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SEVEN HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD BUILDING FINISHES RECONSTRUCTION

Witch's den now the home of urban theatre

TRADITION, art and history meet in a new restaurant, theatre and gallery complex on the Bratislava Old Town's Františkanské námestie. The renovated building, say the project's backers, aims to be the new focus of the capital's social scene.
"This is one of the last buildings in the centre that belongs to the town. This building is important because it's close to the Main Square, and that's why we provided money from the town's budget," said Milan Vajda, Bratislava Old Town spokesman.
The reconstruction of the building, for which the Bratislava City Council provided Sk30 million, had to accommodate seven centuries of history, from the early medieval basement to the 18th century baroque upper floors. First the street facade and window frames were renovated, and then the courtyard together with the pavement and the inner facade.


THE BUILDING's facade in the 1920s...
photo: Courtesy of Bratislava Old Town council

TRADITION, art and history meet in a new restaurant, theatre and gallery complex on the Bratislava Old Town's Františkanské námestie. The renovated building, say the project's backers, aims to be the new focus of the capital's social scene.

"This is one of the last buildings in the centre that belongs to the town. This building is important because it's close to the Main Square, and that's why we provided money from the town's budget," said Milan Vajda, Bratislava Old Town spokesman.

The reconstruction of the building, for which the Bratislava City Council provided Sk30 million, had to accommodate seven centuries of history, from the early medieval basement to the 18th century baroque upper floors. First the street facade and window frames were renovated, and then the courtyard together with the pavement and the inner facade.

"Before the reconstruction the building was badly damaged and devastated, the facade was cracked, the whole basement, where today the music club is, was filled up with trash. The space was not used at all, and everything was closed," said Vajda.

In its abandoned state, the building hid its artistic value for centuries. "Some old fresco paintings were discovered during the reconstruction. We had to find an additional Sk7 million for their renovation and conservation," he said.

The building is known for its two famous inhabitants. Woch, the first known citizen of Bratislava, lived here in the 13th century after receiving citizen's rights for his service to the royal family. Later, the building was home to the last woman to be burned as a witch in Bratislava.


...AND after the recent reconstruction.
photo: Ján Svrček

The reconstruction was part of a larger Old Town project to renovate public spaces, financed in co-operation with the town's government, some Austrian foundations and private owners who took part in investments.

Restaurant Woch, which opened in December last year, is situated in the medieval part of the building, enclosed by thick walls and a low arched ceiling. The music club is housed in an underground tunnel, visually enlarged with the help of a mirror, lighted with blue and red spotlights.

Wealthy visitors from abroad and the emerging Slovak business class are targeted customers. "The Woch restaurant is inspired by the old-style Slovak cuisine, and we will also serve Slovak wines. The club is more in the Ally McBeal style, and jazz and funk will be played there - for people with ties and proper suits to come to dance or relax," said Juraj Mészáros, the owner of the restaurant.

Divadlo F7, also situated in the basement of the renovated building, will stage plays featuring urban reality themes, and will host similar theatrical and artistic projects, such as Gunagu, a group known for 17 years on Bratislava's alternative theatre scene.

"We used to perform in the old hall of the nearby Čierny havran theatre, which was not technologically suitable. We helped during the reconstruction with some minor technical suggestions. This is a historical interior which cannot be changed and modified into a bigger or smaller place. It's really good that the town has created a venue for such theatre," said Viliam Klimáček, the artistic director of Gunagu.

While Gunagu will keep its tradition of modern urban performances, these will now be produced in a historical space with new multimedia possibilities. "We don't want to play Shakespeare because there are so many other groups playing him better or worse than us. We will come out with urban topics, unpleasant questions presented in humorous way," Klimáček said.

Other renovation projects in the Old Town await completion. "We plan to finish the reconstruction of Hviezdoslavovo námestie, to make a long promenade. We still have five or six weeks to finish it, and some time in mid-May there will be a big opening ceremony. It will be a revival of Bratislava as it appeared before the world wars," said Vajda.

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