Architecture / Slovakia / Travel

A Gem and a Gym: Bratislava’s Art Nouveau

Blue Cross

On a crisp Fall day with clear, azure skies it’s hard to take a bad photo – but I’m having no luck. It’s “Blue on Blue.” My subject seems to blend right into the sky and nearly disappear – except for the white icing and sparkly bits.

Blue Church Steeple

I swivel around looking for a fluffy white cloud to use as a backdrop. After a week of overcast and gloomy weather I’ve yearned for bright skies to take some cheerful shots, never dreaming I’d be photographing something the same color as the wild blue yonder.Blue_Church_Bratislava_(frente) - Version 2

We’ve gone off the beaten path and found our way to one of Bratislava’s hidden gems tucked away in a quiet neighborhood – the Church of St. Elizabeth. Fondly known as the “Blue Church,” it appears to have been sculpted in fondant for the most elegant of wedding cakes.

Formed in undulating concrete and plaster, painted many shades of blue, adorned with intricate tile mosaics, and topped with a blue-glazed roof, it’s a jaw-dropping vision. Designed by Budapest Architect Ödön Lechner (known as the Hungarian Gaudi) in the Hungarian Art Nouveau Style, it was consecrated in 1913.St Elisabeth

The amazement continues on the interior. Blue prevails throughout. With a single nave and plenty of seating, this church is a wedding machine on weekends.Blue Church Interior

Gymnazium Entrance

Lechner wasn’t finished. He also designed the beautifully restored Gymnázia Grösslingová (High School) next door in the same architectural style, with some fun, quirky details.

But no one wants to claim responsibility for the sad building directly across the street from the Blue Church. This abandoned Soviet hospital stands in stark contrast to the elegant Art Nouveau buildings.Soviet Hospital

As we’ve often seen in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe, it was typical for the Russian government to flex their muscles, particularly when it came to religious institutions.

In 1936 the Soviets built this drab, boxy, concrete hospital, with idealized sculptures depicting Soviet workers, facing the entry to this beautiful church. In was truly an “in your face” reminder of who held the power.

However, the Blue Church has prevailed, and just celebrated its 100th anniversary. Many people believe that blue is the color to ward off evil spirits. I guess it worked!


Evil EyeInterested in all things Blue or Art Nouveau? Then you may like these posts:

Riga’s Beautiful Art Nouveau: The Icing On the Cake

Capture the Colour: Blue on Blue

66 thoughts on “A Gem and a Gym: Bratislava’s Art Nouveau

    • Thanks very much Andrew. I just read your posts on Bratislava – great photos and excellent descriptions. It sounds like you thoroughly explored the city. We missed the castle, so I was glad to read about it. All the best, Terri

  1. You came upon an amazing gem on your ABC Tour. The blue colors and architectural touches are so attractive you must feel like you have to look inside. The contrast with ‘socialist design’ structures is so dramatic! I see that in Croatia, the Communist era buildings that today look so drab and dreary. The old people here who remember socialism say it was a blight on their long history. Thanks for sharing the cheery images. I look forward to seeing them for myself one day. – Mike

    • Mike, I love your term “ABC Tour” – so perfect! 🙂 The church and gymnasium were wonderful finds. We saw the school first and giggled at the snaily-dragon creatures hanging over the downspouts … and when we turned the corner and saw the Blue Church it was smiles all around. Fortunately there were other buildings in the neighborhood with similar charm that helped distract from the dour hospital. ~Terri

  2. You’re the best at describing. Saying this looks as if it had been wrapped in fondant is perfect for this elegant Blue Church, and your pictures against the sky don’t detract one bit. Thanks for sharing.

    • Aww Rusha, thanks so much! When I wrote it James said, “What in the world is fondant?” So I channeled my mother and said, “Look it up!” When he did, he turned to me with a big smile and said, “Perfect!” 🙂 ~Terri

  3. Thanks for your great pictures! I love them! Now I have to add this to my bucket list as well, I’m afraid! (The list is getting longer and longer…) It reminds me a little of the Croatian Art Nouveau buildings I posted earlier, but those are yellow…

  4. Wow Terri, you’re absolutely right about the Blue Church – it looks as though it was edible, like something out of Hansel and Gretel! The same goes for the high school, if the interiors are anything like the outside, its students must be eternally distracted. 🙂

    I agree about the Soviet Hospital next door… there is potential there for a beautiful building. Those solemn sculptures would look very different painted in whimsical colours.

    • The High School really had wonderful touches of whimsy, James. My favorite elements were the strange, horned creatures on the roof above the downspouts. I watched the teenagers coming and going – seemingly oblivious to the wonderful building they were inhabiting.

      I was fascinated by the Soviet Hospital – that it hadn’t been repurposed. But it seems that nobody wants to talk about it. My guess is that there is more to the story there, so I’m going to keep digging. 🙂 ~Terri

      • If you’ve got the year (1936) of construction correct for the hospital, then it is not Russian or Soviet since they did not invade Bratislava until April, 1945.

      • Chris, thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. This is one of our older posts, and honestly, I don’t remember where I got the 1936 date. It’s so specific that either it was on the building or I found it somewhere in an online reference. I take your point about the date of the Russian invasion, so what you say makes sense. We’ve seen lots of Soviet-era architecture in Eastern Europe, and at the time, I just assumed this was another example. Thanks for the correction. Do you have any ideas on the when it was built? ~James

  5. It doesn’t look like you had trouble – these are stunning photos! Blue is my favorite color, and I’m amazed by how the sky participated by matching and blending – especially in the third photo down. Seriously, I would frame these!!! 🙂

    • Thanks Anita. We really didn’t realize the photos with the sky were going to turn out SO blue until we got back to the apartment and loaded them onto the computer. Wow! The weather had been so gloomy for a week that we were thrilled to get some blue sky … we just never anticipated the results! 🙂 ~Terri

  6. Wow, breathtaking, and also a lot of symbolism throughout. I am wondering if there is Masonry in the architecture design. It is the first thing that came to mind when I saw it. Have to google it out. Thank you for sharing so many wonderful places with us. It is eye candy and I certainly enjoy your pictures. It is like I am traveling along 🙂

    • How wonderfully observant, Maria. When I saw the “All-Knowing Eye” at the top of the steeple I wondered the same thing. St Elisabeth’s is a Catholic church, and I believe that they use the same symbolism. What other elements made you wonder about the Masons? ~Terri

      • I’m not sure but it reminded me of it – besides the eye, the stars, heart, fleur de lis, double colums, the twelve star flowers at the entrance, the compass like shape (at the cupula), moon, bubble cross … all those things but of course it might not.

      • Maria, what a keen eye you have for detail. I searched online and it appears that others have wondered the same thing, but I could not find anything conclusive. Let me know if you do. ~Terri

      • I searched too, but could not find anything either. The only thing I found is that he had a disciple Bela Lajta, whom he taught and worked together in different projects, and Bela Lajta was a freemason, and influenced greatly by him.

    • Many thanks Darlene. I’d never seen the plaster technique used before, so I was hooked! Then all the additional details just kept me circling the church looking for more. I’m hoping that the city will come up with some attractive repurposing for the abandoned hospital. So glad you stopped by. ~Terri

    • Thanks a bunch Margo – much appreciated. I don’t think we’d ever seen anything so blue throughout – so we just went with it! And finding that panorama of the inside was just icing on the proverbial cake. 🙂 ~Terri

  7. Once again, you captured the interesting details (which I would love to have seen for real). You did exceptionally well with the ‘blue on blue’.

  8. Looking at these photos put a huge smile on my face. ^_____^
    The church indeed is very lovely especially on a really good day. I didn’t realize that the gym was also designed by the one who designed the church. Even without knowing, it really caught my eye. No wonder…. I wish I was able to inside it as well. Oh, sometimes my instincts are just flying around. Thanks for this and for the trip down memorylane. ^_^ xo

    • Hi Kate, So glad you stopped by. When we were walking to the Blue Church we passed the Gymnasium first and fell in love with all its cool, little details – wavy green fence, funny creatures on the roof, classy sundial. Like you, we didn’t know it was the same architect until we did some further research. I loved your post on Bratislava – when were you there? ~Terri

      • Hi Terri! I visited some time in September last year. The weather was very pleasant although it got a bit hot by noon. 🙂 Thanks for the nice words 😀

    • Many thanks Patrick. We were so pleasantly surprised by Bratislava in every way. What a perfect setting for the European month of Photography. What were some of your favorite captures? ~Terri

  9. This church reminded me of the unusual, striking churches we found scattered throughout Mexico, and yes, I do believe it wins over the stark, drab Soviet hospital.

  10. Hi Terri and Jame’s, I hope you don’t mind but i’ve linked back to yout posts on Bratislava at the bottom of my blog post which will be published tomorrow morning at about 5.00am Australian time. I really loved these posts of yours. They just brought back some wonderful memories of this fun filled city.

  11. Pingback: Day 13 – Bratislava; The City of Fun. | European Holiday and River Cruising Memoirs

  12. Michelle, Thanks so much for linking to our Bratislava posts – so glad that you liked them. We consider that a huge compliment and sincerely appreciate it. Can’t wait to read your posts. All the best, Terri and James

  13. Hi Terri and James! Loved this post! I didn’t get to see that when I was last in Bratislava. After living for ten years in Baku Azerbaijan seeing these Soviet relics isn’t surprising, but the Blue Church certainly is! Wish I had been able to see this.

    Coming from Baku at that time, Bratislava was like the western world. I had to do some stock up shopping so I went across the river to Soviet era Petrazhalka, to the “big” Tesco, and it was like the color had gone from the skies. Back at the (little) Tesco in downtown, it was bright and color-filled… night and day difference. Like your church vs hospital scene. Interesting.

    The plaster technique on the Blue Church reminds me of many buildings in Baku, particularly the recently renovated Philharmonia ( I wonder if it was a generational skill or a cultural thing? Any ideas?

    • Thank you so much Jonelle. I bet that living in Baku was absolutely fascinating. What an incredible history it has! And I can certainly appreciate that coming to Bratislava provided a taste of the “West.” We had a similar experience when we lived in Khartoum, Sudan and would travel to anywhere in Europe. Going from the Khartoum Souk to a real grocery store was definitely culture shock. 🙂

      The Blue Church was a bit off the beaten path, so we were really glad we persevered. Your question about the plaster technique is excellent … and I don’t know! James and I talked about it and we think you’re right on both counts – it’s both generational and cultural. And we can only hope that the cultural history and architectural skills are being taught to new generations.

      We are so glad you stopped by Jonelle, and I can’t wait to check our your Baku stories. All the best, Terri

      • First, thank you for spending time perusing Life Lessons… coming from you two, that’s a compliment! Thank you for the “likes” – I appreciate that very much.

        Terri, your reply reminded me of a friend who moved back to Washington, DC, and was so enamored of the plaster work in Baku (and elsewhere, as we’ve discovered) that she created a contract for a team from Baku to come over and work (airfare, visas and all) for about 4 months doing similar work for her renovation of an old flat in DC. They also ended up doing parquet floors in one of the fancy patterns that looked stunning. They added 10x in value over the cost.

        So there are still guys who can do it; but just not here — or maybe they can but it’s so cost prohibitive here that it isn’t seen much, at least not at my life level 😉

  14. Pingback: Feeling Blue in Bratislava… | Fabulous 50's

    • Thanks for the link to our Bratislava post Sherry. I love your photo of the interior of the church. It was closed the day we visited, and we weren’t able to see inside. ~James

    • I loved this 360 as well. I wish I knew someone who could explain how it’s done, because the effect is wonderful. This is a marvelous building, and because it sits directly across the street from an ugly, gray, derelict, Soviet-Era box makes it shine all the more. ~James

    • I agree Henry. Most of the tourists we saw there were from river cruise boats and at end of the day, the place was deserted. It’s too bad more people don’t visit, and in fact, it’s so close to Vienna, I’m surprised more “country counters” don’t. ~James

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