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Bratislava may be one of Europe's smaller capital cities, but it has everything you would expect from a national metropolis. The national parliament is located here, as is the president's official residence, government ministries, and a number of historical buildings which have played a significant role in Slovak history.
The National Council of the Slovak Republic, as the parliament is officially known, is one of the most accessible public buildings in the city. In fact, it positively encourages visitors, with free daily guided tours and a professional team of communications staff. Most of the tours, of course, are in Slovak; but English-language guides can be arranged on request.
The parliament building occupies, appropriately enough, a commanding position on the hill above the River Danube next to Bratislava Castle.
Construction began under communism, in 1986 – Slovakia was then a federal unit of Czechoslovakia – but was interrupted by the fall of the regime in 1989.
A renewed impetus to complete it came with the decision, in 1992, of the Slovak and Czech Republics to separate. That occurred in 1993, and the new parliament was opened the following year.
The style of the building betrays its late-communist pedigree. But while it is not the loveliest sight in the city, the views from within are impressive: across the Danube plain to the wind turbines of neighbouring Austria; the high-rise housing of the Bratislava's Petržalka district; and, on the horizon, Hungary.
The tour includes a visit to the main debating chamber of the 150-member, unicameral parliament, and an explanation of how it functions. When parliament is in session, visitors can observe from a public gallery
Just outside the chamber is one of the parliament's most striking artworks: a series of seven vivid paintings, on wood, by acclaimed Slovak artist and illustrator Albín Brunovský.
In the lobby of the building are copies of Slovakia's official state symbol, the national flag, the constitution and the words of the national anthem, as well as its resolutions governing accession to NATO and the European Union.
Also on display there at the moment is an exhibition (with well-translated information panels in English) about the events of November 1989 which led to the end of communist rule. Known in Slovak as the Gentle Revolution, this is better known in English by its Czech name, the Velvet Revolution.
Among the many fascinating photos and documents is an early-1990 secret police communication in which the addressees are suddenly greeted as 'gentlemen' rather than 'comrades', revealing the subtle but rapid changes which were occurring at the time.
Those changes led, indirectly, to the country's independence and hence the significance of the parliament building.
Along with a sovereign parliament, Slovakia also got head of state and an independent government, both of which have their own residences. The president's is a grand 18th-century palace on Hodžovo Square, and the government's – where the prime minister has her office – is another baroque palace on Freedom Square (námestie Slobody). Neither of these buildings is normally open to the public, but the formal garden which once belonged to the presidential palace is now a public park.
To find out more about the parliament, visit its website; or to arrange an English-language tour, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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