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THE CASTLE OF BRATISLAVA

 

Bratislava Castle, looking over the historic core of the capital of the Slovak Republic is a landmark of this town and a National Cultural Monument that attracts the looks not only the inhabitants of Bratislava, but also the large amount of visitors from all parts of Slovakia, Europe and the whole World.

Bratislava, owe to a great extent its eventful and fascinating history to its favorable geographic location. It is situated in a place where, since the oldest times of human settlement, life has been pulsating intensively, stimulated by advantageous natural conditions. In the central flow of the Danube, between Hainburg in Austria on one bank and the Devin castle on the other bank, the river is enclosed on both sides by the Carpathians and the Alpine massifs. It forms a natural strait with firm banks-a gate tooth vast Slovak and Hungarian low lands, where the Danube in numerous meanders and side river arms used to over-flow, thus creating impassable swamps. The firm banks of the strait yielded favorable conditions for settlement and the mountains on both its banks formed significant strategic points at the entrance to the Carpathians comb. The significance of the entrance gate was heightened by the fact that it used to be the crossing point of two ancient trading routes. Along the Danube ran the west-eastern road, connecting the Central and Western Europe with Baltic Sea. The north-south road called also the Amber route, ran along the river Morava and joined the Baltic coast with the Adriatic Sea. Both roads, almost as old as human civilization, were of utmost importance. These roads afforded access of various cultures to What's known today as Slovakia, particularly those of the south-eastern highly cultured countries.

The Castle of Bratislava, the dominant characteristic feature of the town, has a long and eventful history of its own. The history of Bratislava Castle goes back to a long bygone past.

The first traces of settlement on the Castle Hill stem from the transition period between the Stone and Bronze Age, called Aeneolthicum. The hill was then inhabited by people of a groove ornamental pottery period, known as Baden Culture.

There is evidence of settlement from older Iron Age- the Hallastatt age about 600-500 B.C.

In the younger Iron Age, the La Tene Age-400 B.C-0 A. D., when iron was already commonly used metal, the territory was settled by the Celtic tribes. They fully exploited the strategically advantageous location of the Bratislava gate. The concentration of archaeological finds in the region around Bratislava, testify to the fact that in the transition period between the two eras a significant economic and administrative center originated here. At the point where river Morava flows into the Danube, they built fortified settlements on both banks of Danube, the Austrian Braunsberg and Devin on the Slovak side. On the territory of present day Bratislava they founded a larger settlement of municipal nature, so called "oppidium" that included also the settlement of the Castle Hill.

The Roman settlement on the Castle mount dates to the end of 1st century A. D. After the territory fell under the rule of Germanic tribes that came to conflict with the Roman empire.

The Castle Hill in Bratislava and its Slavonic castle were of importance in the period of the Great Moravian Empire. Archeologists have found a great number of Slavonic deposits originating from that time - foundations of both civic and ecclesiastic architecture.

The name of the castle is also recorded on coins, issued by the first Hungarian king Stephan I (1000-1038) with engraving- Preskava Civ, which certainly means as much as Preslavov (Breslavov) Castle. This is most important evidence of the Slavonic origin of the castle and the position it held also in the years after the decline of the Great Moravian Empire, respectively after the incorporation of the territory of today's Slovakia into Hungary. The Tartars devastated the country among 1241 and 1242, but were not able to capture the castle. In the 11, 12, and 13th century the castle underwent big changes. A new basilica with a chapter house was built. Stone palace to which another larger one was added in the 12th century. Two stone towers were built in the 13th century. The reconstruction in 15th century brought the shape of an extensive Gothic palace surrounded by defense stone walls with a gate in Gothic style on its eastern side that is still standing.

The next reconstruction started in 1552 after the Hungarian state administration was moved from Buda to Bratislava and the town having been declared the official coronation town for Hungarian Kings by the parliament. The old Gothic building was soon changed into a fortified Renaissance castle. The south-west tower also known as the jewel's tower, housed the Hungarian coronation jewels for two centuries.

The last large scale reconstruction in Baroque style took place under the reign of Maria Theresia (1740-1780). The western, then still existing Gothic part of the fortification wall was pulled down and representative staircase, leading to the southern wing was built there, while a new, three winged building, the so called Theresianum was erected at the eastern side, together with a covered riding hall east of the palace.

In 1783 the Emperor Joseph II established the General Seminary for the education of Roman - Catholic priests in the castle. Although it was of short existence only, this seminary was of great importance in the history of the Slovak nation. Many outstanding personalities were formed here. One of them is Anton Bernolak, whose first attempt of setting up new rules for the Slovak literary language was made here.

After the death of Joseph II the seminary was almost immediately dissolved and the castle remained almost empty, until it was turned into a military garrison in 1802.

On May 30, 1811, it was burnt down and only ruins were left from once famous Bratislava Castle.

For the first 19 years of my life I lived in Bratislava and I do remember the ruins. It was an eye sore for most of the time. We used to go there with parents on Sundays as there was and still is Castle Restaurant with great food and excellent service. The view is the best, as the whole city old and new is on your horizon. For many years in the once famous gardens of the castle there used to be an amphitheater where during the Summer months' films used to be shown and the

Film Festival with international participation used to be held there.

In 1953 the final reconstruction had begun. We thought they will newer finish, as the job seemed to progress at such slow speed, but they did it. In the late 60s the reconstruction was finished and some of the premises were adapted to house exhibits of the Slovak National Museum: History and development of Bratislava Castle, The History of Slovakia - Archaeology, The History of Slovakia.
The other premises became the government of Slovakia representation offices 

If you visit Bratislava this summer, I strongly recommend that you make a point of visiting the Castle.

GO TO SLOVAKIA'S CASTLES


Published in The Slovak Heritage Live, Volume 1, No. 2, Summer 1993
Copyright Vladimir Linder 1993
3804 Yale Street, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5C 1P6
The above article and photographs may not be copied, reproduced, republished, or redistributed by any means including electronic, without the express written permission of Vladimir Linder. All rights reserved.