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.

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 recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Many people believe that blue is the color to ward off evil spirits. I guess it worked!

Terri & James


Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

29 thoughts

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. Wow that hospital is rather sad amidst the beauty structures – and interesting that blue might have that spiritual component – 😉

    Great post with rich history (so typical here)

    1. Thanks Yvette. The interesting thing about these three buildings is they sit side by side. This ugly, derelict hospital is directly across the street from the church, and obviously, needs to be renovated or torn down … but there it sits. In the meantime, the church and gym are lovely diversions across the street. ~James

  5. As usual a beautifully written piece and that church really does look like it is covered in fondant icing 😊 We visited Bratislava old town and loved the architecture and ‘feel’ … not too busy either. Maybe it’s good that it’s not up there on the ‘in’ places to visit yet – it can retain its charm without being swamped with hoards of tourists 😍

    1. Thanks Lars and Michelle. We enjoyed our short time in Bratislava. As we’ve said, it was a pleasant decompression time. It may never get to be on anyone’s Top 10 list, but in the meantime, it has lots of small charms to offer and it makes a dandy stop if you’re in the area. ~James

  6. What a wonderful sight that blue and white church is!! Magnificent and I do love the blue against the blue sky. When we lived in Granada, Nicaragua, the nearest church was painted a similar color to this one and we always referred to it as the blue church, until one day to our shock and dismay it got painted white!

    Love the photos.


    1. Thanks Peta. I appreciate the Christian use of white and its representation of the concept of good, but this baby-blue is so much more visually appealing. I suspect that in the tropics (an area you know something about), white stands up better to hot sun and torrential rains. This is NOT a problem they have in Slovakia. 🙂 ~James

  7. “Blue is the color to ward off evil spirits” this is similar with what I learned in Turkey. They use the ‘blue eye’ to protect themselves against the evil eye. Anyway, the Church of St. Elizabeth does resemble a cake! In Indonesia volcanoes inspired people to create things, including a conical rice dish called nasi tumpeng (or tumpeng for short) which is served at celebrations, which itself inspired some architects to build tumpeng-shaped structures.

    1. As always Bama, you bring the Southeast Asian perspective to our posts, which is always an excellent addition. I’ve seen these big, conical piles of rice and didn’t know what I was looking at. Next time I’ll pay more attention.

      As for blue and evil spirits: it’s interesting that this concept crosses cultural boundaries around the globe. In the American south, people painted the ceilings of their porches the same blue to help prevent evil spirits from entering their homes. I wonder if the use of blue originated with the concept of helpful gods in a blue sky. Maybe some cultural anthroplogist will chime in and give us an idea. ~James

      1. I never realized our blue porch ceiling had anything to do with warding off evil spirits. I thought it was simply to replicate the sky as the porch floor was painted green to emulate the lawn outside. Porches were, after all, meant to be a transition going either way. Interesting point you make.

      2. When we lived in Charleston, South Carolina, we noticed that many of the mansions there had porch ceilings painted a light blue color. We discovered that the tradition had its origins in the Gullah culture, and the color is known as “Haint Blue.” The word haint is Gullah and means evil spirit. It’s equivalent in English to the word is “haunt.” This is a bit of trivia for your next porch gathering. ~James

    1. The hospital building is multi-story and quite large, so the cost to demolish would be considerable. In addition to being known for ugly buildings, the Soviets had a penchant for very large as well. ~James

  8. The church is stunningly beautiful, the clouds in the background really set it off. In the first picture, the ends of the cross remind me of Hersey Kiss cookies, maybe I’m just hungry. Great post as always!

    1. Laura, The Blue Church is one-of-a-kind, and it was a great break from normal cathedrals. Niether of us have ever seen anything like it, nor had we ever heard of it. You have to give these Art Nouveau architects credit; they knew how to design unusual buildings that captured your attention.

      And, very observant on the Hershey kiss cookies. In fact, there’s a plate full of peanut butter/kisses cookies the kitchen right now. Yummy. ~James

  9. Do you plan to hit Japan one day? I’m intrigued, considering where you’ve been already….

    I went to Asia the first time in my life this summer..Japan and Seoul, South Korea.

    1. Jean, we’ve passed through Tokyo many times, but for some reason have never spent any time there. At the time we were focused on China and SE Asia and just missed it. However, Japan and Korea are still on the list and we’ll get there eventually. ~James

      1. I recommend Kyoto highly since it was never bombed in WWII and Seoul is impressive for what they have done (and survived).

    1. Darlene, is this church not fabulous? One habit that we’ve gotten into in Europe is searching out the Art Nouveau buildings in each town. As an architect, it must have been great fun to be able to totally break the mold. A baby blue church … wonderful. ~James

What do you think? We'd love to know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s