History of Bratislava

Celtic settlements

The position of Bratislava right at the very heart of Europe on the banks of the River Danube predestined the city to become a crossroads and destination point for trade routes, as well as a hub of various cultures. The first traces of a permanent settlement are associated with the late Stone Age.

old_pressburg The real door to history, however, did not open until the arrival of the Boii Celtic tribe to Bratislava in the 2nd century BC, as they established a strategic power centre here with defensive function. They were famous also for the minting of coins, the most well-known of which are the gold Stater coins with the inscription Biatec. Bratislava therefore, just like Vienna, Budapest, Paris and other major European cities, stands on the foundations of a Celtic settlement.


Bratislava and the Romans

Around the time of the birth of Christ the Romans discovered the strategic importance of the site of today’s Bratislava. They did not settle the area permanently, but instead just built up military camps here, which were just as strategic in terms of trade.

One of the camps was called Gerulata and was situated on the site of the Bratislava district of Rusovce and represented part of the defence system Limes Romanus, which separated the Roman world from the barbaric tribes. Bratislava can also thank the Romans for being celebrated as a town of vintners and viticulturists. During their conquests the Roman legions spread the cultivating of vines and winemaking at the order of the sovereign to cover all inhabited areas. This is how winegrowing eventually spread to France, Spain, Germany and also the territory of Bratislava and its surroundings.


Great Moravia Empire

During the movement of nations the Slavs settled in the area of present day Bratislava. Led by the Frankish merchant Samo, the Empire of King Samo was created – the first known organised community of Slavs.

It was preceded by the raids of the nomadic Avars and the need to defend against them. After Samo’s death the empire dissolved into principalities. The subsequent merger of principalities produced the empire of Great Moravia. The Slav realm culminated during the reign of the most distinguished lord, Svätopluk. The start of its gradual demise is linked to the first written mention of Bratislava Castle in the Salzburg chronicles from 907, when a battle took place near the castle between Hungarian and Bavarian troops. The Magyars won this battle and occupied the eastern part of Great Moravia.


Bratislava in the Middle Ages

In 1436 King Sigismund granted the city a coat-of-arms deed with escutcheon rights in 1436. Bratislava is the only city in Europe to have had such a deed drawn up in two copies – both created by the painter Michal from the Vienna workshop.

At the end of the 10th century the Kingdom of Hungary was formed and under the rule of Stephan I (1001-1038) the territory of today’s Bratislava was annexed to it. Bratislava became a key economic and administrative centre of the kingdom’s frontier. This also had its negative side in the shape of frequent onslaughts by enemy forces. Already in 1042 Bratislava was destroyed by German King Henry I. More unrest came to it between 1074 1077 in connection with the battle for the Hungarian throne. In the 13th century Bratislava was afforded royal privileges. An important period in the life of the city at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries was the reign of Sigismund of Luxembourg. He reaffirmed the older donations and privileges for the city granted by the Arpads and Anjous and by granting Bratislava new privileges he raised the city to become a leading political and economic hub within the Kingdom of Hungary. At his decree from 1405 Bratislava was included among the most distinguished cities that since that time were referred to as free royal cities. In 1436 the city was awarded a coat-of-arms deed with right to use the symbol with tower argent and portcullis in city walls.


The coronation city of the Kingdom of Hungary

An unexpected turnaround in the history of the city came in the 16th century. In a tragic battle with the Turks at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526 Hungarian King Louis II died after falling from his horse. Despite the counter candidature of John Zapolya and resistance from a large part of the Hungarian nobility, at the subsequent session in Bratislava’s Franciscan church it was Ferdinand Habsburg who was appointed as the new king. The Turks advanced swiftly into the heart of the country.

The Hungarian nobility rescued itself by fleeing to the territory of present day Slovakia, to which they took also the state offices. In 1530 the Turks threatened also Bratislava and partly destroyed it with cannon fire. The catastrophe that struck the Kingdom of Hungary after the Battle of Mohacs paradoxically worked in favour of Bratislava. After the occupation of the capital Buda, the Hungarian nobility, secular and clerical dignitaries looked for a refuge to the north of the River Danube, and one that was as close as possible to Vienna, the seat of King Ferdinand. The advantageous position and relative safety of Bratislava predestined it to become the new capital of the Kingdom of Hungary. The Hungarian Diet took the decision at its session from 1536. This small city of traders, craftsmen and winemakers became the seat of the country, and the seat of the lordship and the church. Bratislava became the parliament city of the kingdom and the coronation city of Hungarian kings, the seat of the king, the archbishop and the most important institutions of the country. In the period 1536-1830 some 11 kings and queens were crowned in St. Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava.


Maria Theresas City

In the 18th century Bratislava became not only the largest and most important city in Slovakia, but also of the whole of the Kingdom of Hungary. The century saw the construction of many splendid palaces of the Hungarian aristocracy, as well as numerous churches, monasteries and other clerical buildings. The castle was also extended and new streets appeared as the population of the city quadrupled. Here meetings of the Hungarian Diet were held, kings and queens were crowned, and the city pulsed with a thriving cultural and social life.

The greatest boom experienced by the city occurred under the reign of Maria Theresa (1740-1780). Since she took up the throne she started directing construction development in the city building office of the chamber of the Kingdom of Hungary, which managed the building of government ordered buildings in particular (palace of the chamber of the Kingdom of Hungary, Water casern, etc.). Major construction work was also carried out on the castle, which became a representative royal seat (or the seat of the local royal governor) and the centre of social and political life at the highest level. The government of Joseph II spelled a decline for Bratislava. Bratislava lost its position as the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary. In 1783 Joseph ordered the governor’s council and other central authorities to relocate to Buda and on 13 May he took the royal crown, which till then had been guarded in Bratislava castle, to Vienna. The relocation of central authorities led to a mass exodus of nobility from the city. Bratislava went from being the capital of the country to a principality city once more.


