Date updated: 04/16/2023
Košice is the second largest city in Slovakia. It is located in the eastern part of the country and occupies the Hornádska dolina, close to the foot of Čierna hora (Black Mountain). The city's modern architectural heritage ranges from old buildings to modern urbanism. The historic part of Košice is renowned for its compact old centre, which can be wandered on foot in a matter of hours.
A little history
In the 13th century a settlement mentioned in historical documents as Villa Kassa was located on the banks of the Hornád River, at a crossroads of major trade routes. Hungarians called it Kassa, Germans Kaschau, and Slovaks Košice. In 1307 the municipality acquired municipal rights, and 62 years later, on May 7, 1369 the King of Hungary, Louis I of Hungary, bestowed upon the town the official coat of arms. Kosice was the first town in Europe which received the right to have its own coat of arms. Until then, no other city in Europe had such a symbol.
In XVII century Košice became the main town and the strongest bastion of Upper Hungary. It retained this status until the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. A year later, Košice was made the capital of the new Slovak Slovak Soviet Republic, which existed for only 13 months. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the town was taken back under Hungarian rule and given the name Kassa. It received its old name only in 1945, when it was a part of Czechoslovakia.
Those who want to include Košice in their sightseeing tour of Slovakia will be interested to know some surprising facts about this fascinating city.
In 1935, builders who were renovating a building on Main Street discovered a copper vessel with priceless contents in its foundations. The find, which weighed 11.5 kilograms and was later called the Košice gold treasure, included very rare items of noble metal: 3 medals, 2,920 coins and a 2.14-metre long Renaissance chain. To this day, the phenomenal collection holds a place of honour in the list of the world's biggest treasures.
Košice's main attraction, St. Elizabeth's Cathedral, is known not only for its magnificent Gothic forms and impressive size. The south tower of the church is dominated by a gargoyle, bearing no resemblance to its European sisters. The mythical creature, surprising tourists with a woman's face and a glass in her hand, was created in the 15th century by the church's architect. The architect immortalised the features of his wife, a lady known for her prodigious predilection for hard liquor and dissipation, in a sinister stone figure.
The facade of the Old Town Hall is decorated by a plaque with an engraved image of M. I. Kutuzov. After losing the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805 and retreating under the onslaught of Napoleon's army, the Russian commander spent 5 days in the Slovak city.
A unique natural phenomenon, the only cold Gerlian geyser in Europe, is just 25 kilometres from Košice. Every 33 to 36 hours, a 15-metre-high column of artesian water, the temperature of which does not rise above +18°C, rises from a depth of 404.5 metres to the surface. It's an unforgettable experience, lasting about 25 minutes.
The oldest part of Košice, starting behind the walls of the ancient fortress bastions, consists of dozens of winding pedestrian streets. Wherever you go, you'll find the Main Street (Hlavná ulica). It is said that there is nowhere in the whole of Slovakia with more monuments than the main thoroughfare of the historic centre.
Lined with splendid mansions, the street is charmed by a small stream flowing through the centre of Košice in the times of the Middle Ages. The flow of water, 40 cm wide, is encased in a stone bed, and today it is illuminated, giving the Old Town a special charm.
Mlynska ulica joins the main street and the Municipal Park, the favourite recreational area of locals. It is decorated by the Gothic Jakabowski Palace and the Lewoczeński House as well as the Evangelical Church built in the Classicist style.
The youngest street of the historic centre - Pushkinska Street (before 1945 Kazinc Street) - was created in the mid-19th century. Among its landmarks are the eclectic house of businessman Gustav Širgėru, the Maletorův mansion and the building of the new synagogue.
Cathedral of St. Elizabeth
Hlavná Street is Košice's main architectural gem with its famous Gothic masterpiece, Cathedral of St. Elizabeth, which was built from the late 14th to early 16th centuries. The interior is decorated with amazing statues and frescoes. Ferenc II Rakoczi is also buried here.
