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The Slovakian capital captivates at first sight. By entering the new bridge over the Danube towards its centre, it confronts us with all its charm.

To the Left, the Bratislava castle on shines like a beautiful white pearl on a hill. On the right, stately buildings are lined along the river, among which we see the one that we had to find – „Devin“ hotel. Built in the last years of socialism, it brings a sense of serenity and luxury, respect and prosperity. We arrive in the late afternoon. Just to enjoy the beautiful sunset over the Danube.

And then, what else can we do but go for a walk and just like that - without purpose and direction we dive into the warm August evening in the romantic atmosphere of the Old Town. We immediately understand - this is one of the weapons of this coquette - Bratislava, it leads its guests to fall in love with it. Preserved medieval streets, walking beautiful young people, tourists browsing curiously souvenir shops... Companies sitting down to cool off with a pint of beer or a glass of white wine in the numerous restaurants. Laughter, cheerful chime and romance... One might unintentionally think that: „Life is good“.

But today not only the romantics, but also the politicians have turned their gaze at Bratislava. As from June to December 2016, while the Slovak Presidency of the European Union is going on, an answer to the burning question: „Where are you going, Europe?“ is sought.

A Bratislava Morning

The next day, the first thing that flashed in front of our eyes was the Danube with its dazzling beauty – „quiet“ and „white“. In its coastal street people are walking - alone or with their pets. The opposite coast is shrouded in greenery. The sun's rays illuminate the new bridge located only a hundred meters away from us.

In the hotel’s hall our tour guide Tanya Voytkova, kindly provided by the Bratislava Tourist Board waited for us to tour the historical landmarks. We meet each other. This Bulgarian woman comes from the town of Sliven. She found her Slovakian man many years ago as a student in Russia. They got married and chose to live in Bratislava. The fruit of their love are their two children and six grandchildren. Tanya worked in the television for whole 35 years as head of a mobile television station. Today she has retired but cannot stand idle. For many years now she is a tour operator in Bulgarian language, in Bratislava. This is the Slovakian story of a Bulgarian. She says our compatriots there are somewhere between 1500-2000 people. With much knowledge and wonderful sense of humour, Tanya made our walk around Bratislava unforgettable.

We started. Fresh morning breeze was coming from the Danube. Tanya immediately tossed playfully: „It is believed that Bratislava is one of the windiest cities in Slovakia. But since I originate from Sliven, I can say that no matter how long I have lived here for, a wind similar to the ones in Sliven I have never felt!“

Only after a few minutes we are in...

The preserved part of the fortress walls

Once they were double and they surrounded the whole city. Today a person can walk between them in the little part that has survived through the centuries. Here was one of the gates called Vidritska because there was a stream nearby called „Vidritsa“. But people knew it as a black, dark gate with a very long tunnel, and below, in the basement, there was a prison. When the emperors of the Austria-Hungary were coming from Vienna to visit Bratislava, the key to the city was symbolically given to them here.

A few meters from the walls used to be a beautiful synagogue. It was destroyed along with other buildings when they were building the new bridge and the road leading to it. Now everyone regrets, but what happened, happened. Nearby we see a monument - a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

In fact, Bratislava is a city much older than the fortress walls that surround it. Excavations show that another settlement in the Bronze Age existed there. The Slavs settled in these lands during the V century and created the „Preslavian“ state – the Nitra principality. During the VIII century, the principality and its neighbouring Moravia united and created Great Moravia. The state reached its zenith under Prince Rostislav, known in Bulgaria for creating noble conditions for the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius for developing their deed. But the city's history can be traced in detail anywhere from 907, when it was first mentioned in a written document as „Brazalospurk“ - German name meaning „Preslavian city“. In the same year the end of Moravia came, after the Magyars defeated the Bavarian troops in a war. For ten centuries the land of Slovakia, including Bratislava, has been part of Austria-Hungary as possession of the Hungarians. After the invasion of the Ottoman troops in the XVI century and the conquest of Budapest from them, the centre of the state was transferred in Bratislava. In 1536 the Hungarian Parliament proclaimed the city as the capital. It stayed as a capital for about 300 years. Its name was Pozhon.

