Underappreciated by tourists, the Bratislava Castle holds cultural treasures and a captivating history. Reconstruction continues to bring back some of the shine from Maria Theresia's reign in the late 18th century.
Despite its shabby appearance, the castle wasn't a recent communist construction. It saw its beginnings as early as the year 907, though there is evidence that it could be somewhat older. A little over a century later a Hungarian king, Solomon I, fortified the castle. Later, during the eleven-year reign of King Sigmund of Luxembourg from 1423-1434, the castle's courtyard and main structure were restructured and fortified-resulting in pretty much what you see today.
The castle's glory lasted through Hapsburg Queen Maria Theresia's reign, 1740-80, when she had it redesigned in a Baroque style more akin to the era. Maria Theresia often held court at the castle, making modifications that suited her needs. For example, you may notice that the stairways have rather long steps with a gradual slope. This was done because Maria Theresia - the patron saint of Bratislava - was a rather large woman who chose to navigate the interior of the castle on her horse. When she died, it became a plain army barracks - not very glorious.
In 1811, a great fire caused by drunken soldiers raged through the castle and the surrounding area, burning it down and leaving only charred ruins for nearly 150 years. In 1953, restoration on the castle began in order to prepare it to house the Slovak National Museum. Fifteen years later, the castle held its first exhibition.
Currently the Bratislava castle is still part of the National Museum displaying several exhibitions which rotate once or twice a year with other museums. The exhibitions are intelligently organized, leading the visitor through a well thought out path that beautifully displays the culture and handiwork of Slovakia's past.
Journey back in time
A soldier in this armor once guarded the castle.
Unfortunately the entire second level is closed due to repairs, but the third level more than compensates. You'll have to cut through the castle café "Libresso," which offers a splendid view of the Slovak Parliament, to see the first exhibit hall. Afterwards, you can count on a fascinating hour or two as the tour leads you around the castle's entire top floor.
In the exhibit of Slovak pottery, you see the kind of handiwork that the tourist shops try to copy, but never succeed. And copper ware - lots of it - from pots to bundt pans, are everywhere. Intricately designed Austrian and German rifles from as early as 1668 are on display as well. There are also several two-handed swords weighing nearly 100 lbs. (40 kg) each and over seven feet (two meters) in length. It's hard to imagine the warriors who used these weapons to defend their honor.
The castle's other corridors feature various crafts from old Slovak culture. Goldsmithing was prominent in the 15th century with goblets and thick jewelry. The portion on locksmithing shows when key-making and lock design was an art and not a necessity. A blacksmith's shop is set up to show what tools he actually used and some of the products he made, from gardening tools to war weapons.
Since there were no Reeboks or Nikes at that time, cobblers were everyone's source for footwear. An old Singer sewing machine (the kind you had to pedal), leather scraps and wooden foot forms lay astrewn are evidence of just what it took to fashion a good pair of durable shoes. Woodworking and leather-working were also common trades at the time, but some of the most creative works came from the tin and silversmiths of the period.
Rounding the corner, all you see are drawing rooms and furniture of all kinds; from dressers to armoires, The life-size dioramas show the ornate Viennese and Slovak styles of the 1770-80s, accentuated by portraits of people.
The final stop on the tour is the climb up inside the right front most tower looking out over the Danube. If the three flights of steps don't take your breath away, then the spectacular view of Bratislava and Austria will.
Don't miss the spectacle.
The Bratislava Castle is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm and on weekends from 10 am to 6 pm The latest you may enter the museum is 45 minutes before closing time. It is closed on Mondays. Admission is 20 Sk.
5. Jun 1997 at 0:00 | Ron Severdia