April 11, 2021


Urban landscape of the Slovak capital.

After I waved goodbye to Dundee in Scotland, Bratislava emerged to be the place where I'm starting a new chapter of my journey. And so far, it is an exciting one! So let's have a look at how it looks first before diving into how it is to live here.

Bratislava spreads on the Danube banks in southwestern Slovakia, at the foot of the Little Carpathian mountain range. Such disposition forms attractive settings, so while the city is smaller than most other European capitals (the pop. is ~ half a million), it has loads to offer:

Bratislava's Old Town Hall at the Main Square. The tower is from the 14th century, and the buildings are from the 15th.

Bratislava gained city status in 1291 when it was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and it became the Hungarian capital in 1536. That lasted until 1783, as the administration moved to present-day Budapest. The old town has a collection of buildings from that era, and while it isn't humongous, it is worth a trip.

Michael's Gate, the only remaining medieval city entrance. The tower's from the 14th century.

Grassalkovich Palace from 1760. It serves as the official residence of Slovakia's president since 1996.

Two main historical landmarks of the city are the Bratislava Castle..

...and the St. Martin's Cathedral:

The Gothic St. Martin's Cathedral, built in the 13th–16th centuries, was the coronation place of eleven Hungarian kings and eight queens.

The two are only some 300m (1000ft) apart, but sadly, they are separated by a major thoroughfare that ruins the otherwise pedestrian-friendly vibe of the downtown.

A highway was built literally right next to the cathedral.

Moreover, its construction knocked down a good portion of the old town, including a 19th-century synagogue. Not cool. What's done is done, but it leaves me to wish that the city would invest in joining the castle with the old town again. The place would benefit from some overpass urban park, like Dallas' Klyde Warren Park, Petuelpark and Heckenstaller Park in Munich, Berlijnplein in Utrecht, or similar. Maybe one day.

It's not all bad with the highway, though, because just as it passes the cathedral, it continues across the Danube via a bridge that is another unique landmark of the city:

The cable-stayed SNP bridge.

The SNP bridge (SNP stands for Slovak National Uprising), constructed between 1967-1972, is topped with a restaurant/observation deck on its top, known as UFO.

Bratislava's SNP bridge, the castle, and St. Martin's Cathedral tower in one picture.

The bridge is from a period that contributed other notable buildings to the city. But before moving on to those, here are a few from the late 19th and the early 20th century:

Market Hall from 1910

During that time, Bratislava experienced a vast expansion of manufacturing capacities. Some of its neighbourhoods kept their raw industrial look until nowadays.

Former chemical plant Dynamit Nobel, later called Juraj Dimitrov's, and Istrochem.

While many of the factories declined since then, some are still running strong. The city's south-east corner is home to an extensive refinery:

Slovnaft refinery, capable of processing up to six million tons of crude oil per year.

Such facilities required plenty of workforce, and so the city saw massive population growth. From 61,500 people in 1900, it got to 184,400 by mid-century and to 442,197 in 1990. Buildings-wise, an element that helped accommodate the new people was an enormous number of prefabricated housing estates constructed between 1955-1993.

Condos in Petrzalka borough.

Mainly in combination with the mentioned industrial, they offer pretty surreal scenes:

Other than these concrete jungles and the SNP bridge, the second half of the 20th century left the city with the extension of the Slovak National Gallery, 1977:

Kamzík TV Tower, 1975:

...and the inverted pyramid of Slovak Radio from 1983:

A block away from the pyramid is the National Bank of Slovakia headquarters (2002), which takes us to the present times.

Among the many interesting changes the city went through in the 20th century, its ethnic composition also heavily shifted. At the turn of the century, only some 10% claimed to be Slovaks; by 1920, it was roughly 1/3 German, 1/3 Hungarian, and 1/3 Slovak, and in 1990, Slovaks formed over 90%. Once Slovakia became an independent country in 1993, Bratislava, its largest city, became its capital.

Opening the market in the 1990s commenced a new wave of a construction boom. Many old buildings got reconstructed, and new residential and office towers were built.

River House (2010)

III Veze (2009)

Infrastructure had a boost, too, as a new beltway was added to help with traffic.

Aupark Tower (2007) and Petrzalka.

..And the city attracted high-profile firms, adding further changes to the city's feel:

Sky Park (2020), a project by Zaha Hadid Architects.

The Sky Park and its surrounding is becoming a new district of highrises:

In the last ten years, eight new 85m+ (280ft+) tall buildings got built there on an area of 100 acres, and more are on their way. The area borders with a still-active cargo port, from where, in my eyes, the district looks the best:

If the current tendencies within the real-estate market continue, I can imagine the port being re-cultivated into one of the most sought-after developers lands in the city. It has the potential to become a Slovak version of London's Canary Wharf.

All that said, one can see a remarkable variety of styles and shapes in a small space:

Gordon Matta-Clark, anyone?

I've been utilizing this feature and exploring the city almost every day after work. Here are more images I took here:

Experiencing Bratislava is much more than seeing the buildings. But as this post was getting a bit long, I decided to leave my notes about living in the city for another article.

Edit 5/2021: See the article here.

In the meantime, you can visit my posts about other cities where I lived or head to my blog archives to explore more categories and topics. Thanks for reading!

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Collections


    Comments are closed.