Most visitors remain within the confines of the old town area with the exception of a climb up to the castle and perhaps a peek at the inverted pyramid of the Slovak national radio building in the new town. Yet almost every single visitor to Bratislava ignores what is, in my opinion, one of the most striking and moving sights in the entire city, the Slavin war memorial.
There are several reasons for the memorial being ignored by so many. Firstly, it is up on a hill and so after visitors have hoisted themselves up to the castle they are wary of yet another climb. Secondly, Soviet Realism was never the most popular of artistic and architectural styles so the monuments blocky, solid style will not attract as many people as the ‘fairytale’ castle. Lastly, the war memorial is also a grave and this will give many holidaymakers a sense of gloom and sadness that they do not want. But anyone falling for these flimsy excuses is missing out.
The memorial itself is favourably impressive. Standing at 40 metres high and with a 10 metre statue on top it seems to soar into sky above, its flag bravely trying to flutter in the breeze. The soldier represents a conqueror as he beats back the Nazis but this also has a second meaning since after 1945 Slovakia, along with most of Eastern Europe, was held under Soviet domination by the same soldiers who had liberated them not so long before.
In all 6,845 of those soldiers are buried around the memorial, some in individual graves with headstones but most lie unidentified in mass graves. In Russian tradition many of the headstones carry pictures of the men they commemorate which means visitors can look at the faces of the men who died fighting here. This can be an eerie experience but fascinating as well.
The historical significance of the memorial makes it worth the climb but more impressive than that is the view. The view from the castle is as nothing in comparison to the sweeping vista across the city and beyond offered from Slavin. Visitors can circle the memorial for a full panorama or simply sit and gaze for hours into the firmament. The peace and tranquillity work in excellent tandem with the sweeping landscape to produce one of the most serene impressions I have ever known.
The only dull aspects of the memorial are the pillars of peace. I was expecting these to be more inspiring than some sticks of wood stuck into the ground to one side of the memorial grounds. ‘May peace reign over the earth’ they declare while looking like a stiff breeze would immediately topple them over. But maybe I should salute the sentiment rather than criticise its expression.
Photo ot the Slavin War Memorial in Bratislava, Slovakia, by jmenard48