The journey from Vienna to Budapest via Bratislava includes a stop in Bratislava for a city tour. Explore the rich history of Bratislava, visit the bustling city square, admire the grandeur of the palace, walk through the iconic St. Michael's Gate, and experience the elegance of the Opera House.
This is a parking area where the car will remain until you return. The city walk is not long, being entirely pedestrian, and the surrounding area is also pedestrian-friendly. The illustration provides an imaginative concept of what the parking area near the Opera House in Bratislava might look like. For an accurate, current view of the actual location, Google Panoramic Views can offer a real-time panorama of the area.
The Maximilian Fountain, or Roland's Fountain, is Bratislava's most renowned and oldest. Its location had been the heart of the city long before the fountain's establishment, where bustling markets thrived, the Town Hall stood, and the city's social life buzzed. A well and a large water reservoir from the early 16th century for firefighting purposes marked this spot.
Erected in 1572 by order of Maximilian II, the King of Hungary and the first to be crowned in Bratislava, the fountain was a response to a fire during his coronation festivities in 1563 that spread across the city. Maximilian's directive to install water reservoirs that are accessible year-round is commemorated by this magnificent fountain at the Main Square. It not only honors the monarch but also his contributions to the city.
The fountain features a Christian knight, symbolizing Maximilian, standing in armour and a helmet, with a sword in his left hand atop a high pedestal overlooking the Town Hall. The pedestal is inscribed with Latin verses extolling the king's greatness and a dedicated side detailing significant historical events linked to the king.
Designed by the Austrian stonecutter Andreas Luttringer, the fountain shows Italian influences in some elements. It has undergone several transformations over the years, losing some original features like the four urinating boys' figures, which were relocated in the 1830s to a smaller fountain on Ursulinenstrasse.
2007, a marble circle was added, altering the fountain's appearance. Today, it's a beloved spot for locals to meet and is shrouded in legends, mainly highlighting King Maximilian's role as a city patron. The Maximilian Fountain symbolizes Bratislava's rich history and architectural heritage.
The image is a creative interpretation based on the real Maximilian Fountain, while Google Panorama offers the opportunity to view the actual fountain in its current, live state.
As the capital of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava's history traditionally begins in the 1st century AD. Then, a military leader under Roman Emperor Tiberius, Piso, established Gerulata, a key post in the Danube defensive line. Although there's no concrete evidence of Roman presence in present-day Bratislava, Piso's connection to the city's founding veers into legend.
The Romans strategically chose the site for Bratislava for its prime location on both banks of the Danube, a vital waterway connecting various European regions. It also lies on land routes linking Northern and Western Europe to the Middle East and the Balkan Peninsula. This geographical advantage was set to accelerate the city's growth, but the mass migrations sweeping across Europe and Asia in the 5th century hindered this development.
By the 5th century, ancient Slavic tribes had settled in the area, later founding Great Moravia, a significant early medieval European state. The first written mention of Bratislava, then a primary fortified site, dates back to the 9th century in Great Moravia. However, Great Moravia fell to the Magyars after a few decades, with a decisive battle occurring near Bratislava in 907.
Renamed Pozsony and part of Hungary, the city became a free royal town by the mid-12th century. This period saw German colonization of the Danube lands. By the 13th century, the German influence in Pozsony was so strong that it was renamed Pressburg, still under Hungarian rule. It remained a major Eastern European trade and craft centre throughout the Middle Ages, hosting one of Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus's residences. 1465, Corvinus founded the Istropolitana Academy, marking the start of higher education in modern-day Slovakia.
The Ottoman expansion in the Balkans significantly impacted Pressburg's fate. 1541 Buda, the Hungarian capital, fell to the Ottomans, making Pressburg the Hungarian capital until 1784. Pressburg remained significant even after the capital moved back to Buda, hosting Hungarian coronations until 1848.
The late 18th century saw the rise of the Slavic national liberation movement, a response to Austrian and Hungarian oppression. In the 19th century, I witnessed severe Germanization and Magyarization of its Slavic population. Pressburg also played a role in the Napoleonic Wars, hosting the peace treaty between France and Austria in 1805.
Following World War I and the Austro-Hungarian Empire's collapse, the Czechoslovak Republic was established on October 28, 1918, uniting Czech and Slovak lands.
