Monday, May 25, 2015

Vienna Day 7: Best of Bratislava and More

Did you know that Vienna and Bratislava are the two European capitals located closest to each other (not counting Rome and Vatican City)? Oh, you did?! Well, then it won't come us a surprise to you that I simply popped over the border to Slovakia today to discover Bratislava a bit.
To be quite honest with you, I didn't really know what to expect of Bratislava. Until this morning, the city mostly was a blank page for me. I only decided to go there for the day rather spontaneously and the only thing I knew about the city I knew from a brochure accompanying my train ticket to go to the Slovakian capitals.
So I simply took a bus from Bratislava's main station to go to the city centre and off I was to discover this unknown (to me) European capital. My first stop was St. Martin's Cathedral where I learnt something new: Shame on me, but I wasn't even aware that Bratislava once was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary...
... and as such the coronations of 11 kings and queens plus 8 of their consorts occurred here between 1563 and 1830, including that of Empress Maria Theresia as Queen of Hungary.
Today the Gothic church is the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Bratislava and even includes a small treasury.
While Bratislava might not have too many (or non, really) world famous sights, it does have a nice old town with lots of narrow alleys and nice old houses.
And also some palaces like the Primaciálny palác (or Primate's Palace) above. It was built from 1778 to 1781 for Archbishop József Batthyány and in 1805 saw the signing of the fourth Peace of Pressburg by Prince Johann I of Liechtenstein and Count Ignaz Gyulai for Austria and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord for France, thus ending the War of the Third Coalition.
Located directly next to it is the old town hall, seen above from behind. Please also notice the lady on the right's dedication to taking a good picture of her friends (sitting on the left).
Quite randomly there stood a lonely piano in the inner courtyard of the town hall. Too bad I can't play much more than the Flohwalzer.
Curiosities of sightseeing: See the canonball lodged in the wall of the town hall's tower? It's a reminder to those three days in 1812 when Napoleon and his troops bombarded Bratislava and set the whole south side of the city ablaze.
The old town hall as seen from the main square...
...and the other side of the main square (Hlavné námestie) including the Roland Fountain.
The Rococo-style Mirbachov palác, Palais Mirbach, or Mirbach Palace named after his last owner Count Emil Mirbach, who was shot by invading Soviet troops in 1945.
Directly opposite the Františkánsky kostol (Franciscan church), Bratislava's oldest church (and it sadly shows).
Maybe the church should be as vocal about it as this building?!
Michael's Gate, the only one of Bratislava's city gates of the town's medieval fortification to be preserved to this day.
On the street that passes through the gate, there is a so-called “zero kilometre” plate, listing the distances of 29 world capitals from Bratislava.
A view of the tower of the Michael's Gate from what was once outside the town.
The interior of the Trinitaria Church...
...and the exterior of the Capuchin St. Stephen's Church.
A preview of what's more to come: Bratislava Castle.
Looks like a palace, non? Unfortunately, I can't tell you what it is as there are close to no descriptions on the buildings in Bratislava unlike Vienna, where every important has a sign on it with a short description. I'm actually still not sure if I saw all the sights I actually wanted to see based on the map from the tourist office I had.
I can tell you though what this building is: the Slovak National Theatre.
And on the left here in green is the Esterházy Palace and in greyish-blue on the right the Dessewffy Palace.
On the other side of the street of those two noble homes lies the Reduta, now the seat of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra.
And with the House of the good shepherd, a narrow, Rococo-style building from the 1760's, the ascent to Bratislavský hrad began.
The castle, perched on a hill above the old town, was built in the 9th century though it got a number of make-overs after that. Between 1761 and 1766, the building was turned from a defense castle into a royal residence by Empress Maria Theresia, who had promised the Hungerian nobles that she would have residences in both Austria and Hungary.
It was also Empress Maria Theresia who had these gates built though do never walk through the one you can see in the background, there's nothing behind it and instead a free fall would await you.
The castle offers great (and some not so great) views over Bratislava as well as Slovakia. If the weather is good, you can also see both Austria and Hungary, which Bratislava both borders on. Above is the Danube with the Most SNP (Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising), also nicknamed UFO Bridge, and a rather large industrialised apartment block settlement, so loved by Socialist rulers.
But back to the great views: The St. Martin's Cathedral from the beginning and the old town behind it. You can even spot the Michael's Gate to the left!
And the last Bratislava sight of the day: The Grassalkovich Palace (Grasalkovičov palác), a former noble home and now residence of the President of Slovakia.
That wasn't all for the day though: As I still had a bit of time left until the sun (what sun?) set, I made my way to the Alsergrund district to have another look at the Liechtenstein park. I already visited a few days ago when I got a tour of the Gartenpalais but didn't really have a proper look at the park due to both the weather and time (or lack of it).
Opposite of the Gartenpalais Liechtenstein at the other end of the park lies the Sommerpalais Liechtenstein, which has been turned into an apartment building a few (many) years ago.
I also got to see a bit of Vienna's urban wildlife: Hi there, you adorable little squirrel.
And to end the day, I visited the parish church of Lichtental, a former municipality and now part of the Alsergrund district, where Franz Schubert was baptised.

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