Faces of Bratislava

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Meet Čumil. The Watcher. Bratislava superstar. Maybe he looks familiar. He’s appeared on a few lists of most creative/quirky/original statues in the world. As his notoriety grows, so do the crowds. Day and night. Summer and winter. It’s nearly impossible to get more than a second or two alone with him. Barely enough to take a quick shot, hopefully without a photobomb, and then it’s someone else’s turn. So, I was very glad to have brought my camera along during a routine walk around the old city one blustery February morning. For a few precious minutes, I had him all to myself.

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Bratislava is known for its quirky statues. Every travel blog I’ve read about the city has the obligatory photo of Čumil, Napoleon’s soldier, and the little silver gentleman tipping his hat, Schone Naci. All of them smile for the cameras. They were created during the city’s post-communist renaissance. Bratislava was a brand new capital of a brand new country. Except for a brief period during World War II, Slovakia had always been part of other countries, other kingdoms. It was time to shine.

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Vibrant colors replaced the gray. New shops and restaurants opened. Slovakia became the strongest economy of the former communist states. A country that broke away with success. Little by little, people discovered Bratislava. My husband and I would often visit when we lived in Budapest. We had our photos taken with the usual cast of characters. Another favorite, Paparazzi, peered around the corner of a restaurant with the same name. He was always there, waiting for prey.

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By the time we moved here in 2013, he had vanished. We made a few laps around the old city looking for him. Maybe we didn’t know the city as well as we thought. And then we noticed the empty restaurant windows. The telltale footprints. He was private property, part of the restaurant. As a new resident, I probably didn’t have the right to feel so disappointed at his absence.

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You can tell a lot about a place by the faces cast in bronze or chiseled into stone. A few weeks after I moved here, as I began to settle in and learn my way around, other faces became visible. Who were these people – the heroes and artistic representations of history?

The slightly bewildered looking gentleman above is Anton Bernolák, author of the first Slovak language standard, which was published in the late 18th century. Surprisingly recent for such an old language.

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On the outer reaches of the old city, far beyond the charming cobblestones and souvenir shops, the face of Romantic poet Samo Chalupka gazes over a neglected field. His expression is dignified, but without arrogance. Statues and monuments in European countries tend to be stoic, regal, distant.

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However, in the faces of Bratislava, even those of rebellion, there’s humility.

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There is one character who remains a mystery. In a small courtyard, on the slopes of the hill below the castle, she sits. Unlike the others, I haven’t been able to find out anything about her origins or what she symbolizes, if anything. Some call her Medusa, others call her a witch. I call her the Bird Lady. She is an eerie, mesmerizing presence. An enigma amongst the famous.

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61 thoughts on “Faces of Bratislava

  1. The watcher is fantastic – such a shame that the Paparazzi has gone. I remember a similar disappointment earlier in the year at Glenkiln when, expecting to find a collection of outdoor art installations, nearly all were gone – stolen or hidden away for safekeeping. You got me thinking about the statues in Hexham – the only one I can think of is the war memorial – http://tinyurl.com/l6gw5qs
    This must say something I guess – and then there is the memorial gate and the memorial cross – very sad. A thought provoking post – thanks Julie.

    • I think there’d be a riot if the Watcher ever disappeared. I’ve heard that the city is trying to get Paparazzi back, but he’s been gone for at least a year. Maybe they want an outrageous price for him.

      It’s very easy to take statues for granted or not notice them at all. Before I moved here, I never paid much attention to them.

  2. Who knows where the paparazzo went… I’m sure one day he’ll appear again hands on camera, always ready and on the run. Cumil reminded me of the violinist bursting from the floor at the foyer of the Amsterdam National Opera. Another mysterious character as the sculptor remains unknown.

    • I’ve never heard of the violinist. Sounds very intriguing. Since I’ve lived here, I’ve started to pay more attention to statues/sculptures around the world.