The Primate's Palace (Slovak: Primaciálny palác; Hungarian: Prímási palota) is a neoclassical palace in Bratislava's Old Town, the capital of Slovakia. Built between 1778 and 1781 for Archbishop József Batthyány by architect Melchior Hefele, it is a significant historical landmark. The palace's Mirror Hall was the site of signing the fourth Peace of Pressburg in 1805, ending the Third Coalition War. Today, it serves as the residence of Bratislava's mayor.
The Mirror Hall witnessed a pivotal moment in European history with Johann I Joseph, Prince of Liechtenstein, Ignác Gyulai, and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand signing the treaty after the Battle of Austerlitz. This treaty led to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the proclamation of Emperor Francis II as Francis I of Austria, commemorated by a Roman-style bust of the emperor near the hall.
The palace also hosted the first session of the Hungarian Diet in its university library. István Széchenyi, a notable Hungarian figure, donated his annual income to establish the Hungarian Academy of Sciences here. Ferdinand V of Hungary presented Hungary's first responsible government in the palace, including notable figures like Lajos Batthyány, Lajos Kossuth, and István Széchenyi.
In 1903, the city acquired the palace. During its renovation, six previously unknown tapestries were discovered depicting the tragic love story of Hero and Leander, woven in the 1630s at the Mortlake Tapestry Works near London.
Between the World Wars, the Mirror Hall hosted literary lectures and author evenings, attended by figures like Zsigmond Móricz and Thomas Mann. The scientist Paracelsus briefly lived here, and a memorial plaque commemorates his stay.
The Primate's Palace briefly served as the temporary residence of the President of Slovakia before the Grassalkovich Palace became the permanent presidential residence in 1996. The palace is a tourist attraction open to visitors, and its famed Mirror Hall hosts meetings of Bratislava's City Council.
The Franciscan Church (Slovak: Františkánsky kostol, Kostol Zvestovania Pána) is a Catholic church in the Old Town of Bratislava. As one of the oldest religious buildings in Bratislava's historical centre, the church has endured fires and earthquakes, leaving only a portion of the original structure intact. Today, it houses the relics of Saint Reparatus.
Believed to have been constructed between 1280 and 1297, the Franciscan Church was commissioned by Hungarian King Ladislaus IV as a symbol of victory over Czech King Přemysl Otakar II at the Battle of Moravian Field in 1278. The church was consecrated in 1297 by Hungarian King Andrew III.
Initially built in the Gothic style, the church underwent renovations in the Renaissance style in the 17th century and later in the Baroque style in the 18th century. In the 14th century, a Franciscan monastery was added, from which the Church of the Annunciation later derived its colloquial name. The same century saw the construction of the chapels of St. John the Evangelist and St. Rosalia.
During the 16th century, the Franciscan Church was used by Hungarian kings for public ceremonies, including the coronation of Ferdinand I in 1526. The church suffered damage from an earthquake in the first half of the 17th century but was subsequently restored, leading to gradual changes in its architectural style.
The monastery was confiscated under Emperor Joseph II, who pursued internal policies later known as "Josephine." In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Franciscan monastery's premises were used for city meetings, elections of Bratislava's leaders, and sessions of the local municipality.
Michael's Gate is the sole surviving city gate from Bratislava's medieval fortifications and is among the city's oldest structures, built around 1300. Its current Baroque style dates back to a 1758 reconstruction, marked by the addition of a statue of Saint Michael slaying a dragon atop the tower. The tower now houses a Bratislava City Museum exhibition on medieval weaponry.
Originally, Bratislava was fortified with walls, accessible only through four heavily fortified gates. To the east were the Laurinc Gates, named after Saint Lawrence, and to the south, the Fishermen's Gates, primarily used by fishermen entering the city with their Danube catch. The western Vydrická Gates, also known as the Dark or Black Gates, resembled a long, dark tunnel. The northern Saint Michael's Gates were named after the nearby Saint Michael's Church, which was later dismantled to reuse materials for additional city walls.
The history of Michael's Gate dates back to the late 13th century, with the first documented mention in 1411, depicting fortifications in front of Michael's Castle accompanied by a drawbridge over a moat, later rebuilt in stone. A portcullis and a wooden door secured the entrance.