Newer history

After World War I, in 1918 Austria-Hungary disintegrated and the first Czechoslovak Republic was formed. Since then, the city began to be called Bratislava. Before that it was known as Preshporok. Tanya told us that there are still old people who continue saying: „We are Preshporatsians.“ These old Bratislavians knew German, Hungarian, Czech ... We answered that when Slovaks speak slowly, we can understand everything they say. After all, their language is Slavic. „And my relatives from Bulgaria say so“ - she said. May be the Czechs and the Slovaks understand each other even easier? „The Czechs understand Slovak a little harder than the Slovaks understand Czech. But they do not hesitate to speak. Our languages ​​have differences, but are very close - as Bulgarian and Macedonian. They are Slavic languages. And in the years of socialism, most things were in Czech, there were also many of their series on television – „The woman behind the counter“, „Hospital on the outskirts of the city“ and others“. Of course we remember, we also used to watch them in Bulgaria...

From 1939 to 1945, Slovakia was a country controlled by Nazi Germany. This lead to the outbreak of the Slovak National Uprising in 1944. In it actively participated Bulgarian students and today in their memory a monument has been erected. Since 1945, the country has been part of Czechoslovakia. After the changes in 1993 it was peacefully divided from the Czech Republic and began its independent existence as Slovak Republic.

We stand in front of the built in the XV century

Cathedral of Coronation – „Saint Martin“

We look at its 87 meters high tower with admiration. Centuries later, when the new bridge has been built, it was decided that the highest point cannot exceed that of the „Saint Martin“. So the tower was made 85 meters high.

Although the cathedral was named St. Martin, the golden crown atop of it is of St. Stephen - the first Hungarian king. We already saw him carved on the Monument of the plague. There he offers the golden crown to Virgin Mary on a cushion and the meaning of his gesture is: „Here is Hungary, keep it from the plague“. However, the crown on top of the cathedral is impressive - 1, 64 m. high and 150 kg in weight! It currently shines with blinding beauty – it was only 2-3 years ago when it got covered in gold again.

Outside the cathedral is preserved in its original form - late Gothic style, despite all wars. Even during the Second World War the city was not bombed a lot, so there was no major damage. Inside, however, it is not Gothic, due to a big renovation during the XIX century many of the original attributes were moved to other churches. Now it is in a baroque style and the most interesting thing in it is the large statue of St. Martin.

The cathedral is full of history. For almost 300 years, the Hungarian kings and queens have been crowned there. Here, each one of them received three crowns –the Austrian, the Czech –of St. Wenceslas, which today is kept in Prague and the Hungarian - of St. Stephen, which is in Budapest. From 1563 to 1830 ten kings, eight wives of kings and

a single empress - Maria Theresa

have been crowned in „Saint Martin“. But she was so powerful and left such traces in Bratislava that today her name is being repeated constantly and is connected to everything important in the city. Crowned on the 25th of June, 1741, the period of her rule is a real boom in the development of construction and cultural life. Seeing that the city was growing, Maria Theresa ordered to tear the city walls down and to use the material for building houses.

In the Middle Ages, after the coronation of every new king in „St. Martin“ cathedral a procession would begin, which passed through the Old Town and ended in the Primatial Palace. There a big feast used to be organised. Close to Michael’s Gate feasts for the citizens were made –oxen were cooked and wine flowed from the fountain - red and white. After the feast from the balcony of the Primatial palace money were thrown. „Tourists are asking me if locals might decide to do such a thing today so that they know when to come.“ - Tanya laughs. Here it should be noted that for 14 years already, every summer a reconstruction of one of Coronation ceremonies is performed as part of the cultural calendar of Bratislava; This June it was the one of Maria Theresa. After all 275 years since her coronation are marked!

In order to know where the procession was, plates were placed on 178 paving stones - yellow crowns. Following them we enter

 the heart of the Old Town

Again we stop in front of the church - that of the Clarisses. Pure Gothic. „We have older ones, but this one is so well preserved that it seems like our most beautiful cultural monument.“ - Says Tanya. Completed around 1400, it belonged to the order of „Saint Clara“. The Saint lived in the XIII century. „The Clarisses, as we call them, are the female branch of the Order of the Franciscans. To me it was interesting to find out that one of the popes proclaimed St. Clara a patroness of the TV. The church is not operational. But because of the perfectly preserved body and the acoustics is amazing, when someone plays you just bristle“.