A few reasons to visit the cathedral:
1) The largest cathedral in Slovakia (built in the 14th-16th centuries) has many attractions from a tourist point of view.
2) The most beautiful view of Košice is from one of the cathedral's towers.
Urban Tower (Urbanova veža) - named after St. Urban (Svätý Urban - considered the patron saint of viticulture). Originally called the Red Tower, it was built at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries as the bell tower of St. Elizabeth's Cathedral. But in 1556, during a great fire (a fire in 1556 destroyed almost the entire city), it was badly damaged and only by 1628 was it rebuilt in the Renaissance style.
After the reconstruction in 2021 and archaeological works, the façade of the tower was given a white colour, which according to historical studies is a reflection of the architecture of the second half of the 16th century.
Behind the tower stands the bell of St. Urban (zvon svätého Urbana), cast in 1557. In 1960 the bell was removed. The tower has a magnificent view of the city.
St Michael's Chapel
In addition to the church, the fourteenth-century St Michael's Chapel (Kaplnka svätého Michala) is one of the city's older Gothic buildings. It stands on the south side of the Cathedral of St Elisabeth of Hungary (Farnosť sv. Alžbety). The construction of St. Michael's Chapel (Kaplnka svätého Michala) dates back to 1330, and therefore, after the Dominican Order, the church is the second oldest architectural monument in Košice.
Kosice State Theatre
The building of the Košice State Theatre (Štátne divadlo Košic) is undoubtedly the jewel of this town. The building was built in 1899 in neo-Baroque style. Its facade is decorated with sculptural images from theatre plays. The magnificent interior, for the decoration of the walls of which, stucco ornamentation was used. The ceiling is decorated with scenes from Shakespeare's plays.
Between the two main tourist attractions in Košice, the Cathedral of St. Elisabeth (Farnosť sv. Alžbety) and the building of the Košice State Theatre (Štátne divadlo Košic), there is a unique singing fountain (Spievajúca fontána). At the time of its commissioning in 1986 it was the first singing fountain in Czechoslovakia. The Košice singing fountain has become a source of inspiration for similar fountains all over the world. Its repertoire includes over 200 songs. From morning to evening you can enjoy calm and relaxing music from the playing fountain, and in the evening you can enjoy famous compositions or classical music.
Historic Hlavná Street is also the location of a symbolic monument - the Plague Pillar (Morový stĺp). In 1709 Košice was hit by an epidemic that reduced the number of inhabitants several times. It is to this tragic event that the sculpture with the figure of the Virgin Mary is dedicated.
Museum of Archaeology - Lower Gateway
Košice's central square is home to a medieval fortification with a dungeon, above which is the Lower Tower. Here you can visit an unconventional gallery and a concert hall where musical evenings are held. In Hlavná Street be sure to pay a visit to the Archaeological Museum - Dolná Brána - Archeologické múzeum.
Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall (Stará radnica) was built in the 18th century. The exterior of the building is a combination of classicist and baroque styles. The uniquely decorated façade with antique columns and elaborate balustrades is impressive. At the turn of 1805 and 1806 the great Russian general M. I. Kutuzov spent 5 days in this building after his defeat against Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Austerlitz (nowadays called Slavkov). This event is commemorated by a plaque attached to the entrance gate.
Church of the Holy Trinity
The Church of the Holy Trinity (Univerzitný kostol) has many names in Slovakia (Univerzitný, jezuitský, biely, maďarský, premonštrátsky) is one of the most valuable Baroque buildings in Košice. Once upon a time it was the seat of the Royal House. In 1619, three Jesuits were brutally murdered by Juraja Rákóciho I during the night of September 6-7. After the murder the building stood abandoned, but according to legend, the wife of the eldest son of Rákócí I, fearing the wrath of God, bought the land and decided to do a merciful act for the Jesuit order and started building a Jesuit church, the prototype being the church of Il Gesù (La chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesù). In 1681, the church was completed and the dead Jesuits were recognised as holy martyrs. The church housed the first university in Košice, so it is sometimes called Univerzitný kostol.
