The first and most striking architectural impression that many visitors get of Bratislava is from the ranks of multi-storey concrete housing blocks that loom as you approach the city from Austria. Known as paneláky because of the prefabricated concrete sections used to make them, they were built to house Czechoslovakia's rapidly urbanising postwar population. The first in Slovakia went up in Bratislava's Kmeťovo Square in 1956, but the most obvious group is in the Petržalka district, south of the river. Most of Petržalka's 120,000 residents live in paneláky whose apartments, despite their drab external appearance, are normally comfortable and well-equipped. Petržalka's scale is best appreciated from the castle, or the Slavín war memorial.
The second and third things most people notice are the castle and the New Bridge. The castle is currently undergoing restoration, but its solid exterior has already emerged a slightly Disneyfied white (before, it was a dirty beige), impressively floodlit at night. The bridge, with its distinctive asymmetric cable-stayed construction, opened in 1972. The 'UFO' pod on top of the main pylon contains a bar-restaurant, reached via a lift inside the east column, with panoramic views over the city.
One unfortunate result of the bridge's construction was the demolition in the late 1960s of a significant portion of the city's already-small old town. Almost all of the ancient Jewish quarter was bulldozed, including a large Moorish synagogue which once stood near St Martin's Cathedral. Traffic from the bridge now passes just a few metres from the cathedral, which has gone through several architectural incarnations over the centuries, ending up a rather dour Gothic. Opposite it, across the road, is one of the city's prettiest Rococo buildings, known as the 'House at the Good Shepherd'.
The remaining old town is full of charming buildings, in a range of styles, most of which have been diligently restored since 1989. They are perhaps best appreciated simply by wandering through its pedestrianised streets and courtyards. Regular walking tours, providing a wealth of local detail, leave daily from the main tourist information centre.
Just outside the old town, one or two oddities merit a mention: the inverted pyramid of the Slovenský Rozhlas radio broadcasting building on Mýtna Street; the Hotel Kyjev on Rajská Street, whose gloomy but kitsch 1970s lobby has been faithfully preserved; and what may be Bratislava's prettiest church, St Elizabeth's on Bezručova, whose enchanting baby-blue Secession exterior mean it is known locally simply as 'the Blue Church'.
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