Hilly terrain gives historical Cemetery at Kozia Brána an exceptional atmosphere

On All Saints Day, Slovaks go to cemeteries to light candles on the graves of their deceased relatives.

The Cemetery at Kozia BránaThe Cemetery at Kozia Brána (Source: Jana Liptáková)

With the approaching All Saints Day, when Slovaks visit the graves of their deceased relatives and light candles for them, cemeteries across Slovakia begin to come alive; not in only those active cemeteries where Slovaks bury their relatives, but lights appear more often in historic cemeteries as well. One of them is the Cemetery at Kozia Brána in Bratislava’s Old Town close to Bratislava Castle. The music composer Ján Levoslav Bella, pilot Fritz Wowy, the inventor Ján Bahýľ and the owners of the famous hardware shop Pallehner in Bratislava, are buried here.

Besides the relatives of those buried in the cemetery, there are people who come here to enjoy the quiet environment and the nostalgic atmosphere.

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“I like this cemetery. As a child, I went to sledding here, since I used to live nearby,” said Sofia Mulnerová, a woman in her fifties. “Today I come to walk here. And on All Saints Day I also lit some candles.”

Cemetery on the hill

The Cemetery at Kozia Brána gate, along with the Ondrejský and Mikulášsky

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cemetaries, are among the oldest in Bratislava. Unlike the plain Ondrejský cemetery, the originally Evangelical cemetery at Kozia Brána gate spreads out on hilly terrain that gives it an exceptional atmosphere.

Its origin and history are closely related to the history of the Evangelical Church in then Pressburg, today’s Bratislava. Lutheranism began to spread rapidly in German-speaking countries at the beginning of the modern age. At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, more than 95 percent of the city’s inhabitants professed to be Protestants, Viera Obuchová and Štefan Holčík write in the book about the cemetery. During this period, even the Dome of St Martin became an Evangelical Church for several years.

The Evangelicals used to bury their deceased relatives at the existing municipal cemeteries. In the second half of the 17th century, the situation changed and, with the onset of extensive recatholisation, the Catholic Church banned the burying of Evangelicals – heretics – in the sacred soil of their cemeteries.

The city enabled the Evangelicals to build their own cemetery close to Michalská

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Gate at the site of today’s Veterná Street. Originally there used to be a cemetery around St Michael’s Church. Evangelicals began to be buried here in 1682. Even though the cemetery does not exist anymore, its cemetery chapel has survived. Thus, it is the oldest such chapel in Bratislava, which makes it unique, the historians recall in the book.

A hundred years later Emperor Joseph II forbade burying in the inhabited parts of the city, and new cemeteries had to be set up a farther distance from the city. The Evangelical Church bought the first plots of today’s cemetery at Kozia Brána in 1783 at the site of the former vineyards and gardens behind the city’s palisades, which functioned as city walls. As the cemetery gradually filled, the church bought neighbouring plots.

Burying at the cemetery ceased in 1950. Today, the relatives of those buried at the cemetery can deposit an urn with ashes of their deceased relatives in the existing grave.

The cemetery is a national cultural landmark, while several tombstones possess this distinction as well. It is estimated that there are about 4,000 graves. On the tombstones German engravings with Hungarian and Slovak offers tangible evidence of the city’s trilingualism.

Right at the cemetery’s entrance there is a symbolic grave. It fulfills the function of a central cross since it is a custom in Roman Catholic cemeteries.

“At this cemetery there are buried some more important figures than at others in Bratislava,” said Ivor Švihran during one of his tours of unusual places in Bratislava. “This is due to the fact that although Evangelicals represented 20-30 percent of the city’s population, it was exactly the opposite in the case of social life.”

There are the graves of figures associated with the national movement, Slovak and Hungarian history as well as figures with links to German and Austrian history.

Presumably the most famous person at the cemetery is music composer Ján Levoslav Bella, the author of the first Slovak opera Wieland der Schmied (Wieland the Smith in English). However, since its libretto was in German it is the opera Krútňava (Whirlpool) by Eugen Suchoň, which is considered to be the first Slovak national opera.

A few steps further there is the family tomb of the Berlin family. In the 19th and early 20th century, it owned the Royal Hotel and the Berlin café. Today the premises of the Berlin café are used by the Slovak National Gallery. It runs the Berlinka café here.

Ivan Pietor is also buried here, the grandson of important Slovak journalist Ambro Pietor and his son Miloš Pietor, an important theatre director.

Christian Ludwig, the architect who designed the first skyscraper in Bratislava – Manderlák – and department store Brouk a Babka, today the Dunaj department store, is buried here, too.

The gravestones at Evangelical cemeteries are generally less spectacular, yet there are many valuable works of art at the Cemetery at Kozia Brána. For example, the tombstone of ophthalmologist Karol Kaňka by Alojz Rigele.

This important Bratislava sculptor is also behind the sculpture of the man and woman at the grave of the Schmidt family. Julius Schmidt, after WWI, led the Masonic lodge Zur Verchweigenkeit.

Rigele created a sculpture for the tomb of Fritz Wowy, the air force lieutenant, who died as a 23-year-old in 1917 during WWI. This is considered to be one of Rigele’s most valuable works.

The Slubeks, who had a liqueur factory close to the cemetery, have two graves at the cemetery.

Andrej Samuel Royko, one of the richest burghers and a generous supporter of the Evangelical church, is buried here. In the city, a passage between Obchodná Street and Jedlikova Street known as Royko Passage, remembers him to this today. But it was built only 90 years after his death.

The helicopter inventor Ján Bahýľ, theatrical playwright Ivan Stodola, the writer Ivan Horváth, the art photographer Martin Martinček, and the Pallehner couple, who owned a famous hardware shop in Hurbanovo Square for many years, found here their final resting place.

Daxner, Jesenský and Braxatoris

There are several graves in the cemetery with well-known names such as Daxner, Jesenský and Braxatoris. However, these are not the people many will imagine under these surnames, but their offspring or relatives.

Such a tomb is, for example, is the tomb of Janko Jesenský, nephew of the writer Janko Jesenský. The writer was originally buried in this tomb, but his remains were later transferred to the National Cemetery in Martin.

Cyril Daxner was the grandson of Štefan Marko Daxner, an ally of Ľudovít Štúr, and Alexander Braxatoris was the grandson of Andrej Sládkovič. The original surname of the latter was Braxatoris.

Today the sepulchre of the Jeszenáks with arcades and the cemetery chapel are the largest buildings in the cemetery. Both were designed by Ignác Feigler II in the second half of the 19th century.

A native of Bratislava, János Jeszenák, was a prominent figure in Hungarian history. He was the mayor of Nitra and he joined the Hungarian resistance against the imperial army. Thanks to this, the Leopold fortress remained in the hands of the Kossuths. After the defeat of the revolution, he was executed in 1849. In Hungarian literature he is mentioned as a national martyr.

The chapel has not served the Evangelical church since the 1970s but the state assigned it to the Baptist Church.

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