One of the most unusual sights in Košice is the 14th century Beggar's House. The locals have told legends about it, one of which is that it was actually built by a "professional" beggar, who managed to collect a decent amount of donations to build the house. On top of the building is a statue of a man holding a hat over his head, representing the owner himself, who smiles from the top of his new home and greets all who help him.
Levočský dom (Levočský dom) is a well-preserved building from the 15th century, built in the Gothic style. In 1542 Alexander Thurzo donated it to the town of Levoche. The house belonged to the city of Levoca from 1542 to 1569. Subsequently, the town of Košice bought it in 1569 and founded a tavern. In 1617, the first printing house in the town was established in the rented part of the house. Levočský dom (Levočský dom) - known for its oldest pub. According to unofficial sources it is one of the oldest restaurants in the world. It now houses the Hostinec Pivovar bar with a very beautiful interior.
At the end of January 2019, a cache of real treasure was found in the basement of the Hostinec Pivovar bar. More than 500 silver coins dating back to the 15th century to the time of Sigismund III were in the cache. Coins from 15 countries, dozens of ceramic glasses and playing chips were found in the treasure house.
Hrnčiarska ulica, or, as it is called, "craft street" or "crafts alley". During the Middle Ages it was home to numerous workshops, some of which you will find today. The street is paved with tiles and the small houses create a magical atmosphere. You can buy aromatic bread, watch the local blacksmith or potter at work and taste delicious cakes. There is also an old pharmacy. For authentic souvenirs and homemade handicrafts, head to Crafts Alley. In addition to the regular attractions, the alley regularly hosts numerous cultural events.
The medieval Miklušová väznica (Miklušov prison), dating from the 15th century, with a rather interesting museum inside, has been preserved in Košice. Visitors can take a tour of the old cells and torture chamber, and visit the hangman's room with his personal effects and clothes. It is worth noting that for this man's family, the prison was home.
Jakabov palác is an architectural masterpiece built in 1899. Architect Péter Jakab built a house for himself and lived there until his death. After Košice was liberated by the Red Army in 1945, it became the seat of the Czechoslovak president Eduard Beneš. Nowadays the palace is used for various official town events. Unfortunately, the entrance is closed.
Andrášiho palác was built in the same year, in the same eclectic style and by the same construction company (owned by Péter Jakab) as Jakabov palác in 1899. Its first owner was Dionis Andrássy. Among its first tenants was Alojz Salassi, who established a café on the ground floor in August 1899. It is now a magnificent patisserie.
Forgáčovský palác or Pongrácovsko- forgáčovský palác was built in the Empire style in the early 19th century. It also once housed the famous men's casino and the bank. Today it houses the State Scientific Library.
The Čákiho-Dezőfiho palác was built by Anton Čáki in 1807 in the Classicist style. The tympanum bears his family coat of arms in relief and the Dezőfiovcom family coat of arms. There is currently a bookstore there.
The Archbishop's Palace was built in 1809 in a rococo style and in 1893 the south wing was built for the library.
Visitors interested in religious architecture should visit the local synagogue, the Calvinist church and the Franciscan and Dominican monasteries.
The Dominican Church (Dominikánsky kostol or Kostol Nanebovzatia Panny Márie) is not only the oldest church but also the oldest building in this town. The church was built around 1290 by order of the Dominican monks. The first written mention of the Dominican Church dates back to 1303. A monastery and a school from the 14th century were established under the church. But in 1556, after a major fire, the church was in a poor condition for a long time, temporarily serving as a grain warehouse. The restoration in 1699 added a Baroque style to the church, but in 1846 the Dominican church was again destroyed by fire. After the second fire it took around 50 years to complete the restoration. Tourists will be very interested in the underground world of the Dominican Church with its vast cellars and vaults beneath the Dominican Square.
The Evangelical Church (Evanjelický kostol) was built in the Classicist style in 1804-1816 according to the designs of György Kitzling. It is one of the most beautiful Evangelical churches of Classicism in Slovakia.