During the coronation of 19 Hungarian kings in Bratislava (1563–1830), the ruler and his entourage entered the city through Vydrická Gates, with coronations held at Saint Martin's Cathedral. Post-coronation processions paused at Michael's Gate, where the new king gave his oath to the archbishop.
A stone Gothic plaque inside the Gate states that the tower was repaired by Bratislava's city council and citizens in 1758. Michael's Gate was part of a more extensive fortification system, including two rings of city walls, two bastions, a barbican, and a bridge over a water moat. While the city walls have disappeared in this part of the city, the Barbican survives, albeit partially built over.
The bridge, now replaced by a wooden structure, led to the construction of today's Michael's Bridge in 1727, the city's oldest. The area also contains the last remaining section of Bratislava's moat, half of which has been open to the public since 2006.
Today, the tower hosts a museum of Bratislava's medieval fortifications, detailing the city's origins, reconstruction, and eventual 18th-century dismantling as fortified walls hindered city growth. The museum's exhibits cover this history, and the sixth-floor balcony offers panoramic views of the Old Town, the castle, and surrounding areas.
"The Zichy Palace: Where History Meets Elegance"
The Zichy Palace stands proudly as a testament to history and refinement in the heart of Bratislava. Today, it serves as a charming venue for civil wedding ceremonies and cultural events, offering a unique blend of tradition and celebration.
In the early 19th century, this splendid palace had the honour of hosting composer Heinrich Marschner, one of the founding figures of German Romantic opera, as the music tutor for the Zichy family. Marschner's musical journey began with lessons from the renowned composer Ignaz Schicht in 1811-1816. Following his education, he relocated to Bratislava, where he composed his first operas. One of his works, "Heinrich IV and D'Aubigné" (German: Heinrich IV und D'Aubigné), was staged by Carl Maria von Weber in Dresden.
From 1827 to 1831, Marschner served as a conductor in Leipzig, where his operas "Vampyr" (1828) and "The Templar and the Jewess" (Der Templer und die Jüdin) (1829) had their premieres. Subsequently, from 1831 to 1859, he held the position of conductor in Hanover, eventually becoming the General Music Director. In 1833, his opera "Hans Heiling" debuted at the Berlin State Opera.
In 1859, Marschner retired and spent his later years in Hanover. Among his students in Hanover was the notable composer Ferdinand Vrécse.
The Zichy family, known as Zichi és vásonkeői Zichy in Hungarian, has a rich heritage dating back to the 13th century. They were granted the land of Zich, from which they derived their surname "de Zich" (later modified to "Zichi" and "Zichy"). In the 18th century, the Zichy family owned the historic town of Stara Buda (Obuda).
One of their enduring legacies is the magnificent Zichy Palace, an exquisite example of Baroque architecture that graces the Main Square of Stara Buda to this day. This palace is a testament to the Zichy family's enduring influence and commitment to preserving cultural heritage.
Bratislava has a unique connection to a great composer through his early education. The renowned composer Franz Liszt had his roots here. His father, Adam Liszt (1776–1827), served as an official in the administration of Prince Esterhazy. The Esterhazy princes were known for their patronage of the arts.
Young Adam Liszt played the cello in the orchestra conducted by Joseph Haydn in Prince Esterhazy's court until age 14. After completing his education at a Catholic gymnasium in Pressburg (now Bratislava), Adam briefly joined the Franciscan order but decided to leave after two years. Interestingly, he maintained a lifelong friendship with one of the Franciscans, which some researchers believe inspired him to name his son Franz.
Franz Liszt's life and the twists and turns of his career can be explored further through the provided link. And for those visiting the square, there's a cosy café to enjoy before continuing your journey to Budapest.
In front of the opera house, a significant event unfolded on March 25, 1988 – the first anti-communist demonstration in Czechoslovakia since the Prague Spring. Known as the Candle Demonstration (Slovak: Sviečková demonštrácia), it marked a pivotal moment in history. Despite heavy rain, demonstrators gathered with flags and lit candles, singing the national anthem. The police attempted to disperse the crowd using water cannons and batons. The determined protesters held their ground for half an hour, as planned, before disbanding. During the demonstration, 141 individuals were arrested, and several were subjected to police violence. This event was crucial to the nation's journey towards change and freedom.