VIKTOR Benesch, 1952.
photo: Courtesy of GMB
Following a display from last summer, the Bratislava City Gallery (GMB) recently opened the exhibition Under the Castle Area: Known and Unknown II.
Over 200 paintings, graphic works, and drawings from the 18th to the 20th centuries, as well as many period photographs, capture the area under the castle in times of glory as well as destruction. They depict an area that, after 1950, almost disappeared from Bratislava maps - a fate dealt to similar areas around the country by a half century of communist reign.
"To many Bratislava citizens, Podhradie [the Under the Castle area] is more unknown than known," said Martin Čičo, the exhibition's curator.
He explained that, even though the 19th century inflow of rural inhabitants into the area made it poorer, the artists present it rather idyllically. Tiny cobblestone streets that harmonise historical architectural styles breathe the peaceful atmosphere of the past, which one can absorb through the works of Imrich Weiner-Kráľ, Max Schurmann, Ernest Zmeták, and Milan Dobeš.
Some paintings also bring troublesome realities into focus - for example, the painting by Béla Marx (1885-1963) that captures Jewish Street after it was burnt. Such scenes, though, are mostly present in the dozens of exhibited photographs, which are also projected onto a wall.
"The Podhradie area was poor but picturesque. The former diminished, but so did the second, unfortunately," said professor Jozef Hanák, one of the collectors of period photographs who lent part of their collections to the exhibition.
Hanák, who started to regularly visit Bratislava with his father, a farmer from Žitný Ostrov, in 1925, remembers the place well. He said that little of the "old Podhradie" remains intact.
Out of the best preserved examples he singled out is the house currently inhabited by the Jewish Museum and the U dobrého pastiera (At the Good Shepherd) house, which sits at the beginning of Jewish Street.
Several elderly people who came to the opening of the exhibition on April 23 remembered the times of the former Podhradie with nostalgia and sadness. Their forefingers pointing at the pictures, they argued over the precise location of a friend's house or a favourite café.
"The atmosphere cannot be brought back, even though the [Bratislava] magistrate tries hard to revive it. If the communists had not taken [the houses] away from the people, each person would have taken care of his or her home, and they would still be standing today," Hanák said.
The exhibition runs at Mirbach Palace at Františkánske námestie 11 until June 27. Tel: 02/5443-1556 (-7, -8).