Bratislava (/ˌbrætɨˈslɑːvə/ or /ˌbrɑːtɨˈslɑːvə/; Slovak pronunciation: [ˈbracɪslava] ( listen); formerly Slovak Prešporok; German: Pressburg or Preßburg; Hungarian: Pozsony, Croatian: Požun) is the capital of Slovakia and, with a population of about 460,000, the country’s largest city. Bratislava is in southwestern Slovakia, occupying both banks of the Danube River and the left bank of the Morava River. Bordering Austria and Hungary, it is the only national capital that borders two independent countries.
Bratislava is the political, cultural, and economic centre of Slovakia. It is the seat of the Slovak president, the parliament, and the Slovak Executive. It is home to several universities, museums, theatres, galleries and other important cultural and educational institutions. Many of Slovakia’s large businesses and financial institutions also have headquarters there.
The history of the city has been strongly influenced by people of different nations and religions, namely by Austrians, Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Jews, and Slovaks (in alphabetical order, not significance). The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, a part of the larger Habsburg Monarchy territories, from 1536 to 1783 and has been home to many Slovak, Hungarian, and German historical figures.
The city received its modern name in 1919. Beforehand it was mostly known in English by its German name, Pressburg, as it was long dominated by Austrians and German speakers. Its first recorded name, in the 10th-century Annales Iuvavenses, was probably Brezalauspurc (literally: Braslav’s castle). This is the term which the German, the pre-1919 Slovak (Prešporok) and Czech (Prešpurk) names are derived from. The origin of the city’s Hungarian name, Pozsony, is unclear: it might come from the Hungarian Poson (name of the city’s first castellan), the Czech Pos or the German Poscho, which are personal names. Hungarian speakers still use the Hungarian name, Pozsony. The city’s modern name is attributed to Pavel Jozef Šafárik’s misinterpretation of Braslav as Bratislav when analyzing medieval sources, thus coming up with the term Břetislaw, later Bratislav.
During the revolution of 1918–1919, the name ‘Wilsonov’ or ‘Wilsonstadt’ (after President Woodrow Wilson) was proposed by American Slovaks, as he supported national self-determination. The name Bratislava, which was used before only by some Slovak patriots, became official in March 1919.
Other alternative names of the city in the past: Greek: Ιστρόπολις Istropolis (meaning «Danube City», also used in Latin), Czech: Prešpurk, French: Presbourg, Italian: Presburgo, Latin: Posonium, Croatian: Požun, Romanian: Pojon, Serbian: Požun/ Пожун. The name Pressburg was also used in English-language publications until 1919, and it is occasionally used today.
In older documents, confusion can be caused by the Latin forms Bratislavia, Wratislavia etc., which refer to Wrocław (Breslau), Poland – not to Bratislava.
The first known permanent settlement of the area began with the Linear Pottery Culture, around 5000 BC in the Neolithic era. About 200 BC, the Celtic Boii tribe founded the first significant settlement, a fortified town known as an oppidum. They also established a mint, producing silver coins known as biatecs. The area fell under Roman influence from the 1st to the 4th century AD and was made part of the Limes Romanus, a border defence system. The Romans introduced grape growing to the area and began a tradition of winemaking, which survives to the present.
The Slavs arrived from the East between the 5th and 6th centuries during the Migration Period. As a response to onslaughts by Avars, the local Slavic tribes rebelled and established Samo’s Empire (623–658), the first known Slavic political entity. In the 9th century, the castles at Bratislava (Brezalauspurc) and Devín (Dowina) were important centres of the Slavic states: the Principality of Nitra and Great Moravia. Scholars have debated the identification as fortresses of the two castles built in Great Moravia, based on linguistic arguments and because of the absence of convincing archaeological evidence.
The first written reference to a settlement named «Brezalauspurc» dates to 907 and is related to a battle, during which a Bavarian army was defeated by the Hungarians. It is connected to the fall of Great Moravia, already weakened by its own inner decline and under the attacks of the Hungarians. The exact location of the battle remains unknown, and some interpretations place it west of Lake Balaton.
In the 10th century, the territory of Pressburg (what would later become Pozsony county) became part of Hungary (called «the Kingdom of Hungary» from 1000). It developed as a key economic and administrative centre on the kingdom’s frontier. This strategic position destined the city to be the site of frequent attacks and battles, but also brought it economic development and high political status. It was granted its first known «town privileges» in 1291 by the Hungarian King Andrew III, and was declared a free royal town in 1405 by King Sigismund. In 1436 he authorized the town to use its own coat of arms.
The Kingdom of Hungary was defeated by the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Mohács in 1526. The Turks besieged and damaged Pressburg, but failed to conquer it. Owing to Ottoman advances into Hungarian territory, the city was designated the new capital of Hungary in 1536, becoming part of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy and marking the beginning of a new era. The city became a coronation town and the seat of kings, archbishops (1543), the nobility and all major organisations and offices. Between 1536 and 1830, eleven Hungarian kings and queens were crowned at St. Martin’s Cathedral. The 17th century was marked by anti-Habsburg uprisings, fighting with the Turks, floods, plagues and other disasters, which diminished the population.
