largely destroyed in communist times for the building of a road in the city.
A large open air chess board with a plaque in the centre to Wolfgang Kempelelen (1734 – 1804), the Slovak author and inventor, known for his chess-playing “automaton” also called Mechanical Turk or The Turk. It was later found to be a hoax – there was a chess player hiding inside the machine. But that was long after it had beaten many famous people.
It was no surprise that Bratislava developed as an important city. Located on the Danube, it was also on important ancient trade routes – the Amber road and the Danubian road, part of the Silk Road.
I was chatting with our lovely guide afterwards, she remembered the Communist era with the quintessential description – grey. She remembered people behaving in a hypocritical manner, afraid to speak their opinions too loudly. She remembered that the borders opened for a few months in 1968 and people left but couldn’t re-enter after they quickly closed again.
Finally, a note important subject of food. Food in Bratislava was gorgeous for example we had a lovely mezze lunch.
Ice cream parlours abound with sometimes long queues and the ice-cream is divine.
I’m off to get ice-cream!