Exploring Bratislava

Scenes from Bratislava, Slovak Republic (Photo by Don Knebel)

Bratislava is one of the least known of Europe’s capitals. It is also one of the easiest to explore on foot.

Bratislava is the capital of the Slovak Republic (also known as Slovakia), which separated from Czechoslovakia on January 1, 1993, as a result of the Velvet Revolution. The city straddles the Danube River at the foot of the Little Carpathian Mountains in the southwest of the country, near both Austria and Hungary. Between 1536 and 1783, Bratislava, known by its German name of Pressburg, was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary. It changed its name to Bratislava in 1919 to reflect its increasingly Slovak population. The city, with an estimated population of 650,000, is among the most prosperous cities in Europe based on GDP per capita.

More than a million people visit Bratislava every year, many arriving on cruise boats on the Danube. The most visited sites are all in Old Town and within easy walking distances of each other. The Main Square (Hlavné Námestie) includes the Old Town Hall, a towered building created in the 15th century by connecting three older buildings, and the Baroque Palace of the Hungarian Exchange Bank. Nearby is St. Martin’s Cathedral, the site of the coronation of 11 kings and queens of the Kingdom of Hungary, including Maria Theresa. Tree-lined Hviezdoslav Square (Hviezdoslavovo Námestie) includes a statue of Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, a Slovak poet after whom the square is named, and ends at the Slovak National Theatre, which opened in 1886 and now houses opera and ballet companies. The Primate’s Palace, now home of the Mayor of Bratislava, includes in its courtyard a magnificent seventeenth century fountain depicting St. George slaying the dragon. Among the most photographed (and touched) attractions in Old Town is Čumil, the iconic Man at Work statue, peering at visitors from a manhole.

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