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History of Bratislava

The rise of Bratislava as an important centre of economic, political and cultural life was not just a coincidence, but it was similar to that of other Europeans hubs. In the case of Bratislava, its rise was influenced by an advantageous geographic location. The ridge of the Small Carpathians mountains and the Danube river has protected its site from the south, west and north. The river and soil ensured appropriate living conditions and high rocky cliffs facilitated the construction of sites with fortifications.

How old is Bratislava

Two traditional long-distance European merchant roads crossing this region also had a crucial impact. First, it was the Danubian Road linking the advanced cultures of the Mediterranean and the Orient (as an extension of the legendary Silk Road) with the inlands of continental Europe already in the dawn of human history. The second was the Amber Road linking countries by the Baltic Sea in the north with southern Europe. Both merchant roads crossed the Danube river by ford and both created the basic pattern of the main city thoroughfares of Bratislava in the Middle Ages. The strategic point of the former ford is still commemorated by the preserved and reconstructed Roman (as well as medieval) fortified structure - the ”Water Tower“ - up to the present days. According to archeological research, the first settlements in the territory of the present-day city were already established in the Neolithic period, during the 5th millennium B. C. The later medieval town, similarly to e.g. Paris, Regensburg or Vienna, was founded on the site of a former Celtic oppidum. The Celtic site was spread out in an area even three times larger. So, the tradition of an urban settlement in Bratislava has continued for more than 2000 years.

Name of the town

Bratislava is situated near the state borders of four countries - Slovakia, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. In the past, this circumstance, along with intensive trading substantially influenced the structure of nationalities living in the town. In the Middle Ages, plenty of German settlers decided to settle. Along with Germans and Slovaks, the number of Hungarians increased substantially after the Turkish Wars. Some time ago every native inhabitant of Bratislava was able to speak three languages - German, Slovak and Hungarian. A large Jewish religious community has lived in the town too, as well as a lot of Italians and nationals of the Balkans. Bratislava has always been a multicultural city distinguished by its religious tolerance. There was an ancient Jewish synagogue alongside St. Martin’s Cathedral in one street. And in the near distance, there was even a mosque built by Mohammedan merchants after defeat by the Turks. The name of the town has changed as a reflection of historical development. As the Bavarian historian Aventinus wrote, the Castle was repaired during the reign of Prince Vratislav in 805 and was named Wratisslaburgium. The battle of Bratislava in 907 is recorded in the Salzburg Annals as the Battle of Braslavespurch, which means ”the battle of Bratislava Castle“. A coin made during the reign of the first Hungarian king Stephen was known as (Preslavva civitas). The other names used in the past were for example: Posonium in Latin, Pressburg in German, Pozsony in Hungarian, Prešporok in Slovak. The name “Bratislava“ began to be used by a group of Slovak national patriots gathered around Sudovít ·túr.Today Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia with about half a million inhabitants. The city of Bratislava is widespread on both banks of the Danube river.

The Celts Romans, Slavs

Historians have assumed that a central oppidum of the Celtic Boiis was situated right in the territory of contemporary Bratislava. In the very centre of the town, archaeologists have discovered not only Celtic utensils, potter’s stoves and remains of stone structures, but even a mint. The Celts coined silver coins here as has been approved by finds of fourteen treasures consist of Celtic coinage most often marked with the name of Celtic prince ”Biatec“. Roman legions conquered this territory approximately in the middle of the 1st century A. D. and stayed here for a couple of centuries. Castle Hill, a strategic point on the left Danube’s bank, became a part of the Roman system of defence. Former Roman military camp Gerulata on the right bank was situated on the site of the present-day village Rusovce, Bratislava suburb. The archaeological finds from Roman tombs are open to public. The first Slavs came to the Carpathian Basin in the first half of the 5th century. The settlements of the present-day Bratislava territory of the 7th century were parts of Samo’s Empire as the earliest form of Slavonic state. The remains of walls belonging to a robust fortified settlement were uncovered on Castle Hill. There was a wall sacral building as well as a palace object. Continual use of the adjacent burial site remained uninterrupted even after incorporation of present-day Slovak territory into the Hungarian kingdom. The first written references to Bratislava are connected to the well-known battle of Braslavespurch held between Bavarians and old Hungarians in 907.

