We have all heard of Bratislava but mostly with regard to iffy stag do’s. They are thankfully drifting into the mists of a former time, and there is so much more to this city than nightlife.
The first known permanent settlement here was around 5000 BC. About 200 BC, the Celtic Boii tribe founded the first fortified town. The Romans introduced grape growing and winemaking, which still continue today. Bratislava was part of the Kingdom of Hungary in the 19th century and found itself at the centre of major political events in this part of Europe.
Bratislava was occupied by German troops in 1944, bombed by the Allies, and eventually taken by Soviet troops. After the Communists seized power in 1948 the city became part of the Eastern Bloc.
Bratislava anticipated the fall of communism with the Candle Demonstration in 1988. The city became one of the foremost centres of the Velvet Revolution the following year. In 1993 the city became the capital of the newly-formed Slovak Republic.
Many visitors arrive by river and they will be welcomed by a significant 20th-century structure, the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising, which reaches across the Danube. It has a prominent UFO-like tower with a restaurant.
The arts are alive
There is a celebrated musical tradition in Bratislava. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Franz Liszt worked or lived here. One can find references to them on buildings which might now be offices or shops. The arts are evidently still alive in the guise of street sculpture found around the Old Town.
Čumil is a celebrity here. The literal translation of the word Čumil is ‘the watcher’. There are a couple of explanations for the name of this iconic brass sculpture and trip hazard. The first one is that he is a communist-era worker who is not interested in the work he has been assigned so spends his time people-watching. The second urban myth says he’s looking up women’s skirts. He does have a somewhat dubious expression. He is the most photographed person in Bratislava and can be found hanging out at the junction of Laurinská and Panská Streets.
There is a life-sized and rather charming Napoleonic soldier in the Main Square, near the Old Town Hall. You will find him leaning on a bench which obviously will invite a line of selfie-takers who want a truly unique souvenir of a trip to Bratislava. Napoleon was here in 1805; it’s said that the soldier fell in love with a local girl. He stayed in the city and became a producer of sparkling wine. His name was Hubert – which is also the name of Slovakia’s most popular sparkling-wine brand. There is no way of knowing if that story is true, but it is either delightfully romantic, or a very clever marketing ploy.
But Bratislava also has a reputation for welcoming another kind of art: graffiti! This isn’t the nasty tags left in railway sidings by pale and spotty losers. We find murals, colour, comment and ads. This is urban art at its finest.
Bratislava is an architecturally beautiful and diverse city with buildings from every era of its past. There is culture, cafés and something fascinating on every corner. It’s a place well worth exploring.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018