“Meet me at the square”. It’s the living room of Central Europe. Here towns were built around the main square. Bratislava is no exception. The main square in Old Town Bratislava hosts the music festivals of summer and the Christmas market in December. If something special is happening in town, there’s a good bet it’s at the square. Consequently, a friend of mine – who recently returned from an extended stay in the United States – asked “Where do you meet people?”. I was momentarily confused, but her point was – where do you meet up with friends when you have no square?. I’m not sure when or why squares went out of fashion. I’ve pinpointed it to sometime between the 15th and 19th centuries. As for reason, I can only guess. Perhaps as roads straightened into race tracks and land values skyrocketed, squares became quaint, impractical, unaffordable. It’s a shame. A square is the heartbeat of town. Kings, emperors, composers, and grannies – all have convened at the square.
I love the main square in Bratislava. It is a color palette of pastels; green, yellow, grey, red, a testament to human resilience, a Phoenix rising from the ashes of a grey communist Bratislava and reverting to the original color scheme of its medieval hey day. The anchor is the corner clock tower dominating the square, creating a natural focal point. It’s pitch perfect; buttercup thru daffodil yellows with a weather worn copper green baroque roof; an east meets west melding of styles. The stone balcony, cathedral-like windows, saintly statuary, and crenelated columns decorating the tower testify to the Catholic influence in this historically religious country. Atop the tower, the well-worn clock face with its large black spade hands allows me to tell time without my glasses. The town hall dormers are faced with a checkerboard of red, white, and blue tiles. The diversity of styles and colors is an old man with plaid shirt and stripped pants, simultaneously eccentric and heart-warming. The surrounding buildings, each distinctive in height and color, create harmony. Embassies display their flags; Greece, Japan, and France. And everywhere plaster – geometric shapes, floral, figurines, curlicues and shells painted in complementary colors. Ornate plaster work is ubiquitous in Bratislava.
In the early morning, the square is peaceful; locals rushing to work – their high heels clicking over the stones, a nun in ankle length black and button up boots – clutching her rosary. Birds splash in the central fountain. A statue of a Napoleonic soldier drapes over a bench for a moments rest anchoring one corner and in the opposite corner a sentry stands in his guard tower. Saturday morning at 8:30, I am one of ten people in the square sipping my coffee. A group of tourists, 25 or so, march thru. They lift their cameras and click, click, click – spinning in a circle to capture it all. I am momentarily distracted, and when I look up they are gone.
Later in the day, the square will over flow with tourists before reverting to a local meeting place at nightfall. Friends will gather for cake and coffee, tinkling sounds of spoons stirring against glasses, girlfriends giggling over a shared story – their heads tilted together. The choir inside the expansive white Baroque corner church will start to sing and the clock hands will record the precise time as it has for centuries.
Categories: Insiders Bratislava