The history of Bratislava – Bratislava castle


September 12, 2015

Bratislava Castle is an agelong symbol and dominant feature of the city of Bratislava standing at a strategic hill site 85m above the Danube River, having its eventful and fascinating history. The castle hill site was protected by the mighty river on one side and by the dense forest of the Little Carpathians on the other. Also, it was an important crossroad of the ancient Danubian and Amber trade routes. Thus its favorable geographic location was predetermination for formation of human settlements since as far back as the Late Stone (5000 BC) and Bronze (1800-700 BC) Age. Therefore, whoever got to build a fortress there ruled not only the important crossing over the Danube River but was a ruler of the whole region, too.

The Celts and the Romans on the castle hill
The Celts came to Bratislava approximately 2400 years ago and built their settlements in the area of the present Old Town. It is supposed that their hill fort, Celtic Oppidum, stood on top of the present-day castle hill which provided the best protection. This has been testified by rich finds of fine residences from the 1st century BC within the hill fort, surrounded by a settlement of farmsteads. Oppidum was the first type of urban spaces with brick buildings brought in by the Celts. Inhabitants of the Oppidum were mostly craftsmen; agriculture was in hands of villagers living outside it on the farms under the hill. Celtic population first got in touch with the expanding Roman Empire in the first decades of our era. It was initially about trading relationships which ultimately resulted in the dominance of this territory by the Roman population. The evidence of Celtic contacts with the Antique world is the imported items as amphoras, Roman coins, etc. Excavations conducted on three various sites of Bratislava castle (2008-2010) also yielded unexpected finds related to the imports of Roman construction techniques into the Celtic settlements of Central Europe. An entire extensive construction complex built with the good use of Roman building techniques stretching over the entire area of the castle grounds was unveiled during the excavation works. The archaeological research results indicate that at the turn of the Millennia Bratislava castle hill saw its prime days and played a prominent role in the political and historical development in a broader European context. Unfortunately the remains of the Celtic and Roman buildings will probably be replaced by a new car park for the Parliament standing just next to the castle.

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The history of the castle
Between 833 and 907 AD today’s Slovakia was a part of the Great Moravian Empire. Svätopluk I. (846-894) was one of the most significant rulers of the Empire as it reached its economic summit and the greatest territorial expansion during his reign. His death in 894 marked the beginning of the decline of the Monarchy and after the fall of the Great Moravian Empire (907 AD) Slovakia became part of the Hungarian Kingdom (later Austro-Hungarian Monarchy) for the next 1000 years.
Bratislava castle became the most important military and administrative centre of the western part of the Hungarian Kingdom. The oldest of the original castle parts, The Crown Tower, was built in the 13th century and it is standing till today. Originally, this tower was the only one, surrounded by a deep moat. The other three towers were built later on because of the symmetry. During the reign of Sigismund of Luxemburg (1387-1437) the castle underwent a radical Gothic reconstruction into a defensive fortress in 1427. It was to protect the castle against plundering hussites who got as far as Trnava (approximately 50km north of Bratislava). After 1526 Pressburg became the capital and the coronation town of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy for the next 300 years and the castle became the seat of Austrian-Hungarian monarchs. During this period the Crown Tower housed the Hungarian crown and other coronation jewels.

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Statue of Svatopluk I. has its proud place in front of the castle

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The Crown Tower – the thick one in the front

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Sigismund’s gothic gate at present

Today’s form of the castle started to shape in the 16th century. There was a massive wide moat with a drawbridge stretching in front of the castle. Continuous ring of settlements around the castle was originally a vassal village and since 1713 it became an independent “trading town” with great privileges gained from the king Karol IV. The biggest boom of the castle took place under the reign of Maria Theresa (1740-1780). She had the castle extensively reconstructed in 1760, with the help of the best imperial architects; the interior spaces were modified into Baroque style. A defensive fortress from the times of Sigismund of Luxemburg was, by this late Baroque reconstruction, changed into a sumptuous castle. It was no longer a fortress, rather a luxurious baroque residence and a representative place with a riding hall.

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Vienna gate with the statue of Jesus Christ and public clock from around year 1800 (source: Bratislava na pohľadniciach z prelomu storočia, Jozef Hanák, vydavateľstvo Obzor, 1992)

In 1783 the Emperor Joseph II. (son of Maria Theresa) established the General Seminary for the education of Roman – Catholic priests in the castle. After his death the seminary was almost immediately dissolved and the castle remained almost empty until it was turned into a military garrison in 1802. In 1809 the castle was under fire of Napoleon’s troops but it was not destroyed. In the May of 1811, the fire broke out in the military warehouse. The castle burnt down and only ruins were left from once famous Bratislava Castle. The castle remained uninhabited and with no military significance. The only functional thing which remained from the original castle was one castle cannon that since than fired once a year to warn people of the start of the Danube ice melting and the threat of floods. Only a massive ruin left from once majestic complex and for the next 150 years it created the characteristic silhouette of the city.

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Source: Bratislava/Pozsony/Pressburg 1907, Albert Marenčin, vydavateľstvo PT, 2005

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Source: Bratislava na pohľadniciach z prelomu storočia, Jozef Hanák, vydavateľstvo Obzor, 1992

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Source: Bratislava na pohľadniciach z prelomu storočia, Jozef Hanák, vydavateľstvo Obzor, 1992

The castle remained in ruins till well after the World War II when the communist regime had it seriously reconstructed in time for the signing of the document here establishing Czechoslovak Federation in 1968. The law established Bratislava as the capital of Slovakia within federal Czechoslovakia. Since then the outside of the castle has undergone a few small “facial treatments” but it has pretty much looked the same. Currently the castle houses the exposition of the Slovak National Museum (historical furniture, visual arts, clocks, historic weapons, historic glass, porcelain, fashion accessories and silver articles) and contains premises used by the Slovak Parliament.

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If you plan to visit Bratislava and want to have the best views of the city I would definitely recommend visiting Bratislava castle. This is the place worth visiting.

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Have a great day folks and don’t forget: Visit Bratislava – Visit Slovakia.