Several friends and I have started a new annual tradition – that of a pilgrimage to a lesser known or out of the way European destination to assemble and watch the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, which is usually held in late May. Last year we celebrated in Luxembourg City and this year we decided on Bratislava, the largest and capital city of the Slovak Republic.
Bratislava borders with Hungary to the south and Austria to the west, making it a unique capital city. In fact a short cab ride will get you to Austria in no time. The town of approximately 450,000 is situated on the banks of the Danube River at the foot of the Low Carpathian mountains. Founded before the tenth century, the city was known originally as Pressburg [German] and later by its Hungarian name, Pozsony. Strong fortifications erected during the twelfth century gave it strategic importance.
From 1541 to 1784 it was the capital of Hungary. In 1805, during the Napoleonic War, the Peace of Bratislava was signed in the Primate’s Palace following the defeat of the armies of Francis I, the Austrian emperor and Alexander I, the Russian tsar by Napoleon’s army at Austerlitz [Slavkov]. When Czechoslovakia was created in 1919 after World War I, the city was renamed Bratislava and made capital of the province of Slovakia.
The Bratislava castle, which dominates the skyline above the Danube, was a frontier post of the Roman Empire from the first to the fifth century. Since the ninth century it has been rebuilt several times, most recently within the last ten years. It overlooks the Bratislava old town – a section of the city filled with cafes and museums and one that fits right in with the many other splendid old towns in Europe. A bit quieter than some due to its population, I found that fact to be a nice alternative to the mobs of tourists that can be encountered elsewhere. Of course there can still be found the token tour group, complete with audio listening devices, name tags and matching hats they acquired on the Danube cruise, but they are relatively harmless [unless of course you get caught by a sea of them]. The main Hviezdoslavovo namestie square is a nice place to sit and people watch while enjoying a latte or some famous Slovak drinking chocolate.
Other landmarks in Bratislava include an eleventh century Gothic cathedral that was restored in the second half of the nineteenth century; a thirteenth-century Franciscan church; the thirteenth century town hall; the Comenius University in Bratislava ; the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava ; and the Slovak Academy of Sciences . There are also plenty of nice restaurants serving traditional Slovak food and beer in case all of the sightseeing has drained your energy.
Given that it is not as well known or frequented by ex-Pats as much as other cities such as Prague, now is the time to visit – before scores of others find it to be an ideal location for Eurovision watching.