  3. Me too sometimes i’m not really impressed by the statues, but this article is really interesting! I’m sad for the paparazzi…he was great… but hey! the last one (the Bird Lady) was your avatar, eh eh! so mysterious!

    • Yes, she was my alter ego for a while. 😉 She is really so unusual and actually very large in real life. People often sit on her lap to have their photos taken. Even my husband did, haha.

  4. I always wondered what your old gravatar was.

    An amazing series of sculptures. Seriously, paparazzi should be returned but Cumil is the clear star. Has anyone tripped and fallen over him?

    • That’s true about the lack of smiles in statues, especially in countries that have a long history of illustrious rulers, wars, etc. It seems that Slovakia, or at least Bratislava, is going for a more playful and optimistic effect.

  5. Good evening Julie,
    I can feel from your special pictures and from your descriptions that Bratislava is dear to you. I had to smile a little bit, because we’ve also a picture of the Watcher and let’s hope that he doesn’t get to much hurt by cars!

    • And I didn’t come close to taking photos of them all. There are so many, but they blend in very well so they don’t seem overbearing. I chose to show the ones that I always stare at when I pass by, some of which never make it on other travel blogs.

  6. An interesting reminder that not even statues are as permanent as we think they are. How different Trafalgar Square in London would look without its lions! Or the ferry ride past Ellis Island, New York without the Statue of Liberty.

  7. What fun! Patty took my picture with Cumil. We didn’t see the Bird Lady. Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories.

    • The Bird Lady is kind of hidden away. I think most people find her by accident, taking a different way back down from the castle. Glad I could bring back good memories.

  8. What I love most about this, is that I learned something about Bratislava! I was there once, as a teenager, but was too busy obsessing over the Christmas markets to pay attention to what really made the city quirky. Great post!

    • Thank you. Christmas markets have a way of distracting people. But in a good way, of course.🎄The Napoleon soldier statue is right in the middle of it, so it would be easy to not see it behind the stands and lights.

  9. I have been intrigued by the “Bird Lady” ever since I first saw your avatar. As you know, I have been studying about mythology for the past few weeks. Birds have a very special place in our legends. I know that there is a story behind this statue – and that is what makes it all the more profoundly exciting. Great post, as always….

    • There’s definitely a story here, but it will take a bit of effort to unearth. When I tried to look up information about her, I only found traveler’s thoughts – most people were unnerved. They thought the birds were sinister. They demanded food or were about to attack her, or others on her command. My impression is that they love her and are telling her secrets.

  10. Hi Julie. Very nice pictures.
    One more city to put on the “to-travel-to list”!
    (I’ll need a couple more centuries to go through the list!)
    🙂
    Take care
    Brian

  11. Perhaps, perhaps she is rabenmutter (raven-mother), the tale of Anne Lisbeth.
    http://hca.gilead.org.il/anne_lis.html

    They are all such wonderful characters, perhaps if they came to life they might share stories with one another about their many happenings (and set out to search and find their friend Paparazzi), as you share such incredible grassroots tales about your life.

      • Cheers, Julie! It still maybe a little bit of over reaching on my part with the tale, as to the artist’s interpretation on the origins to the sculpture’s background. Though it was the only thing that seemed to come close enough as an answer at the time.

    • Hi Chris – I think more than a few people are disappointed to learn that he’s gone. He had really become an icon of the city. Glad you enjoyed your visit anyway.

  12. I love this faces, so intriguing each with its own story, love how you put real people mixed with the statues, love the photos, now I want to travel.

    I been saving to go to Ireland, since you told me it will be easy for me, I want to travel by my self this upcoming year hope I can do it. I been going to restaurants alone, I kind like eating alone it is so different, no wonder you like to travel alone. If I get the money will email you see if you can help me.

  13. Your travelogues make me want to travel to these places. Thanks for sharing and giving us a very pleasant tour. I always feel like I am standing right there with you. 😀

    xo,
    P

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