The castle of Devin is situated in the territory of the capital of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava. Protected by a mountain massif from the north and irrigated by two river, it was providing suitable conditions for the life of people since the 6th century B.C. In the 3d centuries B.C. Celts were coming from the upper flow of the river Rhine /today Germany/. The Celtic settlement at Devin was destroyed in the third decades of A.C. by German troops that were occupying Western Slovakia. At the end of the 1st century B.C., the Roman shifted the border of their empire to the middle flow of teh Danube river. Around the year 400, the location was settled by groups of Quads and withing the following decades, Devin had become home to separate groups of various tribes-Goths, Vandals, Gepids, Alans, Heruls, Rugis, Longobards. In the middle of the 5th century the first Slavs started to penetrating in to Devin territory. In the beginning of the 7th century, the Danubian Slavs established the first Slavic political formation – a military tribal union known as Samo’s Empire. Establishment of the hillfort over the confluence of the Danube and Morava river followed. Its dominant component was a massive rocky cliff towering above the river flows. Its northern slope created natural terraces providing suitable conditions for dwelling. The Devin Castle became a significant place for our Slavic ancestors for a long period of time and it’s signifiance in Slovak patriotism as a symbol of statehood and a holder of cultural tradition is visible today.
I WAS BORN IN SLOVAKIA TO CROATIAN MIGRANTS WHO SETTLED NOT FAR FROM DEVIN IN A STONE BREAKING MINE IN THE 15th CENTURY. AROUND THIS TIME A SIGNIFICANT ARISTOCRATIC FAMILY COMING FROM CROATIA – ‘ LORDS OF GARA’ SETTLED IN DEVIN’S CASTLE TOO. Members of their family as well as mine came from the location of Gara /today’s Gorje near Vukovar/. I ask myself, am I Slovak or Croat, am I descendant of a poor stone-breaker or a lost child of Lord of Gara? I would never know, but that is the magic of this ancient place, which was crisscrossed by a myriad of nationalities throughout the history, captured and occupied by various kings and heads of states, however won over at last by Slovak patriots. A tiny speck in a heart of Europe. Slovakia and it’s entry point – the castle of Devin.
APRIL 19, 2008
/ Charles Village inhabited in Stone Age by hunters and gatherers,
in the 14th Century Hungarian King Charles gave this land to the village-mayor Jacob who founded here large vineyards. The old historic part was destructed in 1960 due to the construction of new Bratislava out-of –town residential area./
Basha sighed with a relief when the taxi driver turned onto the one of the bridges and we crossed Danube river to reach the old historical centre of the city on the other side.
“ Look at this old church under the castle, is there a golden crown on the top?” She pointed the old St Martin’s Church, which the communist left to stand on the side of their cement bridge as the lonely reminder of old royal era.
I sighed slightly: “ In the 16th century when the Austrian and Hungarian kingdoms joined together to fight Turks, Bratislava became their crowned city. Ten kings have been crowned in the church you mentioned.”
Basha turned to me in a surprise: “ How do you know all of this?”
I shrugged the shoulders: “ I grew up on the stories about the Austro-Hungarian kings and their lords and knights building hundreds stone castles in our country.”
The Taxi driver turned to us with bored look: “ Where do you want to go exactly?”
I said the destination and he turned sharply to the left passing skillfully full transport buses and slowly moving old red trams.
I pointed at the tram shuffling along her path and ringing at every stop: “ I used to travel on this one every morning to the school, it took me ages.”
“ My family used to own a big vineyard there on the hill,” the old taxi driver said
suddenly pointing on the hill covered in grey identical blocks of flats: “ Before the communists took it and housed us in those ones. I live in one in the middle.”
“ Not them again,” Basha closed her eyes when grey buildings appeared again in front of us: “ I thought we just left them behind.”
I looked at her crossly and moved closely to the driver: “ My stepfather’s father used to own a big vineyard here too. Malik his name.”
The taxi driver scratched his head: “ My father would know, but that name rings the bell.”
I looked out of the window and then mentioned: “ My stepfather was managing the district hospital nearby.”
“ Vlado,” The driver banged his head: “ My father used to go to school with him, good chap, your stepfather,” he turned and winked at me:
“ A clever doctor, a big communist too, but good one, just not very lucky with women, I heard, how is he?”
I turned back to the window and whispered: “ He passed away two years ago.”
“ Sorry to hear that,” he coughed uncomfortably: “ My father was very grateful to him to the end, ” he wiped his eyes and stepped on the accelerator harder: “ He died of cancer, lung cancer, my pop, drinking and smoking too much I bet, but Vlado always found a bed for him in his hospital.
“ What is he talking about, I don’t understand?” Basha whispered to me in English, but before I could answer I saw driver’s suspicious eyes in the mirror.
“ But we always brought a live chicken, a half of the pig or a bag of home made sausages or bacon to your stepfather, mind you, to show our gratitude…”
“ I remember,” I whispered: “ His tiny storing room always looked like some ‘butcher’ shop, I remember my Mum complaining about it.”
The taxi driver suddenly slowed down in the back road full of parking cars with endless rows of the identical grey flats on both sides: “ It is here somewhere as I remember,” he mumbled avoiding cautiously rows of over spilling rubbish bins:
“ That mother of yours, some great lady, always with her nose up looking down at poor working class, I bet she is well off now…”
“ It’s here, thank you,” I pushed 50 crowns into his hand and rushed out.
He went out and opened the rear. Pulling my big suitcase out of the car he continued: “ Every one knows that communists on the top managed to fill their pockets with government money before it fell down.”
I nodded and took the suitcase. He counted the notes and waved his hand.
I pulled the suitcase behind me and entered another chipped glassed door. But I remembered this cramped dark hall with its tiny wooden lift so well.
I have spent five years in this place but still gave me a feeling of unease.
“ What was it all about?” I looked at my daughter who stood there confused and called the lift down: “ Never mind, we are coming to see your Grandmother.”