Date updated: 06/09/2023
208 km northeast of Bratislava is Banská Bystrica, whose name translates as "mine stream". It is one of the most beautiful places in the country - here the grandiose slopes of the Low Tatras are framed by the picturesque banks of the river Hron, and the Gothic towers and spires of Baroque churches perfectly coexist with the buildings of the socialist period. The sixth largest Slovak city, which over the millennia went from a small village to a large settlement, continues to flourish, delighting its guests with beautiful scenery, magnificent architecture and cultural monuments.
According to archaeological excavations, the first Slavic tribes appeared in the Zvolen hollow in 2000-1700 BC. At the beginning of the 13th century the land, rich in deposits of copper ore, iron and precious metals, was fond of people from Saxony. The main mass of German settlers were traders and artisans, who turned this region into a major mining center.
Mining was booming, and already in 1255 King of Hungary, Béla IV, gave the mining town the status of a town. Two centuries later the "Copper Foundry Society" appeared there, which was the biggest metallurgical works in Europe, and Banská Bystrica was talked about in all corners of the Old World.
In XVIII century the structure of the economy changed. In 1788 the last copper mines were closed. The main industries were wood processing and textile industry. The importance of the town increased with the opening of the railway lines Zvolen-Banska-Bistrica in 1873 and Banská-Bistrica-Brezno in 1884.
During World War II the town became the center of anti-Nazi opposition in Slovakia. In August 1944 it was the birthplace of one of Europe's largest anti-fascist movements, which spoiled the blood of the German occupiers. The square and the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising are reminders of those years.
Streets and squares
The most important and interesting sights for visitors are concentrated in the historic center. The heart of the city is the Slovak National Uprising Square (SNP). In its 600-year history it has seen joyous celebrations, solemn parades, major uprisings and bloody battles. Today it is a pedestrian zone and a concentration of popular sites: the Clock Tower, the Stone Fountain, the Town Hall, the House of Turzo, the Black Obelisk and the Kammerhof.
Next to SNP Square is Stefan Mojzes Square, named after one of Slovakia's religious leaders. The main local landmark are the remains of ancient buildings, which in the Middle Ages formed a castle.
Kapitulská Street begins at the square and extends all the way to Stefaníková náměstí (Stefanik's Quay). This is where the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising is located, whose whimsical silhouette stands in stark contrast to the clustered Renaissance and Baroque buildings.
In parallel to Kapitulskaya Street runs Narodnaya Street, which appeared on the city map in 1916. Among the buildings that line it, it is worth noting the cloister of the rectorate of Matej Biała University and the State Opera House, housed in the People's House.
Another central street, Dolnaya Street, is known for its mansions, each of which has an interesting history. For example, in the Betlen's House, built in 1556, the Hungarian monarch Gábor Betlen was crowned, and the nearby Moller's House still houses a medieval pharmacy. The oldest building, the Church of St. Elizabeth, was erected in 1303.
Banská Bystrica is a place where history and folk traditions perfectly coexist next to modern trends. The main event of the town is the three-day Radvanska Fair, the history of which dates back to the 17th century.
Every year in early September craftsmen from Slovakia and the neighboring countries exhibit the results of their labors there. The event invariably attracts tourists from all over the world. Every year, visitors not only buy unique works by masters of applied arts, but also take part in amusing entertainment, enjoy performances by folk groups and try national cuisine.
The second traditional event - the July festival "Pivinex" will interest the beer lovers. The culprit is Urpin beer, the recipe for which has remained unchanged since 1501. Only 4 natural ingredients are used to make this Slovak amber drink: malt, hops, yeast and water.
There are many young people in Banská Bystrica, and it is not surprising - there are three higher educational institutions in the city, where about 26 000 students study. The main and most prestigious alma mater is Matej Biała University, founded in 1992, which trains specialists in political science, international relations, law, pedagogy, philosophy, natural sciences, economics and finance.
Entertainment and Sports
There are three ski resorts within a radius of 20 km from the city. The most famous and largest of them - Donovaly - is located at the junction of the Low Tatras and Velká Fatra National Parks. Its popularity comes from the fact that it offers various difficulty levels, a wide range of services, reasonable prices, and a stable snow cover that lasts from November till the end of March.
Donovaly is divided into two zones: Nova Gola is for professionals, Zagradiste is suitable for beginners. The resort is equipped with 17 slopes, located at an altitude of 914-1,361 meters above sea level. The total length of the slopes is 11 kilometers, 1.8 of which are illuminated in the dark. To transport the sportsmen there are used 14 tugboats and two ropeways. There is a special school for those who are just learning the basics of skiing.
Fans of cross-country skiing and snowboarding are not forgotten in Donovaly. There are special routes from 9 to 17 kilometers long for the first ones, and 550 meters of tracks are available for the latter. In addition, there are all conditions for snow surfing, skating, bobsleigh and mountain climbing. Each year the resort organizes competitions on dog sledding.
In Banska Bystrica there is something for those who love swimming. The Plavaren Stiavnicky complex offers a sauna and three swimming pools, one of which is equipped with a whirlpool system. Equally popular is the water park "Plážové Kúpalisko Banská Bystrica", a favorite entertainment center for children and adults.
The first owner of the mansion on SNP Square, in front of which the town coat of arms is laid out, was Wit Mühlstein, a wealthy burgher and administrator of the city of Zvolen. In 1539 by order of King Ferdinand I. the building was given to the City Council. The two-storey building with four bronze statues on the facade has been used ever since as the town hall.
Today it is used as a venue for cultural and social events, and plays host to foreign delegations. Since 1992 the town hall has also been serving as an information center. Its tasks include providing services for tourist accommodation, guided tours, sales of souvenirs, books, discount cards, distribution of materials introducing the sights of Banská Bystrica and its surroundings.
One of the noteworthy sights adorning the Slovak National Uprising Square is the Black Obelisk. The majestic pillar is a tribute to the soldiers of the Romanian and Soviet armies who died during the bloody battles for Banská Bystrica in March 1945. According to some sources, the obelisk is made of granite prepared by Hitler for the erection of German monuments in Moscow and Leningrad.
The creation of the monument, which was carried out by the city company HORN, began on April 17, 1945, the work was completed at the end of May. The Black Obelisk, owned by the Soviet Union, was inaugurated on June 24, 1945. Every year on March 25th not only politicians and public figures of Slovakia but also representatives of foreign countries lay wreaths on the steps leading to the stele.
The "Slovak Tower of Pisa" is a 34.5-metre high structure that appeared on the Old Square (today's SNP Square) in 1554. At first it was used as an observation tower and later as a prison with torture chambers. In the 19th century a brass band played on the upper floors for the citizens.
The history of the Clock Tower is replete with numerous restorations. The clock tower acquired its current Renaissance appearance after a major reconstruction following a devastating fire in 1761. The restoration work did not go smoothly - the newly built tower deviated from its vertical axis by 68 cm. However, this is not an obstacle for tourists. The sightseeing program of visitors to Banská Bystrica necessarily includes climbing to the observation deck of the structure, which offers an enchanting view of the city and the surrounding slopes of the Low Tatras.
The red-tiled three-story baroque building on SNP Square is the representative Kammerhof, the largest building that has survived from the Middle Ages. From 1450 to 1870 the largest brewery in the city brewed its hoppy drink in its rooms.
Kammerhof is known primarily for its owners. Among the owners of the mansion were the rich landowners Karlovci, Mr. Jan Ernst the Elder and Barbara Edelrek, the favorite woman and mother of the son of the King of Hungary and Croatia Matyáš I. Korvin. The penultimate owner was a member of the Turzo family who, together with the German Fugger Bank, organized the export of Bansko-Bystrica copper to neighboring countries. From the end of the nineteenth century to the present day, the house has been the seat of the General Forestry Agency.
The Church of St. Francis Xavier
In 1503, on the site of the Church of St. Francis Xavier, reminiscent of the Roman church of Il Gesu, stood the house of the rich townsman Michael Koenigsberger, patron of many religious buildings in Banska Bystrica and its surroundings. In 1526 as a result of the miners' uprising the mansion was half-destroyed. It was decided not to rebuild the building. In 1715 a church was built there, and 61 years later it received the status of a cathedral.
In 1844 the church of St. Francis Xavier was enlarged. The facade gained two twin towers, between which ran a classical portal with four columns. In 1880 the onion domes were replaced by balustrades. In the 1970s, the interior was completely renovated, and at the beginning of the 21st century, the organ adorned the interior of the church.
In the 16th century, when the Ottoman troops continued their victorious assault on the lands of the Hungarian Empire, the miners' settlements began to build fortifications. The decision to erect the citadel was made by the Banska Bystrica city council as well. The walls of the mighty fortress were to protect the royal treasury, rich reserves of silver and copper from the enemy.
In addition to fragments of the old fortification walls, a few structures have survived to our time: the Slovak Church, the Barbacan Bastion, the late Gothic Matej´s House, the Clock Tower and the main gate, which now houses a restaurant. The most interesting is the Romanesque Church of the Assumption of St. Mary, a sacral building, the first mention of which dates back to 1442. The medieval church is famous for its bright baroque frescos and carved wooden altar created by the sculptor Pavel of Levoca.
Bývalý «Župný» dom
In one of the quiet streets of the city center there is a building that was declared a National Monument of Culture in 1955. It is a former bunghouse, built in 1768 in the Baroque style. The structure is dominated by the main staircase and the Ceremonial Hall, the windows of which overlook Lazovna Street. In the past it was the venue of speeches by prominent political and public figures, and today it is used for conferences and representation events.
Throughout its existence the building has been used for administrative purposes. From 1769 to 1923 it was the seat of the district authorities, which moved there from the town of Zvolen. Until the middle of the 20th century the premises of the building were used as public (later National Scientific) Library. In 1969 the Literary and Music Museum was created on its premises. Part of the premises were occupied by the separate Office of the Slovak President.