08 November 2019
If Bratislava’s castle and cathedral are its most visited buildings, then its most photographed treasures are the sculptures and statues scattered throughout the Old Town.
It is impossible to walk the cobbled streets without noticing the small, embedded crowns that mark the route used to re-enact the royal procession, recalling the coronation of Habsburg emperors at Kings of Hungary in Saint Martin’s Cathedral for over 2½ centuries.
But the most popular sculptures in Bratislava are the statues of people who pop up on street corners or behind park benches throughout the old town. They bring a modern touch and a sense of humour to the old town centre, adding to its attractions.
Čumil ‘the watcher’ or the ‘Man at Work’ is the work of Viktor Hulik and seems to be climbing out of a hole at the corner of Rybárska Street and Panská Street.
One rumour says that he is a typical communist-era worker who is hardly bothered about the work he is supposed to be engaged in. A second story says he is looking up women’s skirts. Either way, he has been loitering at this street corner since 1997.
‘The Paparazzi’ was a statue of man about to shoot a photograph of people around the corner. For many years, he stood on the corner of Radničná Street and Laurinská Street, outside a restaurant called Paparazzi. However, when the restaurant closed down the owners took the statue with them, and he is now in the UFO restaurant.
Which explains why I never got to photograph him this week, although the city is negotiating to get him back as a popular tourist attraction.
‘Schone Naci’ or ‘Handsome Ignatius’ greets people on the corner of Sedlárska Street. Unlike the other statues, which are cast in bronze, this statue by Juraj Melis is the only one in the old town that is in silver.
The statue is named after Ignác Lamár, who lived in Pressburg, the former name of Bratislava, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Although he appears handsome and jolly, one story says his fiancée was deported to a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust and never returned. He never recovered psychologically from the trauma and spent his remaining days wandering along the Korzo in a top hat and tails, smiling at everyone.
Another story says he was in love with a woman who sadly did not return his love. He was so disappointed that he went mad and you could often see him giving flowers to random women he met in the streets.
I failed to find Napoleon’s Soldier on the Main Square, near the Old Town Hall, leaning on a bench you can sit on.
Napoleon and his army marched through Bratislava in 1805. This soldier is supposed to be Hubert, who was going through Bratislava when he fell in love with a local girl. He stayed in the city, became a producer of sparkling wine, and gave his name to Slovakia’s most popular brand of sparkling wine.
But close-by is a statue of a guardsman who has been in his wooden sentry box by the Town Guardhouse since 2006.
Hviezdoslav Square has a large, imposing statue of the Slovak poet who gives his name to the square. But a few meters behind him is the more inviting statue of Hans Christian Andersen, the children’s storyteller, who once visited Bratislava in 1846.
In this statue by Tibor Bártfy, he looks tall, thin and a little bashful, with a giant snail looking up at him in awe.
Other statues include two girls leaning on a post box, taking a break from skateboarding, four peeing boys in the courtyard of the Primate’s Palace, and the children playing with fish who replaced them in the fountain in front of the Opera House to save the blushes of opera-goers.
The statues of Bratislava can catch you unawares and surprise you … from the unexpected couple on a balcony who seem to be watching people going in and out of the Franciscan Church to the statue of Christ on the façade of a former pharmacist’s shop, supported by two small angels and who seems to be blessing people on their way to the cathedral.
Bratislava has more than 50 churches, cathedrals, chapels and places of worship. As I walked around the capital of Slovakia this week, I visited Saint Martin's Cathedral, one of the largest churches in Slovakia and the second most visited place in Bratislava.
However, I missed the Church of Saint Elizabeth, known locally as the ‘Blue Church’ and designed by the Hungarian architect Edmund Lechner.
The Franciscan Church is in front of the Arcadia Hotel, where I have been staying this week. This Gothic church, dating from the 13th century, is the oldest surviving religious building in the Old Town of Bratislava. It is said it was built by King Ladislaus IV of Hungary to commemorate his victory over King Ottokar II of Bohemia in 1278. It was built in the Gothic style and dedicated by King Andrew III of Hungary in 1297.
The Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I was elected the King of Hungary in this church in 1526. During the coronation of the Habsburg emperors as Kings of Hungary in Bratislava, they used this church to knight nobles in the Order of the Golden Spur.
