The little blue church of Bratislava

Blue colour dominates the renowned church in Slovakia’s capital, built as a symbolic mausoleum 
for Elisabeth, the Empress of Austria

Published: 23rd June 2018 04:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd June 2018 04:05 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

HYDERABAD : Slovakia is a central European country known for its dramatic natural landscape and many castles. Near the Austrian border, Bratislava, its capital city features a pedestrian-only Old Town with a lively cafe scene. Rising on a hill above the Danube River, Bratislava Castle houses a branch of the Slovak National Museum, with displays ranging from Roman artefacts to 20th-century arts and crafts. If the readers remember well, I have already written about the castle and other highlights of this interesting city. Among all the attractions of Bratislava, the “Little Blue Church” is bound to steal your heart. It is so very pretty, looking almost like an elegantly decorated wedding cake! In fact, this cute church is also a popular wedding venue for the locals and people from the neighbouring countries.

A quick walk from the National Theatre in the Old Town took me to the church. As I turned into the lane, there stood the little blue church like a charming dollhouse, very attractive and arresting in the loveliest combination of blues – mosaics and paintwork with white detailing. The colour theme continues throughout the church, with the pews and altar painted sky blue. The Blue Church is consecrated to St Elizabeth, a medieval princess and saint, a native of Bratislava, who risked her rank by giving alms/presents to the poor. Her gifts used to turn into flowers during the times of their suffering. The mosaic above the main door clearly depicts this miracle: Saint Elisabeth, holding a bunch of flowers in her arms.

The St Elisabeth Church, known among the citizens of Bratislava as the Blue Church, a masterpiece of the Art Nouveau, based on the project of the Austrian architect Edmund Lechner, was built between the years 1909 and 1914. Its name “Blue Church” points at its uncommon design: its blue-coloured plaster and blue roof. The church was not only dedicated to Saint Elisabeth (from the Arpad-Dynasty) but also served as a chapel for students of the adjacent school, and as a symbolic mausoleum for Elisabeth, the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary who died in the year 1898.

The church was designed by Hungarian architect Ödön Lechner, known for decorating his buildings with Zsolnay tile patterns inspired by old Magyar and Turkic folk art, playfully combining oriental, Romanesque and classical features: it is an excellent example of Hungarian (not Slovakian) Secession style (Art Nouveau in simpler terms). Some feel that it also has a certain eastern feel to it while others sense a whiff of Gaudi (Barcelona fame). The same architect also designed in the same style of Hungarian Secession, the nearby grammar school on Grösslingová Street.

In this Bratislava’s most appealing building, 50 shades of blue are turned into an art nouveau delight. From the outside you can admire its powder-blue clock tower (36.8m), glinting sapphire-tinged ceramic roof and columns that look rolled in icing. During the erratic and infrequent opening hours, you can see baby-blue pews and gold decoration. The surrounding buildings too are built in the same style and mostly blend with the environs. If you are visiting the place on a Saturday, you may be lucky enough to even witness a wedding here.

It is interesting to note that both the interior and exterior of the church are painted in shades of pale blue and decorated with blue majolica; even the roof is tiled with blue-glazed ceramics.The ground floor of the church is oval. In the foreground is the high cylindrical church tower. I was told that at first, a cupola was planned, but was never constructed; instead, a barrel vault was built, topped by a hip roof.

The roof is covered with glazed bricks with decoration, for the purpose of parting. The main and side entrances are enclosed with Romanesque (an architectural style of medieval Europe characterised by semi-circular arches) double-pillars, which have an Oriental feeling. Pillars are also located near the windows. The façade was at first painted with light pastel colours. Later the church got its characteristic blue colour. A line of blue tiles and wave-strip encircles the church. The interior is richly decorated with altarpieces. On the altar too, you will find an illustration of St Elizabeth, depicted giving alms to the poor.

I remember to have seen a model of this beautiful blue church in the Mini-Europe in Brussels. If not this divine Blue Church, what else can rightly be qualified to represent Slovakia?(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; she blogs at vijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)

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