Located directly in the heart of Europe, the countries of Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Austria have been embroiled in some of the most pivotal moments in history. From the advent of Slavic Catholicism and the rise of the Hapsburg Empire to the start of the Great War and the fall of communism, these photos show where it all happened.
This past August, I took my family to Slovakia, my parents' birthplace. It had been 27 years since my last and only visit to this small central European country. From here, we also ventured into the Czech Republic and Austria — countries that were all united under Austria-Hungary, but divided during the Cold War. Indeed, Central Europe is a region rich in history — and the signs of its storied past are virtually everywhere. Here's a sampling of some photos I took during our travels.
Franz Ferdinand's Home
This is Konopiste Castle, the home of Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek. His assassination in 1914 sparked the Great War — along with this beer commemorating the fatal "Seven Bullets."
Described as the "little big city", Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia. It features this gorgeous castle that overlooks the Danube River.
Ignored for decades under the communists, archaeologists have started to excavate some of the areas in-and-around the castle.
This bridge in Bratislava was constructed under the communists, but they knocked down a number of precious buildings in the process, including an historic synagogue.
Monument to the Slovak National Uprising
In 1944, a number of Slovak citizens rose up against the Nazis. It's estimated that around 10,000 Slovaks were either killed or wounded during the partisan actions.
The Soviet War Memorial in Vienna
A reminder to the people of Austria that it was the Soviets who liberated them from Nazi Germany.
A Site of One of Napoleon's Greatest Victories
It doesn't look like much today, but back in 1805 it was here during the Battle of Austerlitz where Napoleon crushed the Third Coalition, a force made up of Austrian and Russian troops.
Unlike many European cities, Prague was left (relatively) untouched by the ravages of the Second World War.
The famous astronomical clock of Prague, the Orloj.
Pro-Israeli protesters outside St. Wenceslas Square.
The Ruins of Topolcany Castle
Slovakia is home to many castles, including those in pristine condition — and those left to rot. These ruins near Topolcany were particularly striking.
This is Emil, the father of my uncle-in-law. He told me stories about Nazi atrocities that made my hair stand on end. Here's a list of Jews who were killed in the Topolcany region during the Holocaust (which is where my parents come from).
Štefánika Chalet, Tatra Mountains
Located at 1,740 meters in the Tatra mountains, this is a popular destination for hikers looking for some classic Slovak cuisine or a place to sleep. But back during the 1940s it was used as a partisan safehouse and a place to hide weapons. Regrettably, it was eventually discovered by the Nazis, who shot the proprietor dead in the entranceway.
The view from Chata Štefánika.
The Oldest Slavic Catholic Church
It's in Nitra, Slovakia, where Catholicism first took root among the Slavic people back in the 880's. This castle dates to around the time — and it's still standing.
A Place of Refuge
This abandoned estate once belonged to a wealthy baron (both my grandfather and great-grandfather worked for him). But during the Second World War, a Jewish man — unbeknownst to anyone — hid in the attic for years. That window up top was his only view of the world for months on end.
The Highest Castle In Slovakia
This is Orava Castle, one of the most beautiful castles in all of Central Europe. It's located near the border with Poland and was once home to Hungarian kings. Back in 1922 it was used as a set during the filming of Nosferatu.
Reminders of communist Czechoslovakia are omnipresent, like this hideous hotel in the Tatra region.
Skulls on Display
These skulls were excavated from the Cemetery Chapel of St. Jacob at the St. Vavrnec Church. The bones date from the 15th to 18th century.
The Hapsburg Summer Palace in Vienna
Emperor Franz Joseph's summer digs.
Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna
Once the seat of the Hapsburg Monarchy, now a place for tourists to hang out.
All photos by George Dvorsky