Bratislava sits at the border with three countries, Hungary to the south, and Austria and the Czech Republic to the west. Even though Bratislava is one of the youngest capital cities in Europe, it is the site of more than two thousand years of history. With its rich tradition it can easily be compared to any major European city.
The location of the city right at the heart of Europe on the banks of the River Danube predestined Bratislava to become a crossroads and destination of various trade routes and a mixing pot of various cultures. The first traces of a permanent settlement here date from the late Stone Age. It was the Boii Celtic tribe, however, that had put the site of Bratislava on the historical map, in the 2nd century BC. The Romans also took advantage of the strategic location of the area, building up military camps on the site of today’s Bratislava. During the movement of nations Bratislava was settled by the Slavs. They established several unions or principalities in the territory of Slovakia, the best known of which was the Great Moravia Empire.
At the end of the 10th century, the Kingdom of Hungary was created, which in various semblances was preserved up until the end of World War I. During its existence Bratislava experienced an era of great success and temporary decline. In the 13th century it was granted royal privileges. It underwent an important period at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries during the reign of Sigismund of Luxemburg. By his decree from 1405, Bratislava was classed as a free royal city. In the following centuries, the kingdom was besieged by the Turks. After the occupation of the capital Buda at the time, in 1536 Bratislava became the new metropolis of the kingdom as part of the Habsburg Monarchy. Bratislava became the seat of the king, the archbishop and the other most important institutions in the kingdom. Last but not least, it was the coronation city. In the period 1536-1830 a total of 11 kings and 8 queens were crowned in St. Martin’s Cathedral.
In the 18th century Bratislava became the largest and most prominent city in the whole kingdom. This century saw numerous grandiose palaces of the aristocracy being built, the castle was reconstructed and extended, new streets appeared and the population quadrupled. The whole city pulsed with a bustling cultural, social and economic life. Its greatest boom was seen under the reign of Maria Theresa (1740-1780). After the World War II, the city was plunged into the sombre era of socialist Czechoslovakia. Bratislava was not freed from this grip until the dismantling of the communist regime in November 1989. The inability of the political elite at the time to reach a compromise led to the split of former Czechoslovakia, which ceased to exist at the stroke of midnight on the last day of 1992. On 1 January 1993, Bratislava became the capital of the Slovak Republic. In the years to come the city would undergo major restoration, especially the historical city centre. The Slovak capital entered the new millennium as a promising progressive place. Nowadays, Bratislava is a strong and respected European region with extraordinary development prospects.
Bratislava is a historic city, which has grown out of its past as a free royal coronation town. At that time it was known as Pressburg, Prešporok or Pozsony. The spirit of its past can be felt in every step. In the historical city centre you can find amazing pastel-coloured palaces, built by European nobility. Visitors will enjoy the many reconstructed fountains from times long gone, gothic churches, romantic narrow alleyways and one of the most stunning old squares in Central Europe. Even so, it is still a fairly undiscovered destination by tourists and so you do not have to suffer the stampede of tourists often found in other European cities, not even in the peak season. Visitors to Bratislava are not here just for the historical monuments, but also for the rich range of cultural and entertainment possibilities. Favourite events of visitors from both home and abroad include the Bratislava Music Festival, devoted to classical music, or the Bratislava Jazz days, which speaks for itself. The Wilsonic festival of progressive music has also developed an avid following. Large outdoor events always meet with great enthusiasm, like the Coronation Celebrations or the New Year celebrations, which are on a par with similar mega events in other cities of Europe. Somebody once coined the phrase Partyslava to describe Bratislava. A major attraction, especially in the summer, is the excellently reconstructed historical centre of Old Town, which can be compared to one big open air restaurant. Tourists say that the relaxed atmosphere is reminiscent in some way of coastal town. The cuisine is based on traditions stretching back to the days of the monarchy: it is not so much typical Slovak cuisine, but rather Pressburg cuisine, with various Slovak specialties. Following the complete revitalisation of the Danube embankment, which will see some fascinating property developments, the centre will be extended and enriched. The whole embankment will be dominated by a promenade, which will lead along the River Danube practically over the full length of the city.
