Date updated: 02/06/2023
Zvolen is a Slovak town in the central part of the country. Its geographical location is between the rivers Hron and Slatina (the left tributary of the Danube, under Jaworje and Kremnické vrchy). Nowadays the town has about forty-five thousand inhabitants.
The German name of Zvolen is Altsohl. The Hungarian toponym is Zólyom.
If you are heading in the direction of old mining settlements (for example, Banská Bystrica), you are bound to visit this town. You won't find any great pearls of world culture there, but the town is interesting, cosy and beautiful in its own way. Undoubtedly, Zvolen is worth your attention. Visit a sixteenth century chateau in the Renaissance style. Enjoy the beauty of the last century modernist church. Explore the ruins of the former medieval quarters. Stroll around the cosy square with its restaurants, shops and bars. You will feel the spirit of a real Slovak town with its own special and glorious history.
The settlement on the site of today's town has been known since the ninth century AD, but the area has been developed since the Neolithic period. The first fortification was built on the left bank of Slatina.
The site of Muoteva was a fortified settlement founded by the Moravians. It served as a defensive complex and existed until the eleventh century. That function was later assumed by Old Zvolen, one of the most powerful European fortresses of the Middle Ages. Nowadays it is called Pustý Hrad. In the twelfth century the fortifications in the centre of the Moravian lands played such an important role that it served as the centre of the royal municipality.
In 1241, the fortification was destroyed by the Tatar Mongols. This disaster caused the settlement to be relocated to its present-day location.
Zvolen received the rights of a free town by order of King Bela IV in the thirties of the thirteenth century.
Construction of a large castle started in late fourteenth century. It was the initiative of Louis the First the Great. From that time on, a rapid social and economic development of the town began.
Between 1440 and 1452 Zvolen was a seat of Jan Iskra of Brandýs, hetman of King Ugric of Slovak lands. In 1542 the town was besieged and later burnt down by Janoš Hunyadi. In the mid-sixteenth century Zvolen had the defensive function of Filyakovo fortress, which was taken by storm by the Ottomans. The rebuilding was undertaken by Jan Turzo. The castle soon became such a mighty fortress that the Turks never managed to take it. However, the Kurutses of Rakoczi succeeded in doing so in 1702. They burnt the city. After the loss of the fortress' defensive importance the town gradually lost its political weight and became a quiet provincial town with folk crafts.
Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for Zvolen were the time of commercial and industrial development. The town occupied an important position at the crossroads of routes in Central Slovakia. This is not surprising. Railway connection between Zvolen and Budapest was established already in 1872. Engineering and wood processing plants started to be built in the town.
Zvolen became the administrative centre of the town during the First Republic. At the end of World War II the national resistance against Hitlerism was organised here. The town became an important centre of the Slovak National Uprising. Military planes with cargoes landed at the local airfield. It was aid from the Soviet Union. But at the end of October 1944 the Wehrmacht managed to capture the town. It was liberated only in spring 1945 as a result of the Soviet troops' Bansk Bystritsa breakthrough.
For several decades (1968 - 1990) the town was the location of one of the motorized rifle divisions of the Central Group of Forces. A helicopter regiment from Berdychiv was also based here.
Geographical location, current realities and prospects
The city is surrounded by small mountains. Their height does not exceed seven hundred metres above sea level. The town is even lower (three hundred metres above sea level). The terrain here is such that communication between villages is carried out along the river. It was like this a thousand years ago.
Zvolen is virtually the oldest Slovak town in this part of the country. In the Middle Ages it was situated higher up on a hill. The remains of the settlement known as Pustý hrad are regarded as an important historical monument of ancient architecture and archaeology. The town was moved down to the river for a variety of reasons. Probably it was also due to building the castle in the new location.
Zvolen was considered a commercial, rather than industrial, town in the Middle Ages. Miners' settlements were more successful in terms of development. They became rich thanks to coal mining. But Zvolen had one important advantage. It played a role of a transport hub. This function was increased many times by building of railway in 19th century. Nowadays Zvolen is considered to be the main southward transport hub of the country.
The city has food, textile and wood processing industries. Students from all over Slovakia study here at the Technical University. This large building is visible to every visitor to the town near the railway station.
the town's visual appearance is the result of frequent conversions Zvolen has been redeveloped, rebuilt and transformed several times over the course of its history. As a result, it has become a little less traditional in terms of European cities. We don't have the typical, clearly marked historical centre with a pedestrianised square in a strict perimeter of the neighbourhood. The main points of interest are the castle, churches, the ruins of the old settlement and the individual burgher houses. It doesn't take long to get to know the city.
The quarters between the railway station and Město station are an interesting part of the town for travellers and visitors. This is Námestie SNP, a hybrid of a street and a square. It starts from the castle on the slope and heads towards the northern part of the town. It is a pedestrian zone that is quite wide. It is somewhere in between a boulevard and a square. This is where the main places of worship in Zvolen are located. Both of the city's main temples can be seen on this street. Along the boulevard are the oldest residential buildings. The side streets from the centre are the location of the Czechoslovakian buildings from Masaryk's time. Farther along are the surrounding private, single-storey blocks, industrial areas and residential areas made up of large panel buildings.
Despite the somewhat visually chaotic central part of the city, it seems cosy, comfortable and quite pretty.
Commemorative sites and buildings
The castle complex has been subjected to numerous reconstructions and structural modifications. Its foundation dates back to the middle of the fourteenth century. The building was given a Renaissance style in the sixteenth century. It can be easily seen in the variegated decoration of the outer perimeter.
The outer frame of the structure is a boulder wall with a number of towers. From the outside it looks quite imposing. Inside the complex hides several streets and small courtyards. The central part of the interior is full of gothic details and elements. It is a remnant of the former castle structure. Here you can see the gallery and the tea room. The entrance to the gallery is only open during daylight hours. The latter is open much longer, which means that you can explore the castle even in the evening. But the problem is that the tea room has to be found first. It is hardly visible from the outside. You can only see the inside of the castle during gallery opening hours. There are paintings by artists and sculpture in wood.
You can also view the unusual ceiling paintings. This is a series of portraits of eight dozen ancient Roman and German rulers.
Holy Trinity Evangelical Church
Kostol svätej Trojice is located at Námestie SNP, 27. The era of Protestantism in the city began rather late, with the construction of the first evangelical church building in 1795. It survived in its original form until the early twenties of the last century. The church was rebuilt in two years, increasing its size and changing its expression in terms of style. It is now a beautiful, neat modernist building. It looks not just stylish, but fascinating. The ornate windows give that effect to the church. The interior of the church is just as beautiful as the exterior decoration.
St Elizabeth's Church
This iconic Catholic building is also on Náměstí. It is painted in white. The church is considered one of the oldest buildings in the city. Its foundation dates back to the thirteenth century. How it looked at that time is now difficult to determine. The building was reconstructed many times and eventually acquired Baroque features. Nevertheless, the form is not much in keeping with this style and the general tradition of religious architecture in Slovak lands. The church from above looks like a Gothic building.
Inspect the interior of the church. It deserves your attention and admiration.
Monument to soldiers of the Soviet Army
The Slovak uprising at the end of the war was brutally crushed by the Nazis. But it was the trigger for the creation of partisan units and paramilitary resistance groups. They retreated eastwards to join with Red Army units. Together with them they then liberated Slovak lands from the invaders. Memorials to these events are still erected on town squares. You can view the obelisk in Zvolen (material is black stone) and compare it to the one in Banská Bystrica.
You will find it in the town park, on the way from the station to the castle. It is another monument to the national uprising during the German occupation. The armoured train is painted in camouflage colour.