Nitra: Under the giant’s shoulders
By Benita Tettingerová
Nitra is known as the “Mother of Slovak Towns”, not only because it is the oldest city in the country, but also because it was connected with the earliest beginnings of Slovak history and the likes of Pribina, Svätopluk, and saints Cyril and Metod. Nitra was where the first Christian place of worship was built in Slovakia, and it was Nitra where the Slovak alphabet first began to be used. From the earliest settlement 30,000 years ago to the arrival of farming people 6,000 years ago to take advantage of its fertile land and mild climate, Nitra today remains the economic, cultural, religious and educational center of the region that surrounds it.
Getting into town
Nitra is well served by road infrastructure, with a freeway linking it to the capital Bratislava 80 kilometers away; the distance can be comfortably traveled in 45 minutes. To the east the situation is slightly different, as the stretch of two-lane highway between Nitra and Zlaté Moravce is the site of such frequent accidents it has been named “the highway of death”. Work is well underway to extend the freeway beyond Nitra to Zvolen and Banská Bystrica.
The regional capital is also well served by buses from Bratislava, with coaches leaving regularly from the main station at Mlynské Nivy. The trip takes 75 to 90 minutes. The Turancar firm has also launched a regular Bratislava-Nitra link served by its trademark yellow buses, called the Yellow Express. You can catch the express at Mlynské Nivy and be in Nitra within the hour (for bus information contact the SAD Nitra station at Staničná 1, Tel: (037) 772-0566). The bus station is about 15 minutes’ walk south of the city center.
This is not a good way to get to Nitra, especially when the bus connections are so convenient. There are no direct trains between Bratislava and Nitra, meaning a transfer in Leopoldov and possibly a long wait for the next train to Nitra (for train information contact the ŽSR railway station at Tel: (037) 652-4025, 18-188, reservations Tel: (037) 690-0485, www.slovakrail.sk).
CD Taxi, Slančíkovej, Tel: (037) 653-3533
Fany taxi, Štefánikova 5, Tel: (037) 653-3522, 651-5555
Taxi nonstop, Mostná 11, Tel: (037) 772-2121, 772-3131
In the City
Alimex, Tel: (0800) 112-113, www.alimex.sk
Autocity, Bratislavská 18, Tel: (037) 650-3303, 650-3305, www.autocity.sk
Motor Car, Bratislavská 1, Tel: (037) 651-5217, 651-5221
Kappa People, Murgašova 2, (037) 652-5025, -7, (0905) 507-741, www.kappa.sk
Topoľčianky Manor House
The municipality of Topoľčianky is 36 kilometers from Nitra. The northern part of the village contains an English park with a huge manor house offering, among other things, a museum of historical furniture. All the settings are original, and were left here in 1918 by the manor house’s last noble owners, Jozef August Habsburg and his wife Augusta, the niece of Emperor Franz-Jozef I. The museum boasts the largest collection of ceramics in Slovakia and an enormous library with 14,000 books. The library, which was developed by several generations of the family of Count Keglevich, contains such treasures as the first Slovak grammar book, the Grammatica slavica written by Anton Bernolák and published in 1790 in Bratislava. The manor house features a chapel built in 1662 that is now a Slovak pilgrimage site. Zámok Topoľčianky, Parková 1, Topoľčianky, Tel: (037) 630-1111, open Tues-Fri 09:00 to 15:00, Sat-Sun 12:00 to 16:00.
Oponice, a village 26 kilometers from Nitra, is the site of a Renaissance manor house from the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, which was later expanded into an imposing noble residence with an English park. In 1846, when the largest expansion of the manor house was completed, the Apponyi Library was installed here. The library had been founded in 1744 by Count Anton Juraj Apponyi, and contains many monograms and printed versions of the classics, today amounting to about 13,000 titles, the oldest coming from the 16th century. Open on demand, call administrator Peter Králik to set up a visit at Tel: (0905) 117-148.
In the village of Brhlovce, some 65 kilometers from Nitra, you can still find people living in caves much as our forebears did in the Stone Age. These caves were used as a refuge by local inhabitants during raids by the Turks in the 16th and 17th centuries, and are still inhabited, albeit far more comfortably. For the people of Brhlovce, stone was not only the material in which they made their homes, it was also their source of income, as in the 19th century the local quarry employed most of the residents, who had learned their extraction and working methods from the Italian builders of the local manor house. For tours of those cave homes that are not private residences, contact the Skalné obydlia at Tel: (036) 631-2112, 631-5555, open May to Sept, Mon, Thurs, Sat and Sun 09:00 to 16:00, Nov to April by arrangement only, or check www.brhlovce.sk.
