The castle hill in Bratislava was used by the Celts, and then by the Romans, who erected here one of their border fortresses. Its strategic importance was due to the fact that there was a ford on the river and two important trade routes crossed. One led along the Danube, the other was the famous amber route connecting the Roman Empire with the Baltic Sea.
During the Great Moravian period, there was a fortified settlement on the hill. After the Hungarian conquest, the rulers quickly appreciated the strategic importance of Bratislava, which has become one of the most important places of the new state. In the place of the hillfort on the hill, a stone castle was built, called Pozsóny by Hungarians, which was the seat of an official called a zupan, managing the county. The castle had to be well fortified, as one of the few Hungarian castles survived the Mongol invasion of 1241. At the end of the 13th century, during the Hungarian-Czech fights, the castle was in the hands of one of the most trusted supporters of the Hungarian king, Matthew Csák. It became a royal property again in 1321. During the Hussite Wars, the castle in Bratislava played an important role in protecting Hungary against the Hussites plunder expeditions.
In the years 1421-1437, on the initiative of Sigismund of Luxembourg, a reconstruction took place that transformed the castle into a heavily fortified sstronghold. After the defeat at Mohacz and the loss of Buda in 1541, the capital of Hungary was moved to Bratislava. This caused that king Ferdinand I Habsburg in 1552 ordered the expansion of the castle. It was adapted to the use of artillery, raising cannon towers from the north and east. The Bratislava castle became the place where the coronation insignia were stored, including its most valuable treasure and the symbol of Hungary – the crown of Saint Stephan. Hungarian insignia stayed in the castle until 1790.
In the years 1635-1649, the then zupan Paul Pálffy made another reconstruction of the castle. At that time, four corner towers, which have been preserved until today, have been created. The two northern ones were erected altogether, while the two southern ones, including the Crown Tower, the place of storage of the royal insignia, were created as a result of the adaptation of the older gothic ones. New representative chambers and two-story cloisters were also created.
The last reconstruction of the Bratislava castle took place during the reign of empress Maria Teresa. The works started in 1760, transformed the castle into a magnificent palace. Unfortunately, after the death of the empress in 1780, her son and successor Jozef II donated the castle for the purposes of the seminary. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the castle was turned into a barracks, and the place of clerics was occupied by Austrian soldiers. The fire they had caused in 1811 caused a massive fire, that destroyed most of the castle buildings. Only the barracks were rebuilt, while the rest, including the upper castle, remained in ruins for many years. The reconstruction of the castle was carried out only in the years 1956-1968.
Little is known about the appearance of the oldest castle site. Probably on the hill, in the second half of the twelfth century, there was a romanesque palas, and on the eastern side, at the foot of the hill, a romanesque two-tower basilica, erected on the site of an elder church from the time of the Great Moravia. In the 13th century, in fear of Mongol invasions, a large square defensive-residential tower was erected in the southern part with dimensions of 22 x 22 meters and wall thickness up to 2.3 meters. The second tower was created on the south-west side, it served the role of a bergfried, that is the tower of final defense. Its height was 37 meters. With time, another three four-sided towers were added, which were placed on the earth- timber fortifications. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, sacral buildings disappeared from the area of the castle, due to the transfer of the chapter to the town center and the construction of a new cathedral of St. Martin.
In the first half of the fifteenth century, Sigismund of Luxemburg made a major reconstruction. The residential tower was pulled down and in its place a four-sided castle was erected on an irregular trapezium plan with four ranges closing the inner courtyard. In its perimeter, the former bergfried tower was incorporated, which became the south – west corner tower of the new castle, which was later renamed the Crown Tower. In the south and east ranges there were representative and residential rooms, and the other two were used for economic purposes. The whole was surrounded by a new perimeter wall, reinforced with two towers on the north side and two gatehouses, one on the south-east side and one on the south-west side. From the west, the most vulnerable side, the castle walls were almost 7 meters thick.
Nowadays, the main building of the castle is a four-wing complex on a plan similar to a square, in which it is difficult to see the original appearance. It stands out bigger than the others, south-west tower called the Crown, which is a transformed element of the gothic castle. There are also external fortifications surrounding the castle, both the 15th-century defensive walls and the early modern bastions. The Sigismund ‘s Gate and the Luginsland Tower have survived from the 15th century fortifications. Currently, the castle’s premises contain exhibits of the Historical Museum, which is part of the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava.
Bóna M., Plaček M., Encyklopedie slovenských hradů, Praha 2007.
Wasielewski A., Zamki i zamczyska Słowacji, Białystok 2008.