31 July 2010

Around Banska Stiavnica

Last time I wrote about the beauty at the heart of Banska Stiavnica and now I want to move on to the surrounding area. The town is surrounded by hills and a relatively short walk soon takes you away and up.

The New Castle can be seen from many places in the centre of the town as it sits on top of one of the nearby hills.

It's lofty location makes it a more convincing castle than the old one despite its lack of walls but it takes just a few minutes climbing up cobbled roads to breach the defences.

The New Castle now has a new role telling the history of Banska Stiavnica.

Coming from England where we are soon to celebrate a millennium without a successful invasion of our borders the story is an unfamiliar one featuring armies from territories now found within the borders of Austria, France, Poland, Turkey, Hungary and others.

The museum winds up through the large square rooms offering armour, weapons, maps, paintings and posters.

Most of the stories are related in Slovak so I have to make do with the artifacts but that's OK as you can easily have too much history if you are not careful.

The language is no barrier for the other reason for going to the New Castle, the views from the top.

Here we can see the town squeezed in between the hills that surround and oppress it. Here also the frailty of the Old Castle is exposed as it lies well below its replacement. In the middle of the picture, the main town square (Trinity Square) winds slowly up a less severe hill.

Further out of town and even higher up is Calvary.

Getting there proved to be non-trivial as the map I had did not show all the footpaths and the roads seemed to be scared of the area. I found myself walking around the wealthy suburbs to the chorus of guard dogs before I found somebody who could interpret the map well enough to get me through the last 200m.

From the English perspective, this looks like a folly on a grand scale but it has a serious history. It was built in the eighteenth century by the Jesuits and consists of 23 objects depicting the last moments in the life of Jesus.

These neglected monuments are spread around a steep hill and are connected by even more neglected paths. Serious tourists only need apply.

Here we can see one of the larger chapels, which is about 2/3 of the way up the hill, two of the smaller ones and the towers of the main chapel at the summit. The walk is challenging and all of the chapels are in need of some TLC but both add to the interest rather than detracting from it.

I had met the architect behind the restoration of Calvary previously at an event at the Slovak Embassy and was able to meet up with her for another tour out of the town.

This time we carried on up the hill out of Trinity Square and headed in to the hills.

Here we found some of the reservoirs that were integral  to the local mining industry.

We also found fields of flowers where butterflies danced, wild raspberries that demanded to be eaten, small twisting paths that seemed to have no purpose other than to confuse and entertain, and occasional views of the town and the hill top monuments that keep a watchful eye over it.

Then, unexpectedly, a path leads steeply downwards and the town that was hiding successfully is suddenly revealed and, soon after, occupied.

Banska Stiavnica is a small town and does not have much in the way of traditional tourist attractions but the three full days I spent there flew past and there was more that I would have liked to do. Another day perhaps.

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