February 1, 2023

Bratislava: Soviet city of the future still feels fresh and new

5 min read

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There’s a European capital crowned by a flying saucer taller than the Statue of Liberty – but this sci-fi city isn’t troubling anyone on the continent’s must-see list.

Anyone visiting Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, would be hard-pressed to miss the aptly named, 95-meter-tall UFO tower that has been visible above the Danube River since 1972. Right in front of Bratislava’s historic Old Town, it offers a beautiful rooftop terrace and restaurants. Excellent views of the city and surrounding area.

Remarkably, the tower’s otherworldly aesthetics are not so unusual in a city that was once a testing ground for some of the boldest architectural projects behind the Iron Curtain.

More than three decades after the fall of the communist regime, the physical legacy of that era still permeates the streets of Bratislava, where it stands in stark contrast to classical harmony. The center of the Hapsburg era and the modern high rise that has emerged with Slovakia’s new prosperity in recent years.

You need only go a few hundred yards beyond the neat, cafe-lined streets of the Old Town to stumble upon a truly unique structure that is unlikely to leave anyone unmoved.

The Slovak Radio Building is an 80-meter-high inverted pyramid.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: starting from its ground level The Vertex, the rust-colored building that houses the country’s national broadcaster, gets wider with each ascending floor.

This architectural extravaganza was completed in 1983 after nearly two decades in the making, and to this day it still inspires admiration among architects and the general public alike.

While some consider it a masterpiece and it has been given protected heritage status since 2017, others condemn its appearance and see it as a dark reminder of the communist past. Even Britain’s Daily Telegraph included it in its list of the world. Ugly buildings.

Its architect, Stefan Svetko, was also the author of several residential projects that embody the aesthetics of the period.

One of the most notable, Madzi JarkamiBuilt in 1979 on the eastern outskirts of Bratislava, it consists of several residential blocks, laid out in a circular and almost tangential pattern. The open space within the largest of these circles is lined with another UFO-themed monument. In this case, the flying saucer is at ground level, as if it had crash-landed from outer space.

The Egyptians built the pyramids, but the Soviet Union built an inverted one.

UFOs were a recurring theme at the time. The vault covering the grand hall of Slovak University of Agriculture Also reminiscent of a flying saucer. This building, completed in 1966, is located in the city of Netra, about 60 miles from the capital. Its architect, Vladimir Dedicek, left his mark with other Brutalist works in and around Bratislava, such as the Slovak National Gallery, the Slovak National Archive, as well as the State Political School in the nearby town of Modra.

While some of these locations require a dedicated excursion, a short walk into the center of Bratislava is all you need to get a snapshot of the country’s socialist realist heritage. Just around the corner from the Pyramids, for example, you’ll find Colorful wall In Námestie Slobody (“Freedom Square”), a flower-shaped piece of metal urban decoration conveys strong sci-fi vibes, adorning the facade of the Slovak University of Technology or the early 1980s Fountain of Union. Is.

The fountain’s current state of disrepair only adds to its dystopian appearance, but it may be temporary, as at the time of CNN Travel’s visit in July 2022, Restoration work It was going on at Azadi Chowk.

In recent years, it is a legacy of the communist era. proved reinterpretable. An example is Bratislava’s centrally located Hotel Kageo, which has been closed for nearly a decade.

In 2018, as part of the Bratislava Street Art Festival, a visual project by artist Lousy Auber succeeded in transforming one side of a 1970s Soviet-style high-rise into an eye-catching landmark visible from miles away.

To do this, 17 painters simultaneously stepped out from its roof to cover the west side of the building. Geometric white and brown pattern.

The change doesn’t stop there. In line with the country’s transformation and economic growth in the last two decades, a smattering of contemporary buildings are popping up everywhere.

An early example of this new architectural wave is leaving its mark in the Slovak capital. Strabag’s building, Local headquarters of an Austrian construction firm. Built in 2007, it features a cottage-style house hanging upside down from the side of a glass and steel structure.

Even more massive is the latest addition to the Bratislava skyline, courtesy of renowned firm Zaha Hadid Architects.

The first phase of the Skypark development was completed in 2020 and includes three residential towers. It incorporates a pre-existing office block into its grounds as well as the reconstructed Jurkovičová Tepláreň heating plant. The second phase of the project, which is expected to open soon, will include a fourth residential tower as well as a 120-meter office building.

Zaha Hadid's Skypark has reshaped the skyline.

The stark contrast between all these seemingly contradictory styles is less than a characteristic of a city that has often straddled the dividing line between cultures and blocs throughout its history.

Bratislava has at various times in its history been known by its German and Hungarian names (Pressburg and Pozny, respectively), reflecting its diverse cultural mix, which included a large Jewish community.

We can actually go back two thousand years to when Roman “limes” passed through these lands (there are remains of Roman garrison forts at several sites on the south bank of the Danube near Bratislava) or, More recently, the split between the communist and capitalist blocs, which had spread to some suburbs of Bratislava.

Today, with open borders, a common currency and, perhaps more importantly, the EU’s free cell phone roaming area, a trip from Vienna in Austria to Bratislava in Slovakia—between Germany and Slavic-speaking Europe—is almost impossible. Is – a seamless experience. Which takes less than an hour by suburban train.

This proximity to the Austrian capital (Bratislava and Vienna are two of the closest national capitals in the world), may also contribute to Bratislava’s efforts to establish its identity more strongly as a Central European destination. There is an obstacle.

Look no further than the city’s air connections: While Bratislava has its own airport, most visitors do so by plane via Vienna International Airport, which is located just 30 miles away and has a large number of Proud of connections.

As one of the continent’s youngest capital cities – it achieved its status in 1993 – it does not have the recognition, or visitor numbers, of nearby Habsburg capitals such as Prague and Budapest.

In addition, this geographical and cultural idiosyncrasy, which extends significantly to the architectural domain, has transformed the Slovak capital into the vibrant city it is today, a place full of unpredictable behavior that makes sense. Waiting for the passenger to be discovered.

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