In 1291 Bratislava was declared a free royal city and had the right to manage its internal affairs, including to judge and punish criminals. So it had a city executioner. „In addition to executing, he had many other obligations: chopping wood for the stove in the city mayoralty, maintaining discipline in brothels and prisons, cleaning urban toilets; if a baker did not made good bread, he was locked in an iron cage for „shame and disgrace“ and then dropped by a chain in a deep well - surely this was the first elevator in Bratislava!“ - tells us jokingly Tanya.

The city had four gates - the four cardinal points. Only the north has remained until today - the Michael’s Gate; named after St. Michael. So on top of it we see the sculpture of the saint, who kills the dragon with his spear. The gate was built in the XIII century, but then it has been gradually built further up; so different styles are seen. The top of the tower is in Baroque style. Today, inside there is a museum of medieval weapons. And below the ground we see a large gold ring, on which the directions towards other capitals are shown. We quickly found Sofia.

The street from the Michael’s Gate leading to the square is called Korzo – the promenade of Bratislava. The young like to meet and walk here. In the Middle Ages many of the streets were called after craftsmen who had workshops on them. And today there is a street of the money changers, of the hatters, of the locksmiths, of the bakers. And you rush around them. And dream. Here is the street „Zamochnitska“ – the one of the locksmiths. You see the old buildings of the workshops, the houses, the towers, which the Slovaks call „dusty“ today they have been converted into restaurants and cafes whose names resemble historical moments...

The chapel of St. John the Evangelist

The building is from the XIII century in Gothic style and is very valuable as the „pearl of the Bratislava architecture“. It used to be a chapel to the Church of the Franciscans. „It is said that it is a copy of the funeral chapel of the French kings in Saint Chapelle.“ In 1703 there was a very strong earthquake and the Church of the Franciscans was so damaged that they had to put it down. This is the only part of it that remained and which was attached to the chapel. Everything else is built again – in baroque. In the past, after the coronation, while passing through the city, the new Hungarian kings used to invest with the title of knight their faithful people here.

But in addition to the churches, the Franciscans were known as good wine-growers. They supplied the royal courts with wine and had the right to notify the time of the day when one could buy and drink wine. They were reporting this with a special bell that was called „piven zvon“. Today there is still good wine in their tavern. We will only add that the Bratislava region is one of the largest wine-growing regions of Slovakia. „On the southern slopes of the Little Carpathians at an altitude of 300 meters above sea level, we have many vineyards. Unfortunately, after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, as we call it here, many areas were restituted, the owners did not understand much about vineyards and many of them got wasted.“ - says Tanya.

Against the „Chapel of St. John the Evangelist“ is the Palace of Mirbach. Built in Rococo style, today it is an art gallery, one of the 70 museums and galleries in the city.

And here we are on

The main square with the old fountain

Everything used to happen in here - meetings, demonstrations, fairs, markets, executions ... In one word, here was the hub of the social life of Bratislava. At its centre is the oldest fountain in the city. It was made in 1562 in honour of the coronation of one of the Habsburgs - Maximilian. They say that the knight on it – Roland, is similar to Maximilian. The interesting thing about this fountain is that the water does not come from the Danube and it is being provided through wooden channels from the Carpathians. It is known that on this side of the Danube begin the first mountains of the Small Carpathians. They rise up the northeast, make an arc and return back south again to the Danube - in the „Iron Gates“ in Serbia. From the other bank of the river the first hills of the Alps begin. So here we find two large mountain ranges and, and down the river bed there is a very strong air flow.

The square is of course busy; small wooden houses and stalls lure the tourists. They are loaded with souvenirs, the most frequent of which is the painted castle, the Michalski port, the Primatial palace ... There are also the Modranska ceramics, a product known worldwide. Tanya quickly tells us: "The town of Modra is close to Bratislava. There the Germans once settled and built a workshop for production of ceramics. They were called Habans. They were a closed society - married only among themselves, kept their money only to them, worked, and were very independent. "The ceramics, which were mainly made in blue colours, are still very beautiful and expensive today.

The most interesting building in the main square is that of

The old Town Hall

Initially it was a private house owned by someone called Jacob. The city bought it from him and gradually built history and architecture. The first floor - the earliest, is in Gothic style, and above the tower is in Baroque. From its balcony the heralds were announcing all the major events in the city with trumpets: danger, the king’s arrival, an execution, etc. Today the museum of Bratislava is in the building. And in the yard with beautiful Renaissance arcades and wonderful acoustics are held concerts - mainly chamber ones.

Near the Old Town Hall is the white church of the Jesuits, one of the largest in the city. It was built relatively late, sometime in the XVII - XVIII century. Nearby is the

Primaciálny palác /Primate’s Palace/

Completed in 1781, it is one of the most beautiful examples of classicism in Europe: clean lines, symmetry, balanced composition, pillars and columns ... It was built for one of the Ostrihomski archbishops, in his chapel allegorical figures are painted, high up - his coat and above it - a cardinal's hat. Over the balcony are painted two little boys that keep the Latin letters "J" and "C" - the first letters of the words „Justicia and Clemencia“ /justice and goodness/. It was a personal credo of the archbishop.

An important historic event is related to the Primate’s Palace. In 1805, after the Battle of Austerlitz, the Bratislava peace is signed here. On behalf of France, which defeated Austria, it was signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs – Talleyrand, and on behalf of Austria – by Liechtenstein.

Today the Primate’s Palace is not only a museum but also the headquarters of the Bratislava mayor. The most impressive thing for the visitor in it is the mirrored hall and the unique collection of tapestries. The hall has Venetian mirrors that came here ages ago - sometime in 1780, they are diametrically opposed on both sides, so they make the hall seem endless. One of the mirrors is brought from the Bratislava castle. The daughter of Maria Theresa - Maria Cristina lived there. And the Empress had a part specifically made for her, which is called Teresianum, from which the mirror was brought.

Important events are held in the Mirror Hall today. This year, on the occasion of the national holiday of Bulgaria – 3rd of March, our Embassy and the Bulgarian Cultural Institute staged there a solemn evening dedicated to the 138 anniversary of the liberation of Bulgaria.

Unquestionable value in the palace are

The tapestries, made for the English King - Charles I

They have been made for 30 years, around 1630, in a weaving workshop near London, in the town of Mortlake. No one knows how they got in Bratislava. It is assumed that during the English Revolution whether Cromwell or any of his associates, who seized parts of the property of the king, acquired the tapestries. And by selling and buying they came to Bratislava. Even the last archbishop - owner of the palace was not aware that there is such a wealth hidden in it. In 1903 he sold the building to the city and repairs had to be done. When the wallpaper was removed, in an unused chimney 6 folded carpet rolls were found. Experts have found that this is one of the three series in the world, depicting scenes from the ancient Greek legend of Hero and Leander. One collection has not been found yet, the other one is in the Swedish palace, but one of the tapestries is missing. Bratislava boasts that possesses all 6 carpets. They are woven from wool and silk. Their colours are natural and have been preserved very well. A crest of the mill in Mortlake woven on the side, revealed where the carpets were made. The scenes depicted on the tapestries tell the love story of Hero – a servant in the temple of the goddess Aphrodite on the European shore of the Dardanelles and Leander, a young man who lived on the Asian shore. The two met at a party and fell in love. But she, as a servant of the goddess, had no right to marry. Their only option was to secretly meet. So every night Leander swam across the Dardanelles /kilometre and a half/ to see his beloved. In order not to get lost in the sea Hero would light a cresset from the tower, which was lit at night and it would direct him. One time, while swimming, a strong wind extinguished the fire. The young man lost direction and drowned. Due to her grief for him, Hero threw herself from the tower and also died.

After this sad but beautiful story again we find ourselves among the ebullience of the city centre. There, on one of the streets

Schöner Náci or the Beautiful Náci

smiled at us. The original name was Ignác Lamár. Almost our contemporary, immortalized with the statue in the Old Town. Why? Because he was a favorite of the Bratislavians. „A great wag; he toured around the pubs of the Old City, especially those in Korzo. And he would continuously crack jokes. He was rejoicing everyone. He was short, but charming. That’s why they called him Beautiful Náci“ -  Explains Tanya. He died 70 years old in 1967 and his statue was placed at the beginning of the Old Town, to welcome the guests with a „Welcome!“. The wag’s figure has already become a symbol that every tourist wants to take photo of.

Our eyes grasp another bronze figure - of the famous Čumil. Its name means „looking, peeking“. From an urban ditch the head of the hard labouring sewerage worker shows up in order to... „peek under the skirts of women“. It is a favourite subject of photographers.

The time has come to take goodbye with Tanya. We had to meet Maroš Plitko, PR manager of the Bratislava Tourist Board. Our conversation with him about the development of tourism in the city was so enthralling that we missed the train, with which we had to reach the

Bratislava Castle

Not to worry, we took the next one. The Bratislava Tourist Board has organized the sightseeing wonderfully for the tourists. It offers a special „City card“, which enables free local transport, free trip around the city and up to 50% discounts on museums. The trips by train „Prešporáčik Oldtimer“ have different routes and duration. They offer headphones in 13 languages, which is very affordable and really worth it. We arrive at the castle.

It was built sometime before the XV century as a military defensive site. In 1683, after the Turks were expelled it became a palace - one of the favourite places of Maria Theresa. Unfortunately, after her death, her son Joseph II, who did not like Bratislava a lot, delivered the most valuable things to the palace in Vienna. In one of its towers – the Coronation one, were guarded the Coronation attributes - the crown, the cloak, the staff, the apple, the sword. They are no longer here, along with a lot of paintings.

Later the palace was turned into barracks. Inadvertently one of the soldiers during the 1811 made fire and burned everything. Only in 1953 the restoration of the castle began to finish in 15 years time. Today it houses the Historical Museum. There are also formal premises on the second floor, where they official delegations are welcomed; during the Presidency of the EU Council as well. The site of the castle reveals perhaps one the most exciting city views.

On our way back the train leaves us in front of the beautiful building of

The Slovak National Theatre

We have time to enjoy it. The building is historic in a Renaissance Revival style. Its architects - Fellner and Helmer are the same people who designed the building of the National Theatre „Ivan Vazov“ in Sofia. Not surprisingly, they were known as „opera architects“. The building is in harmony with the Fountain of Ganymede in the square in front of it - a favourite meeting place for young people. The legend about him is that god Zeus saw on earth a beautiful boy and he transformed into an eagle descended, grabbed it and got him to Olympus to serve the gods during their feasts. So in his arms Ganymede is holding dish. And below are the figures of little boys with fish in their hands. They say it was from Danube - carp, cod, whitefish and pike.

Nowadays, some shows are performed in the building of the theatre, the Bratislava Ball is also held in it. Everything else is moved to a new building on the shores of the Danube. Built for 27 years, it is huge - 8 floors, many rooms, thousands of seats, etc.

Against the Slovak National Theatre is the Reduta. The building is fenced now because of the meetings during the Slovak Presidency of the EU Council. There are music halls in there and the Slovak Philharmonic as well.

The new bridge

It is officially called the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising or SNP (Slovenského národného povstania). In fact, there are 4 bridges over the Danube in Bratislava: The Old Bridge, Apollo, The Port Bridge (Prístavný most) and Lafrankoni. The new bridge is like a boulevard and there is a pedestrian area. They say it is the longest pending bridge in the world with only one pylon. The facility is unique with its tower at one end that resembles a flying saucer. An elegant restaurant where we went in the evening to say „Goodbye“ to Bratislava is situated there. We thought we will enjoy the sunset as it says in the tourist guides. Instead, we walked along the pedestrian part of the bridge to the elevator tower when for couple of seconds a great storm began - rain and strong wind that could carry us right away. We thought - Bratislava must be really one of the windiest cities in Slovakia. Despite the bad weather, the view of the river and the city was amazing.

The team of „Diplomatic spectrum“ magazine realized this material thanks to the assistance of the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in the Republic of Bulgaria and with the support of Bratislava Tourist Board -  www.visitbratislava.com

Photos: „Diplomatic spectrum“ magazine.

First row: The preserved part of the fortress walls, „St. Martin“ Cathedral, The monastery and church Clarisses, Michael’s Gate

Second row: Streets in the Old Town and The Beautiful Náci

Third row: Čumil, the oldest fountain on the Main Square, The Old Town Hall

Fourth row: Evening in Old Town, Bratislava Castle, Slovak National Theatre, the New Bridge over Danube