Pressburg flourished during the 18th-century reign of Queen Maria Theresa, becoming the largest and most important town in Hungary. The population tripled; many new palaces, monasteries, mansions, and streets were built, and the city was the centre of social and cultural life of the region. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave a concert in 1762 in the Pálffy Palace in Bratislava. Joseph Haydn performed in 1784 in the Grassalkovich Palace in Bratislava. Ludwig van Beethoven was a guest in 1796 in the Keglević Palace in Bratislava.
But, the city started to lose its importance under the reign of Maria Theresa’s son Joseph II, especially after the crown jewels were taken to Vienna in 1783 in an attempt to strengthen the union between Austria and Hungary. Many central offices subsequently moved to Buda, followed by a large segment of the nobility. The first newspapers in Hungarian and Slovak were published here: Magyar hírmondó in 1780, and Presspurske Nowiny in 1783. In the course of the 18th century, the city became a centre for the Slovak national movement.
The city’s 19th-century history was closely tied to the major events in Europe. The Peace of Pressburg between Austria and France was signed here in 1805. Theben Castle was ruined by Napoleon’s French troops during an invasion of 1809. In 1825 the Hungarian National Learned Society (the present Hungarian Academy of Sciences) was founded in Pressburg using a donation from István Széchenyi. In 1843 Hungarian was proclaimed the official language in legislation, public administration and education by the Diet in the city.
As a reaction to the Revolutions of 1848, Ferdinand V signed the so-called April laws, which included the abolition of serfdom, at the Primate’s Palace. The city chose the revolutionary Hungarian side, but was captured by the Austrians in December 1848.
Industry developed rapidly in the 19th century. The first horse-drawn railway in the Kingdom of Hungary, from Pressburg to Szentgyörgy Svätý Jur, was built in 1840. A new line to Vienna using steam locomotives was opened in 1848, and a line to Pest in 1850. Many new industrial, financial and other institutions were founded; for example, the first bank in present-day Slovakia was founded in 1842. The city’s first permanent bridge over the Danube, Starý most, was built in 1891.
Allied ordnance damage at the Apollo company industrial plant in Bratislava, September 1944, World War II
Before World War I, the city had a population that was 42% ethnic German, 41% Hungarian and 15% Slovak (1910 census). After World War I and the formation of Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918, the city was incorporated into the new state despite its representatives’ reluctance. The dominant Hungarian and German population tried to prevent annexation of the city to Czechoslovakia and declared it a free city. However, the Czechoslovak Legions occupied the city on January 1, 1919, and made it part of Czechoslovakia. The city became the seat of Slovakia’s political organs and organizations and became Slovakia’s capital on 4 February. On February 12, 1919 the German and Hungarian population started a protest against the Czechoslovak occupation, but the Czechoslovak Legions opened fire on the unarmed demonstrators.
On March 27, 1919, the name Bratislava was officially adopted for the first time. Left without any protection after the retreat of the Hungarian army, many Hungarians were expelled or fled. Czechs and Slovaks moved their households to Bratislava. Education in Hungarian and German was radically reduced in the city. By the 1930 Czechoslovakian census, the Hungarian population of Bratislava had decreased to 15.8% (see the Demographics of Bratislava article for more details).
In 1938, Nazi Germany annexed neighbouring Austria in the Anschluss; later that year it also annexed the still-independent Petržalka and Devín boroughs on ethnic grounds, as these had many ethnic Germans. Bratislava was declared the capital of the first independent Slovak Republic on March 14, 1939, but the new state quickly fell under Nazi influence. In 1941–1942 and 1944–1945, the new Slovak government cooperated in deporting most of Bratislava’s approximately 15,000 Jews; they were transported to concentration camps, where most were killed or died before the end of the war.
Bratislava was bombarded by the Allies, occupied by German troops in 1944, and eventually taken by the Soviet Red Army on April 4, 1945. At the end of World War II, most of Bratislavas ethnic Germans were helped to evacuate by German authorities. A few returned after the war, but were soon expelled without their properties under the Beneš decrees, part of a widespread expulsion of ethnic Germans from eastern Europe.
Slavín war memorial commemorates fallen soldiers during the liberation of Slovakia in World War II
After the Communist Party seized power in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, the city became part of the Eastern Bloc. The city annexed new land, and the population rose significantly, becoming 90% Slovak. Large residential areas consisting of high-rise prefabricated panel buildings, such as those in the Petržalka borough, were built. The Communist government also built several new grandiose buildings, such as the Most Slovenského národného povstania bridge and the Slovak Radio headquarters.
In 1968, after the unsuccessful Czechoslovak attempt to liberalise the Communist regime, the city was occupied by Warsaw Pact troops. Shortly thereafter, it became capital of the Slovak Socialist Republic, one of the two states of the federalized Czechoslovakia.
Bratislava’s dissidents anticipated the fall of Communism with the Bratislava candle demonstration in 1988, and the city became one of the foremost centres of the anti-Communist Velvet Revolution in 1989.
In 1993, the city became the capital of the newly formed Slovak Republic following the Velvet Divorce. In the 1990s and the early 21st century, its economy boomed due to foreign investment. The flourishing city also hosted several important cultural and political events, including the Slovakia Summit 2005 between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin