Date updated: 06/09/2023
There is a legend in Central Slovakia that goes back to the 12th century. An old man, grazing his goats in a valley at the foot of the Štiavnické Vrchy Mountains, saw strange lizards sitting on a boulder. One was silver, the other golden. Pushing the boulder away, the shepherd discovered gold and silver nuggets - precious metals that made the mining town of Banská Štiavnica famous. The former industrial center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is now an ideal place for rest, attracting tourists with its picturesque nature and charming architecture.
A bit of history
The Slovak town of Banská Štiavnica, 180 km northeast of Bratislava, was founded on the site of a Celtic settlement. As early as the 2nd century BC ancient tribes were engaged in mining and extraction of minerals. This fact is confirmed by findings of archeologists - silver 16.5 gram coins - biatheca found in the vicinity of Zvolen.
In 1156 Banská Štiavnica was first mentioned in a document as terra banensium, rich in silver and gold deposits. After 82 years, the settlement, which was given the status of a free city by the Hungarian King Bela IV, began to actively inhabit the miners from Saxony and Tyrol.
In the 17th century the city rose to fame. Research, scientific and educational institutions were established to develop the mining industry. In 1627 gunpowder, which greatly accelerated the crushing of rocks, began to be used here. In 1735 in Banská Štiavnica there opened the first mining school in Austria-Hungary, and 27 years later there opened the Academy of Mining Engineering, founded by order of Empress Maria Theresia.
Mining declined in the 19th century. The last mining company closed in 1994. A year earlier, Banská Štiavnica and its surroundings were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. And in 2017, the Community of Evangelical Churches awarded the town the honorary title "City of the European Reformation".
Famous city sites
Surrounded by mountains, this cozy town, once under the patronage of the Austro-Hungarian monarchs, is still full of medieval charm today. Here Baroque mansions are flanked by Gothic churches, and the mountainous landscape gives the local streets bizarre shapes.
Banská Štiavnica hiking trails traditionally begin on the Námestie svätej Trojice (Holy Trinity Square), founded in the 16th century. Its dominant feature is the marble Plague Column, erected in 1764 as a symbol of the victory over the European epidemic that took thousands of lives.
The central part of the town is surrounded by Renaissance and late Gothic buildings - the former estates of rich burghers and mine owners. One of the most important architectural monuments is Žemberovský dom (Žemberovský dom). In the 19th century, this three-storey mansion with a classic faсade was used for lecture rooms of the Mining and Forestry Academy, and now it houses the Tax Office, the Town Hall and a cinema.
Another famous building located at the junction of the Holy Trinity Square and Town Hall Square is the Fritzov dom. The magnificent Renaissance mansion, whose stone facade is decorated with pilasters and intricate graphite paintings, today houses the documents of the Slovak Mining Archives.
The Town Hall Tower, towering in the historic center of Banská Štiavnica, is visible from afar. The City Council House, rebuilt from a single-story Gothic mansion from the 14th century, has two curious details. The front entrance is at the rear of the building, and the long minute hand of the clock chimes the hours (and vice versa). Inside the building, the hall of meetings, the ceiling of which is decorated with Baroque frescoes, deserves attention.
The Town Hall has got its present appearance as a result of the global reconstruction of 1788. Unfortunately, the Chapel of St. Anne, which adjoined the building, did not survive to this day. Today the statue of Our Lady occupies its place.
For centuries, Banská Štiavnica was a city dominated by Protestantism. However, in a country dominated by Catholicism, Lutherans had no right to build their own church. Such an opportunity presented itself only at the end of the 18th century. In 1796, the first Evangelical church was built on Town Hall Square, based on a design by the Viennese architect J. Taller.
The external appearance of the temple was adapted to the architecture of the surrounding buildings. You can guess that it is a church only by a powerful dome topped with a cross. The interior decoration also differs from the rich interiors of Catholic basilicas - here there are no fanciful moldings, marble columns and plenty of sculptures. The main decoration of the elliptical nave is the baroque organ from 1797, the work of the Bratislava master Valentin Arnold.
The word "Calvary" in the Catholic world refers to sacral buildings located on high ground, places which imitate the Savior's way to Calvary. One of the most beautiful Calvary in the Old World is in Banská Štiavnica. The initiator of the construction, which began in 1744, was a member of the Jesuit order, the Reverend Father Franz Perger.
Seven years later, a religious architectural complex appeared on top of Scharfenberg Hill, which became a popular place of pilgrimage. The Calvary of Banskošťavnice included a trichrame, the sculptures The Tomb of God, The Dungeon, and 17 chapels decorated with bas-reliefs depicting the last journey on earth of Jesus Christ.
In 2007, Calvary was included in the list of one hundred endangered monuments of the world. In 2008, reconstruction began, organized by volunteers.
In the middle of the 16th century, the victorious march of the Ottoman army caused the mass construction of structures that protected the settlements of the Hungarian kingdom from the enemy. Banská Štiavnica was no exception. In 1554 a double fortification wall with five gates was built around the mining town. Only one of them, the Piarg gate, designed to block the entrance to the fortified territory from the Levice direction, has been preserved to our time.
The original Piarg gate consisted of a prismatic tower with a low passageway cut down on the ground floor. It was defended on all sides by wooden bastions, of which only the western one remains in its historical position. The eastern bastion was destroyed during the Second World War, the southern and northern ones can be found in the villages of Chondrusa Hamre and Stiavnickie Bani.
The tile-roofed two-story structure, built in 1681, resembles a church towering over the city. However, the Renaissance-Baroque Kolotushka has nothing to do with the religious theme. In the Middle Ages there was a hammer, which summoned the miners to work at 2:30 a. m. with its sound. The sound of the Kolotushka also accompanied folk festivals, parades, fires and funerals.
Today the Čajovňa Klopačka Café welcomes guests under the roof topped by a tower. In a nice relaxing atmosphere tea drinkers can treat themselves to one of 150 varieties of this favorite drink. Those who are fond of oriental coffee can enjoy aromatic Arabic elixir and fragrant shisha.
Academy and Botanical Gardens
In 1762 by order of Empress Maria Theresia of Austria the first technical university in the world was opened in Banská Štiavnica - the Mining Academy, which in 1846 was united with the Forestry Academy. Within the walls of the famous alma mater were educated about 10 000 specialists working in the metallurgical, mining and timber industries in Europe. The educational complex includes 11 buildings, which in 1961 were included on the list of UNESCO cultural objects.
Next door to the Academy there is a Botanical Garden, which was founded to teach the students of the Faculty of Forestry to take professional care of forest plants. In the middle of the 19th century more than 200 representatives of world flora were planted in the green park, among them the exotic Lebanese cedar and the giant North American sequoia.
The Belhazi House is considered a unique architectural monument of the district of the same name and the Banská Bystrica region of central Slovakia.
It is one of the most remarkable and beautiful buildings in the town. In its original form, it served as a simple simple apartment building. The burgher house was later rented out to the local Mining Academy. It is now a three-storey complex of rebuilt Gothic buildings, combining Renaissance and Baroque style. From one of them in the thirteenth century was laid underground passage to the nearest mine. The owner used the tunnel to control the mining process.
The modern visual appearance of the building is the result:
Serious alterations in the early sixteenth century.
Modernization by order of the mayor and owner Jan Belhazi in the eighteenth century.
The house has been used for several centuries as a chemistry and physics department, as well as a mining school. Visitors to the town and region are attracted by its unusual facade. This is an example of the perfect incarnation of austere functionality combined with festive, life-affirming "notes" of Renaissance architecture and emphasized romanticism.