This morning I headed east to the medieval town of Banska Stiavnica, often called Silver Town, about 2 hours drive from Bratislava. Bankska Stiavnica is located in the middle of a caldera created by the collapse of a volcano in central Slovakia. Its history has been closely linked to the mining of silver ore since it sits atop the Theresa Vein which is one of the richest deposits of silver during the Middle Ages. From the 10th century, it was settled by early Slavs who was joined by skilled German artisans in the 13th century when the town became important. In 1238, it gained the status of one of the first royal towns in the Kingdom of Hungary and was the main producer of silver and gold in Central Europe. Because of the abundance of resources and the threat of the Ottomans, Banska Stiavnica built powerful fortifications including two castles. This small mining town has always been in the forefront of mining technology such as using gunpowder and explosives as well as building a sophisticated system to drain water from flooded mines. It is here that the first mining school in the Kingdom of Hungary was founded and this Academy of Mining and Forestry became the first technical university in the world. Bankska Stiavnica and its surroundings were made an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
The heart of Banksa Stiavnica is the Holy Trinity Square lined by burgher houses with a large red stone baroque sculpture built in memory of the victims of the plague that killed half the town at the end of the 18th century. On the square is a mineralogical museum housed in the same building as the tourist information office. As the town is built against the sides of the volcano caldera, it is a very hilly area filled with hundreds of stairs, some quite steep. Also you will notice many of the houses have their entrances on the top floor of their house with the rest of the house built below.
Looking over the town is the Banska Stiavnica Old Castle or Stary Zamok which was originally a church and the first church here. Because of its location overlooking the town, it was later fortified in 1564 to protect from Ottoman invasions. Most visitors come here nowadays to see the medieval prison which was nicknamed Himmelreich (the kingdom of heaven). At the other end of town is the Banksa Stiavnica New Castle or Novy Zamok built in the 16th century as a signal tower to watch out for Ottoman invasions as they waged war on the Kingdom of Hungary. There are some exhibitions here of medieval weaponry and old parchments. During the medieval times, there was a guard in the New Castle tower who was supposed to blow his horn every 15 minutes to let the town know that he was on watch and that there was no imminent invasion.
The Calvary of Banska Stiavnica is said to be the most important one in Slovakia as well as being one of the most beautiful baroque ones in Europe. A calvary is a sacred set of Christian chapels built on a hill intended to represent the passion of Christ from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to his crucifixion and death. Calvary was the name of the hill in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. The Calvary here has three churches and 22 ornate chapels and was built in 1751 to promote the Jesuit faith. Although allowed to fall into disrepair, it has been painstakingly restored over the past 11 years and reopened to the public at the end of 2018. It was the center of religious life in Banksa Stiavnica from the 1750s and still remains a pilgrimage site today. It is a bit of a climb up to the top but trust me it is well worth the effort.
Banska Stiavnica is a treasure trove of medieval buildings and historical sites being the third largest town in the Kingdom of Hungary. The town appears to have been magically frozen in time because there hasn’t been much development after it lost its importance with the decline in the mining industry. The pace of life here is slow and it is the perfect place to sit at a cafe for a drink and watch the world go by.
Next post will be on the Unesco wooden articled Hronsek Church about 40 minutes away. Stay tuned!
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