Between the campaigns of the Napoleonic troops and the abolition of bondage

The beginning of the 19th century was marked by the Napoleonic wars. In 1805 following the Battle of Austerlitz (Slavkov), the French and Austrians signed the Treaty of Pressburg in the Mirror Hall of Primate’s Palace in Bratislava.

The treaty did not last long, however, and just a few years later in 1809 Napoleon’s army bombarded the city with cannon fire from the right bank of the Danube. From the 1930’s the city experienced sharp growth in industrial production, supported by the arrival of modern transport. Fast transportation on a mass scale was made possible on the River Danube by the steamships, which were also capable of sailing upstream. From 1848 steam trains started to operate here. The last major political event in the city under the Kingdom of Hungary was the session of the Hungarian Diet in 1847-1848. In March 1848 the Diet voted in favour of abolishing bondage. Emperor Ferdinand V then visited Bratislava and on 11 April 1848 he signed and promulgated the so-called March Laws in the Mirror Hall of Primate’s Palace. After dissolving the last session of the Hungarian Diet and relocating the political seat of the Kingdom of Hungary to Pest, Bratislava definitively lost a lot of its political significance.


First Czechoslovak Republic

World War I represented a key milestone in the history of the city. Bratislava was not directly hit by the war, but the consequences of it were borne by the people of the city in everyday life. Supplies would not arrive, and prices were the highest in the whole monarchy. The end of World War I in November 1918 brought changes to the map of Europe. The Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved and the Czechoslovak Republic was created.

The fate of Bratislava was decided on at the Paris peace talks. When at the end of 1918 it became clear that it was to be incorporated to the CzechoslovakRepublic, city representatives decide to rename the city to WilsonCity, after US president T. W. Wilson. Representatives of the city demand that the negotiating powers acknowledge the city as an open – free city. The proposal was rejected and the city, which was called Pressburg, Pozsony, Pre?pork, became part of the CzechoslovakRepublic in January 1919. The new name of the city was approved on 27 March 1919, and so Bratislava appeared on the map of Europe.


In-between wars

In the period between the wars Bratislava developed fairly harmoniously. During that period the city experienced a strong urban, architectonic, industrial and manufacturing boom. In a model example of tolerance, until the outbreak of World War II it was home to various nationalities and cultural communities: Slovak, German, Hungarian, Jewish, Czech and Croatian.


Wartime Bratislava

Hitler’s rising influence in Central Europe culminated in March 1939 with the splitting of Czechoslovakia. In the Czech territory a protectorate under Nazi administration was established. Slovak politicians were called on by Hitler to decide on the future fate of Slovakia.

From the two alternatives – the division of Slovakia among Poland, Hungary and the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia, or the creation of an independent state, the political leadership of the time decided on the second alternative. This then saw the establishment of an independent Slovak state, the 6-year existence of which continues to be a controversial and unresolved chapter in the history of the country to the present day. During the period of the Slovak independent state Bratislava became the capital for the first time. The city was the seat of the president, parliament, the government and all state administration authorities. It lost part of its territory, however - Petr?alka and Devín were annexed to Germany. At the end of the war, as the capital of an allied state of Hitler’s Germany, Bratislava was bombed by US air forces. Bratislava was liberated on 4 April 1945 by the Russian Red Army.


Post-war Bratislava

Following World War II the situation in Bratislava fundamentally changed. Most of its former Jewish population did not return from the concentration camps, and after liberalisation most of the German and Hungarian populations were also displaced from the city. Bratislava thus lost a large part of its unique multicultural atmosphere.

The communistic coup in February 1948 marked a turning point in post-war development. Czechoslovakia became part of the socialist camp and the buffer zone between the West and the East. Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. For Bratislava, which after the war was still linked to Vienna by a tramway, it meant building up closed borders with the West. Parts of the city were caught in the border separated by barbed wire. The residents there had to move. The end of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s was marked by a period of construction and the reconstruction of war destroyed parts of the city, especially industrial companies, which were nationalised after 1948. The lives of those living in the city were affected by communist repression in the 1950s. Many people were imprisoned and thousands that were accused in contrived processes were forced out of the city. The 40-year plus period of communist rule was interrupted by the events of 1968 ‑ 1969. The Bratislava born Alexander Dub?ek became a symbol of these events. The launched process of democratic changes was only suppressed by the occupation armies of the Warsaw Pact. The following “temporary presence” of Soviet troops lasted more than 20 years. Together with widespread political persecution, it was supposed to be an assurance against potential attempts at reform, or a change of the social make-up in Czechoslovakia.


Capital city for second time

The events that took place in Prague in November 1989 marked the start of the disassembly of the communist regime. At the same time as the first political changes started to be carried out, the long-term unresolved issue of real federalisation of Czechoslovakia became paramount.

The inability of the political elite of the time to find a compromise led to the break up of Czechoslovakia. At the stroke of midnight on 31 December 1992, as 1 January 1993 began, Czechoslovakia stopped existing for the second time. Bratislava once more became the capital of independent Slovakia. The status of a capital induced radical changes in the character of the city. At the beginning of the 1990s visitors referred to Bratislava as a city where the war had just ended. Nowadays it is regarded as one of the most dynamically developing and most prospective regions in Europe.


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