Bratislava is home to more than 20 museums and galleries. As well as the Slovak National Gallery, there is the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, a modern gallery on a narrow peninsula jutting into the Danube with contemporary work inside and an outdoor sculpture garden; the Old Town Hall, which houses a history museum; and the Bratislava City Gallery, which has traveling exhibits displayed in two different venues in the Old Town; Palffy Palace, is home to the celebrated exhibition ‘Passage’ by Matej Kren. A stroll through the mirror-lined Passage, made up of some 15,000 books, gives one the sense of a space that never ends.
Opera has been performed for more than three centuries in Bratislava. The Italian opera companies made trips from Vienna to baroque Bratislava, and later, in the time of Maria-Theresa, the palaces of the loyal aristocracy were built in the city. Regular musical events and theatre and opera performances took place there. Classical music lovers will surely love it here, for instance, with a night out at the opera of the Slovak National Theatre (SND). The opera and ballet concerts held at SND are of the very highest caliber, with the theatre having nurtured talents such as Edita Gruber, Lucia Popp, Peter Dvorsky or, most lately, Adriana Kucerova. The classical repertoire, world-class level of performance and inexpensive ticket prices attract tourists in droves.
Bratislava is ”an open air museum” of Central European history and architecture. Many visitors are impressed by jewel-like squares of its baroque Old Town, a silent charm of narrow cobbled streets winded by cathedrals, fountains, statues and captivating ancient buildings. The romantic ruins of Devin Castle stand at the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers. The Roman Catholic St Martin’s Cathedral houses the Baroque lead-cast sculpture group of St. Martin on horseback, created by famed sculptor and architect Georg Rafael Donner. The Blue Church, designed by renowned Budapest architect Ödön Lechner, has walls adorned with blue majolica and a roof covered in blue glazed tiling. The largest collection of English tapestries in the world can be found in the magnificent halls of the Primatial Palace. The final resting place of the great 19th-century Jewish religious scholar Chatam Sofer, Bratislava’s chief rabbi, is a sacred site for the global Jewish community. The family home of composer and conductor Johann Nepomuk Hummel features a collection of his musical instruments and the scores to his compositions.
Bratislava’s top shopping destinations are its shiny new malls – AuPark, Avion and Polus City Centre. The former is just 5 minutes by public transport bus service or a 15-minute walk from downtown on the south bank of the Danube River. Here one will find most of the brand-name retailers as well as a multiplex cinema and a wide variety of eating options. The Old Town is home to some interesting retailers, too, such as the jewelry and watch shops, bookstores, wine stores, glass and porcelain, ceramics, antiques and other souvenirs.
Bratislava has a vibrant, bustling feel. Visitors are always awed by the amazing array of restaurants, bars and cafes. There are some 1,500 eating and drinking places on offer in a relatively small area called “Korzo”. They suit all tastes, from traditional Slovak restaurants to the trendiest lounges following the latest culinary trends. The Slovakian national dish is “Bryndzove Halusky” – absolutely delicious potato dumplings covered with melted sheep cheese and bacon pieces sprinkled on the top. Enjoy the 30 miles long trail beginning in Bratislava and linking various towns and villages that have a wine-growing tradition, and sample some fantastic local varieties of Riesling, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and a host of other wines.
Piestany – the largest and most successful spa in Slovakia are just 60 miles northwards from Bratislava. It is indicated to therapy of locomotion apparatus. Hot mineral springs (67-69 degrees of Celsius) and sulphurous medicinal mud were the basis for development of the spa and construction of its buildings. The first spa house was built here after the Napoleonic wars in 1822. Today, Piestany spa offers 2,400 beds for visitors looking for tranquility, first class health care and refined taste.