That Bratislava’s Old Town Hall is a striking historic building that is hard to miss, but what often goes unnoticed is a cannonball stuck in the tower wall. It has been there since 1809, when Bratislava (called Pressburg back then, and one of the major cities of Austrian Empire) was bombarded by Napoleon Bonaparte.
After the bloodbath of the Battle of Austerlitz (1805), Pressburg saw Napoleon sign a peace treaty with Austria. The peace did not last long and only four years later, the power-thirsty Napoleon was again pestering Pressburg with countless troops and cannons. His troops found a base on the left side of the river Danube, in today’s suburbs called Petržalka. The cannonballs thus flew over the river over a mile’s distance.
The siege lasted for a month, during which Bratislava suffered much damage. Yet, the siege was unsuccessful and Napoleon never managed to breach the city’s defenses. Bratislava emerged victorious. More than 100 houses were damaged during the siege. Perhaps to commemorate the bittersweet victory, the inhabitants kept many of the cannonballs in the walls of their houses during subsequent repairs. They can still be found around Bratislava’s historic city center.
Several legends surround the Napoleonic siege. One tells the story of an injured French soldier, Johann Evangelist Hubert, who was treated in a hospital in Bratislava. Nursed to health by the beautiful Paulina, he fell in love, got married and stayed. He opened a sparkling wine manufactured according to the French tradition. The brand Hubert still exists until this present day.
Another legend says that Napoleon sought advice from the famous Jewish thinker and rabbi Chatam Sofer, the founder of the Pressburg yeshiva. Back then, Bratislava was an important center of Orthodox Jewish teaching.
The town hall was built in the 14th century, while the tower is an older building from the 13th century. The complex was not only used as a town hall but also as a mint, occasionally a prison, a place of trade and celebrations, a depository of the city’s arsenal, and a municipal archive. Enriched throughout the centuries with Renaissance and Baroque elements, the Town Hall still shows its original Gothic style and is one of the city’s oldest stone buildings still standing. The building houses a permanent museum exhibition of Bratislava’s history.
Know Before You Go
The cannonball is on the outside of the Town Hall, thus can be visited at any time. The museum inside the Town Hall is open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. on every week day except Monday, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.