On the Danube River at the foothills of the Little Carpathian Mountains, Bratislava was historically one of the most important cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Nestled in the crossroads of Mediterranean, Oriental, and inland continental European cultures, this city of 500,000 has a colorful history. The beautifully renovated Bratislava Old Town is home to Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. From the royal Bratislava Castle on a clear day one can see as far as Vienna and Hungary. Empress Maria Theresa was crowned here along with 19 other monarchs, giving Bratislava the nickname ‘Coronation Town.’
The Jewish community of Bratislava, whose origins can be traced back to medieval times, has played a major role throughout history, at times making up one third of the entire city population. Jews from the world over travel to Bratislava to learn about the great rabbinic scholar of Chatam Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762 – 1839). Born in Frankfurt, he became head Rabbi in Bratislava in 1806, leading the community for the next three decades. The Halachic authority of his time, his grave and the mausoleum created around it--the haunting underground Chatam Sofer Memorial--receive a steady stream of visitors.
Documenting the community's history, Bratislava’s Jewish museum is located on Ulica Zidovska (the Jewish Street). Known as the Museum of Jewish Culture it was established in 1993 in order to raise awareness of the rich Jewish-Slovak legacy and is a branch of the Slovak National Museum. Nearby we also find the Jewish Community Museum, which is part of the only remaining, and still functioning, Heydukova Street Synagogue, built in 1920. Both are a must-see. Bratislava even has its own small memorial to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives, amongst them many from Bratislava.
In the wake of the Communist era, young Jews of Slovakia are being encouraged to embrace their heritage and there is now a small (approximately 1,000 people) but diverse Jewish community here. One can enjoy a meal at the Jewish Community kosher canteen.
A cruise tour can start in Bratislava or in Vienna, which is located just 40 miles away.