Bratislava Castle

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava Castle has been a dominant feature of the city for centuries and it is the national monument of Slovakia. The castle, like today's city, has been inhabited for thousands of years, because it is strategically located in the center of Europe at a passage between the Carpathians and the Alps and at an important ford used to cross the Danube river.

Early History

The people of the Boleráz culture were the first known culture to have constructed settlements on the castle hill around 3500 BC. Further major findings from the castle hill are from the Hallstatt Period (750–450 BC). During the La Tène Period (450 to 0 BC), the castle hill became a very important center of the Celts. The castle hill, which was situated at the Danube and thus since 9 BC at the border of the Roman Empire, was also settled by the Romans during the Roman Period (1st to 4th century AD).

The situation changed with the arrival of the Slavs, direct predecessors of the present-day Slovaks, around 500 in the territory of Bratislava. Initially, they partly used older Roman and Celtic structures and added some fortifications. Probably at the end of the 8th century (definitely not later than in the early 9th century), at the time of the Principality of Nitra, a Slavic castle with a wooden rampart was constructed with a huge area of 55,000 square metres. In the second half of the 9th century, at the time of Great Moravia, a palace of stone surrounded by dwellings and a big basilica were added.

Medieval castle

The Great Moravian prince Uratislaus (Vratislav) constructed today's Bratislava castle at the place of a destroyed Roman fort maybe in the early 9th century (around 805-807). The construction of a new castle of stone started in the 10th century, but work lagged. Under King Stephen I of Hungary (1000–1038), however, the castle was already one of the central castles of the Kingdom of Hungary. It became the seat of Pozsony county and protected the kingdom against Bohemian and German attacks and played an important role in throne struggles in the Kingdom of Hungary.

The castle was turned into a proto-Romanesque palace of stone in the 12th century (probably after 1179), maybe because King Béla III (1173–1196) decided to make Esztergom the definitive seat of kings of the Kingdom of Hungary. It was a palace similar to those constructed in Germany under Friedrich Barbarossa. In 1182 Friedrich Barbarossa gathered his crusader army under the castle. The church institutions and building at the castle were moved to the town below the castle in the early 12th century.

The well-fortified Pressburg Castle was among the few castles of the Kingdom of Hungary to be able to withstand Mongol attacks in 1241 and 1242. As a reaction to these attacks, a huge 'tower for the protection of the kingdom' was constructed at the castle building in 1245 immediately next to two older palaces. The tower was actually a huge high residential building. In addition, 7 square towers were built into the old rampart and a stone wall was added around the castle proper. The biggest of the rampart towers was at the same time a corner tower of the stone wall. Today it is a part of the castle building – it is identical with the present-day 'Crown tower', which is the largest of the four existing towers of the structure. It was probably built around 1250.

The reconstruction in 15th century brought the shape of an extensive Gothic palace surrounded by defense stone walls with a gate in Gothic style on its eastern side that is still standing.

The next reconstruction started in 1552 after the Hungarian state administration was moved from Buda to Bratislava and the town having been declared the official coronation town for Hungarian Kings by the parliament. The old Gothic building was soon changed into a fortified Renaissance castle. The south-west tower also known as the jewel's tower, housed the Hungarian coronation jewels for two centuries.

Modern Times

The last large scale reconstruction in Baroque style took place under the reign of Maria Theresia (1740-1780). The western, then still existing Gothic part of the fortification wall was pulled down and representative staircase, leading to the southern wing was built there, while a new, three winged building, the so called Theresianum was erected at the eastern side, together with a covered riding hall east of the palace.

In 1783 the Emperor Joseph II established the General Seminary for the education of Roman - Catholic priests in the castle. Although it was of short existence only, this seminary was of great importance in the history of the Slovak nation. Many outstanding personalities were formed here. One of them is Anton Bernolak, whose first attempt of setting up new rules for the Slovak literary language was made here.

After the death of Joseph II the seminary was almost immediately dissolved and the castle remained almost empty, until it was turned into a military garrison in 1802. On May 30, 1811, it was burnt down and only ruins were left from Bratislava Castle.

In 1953 the final reconstruction had begun. The restoration was done to the last (Baroque) state of the main building, but at many places older (Gothic, Renaissance) preserved elements or parts have been restored. The Theresianum has not been restored and the Hillebrandt building of 1762 was restored only around the year 2000.

Today the castle is the most well-known attraction in Bratislava.

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Founded: 9th century AD
Category: Castles and fortifications in Slovakia

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