Bratislava is one of the youngest capitals in Europe, but it has a very rich history. Over the centuries Bratislava had several names: Possonium (Latin), Pressburg (German), Pozsony (Hungarian), and Prešporok (Slovak). As the city lies in the heart of Europe on the bank of Danube River, it easily became a centre of trade and business meetings as much as the centre of different cultures.
Bratislava was inhabited by the Slavs in the 6th century and the first written mention of Bratislava comes from the year 907, which also mentions the Bratislava Castle. Bratislava was a part of Nitra Principality, since the end of the 8th century, which in 833 with the Moravian Principality formed the state of Great Moravia.
In 1464 Bratislava received an important right of sword from Matthias Corvinus, for the city it meant that the City Council could punish offenders even with the highest penalty, the capital penalty. Later, Bratislava was the meeting place of the Hungarian Council (1542-1848), it was the seat of the archbishop of Esztergom (1543-1820) and was also the coronation city of Hungarian Kings (1563-1830). Until 1918 Bratislava was a part of the Hungarian Empire and later belonged to the Habsburg Monarchy. It acquired the city privileges in 1291 from the Hungarian King Andrew III.
On 14th of March 1939 until the year 1945, after the breakup of Czechoslovakia, Bratislava became the capital of the independent Slovakia. The city became the seat of the president, parliament, government and all government offices. However, it lost a part of its territory, because Petržalka and Devín became a part of Germany. In 1946 the “Great Bratislava” was created when Devín, Dúbravka, Lamač, Petržalka, Prievoz, Rača and Vajnory were reconnected to it.
Since 1968 until 1992 Bratislava was the capital of the Slovak Socialist Republic within the Czechoslovakia. Since 1st of January 1993, Bratislava is the capital of the independent Slovak Republic.
Archeological evidence shows that people lived in the area of Bratislava as long ago as Neolithic times. The Celts occupied an area three times larger than the current city before the Romans came in the 1st centry A.D. and established a military camp, Gerulta, where today the Bratislava suburb of Rusovce stands. Bratislava as a town was founded by German colonists in the 13th century. Under Hungarian rule since the 9th century, much of the land now known as Slovakia was devastated by Tatars from Asia earlier in the 13th c. Eager to have this strategically important area repopulated, Hungarian kings gave many incentives to attract industrious and skilled Germans.
Known as Pressburg by German speakers, Pozsony by Hungarians – the city became the capital of Hungary during the Turkish occupation of much of Hungary, including Buda. These were the city’s glory days – during the 16th-18th centies — particularly during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa. But Maria Theresa’s son moved the capital back to the newly-founded Pest in Hungary, and Pressburg/Pozsony/Bratislava declined. By the start of the 20th century, the population had dwindled to a mere 60,000.
The city was named Bratislava in 1919 – although at the start of that year it was called Wilson, after American President Woodrow Wilson! Wilson supported the creation of the country of Czechoslovakia after World War I. At that point, Bratislava had an ethnically diverse population: in addition to Slovaks, there were many Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, Romani (gypsies), Rusyns (also known as Ruthenians) and Jews. In fact, many of the older generation still speak three languages – Slovak, German and Hungarian.
More of Bratislava was destroyed during the Soviet era than during WWII. In what could be called an act of cultural terrorism, two-thirds of the Old Town, including most of the old Jewish quarter, was levelled to make space for the ultra-modern New Bridge (nicknamed the UFO bridge by locals). The Nazis had blown up the original bridge. A four-lane highway leading to the bridge was built just yards away from St. Martin’s Cathedral by the atheist Communist regime, as a deliberate insult to religious tradition. The highway isolates the Castle from the rest of the Old Town. An enormous, concrete housing project, Petrzalka, on the opposite side of the Danube from the Old Town, is now home to 150,000 people – one-third of the city’s population. Tours of Petrzalka are offered.
With the fall of Communism began a careful restoration of long-neglected structures. Stroll around the cobblestone streets and alleys of the Old Town, and along the river and admire the results.