Christianity

The church of Bratislava Castle, built in the middle of the 9th century on the site of present-day Bratislava Castle Court, is the earliest historically approved Christian sacral structure in the town. As archives have revealed, the Pope assented to the relocation of the church from the castle into the settlement around the Castle. That was how the original Romanesque, now the Gothic St Martin’s Cathedral, came into existence. It was the town parish church and later the coronation cathedral of Hungarian kings. Bratislava was a seat of provost.

The Church and the Monastery of Franciscans (destroyed in 1236 together with a rare archive and rebuilt in 1278), the Clare Nun’s Church and the romantic Chapel of St Catharine, belong to the earliest gothic monuments. The Reformation spread into Bratislava along with merchants and students from German universities quite early. A number of Protestants from Western Europe settled in Bratislava in that period. The Evangelic Protestants built for themselves German, Slovak and Hungarian churches. Baroque art entered the town with the Counter-Reformation. In those days, Bratislava was the capital city, coronation place and largest city of Hungary as well as a prosperous hub. A range of churches and monasteries in baroque style were built - the Church of St Trinity, the Brothers of Mercy Monastery, the Church of St Elizabeth, the Chapel of St John the Almoner by the Cathedral etc. All prominent families built themselves palaces: The Primacial Palace, the Palffy’s Palace, the Balass’ Palace, the Mirbach’s Palace. The House of the Good Shepherd in Rococo style is a gorgeous specimen of burgher’s architecture. The architectonic structures in Bratislava closely followed the achievements of the Viennese Baroque. After all, the best artists of the Imperial Court in Vienna created both sculptural and graphic works here. For example, the sculptural group of “St Martin on horseback sharing his coat with a beggar“ (originally placed on the main altar in the Cathedral) is considered to be the top masterpiece of Cisalpine Baroque.

City rights and Coat of arms

The earliest city privileges were bestowed on the city of Bratislava by King Andrew III more than 700 years ago - in 1291. These privileges came as a result of the ongoing evolution of the city and the legalisation of the already existing social and economic situation. The privileges gave citizens guarantees for extensive and substantial rights and freedoms. The burghers became an independent social layer. They could freely elect their mayor, town council and from a jurisdictional point of view, they were liable only to the monarch and the city. The Bratislava coat of arms is based on a red escutcheon with silver walls and three towers on its surface. In the middle, there is a gate with half-drawn bars. The coat of arms dates back to the 13th century and has been acknowledged by the bearing arms charter of Emperor Sigismond of Luxembourg in 1436. It is a European rarity that the charter was made in two originals. Experts say the reason for such a safety measure was the destruction of the earliest city charters when King Premysl Ottokar II conquered Bratislava in 1236. Therefore, it is fairly safe to assume that the city privileges from the year 1291 may not be the earliest ones.

Academia Istropolitana

The first recorded school in Bratislava was a medieval chapter school. Eager-to-learn individuals of Bratislava attended universities round the whole of Europe. The first complete university of the kingdom (consisting of the Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Theology, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Medicine) was founded according to the decision of Pope Paul II in Bratislava in 1465. The university was named ”Academia Istropolitana“ which means ”Academy of the Danube City“. The regulations of Bologne University served as a model pattern of regulations for its code of conduct. A range of domestic as well as prominent foreign humanist scholars, e.g. Jan Vitez and Regiomontanus, were engaged here. The humanist tradition of the school survived for decades. Its well-preserved buildings on Venturska street now serve the present-day Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Bratislava and the Turks

During the tragic Battle of Mohacs in 1526, King Louis, most of the Hungarian nobility and thousands of soldiers were killed. This catastrophe marked all of Christian Europe for many decades. The Turks marched northward and captured the royal site Buda with no significant resistance.Bratislava became a significant fortress at the frontier between the Christian world and territories under Islamic influence.

