Sunday, November 08, 2009

This is a church, here is the steeple...

Bleah. Caught a mild cold. I travel to Prague tomorrow for 2-3 days, so I hope this doesn't get any worse. I used up all of my Airborne tablets earlier this week to stave off a scratchy throat when it began snowing.

So I am spending this cold Slovakian Sunday afternoon in my hotel room bed, reading the latest from Sophie Kinsella (I know she's dedicated to her craft, but she makes it look soooo easy...). I could really use some comfort food, some greasy pizza or a big bowl of pasta. God bless Slovakian cooks and entrepreneurs, but so far the pizza in Bratislava is the pits. However, I remain optimistic.

When I went for a post-breakfast walk this morning, for whatever reason I paid real attention to small, burnished bronze discs inlaid with a crown embedded into the cobblestones every 15 or 20 feet. I've seen them every day, of course, but paid them no mind. Well, this morning I noticed the discs followed a path up a shadowy and winding alley. I followed them as they curved right through a crumbling, centuries-old neighborhood. Locals glanced at me in surprise; this was off the regular tourist path.

The discs eventually led me to a massive old church, the intimdating Gothic St Martin's Cathedral, whose steeple I've seen towering over the city, but have never visited until now. Back in my hotel room, I did some Googling and discovered those bronze discs do have a purpose:

"In a city brimming with appealing architecture and numerous religious monuments, the undisputed centrepiece is the Gothic St Martin's Cathedral, built into the city fortifications, with cannons embedded in its walls. It is most famous, however, for hosting the coronations of 19 monarchs and royal consorts of the Austro-Hungarian empire during the Turkish occupation of Hungary. Maximillian II was the first ruler crowned here in 1563, with Maria Theresa, in 1741, the most notable among the others.

A metre-high replica of the crown of St. Stephen sits atop the cathedral spire, recognising the building's status. Of the crown’s 300kg bulk, eight are of solid gold used to plate it. Every September, the Coronation Bratislava festival remembers the succession of rulers by means of a parade through the city following the path of bronze discs set into the street that indicates the route taken by the regal processions.

Construction on the building itself began in the 14th century, but the church wasn't consecrated until 1452 and even then building work was still not finished. That said, churches in Slovakia can rarely be regarded as complete until a familiar sequence of destruction and reconstruction has been observed throughout the middle ages, and St Martin's is no different. It has been ravaged by fire, lightning, earthquake and highway construction, as well as by the hands of domineering architects, eager to stamp their period motifs on the structure.

Originally the site of a Romanesque chapel, the present building has appeared as a Gothic and Baroque structure, before being re-Gothicised once again in the 19th century. Its foundations are currently undergoing restoration to compensate for the vibrations generated by the traffic passing over the nearby bridge. It's good to know where your Sk40 entrance fee is being spent." [Source].

Not a bad discovery for a blustery Sunday morning, eh? The photos on St. Martin's Wiki page are kind of underwhelming, but this night shot I think more properly conveys the Cathedral's stern, dominating personality (click to embiggen).

By the way, my hotel is a few hundred meters up a short and steep hill, stage right, from the vantage point of this photo.

After poking around the perimeter of St. Martin's — and discovering a kind of sepulchre jutting out from the wall and guarded by the crumbling statue of an armed soldier tucked into one dark corner that I am going to have to investigate later — I just followed my feet around the winding path behind the Cathedral and came upon a small arts festival that was just setting up. Food, crafts, artisans, and so on.

The very first table I approached belonged to a woodworker. And on his table? Turtles! A whole herd of 'em. I bought two.

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