How Bratislava Became a Capital City

The era of battles with Turkish armies went deep down in our history – the official one or the folk one. Even though most of these memories may be negative, today we have a unique opportunity to look at this part of history with distance and remember the time that, however, signified a catastrophe for Hungary but an unexpected opportunity for Bratislava.

Echoes of the Battle of Mohács

The Battle of Mohács is one of the most important battles fought in the history of the Kingdom of Hungary, a battle about which every one of us must have learned at school and the date of which we should know even if the wake us up at midnight (for those of us with worse memory – it was fought on 29 August 1526). A major part of Hungarian aristocracy and elite running away from South to the North and East died during this crushing defeat. The area of today´s Slovakia had a blessing in disguise – Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent withdrew his armies and was satisfied with the conquered territory of the Lower Hungary. Unluckily, the rest of the aristocracy didn´t use this time to stabilize the country after devastating fights and looting but they used it for their own fights of power. What made this situation even more complicated was a death of young and childless King Luis II of Hungary because of the possible candidates for the vacant Hungarian throne was John Zápolya who pledged to the Sultan and, in fact, became his vassal. This alliance brought even more destruction that spread even to Slovakia, namely the southern territories suffered from frequent looting, military taxing, and of course a threat of open war. The Slovak territory was significant for its mineral riches and mines that were important for both sides of this conflict. This attracted Turks to the southern borders of Central Slovakia but after conquering Nové Zámky, they fixed their eyes on the region of Považie. Through this region they wanted to get to Moravia and Silesia. In this chaos, Bratislava had the advantage – not only because of its good location but also because of its defence, that even Turks didn´t dare to fight and rather decided to (unsuccessfully) besiege the more important city, Vienna. The city was perceived mainly as an economic centre rather than political, dedicating to business, fishery, and drapery.

Bratislava as the New Centre

Ascension of Bratislava as the centre of Hungary started right after the Battle of Mohács and the death of King Luis II of Hungary. His young wife Mary fled Buda, where they used to live, and decided to settle in safer Bratislava together with her court. This decision wasn´t made only regarding to save her life and the remaining residues of power but it was a logical move regarding the effort to get the throne for her brother Ferdinand Habsburg, and Bratislava was offering the right conditions for these efforts thanks to its support of the Habsburg dynasty. Even though a part f the nobility chose John Zápolya for their new King, the rest refused him and convoked an assembly in 1526, that opted for Ferdinand as a new King of Hungary. It was this disjointed of society and Ferdinand´s victory that stimulated the development of Bratislava as the centre of Hungary – however, Turks, who were supporting John destroyed several villages in the city neighbourhood but never attacked the well protected city walls.

And although the siege of Vienna ended in Turkish failure, they managed to divide the Hungarian territory into three parts after the successor´s battles. The territory where Budapest is located nowadays was under control of the Sultan, so Bratislava was proclaimed a temporary Capital City in 1536. As an aftermath of tis decision the Hungarian Chamber settled there, administrating the royal possessions and collecting taxes and duties. But it was the act of coronation that represented the biggest progress for the city. Almost every Hungarian king, starting from Maximilian I in 1563, was crowned in Bratislava. The ceremony took place in the biggest temple, in St. Martin’s Cathedral and continued in Franciscan Church and on Coronation Hillock. Hungarian Assembly od Estates was meeting in Bratislava and the Governing Council resided there and moved back to Buda in 1781.

But how did Ottoman Empire influenced the life of the city habitants and their surroundings? Beside the Coronation Celebration and investments in the city development the population´s composition has changed. Of course, there was a wave of “migrants” from Lower Hungary – counting lower and middle class, but mostly Hungarian nobility and clergymen were looking for shelter in the Bratislava´s safety. Nevertheless, the surrounding villages (now the Bratislava city parts) were inhabited by Croatian or Bulgarian habitants whose land was under the Ottoman influence as well. On the contrary, the Jewish population was decreasing because they were often suspected of cooperation with Turks that many times led to a physical violence. Germans were still a mart of the city colour that provoked the spreading of Protestantism soon after its origin.

We could write that Bratislava experienced for a long period of time its “best times” right in the 16th Century since it was looted, damaged, struck by fires and epidemies of the plague in the following centuries. It was Maria Theresa that brought back the peace and prosperity, but that is another story.