Already in 1530, the Turks with an army of 300 000 soldiers marched on Bratislava and Vienna. The inhabitants of Bratislava demolished all the houses, hospitals and churches in the suburbs, and they used the rubble as material for reinforcement of their town fortifications. And maybe also because of the fortifications’ strength, the Turks decided to defeat the Emperor directly in Vienna and did not occupy Bratislava.Skirmishes with Turks continued in the south-ern parts of Slovakia during both the 16th and 17th century. These centuries were marked with numerous uprisings of aristocracy against the Habsburgs. In 1683 Islamic troops marched upward alongside the Danube river again.They occupied all the suburbs of Bratislava and devastated them completely, but the town remained unconquered. When the Turks were defeated near Vienna, the inhabitants of Bratislava could finally breath easily. The previous 150 years had represented the most difficult period in the history of the town.

Coronation city

After the lost battle of Mohacs and the occupation of Buda by the Turks, Bratislava became the capital of the Hungarian Kingdom. The city of merchants, artisans, vintners and fishermen transformed into the city of the monarch, aristocracy and theocracy. The central administration moved to Bratislava, the assembly held its sessions here, and the seat of the governor also moved here. The first Hungarian king crowned at St Martin’s Cathedral was Maximilian, son of the Emperor Ferdinand. It happened in 1563. The castle was rebuilt and allocated as the king’s residence. The coronation jewels were sheltered in the bulky south-eastern tower. The coronations of 19 kings and queens took place in the Cathedral and the last one was in 1830. Coronation ceremonies were held in autumn, it is said, due to good new wine from vineyards above the town. During the ceremonies, an ox was usually grilled for citizens and this custom was revived in 1998 upon the occasion of the Christmas Fairs at Franciscan Square. Unfortunately, wine does not pour out of Roland’s fountain as in the old days. With the coronations, Bratislava fell into the rank of famous coronation towns like Aachen, Cologne, Reims, Vienna, Cracow and Prague. A lot of the city monuments remind us of these ceremonies even now. For example after an earthquake in the 18th century, the gilt king’s crown was placed on the spire of the Cathedral instead of the cross. The crown is said to be of such size that a car with a pair of horses can be placed on it.

Maria Theresia

After the end of the Turkish Wars and the uprising of the Estates in the 18th century, Bratislava played a more important role than ever before. The fact that Bratislava hosted coronations and sessions of the assemb-ly, as well as being the seat of administration and governors and the place of numerous visits of monarchs caused a major change in the social structure of inhabitants. The aristocracy and theocracy settled in the town. The top of its significance and fame was reached during the reign of the Empress Maria Theresia who was crowned in St Martin’s Cathedral in 1741. In September, she came to Bratislava at the session of the assembly to ask for help in the war with France, Prussia and Germany who denied the heredity of the Habsburgs through the female line. As says legend, she nursed the little boy Joseph (future Emperor) in her hands and tickled him to make him cry. In this way she filled an audience with even more compassion for the abandoned Empress. Maria Theresia made Bratislava her second residential town. She visited the town frequently since her most beloved daughter Marie Christina lived here as wife of governor Albert Saxon-Cieszyn. Albert was a great art collector and art works that he stored up in the Castle later became the core for art collections of the world-known Viennese gallery - the Albertina. During the reign of Maria Theresia, the Castle was largely rebuilt anda number of new palaces were built in the town. Bratislava spread so wide that the town fortifications had to be demolished during that time. As an illustration of the town fortifications, the Michael’s Gate as well as a part of fortifications aside of the Cathedral survived.

Bratislava Peace Treaty

The Primacial Palace is perhaps the most beautiful among all the palaces in Bratislava. It was built in the classical style for the Archbishop Batthyanyi in 1774. The abolition of servitude was declared in a ceremony held in this palace. But an event of the highest international importance which took place here was the conclusion of the Bratislava Peace Treaty in 1805. Monsieur Tayllerand for France, and Duke Liechtenstein for Austria put their signatures on the peace treaty in the Palace’s Mirror Hall. History recorded three agreements commonly called (Bratislava Peace). According to one of those mentioned above, the Habsburgs lost their lands

The Jews in Bratislava

The Jews played an important role in the multinational structure of Bratislava in the past. Their presence here was mentioned as early as in Roman times. In the Middle Ages, the Jewish community had its own mayor and various other privileges uncommon in the Europe of that time. Despite this, the destiny of the Jewish community was often uncertain. The Jews settled on the site between the town fortifications and Castle Hill. The most valuable Jewish monument in the town is the mausoleum on the site of the oldest of three Jewish cemeteries in Bratislava. There are tombstones of prominent personalities, scholars and rabbis. Rabbi Chatham Sopher (Schreiber) (who gave lectures in a rabbis college attended by thousands of students from the whole of Europe as well as the Middle East) is also buried here. He was considered infallible already during his lifetime and he was called “the latest among the recent greats“. The cult of rabbi Sopher has survived and Jewish believers from the whole world put their letters with prayers on his tombstone. In the mausoleum, there are tombstones of the other prominent Jewish families - ancestors of the poet Heinrich Heine, paediatric psychologist Bruno Bettelheim or Feuchtwanger’s “The Jew Süs“.

Music

Bratislava was closely linked with the European and Viennese cultural and particularly music life in the past. Music activities flourished in the town mainly in the 18th century. The first public music school in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was founded here. The palaces of aristocracy became musical centres and plenty of them even had their own high-quality music ensembles. Music life in Bratislava was particulary rich in those days. Mozart as a six-year-old boy gave a concert here. Haydn was bandmaster of the Esterhazy family. Beethoven visited the town in 1796 for the first time. His “Misa Solemnis“ was performed in the Cathedral and his “Sonata for Elisabeth“ was composed in the nearby village, Dolna Krupa. Franz Liszt came to the town as a nine-year-old and Bratislava music patrons collected money for his education. Later, together with Rubinstein, he organised a benefit concert for the commemoration of composer J. N. Hummel, a native of Bratislava and a student of Mozart. We can say that almost every important European musician or composer touched music life in Bratislava in some way. The music history of Bratislava was filled with music personalities and events, and contemporary music life is naturally linked with this rich tradition. The distinguished reputation of the city has spread world-wide, not only due to the Bratislava Music Festival, but also due to personalities of so-called Bratislava music school.

Science and Technology

In the 18th century Bratislava became the largest and economically the most important city in Hungary. There were 70 guilds here and the first manufactures started to emerge here. Despite the upcoming stagnation that began during the reign of Emperor Joseph II, every new development or invention was positively accepted by the inhabitants of Bratislava. The first station of the horse railway from the year 1841 as well as the station building to which the first steam engine arrived are preserved even now. And
a steam engine on the Danube river was used seven decades earlier than on railways. The tramway system in Bratislava belongs to the oldest systems in Europe of all. It was in operation two years earlier than the similar ones in Vienna and Budapest. The tram route linking Bratislava and Vienna remains a legend. The first trolley bus appeared on the city streets nine decades ago.
The contribution of Bratislava to developments in aeronautics is also interesting. The first attempt at flying a balloon took place here in 1784. Ján BahúR introduced his invention of a helicopter before a military committee, and that was arguably earlier than the Wright
brothers. In front of the Bratislava airport building, there is a statue of ·tefan Bania, the inventor of the parachute. Petrovia brothers sold
their “airship“ concept to the Duke Zeppelin. The city light is mentioned for the first time in 1434. Gas lamps have lit up the city streets since1856. The first electric bulb was switched on in 1884. The first telephone connection was put through in 1877. The regular post route started to run in 1530 and the site of the post-office has been known from 1400. There are a couple of world-renowned personalities linked to Bratislava in some way, e.g. Regiomontanus, Paracelsus, Kempelen, Segner, Bel, Edison, Nobel, Einstein. The native of Bratislava Filip Lenard won the Nobel Prize in 1905.

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