Column: Maria Theresa’s castle
A castle visible throughout Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, once helped protect the Roman Empire from Barbarians. More recently, it has served as a meeting place between East and West.
The four-towered Bratislava Castle sits on a hill in the center of town, overlooking the Danube River. A fortress has occupied the site for thousands of years because of its strategic location above a major north-south trade route running between the Carpathian Mountains and the Alps. When the Danube served as the boundary of the Roman Empire, Romans used the fortress to repel Germanic tribes from the north. In the Middle Ages, the castle was controlled by Moravia, the first major Slavic state in Central Europe. Eventually, the Bratislava Castle became the seat of the Kingdom of Hungary, with the Holy Crown of Hungary secured in the large southwest tower.
When Maria Theresa became Queen of Hungary in 1740, she promised her Hungarian subjects that she would spend time in their country as well as in Austria, which she also ruled as Archduchess. For her Hungarian residence, she converted the Bratislava fortress into a baroque-style palace. One of her many modifications involved reducing the slope of the castle’s stairways so she could ride her horse on them. In 1802, the castle became the barracks for troops of the Austrian Empire battling Napoleon and the interior of castle was badly damaged by a fire in 1811. The castle was restored in the middle of the nineteenth century and now houses rooms used by the Parliament of Slovakia, which became independent from the Czech Republic in 1993. In February 2005, the castle was the site of a summit meeting between Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin.
Bratislava is a pleasant and walkable city, with a population of about 430,000. The Bratislava Castle is one of its highlights.