The church was damaged several times by fire and earthquake and only a small part of the original church still stands. It was refurbished in the Renaissance style in the 17th century and in the baroque style in the 18th century.
The Chapel of Saint John the Evangelist, dating from the second half of the 14th century, is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Bratislava. This chapel, modelled after Sainte Chapelle in France, includes the crypt of the Jakubovec family.
The main altar is flanked by statues of Saint Stephen and Saint Emeric, dating from 1720-1730. Two side altars are dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Anthony of Padua. Other side altars are dedicated to the Nativity, Our Lady of Sorrows, Saint Anne and Saint Barbara.
The rococo pulpit, from 1756, is decorated with reliefs representing Saint Francis receiving the stigmata, Saint Francis talking to the birds, and Moses. The rood loft, built in 1670, is supported by Tuscan pillars and holds the organ.
Relics in the church include the body of Saint Reparat, a fourth century deacon who was martyred in Nola, near Naples, in 353, when his tongue was cut out and his right hand cut off. His body was moved from Rome to Bratislava in 1769.
The Ursuline Church, immediately east of the hotel, stands on the site of the first mediaeval synagogue in the city. This was a Protestant church until the 17th century, when the Ursuline nuns came from Vienna and Cologne to educate the daughters of local aristocrats and citizens.
The Jesuit Church of the Holy Saviour Church, to the south of the Franciscan church and beside the Old Town Hall, is just three minutes walk from the hotel. This too was a Protestant church in the 17th century.
The church was built in 1636-1638 for the growing number of German-speaking Protestants in Bratislava. Because a royal edict decreed the church could not resemble a Roman Catholic church, it was built without a spire or presbytery and without a street entrance.
The Church of the Holy Trinity was built in the baroque style in the 18th century for the Trinitarian order. Formally the Church of Saint John of Matha and Saint Felix of Valois, it stands on Župné Námestie Square.
The church was built on the site of the older Church of Saint Michael, demolished in 1529, along with the settlement of Saint Michael during the Ottoman wars, to reinforce the city defences against the attacking Turks.
The Trinitarian Order began building the church in 1717 and it was consecrated in 1727, although work in the interior continued throughout the first half of the 18th century. The church design was influenced by Saint Peter’s Church in Vienna.
The altarpiece depicts Saint John of Matha and Saint Felix of Valois ransoming prisoners from Turkish capture. The statues of Saint Agnes and Saint Catherine behind the main altar are attributed to the Bavarian sculptor Johann Baptist Straub.
When the Trinitarian Order was dissolved by the Emperor Joseph II in 1782, the monastery passed to the local government and became the administrative seat of the Pressburg county. The Great Hall was used for concerts by Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms, and later for the Slovak National Councils until they moved into a new parliamentary building beside Bratislava Castle.
Saint Stephen’s Capuchin Church has a simple beauty. This church is dedicated to the first Hungarian king.
A Plague Pillar in front of the church, dating from 1723, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The Reformed Calvinist Church is part of a church in Slovakia that has 110,000 members in 205 parishes, 103 mission churches and 59 house fellowships. Unlike other Reformed or Presbyterian churches, this church, in the Hungarian style, had a bishop.
The Calvinist Reformation reached this part of Slovakia in the 1520s and four presbyteries was formed in Eastern Slovakia, Later they were later protected by the Princes of Transylvania, and until World War I these parishes in Slovakia were part of the Reformed Church in Hungary. A theological seminary was founded in Lucenec in 1925, and the church adopted new constitutions in 1950s and after the fall of communism.
On my way down the hill from Bratislava Castle this week, I stopped to look at the locked Saint Nicholas Church, an Orthodox church built in 1661 by Countess Frances Khuen, the widow of Paul Pálffy (1589-1655), before she died 1672.
This early baroque church is simple, single nave church with a small wooden bell tower. It was built on the site of an earlier Gothic church dating back to the 11th century. After the castle area was incorporated into Bratislava, the church was administrated by a Catholic funeral society in Saint Martin's parish.
The church was no longer in use by 1936 it was given to the Greek Catholic Church of Bratislava, an Orthodox-style church in communion with Rome. At the end of World War II in 1945 the church roof caught fire and the church was rebuilt by the Greek Catholic Church in 1945-1950. A violent persecution of the Greek Catholic Church in Slovakia began in 1950 and the church was given to the Orthodox Church.