High above the Danube River is a rocky hill of the Little Carpathians. On it stands an isolated, stark rectangular structure cornered by four square turrets. Today it is called Bratislava Castle, but many still call it Pressburg — the antiquated name of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. On top of the craggy hill is a panoramic view of the city below. Many events happened here.
The history of the castle goes back to Celtic and Roman times. Those up on the hill could look down upon bustling commercial routes. But the first documented information dates from 907 which cites an old Slavic fortress with a three-nave basilica. By the mid-eleventh century, a castle existed where it held the coronation jewels. Three centuries later, during the time of King Sigismund of Luxembourg, a large Gothic palace was built in the form of a trapezium. Sigismund’s Gate still stands today. During the Renaissance and early Baroque eras, the castle was further developed with a regular quadrilateral ground plan around the main courtyard. Leopold’s Gate was added in 1674.
The golden age of the Bratislava Castle, however, came during the reign of Maria Theresa (1717-1780). At her coronation in 1741, she promised the nobles of the kingdom that she would have a residence both in Austria and Hungary. She kept her promise and for four decades, she ruled a sprawling empire that included Austria, Hungary and Bohemia. Maria Theresa had the castle rebuilt. Around 1760, she hired Franz Anton Hillebrand to transform the castle to rival some European courts and symbolize the Habsburg Monarchy.
Major changes were made. New terraces, French gardens, orangeries, summer and winter riding schools and stables were on the grounds. A picture gallery, library and valuable collections were included on the interior. She had the stairs throughout the castle rebuilt with a lower risers, so it would be a more comfortable stride for her horse as she rode upon him.
Her son and successor, Joseph II, did not keep up the castle. During the Napoleonic Wars, the castle served as military barracks. In 1811, the castle burned down and for more than 140 years it sat deteriorating in ruin.
A decision was made in the 1950s to restore the castle. The first phase took 15 years but it was hampered by limited financial resources. A second attempt for improvements was made in the early 1980s.
A final phase of restoration started in 2001 but was delayed because of a lack of financial resources. However, restoration finally began in April 2008 with an external coating, the courtyard and all interiors being restored to their Rococo splendor.
[View from a window of the castle]
Michalská brána (or Michael’s Gate); View from Michalská Street
During the medieval times, the town was enclosed within fortified walls. Entry and exit was only possible through one of the four heavily fortified gates. Michael’s Gate is the only one that remains today. Originally built around the year 1300, the tower of the gate was raised in 1529-1534 and then rebuilt in 1753-1758 in its present form.
[all photos taken by me, April 2013 with my iphone]