Bratislava Castle - an ancient fortress finds a new role in the age ofterrorism


US President George W Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at a special summit in the Slovak capital Bratislava next week. They will sign agreements on arms limitation and they'll also explore ways to co-operate in what both countries call "the war on terrorism". Security for the summit will be extremely tight and Slovak authorities reckon they' have found the most secure place of all for the Bush-Putin summit - Bratislava Castle.

Standing on the windswept ramparts of Bratislava Castle one can easily see why a fortress has guarded this place for well over a thousand years. Immediately below is the wide sweep of the Danube River and a grand view over the city of Bratislava. To the West on a clear day one can see the Austrian capital Vienna and to the south east lies Hungary. It's an obvious location for a castle and for a summit between two leaders who demand extraordinary security...

"We had a visit from the advance teams from the United States and the Russian Federation and we showed them a series of options where they could hold the summit between Presidents Bush and Putin - and they really liked the castle."

...the spokesman for the Slovak Foreign Ministry, Juraj Tomaga. When it comes to castles - and security, position it seems is everything. Linda Eshovitzervaa is an expert on Bratislava castle and standing on one of its terraces high over the city she told me a little of its history.

"Before the bridges were built in Bratislava it was very important because only the fort could be used to cross the Danube here so that's why maybe this place was chosen and the castle was built here. And even the Celts in the fifth century before Christ, they chose the castle hill for their fortress."

In choosing the Castle Hill for the Bush-Putin summit Slovakia's security chiefs believe they have made a safe bet. But this is still the biggest security operation in the country's history, with a budget of 3.2 million dollars and over five thousand soldiers and police being deployed. The government is very aware that it will only be a public relations coup if all goes smoothly..

"It's an excellent opportunity to make Slovakia known all over the world because we expect about two thousand journalists from all the relevant media."

Castles rise and fall and rise again and Bratislava castle has seen more than its fair share of burnings and rebuilding. But there've been good times as well as bad and according to Linda Eshovitzerva the best times were in the eighteenth century when a certain Austrian empress did a bit of redecorating and let the walls ring to the sounds of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and others..

Maria Theresa
"It was the reign of Maria Theresa who was considered the greatest ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the time the castle was rebuilt from mediaeval dark fortress into luxury rococo residence and it started to, I would say living, that's why I would say this was the most important period."

As the Presidents drive up the narrow streets to the castle they'll catch a glimpse of a towering monument on a nearby hill. For the Russians this is a reminder of recent history when in the closing days of World War Two Russian forces liberated this part of Europe from Nazi Germany.

"That memorial called Slavene can be seen, as for example the castle, from almost everywhere and there the Russians can find six thousand soviet soldiers buried. So this place will be very important for them."

Slovakia is hoping the castle will provide not only a place that's easy to secure from terrorist attack - but an attractive symbol for the world media's television cameras to focus on.