In the immediate vicinity of Miklušová väznica prison, the modest building of the Calvinist church (Kalvínsky kostol) stands out. It was built during the reconstruction of the three-storey military warehouse from 1805 to 1811.
Franciscan Church (Kostol sv. Antona Paduánskeho (seminárny, františkánsky) The Church of St. Anton of Padua (Franciscan or Seminary Church) is the highest church in Košice. It is the third oldest Christian church in the city, after the Dominican church and St. Michael's Chapel. The Franciscan church was built in the Gothic style and was completed in 1406, according to a written report, along with the monastery it belongs to.
Ursulinsky Church (Uršulínsky kostol or Kostol svätého Michala archanjela) was built in 1665, in Baroque style, originally for the Calvinist church community. Clashes between Protestants and Catholics changed owners several times alternately until 1698. In 1731, a new owner was appointed by the Ursuline Order (a Catholic convent of nuns).
The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Chrám Narodenia presvätej Bohorodičkyy) - on 25 April 1882 the foundation stone of the Greek-Catholic church in Košice was ceremonially laid and consecrated and it was built in the Neo-Romanesque style in 1885. In 1901 the iconostasis was installed. The temple tower was built thanks to the financial contribution of Count Andrássy.
Synagogue on Zvonarska Street
Before World War II, Košice had one of the largest Jewish communities in Slovakia. The town still boasts several monuments from this era. The oldest preserved one is the beautiful synagogue on Zvonarska Street (Ortodoxná synagóga na Zvonárskej ulici). It dates back to the 19th century and is a demonstration of the Moorish architectural style. Adjacent to the synagogue is the entrance to the Jewish religious community.
The New Synagogue in Košice
Was built in 1927, near the historical centre of Košice. It replaced the old synagogue on Zvonarska Street. The façade uses neoclassical and local traditional motifs; for example - the attic floor is made in a style often found in Renaissance buildings in Eastern Slovakia. The synagogue (Nová ortodoxná Synagoga v Košiciach) was designed to seat 800 people.
House of Art
This synagogue was built in 1927. It can seat 1,100 people. Its form resembled that of the Roman Pantheon. The dome was decorated with a six-pointed star of David. The original star is now in the Jewish cemetery which is dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust, where a memorial meeting is held every year on Holocaust Day (14 September). There was no need for a synagogue after World War II because more than 15,000 Jews never returned. And until the early 1960s, the building was a temporary storage for grain. In 1962 one building was added to the Synagogue, which consisted of a larger foyer with a dance floor, cloakrooms, and buffets. And inside the Synagogue itself the entire space was converted into a concert hall. The state Philharmonic Hall was located there.
Now it is called the House of Art (Dom umenia).
A wooden church from Kozhukhovets
The church (Drevený kostolík z Kožuchoviec) comes from the village of Kožuchovci. In 1927, it was threatened with extinction, the director of the East Slovak Museum learned of it and in the same year it was moved to Košice. Now the museum stands in the yard of the East Slovak Museum. The church was built in 1741. Next to the church there is a wooden bell tower.
The park in the centre of Košice, where luxurious gardens and baths with mineral water used to grow in the 18th century, now stands the Městský Park (Městský park). Locals and tourists alike have come to appreciate the quiet, shady lanes, the secluded alcoves, the lily pond, and the playground with a 50 metre-long outdoor pool.
The main attraction of the Barca area in Košice is the Barčiansky Park, founded at the end of the 17th century. This green oasis spreads over 7 hectares and is home to an abundance of trees and shrubs, which are listed in the Red Book.
Two historical buildings are located among the dense vegetation. The Ziči manor house (Kaštieľ rodiny Ziči), built in the 15th century, underwent several restorations during its long century and was transformed into a magnificent Renaissance mansion. The second building, the baroque palace (Kaštieľ rodiny Barcai), owned by the well-to-do Barcai family until 1945, was built at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries.