NATIVES OF SLOVAK CAPITAL SAY LIFE IS FINALLY RETURNING TO CITY WITH A TRADITION OF KORZOVANIE - WALKING THE STREETS AT SUNSET

Bratislava recovers cultural traditions decades after they were banned

"For some native Bratislavans, walking from Michael's Gate down to the Danube embankment at sunset used to be a ritual. When the sun went down, something seemed to lift us up, and we went out and mixed with the walking crowd. This was the spirit of our town. The spirit of lilacs, waltzes, walnut rolls, wine, baked chestnuts and the Danube. It's a spirit which has come back."
Humourist Július Satinský, a Bratislava native, is like many residents of the Slovak capital delighted by the city's return to life over a decade after the end of communism.
Situated rather unusually for a national capital in the extreme south-west of the country where the borders of Austria, Hungary and Slovakia meet, Bratislava has been fought over for centuries by Czech, Austrian and Hungarian rulers since it was founded in the 1100s.


THE KORZO area in downtown Bratislava.
photo: Ján Svrček

"For some native Bratislavans, walking from Michael's Gate down to the Danube embankment at sunset used to be a ritual. When the sun went down, something seemed to lift us up, and we went out and mixed with the walking crowd. This was the spirit of our town. The spirit of lilacs, waltzes, walnut rolls, wine, baked chestnuts and the Danube. It's a spirit which has come back."

Humourist Július Satinský, a Bratislava native, is like many residents of the Slovak capital delighted by the city's return to life over a decade after the end of communism.

Situated rather unusually for a national capital in the extreme south-west of the country where the borders of Austria, Hungary and Slovakia meet, Bratislava has been fought over for centuries by Czech, Austrian and Hungarian rulers since it was founded in the 1100s.

In the centre of an important wine region and trade route, Bratislava grew to become the largest town in the Hungarian kingdom in the late 18th century, and remained a cosmopolitan mix of Germans, Hungarians and Slovaks well into the 20th century.

But it took the communists less than a decade to snuff out the city's soul.

"In 1994, there was nothing here," remembers Old Town spokesman Milan Vajda.


A PANORAMA view of Bratislava spotlights the castle hill, the site of the first settlement in the area before 1000 AD.
photo: Ján Svrček

"Even though five years had passed since communism fell, the town still didn't have any life. The phenomenon of korzovanie [walking the city streets after sunset] had been banned during communism, and had not yet been renewed."

Back in the 1960s, policemen patrolling the streets of Bratislava would disperse any larger group of people under a law at the time forbidding public assemblies. The streets yawned empty, while Main Square was an archaeological dig enclosed by a high metal fence.

It was not until the mid 1990s that furious reconstruction of the city's public face began to revive the social and cultural tone of Bratislava. Live music returned to the streets and squares as well as the historical cathedrals. In 1997, then-Mayor Peter Kresánek renewed the korzovanie tradition by organising a 'Korzo' party in the Old Town, an annual street bash which today is enriched by cultural happenings.

"The Latin cursus or Italian corso has many meanings, such as the circulation of currency or the main street in the city, but for us Bratislavans Korzo means the most sensible main meeting point in the town, a place more important to us than the Danube or the castle," says Kresánek. The ex-mayor adds that the Bratislava Korzo is the northernmost Italian-type promenade in Europe.

During the summer months, the city goes to sleep to music from its Korzo downtown area, with at least one street band playing to an open-air audience every day. Cafes and pubs that appear hidden in the winter sprawl into the streets, their terraces and colourful parasols enlivening the city thoroughfares.

"Bratislava isn't Prague or Budapest, its historical centre is smaller even than those of other Slovak towns. The centre as we know it now is just one third of what it used to be in medieval times," says Vajda.


DEVÍN castle is one of the oldest sites in the Bratislava region.
photo: Ján Svrček

"But with cultural and social events finally coming back, now is a perfect time to attract more citizens and foreigners to spend time here in the traditional Bratislava way - roaming the historical centre with friends and relaxing at cafes while listening to live music."

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