Nové Zámky, a non-descript town 40 kilometers from Nitra, has an attractive thermal baths called Štrand in the southeast part of town. Štrand offers four pools - recreational, swimming, exercise and children’s - as well as volleyball, tennis, minigolf, bowling, a sauna and water slides. Good connections from Nitra to Nový Zámky by bus. Tel: (035) 642-4252, Open daily except Mon 09:00 to 19:00, Wed also from 20:00 to 22:00.
The Mother of Towns, the site of the first known Christian Church in Slovakia (built in 828), the first known bishopric (established in 880). All these titles apply to Nitra. Archaeologists have established that the city was inhabited 30,000 years ago. It used to be important center of the Celts in fourth century B.C., while at the end of the fifth century our ancestors, the Slavs, arrived in Nitra. The Principality of Nitra reached its height during the reign of King Svätopluk in the 9th century.
Every city has its heroes, but Nitra, the oldest city in Slovakia, has its very own Atlas.
His name was Corgoň, a blacksmith who worked in the Upper Town district near the castle hill. He was very strong and admired for his huge muscles. One day, the Turkish army tried to invade Nitra Castle. Just when it seemed they were close to conquering the walls, a huge figure appeared. Corgoň rolled huge stones down the streets, causing chaos in the Turkish ranks. When they saw Corgoň’s huge muscles and the dark expression in his eyes, they ran away. On that day, the brave blacksmith became a hero of the town. His statue in Pribina Square, depicting him holding Kluchov Palace on shoulders, celebrates his invincible strength. In Nitra there is a local saying, “to be as strong as Corgoň”. Even the favorite local beer is named after the famous strongman.
The Old Town is dominated by Nitra Castle, built during Svätopluk~s reign. The famous Gothic St Emmeram Cathedral is also in the downtown core. For a long time, people believed that the remains of a church found beneath the cathedral was the first Christian church founded in Central and Eastern Europe. Although later research refuted this claim, the search goes on, and local people hope that the results will give them another reason to be proud of their history.
Nitra vies with Trnava for the title of the “Slovak Rome”, because it was built on seven hills, as Rome was reputed to be. The favorite among locals is the limestone Zobor hill fort (588 meters elevation). After 45 minutes’ walk you will reach the Pyramid peak and a beautiful view of the whole city. But forget about privacy in your city-gazing: Zobor is where many families go for picnics. Older residents remember a time when they could reach the top by cable car. Unfortunately, so far the city has not found the money to rebuild the facility.
Don’t forget to visit at least two other hills - Calvary, which rises above the hospital, is an important destination for pilgrims with the Mother of God Church, while the Gallows Hill, called Borina, is now a pleasant pine grove. Plant lovers should check out the Arboretum in Tesárske Mlyňany, which is only 20 kilometers from the city. People often go there by bicycle.
If you like drama, the Andrej Bagar Theater and the Puppet Theater on Svätoplukovo námestie feature various attractive performances. Every year the city hosts two famous drama happenings. The Theatrical Nitra international festival in September and the national Nitra, milá Nitra are widely visited.
Nitra is a city of young people, many of whom are not locals but easterners who come to study at the University of Constantine the Philosopher or the Slovak Agricultural University. Many concerts and other events are geared towards the younger generation. Those who prefer chamber concerts in a quiet and magical atmosphere will appreciate the synagogue in the center of the pedestrian zone on Ulica pri Synagóge. The Jewish community waited patiently for the money to rebuild it for many years, but when you see the result you’ll agree that the wait was worth it. After leaving the synagogue you can have a cup of delicious tea in the Teahouse of Good People directly opposite. The teahouse is a part of the Bonsai Center, where you can chat with the always-willing owner and ask how to take care of any Japanese plants you happen to have around the house. In September the street is full of little trees in pots during Nitra Bonsai Days.
There’s always something to see in Nitra at the Agrokomplex exhibition grounds (www.agrokomplex.sk), whether it’s the country’s biggest agricultural and industrial exhibition, the Motor Show, the International Dog Show or exhibitions of furniture and home appliances. All of these shows take place at the exhibition grounds in the Chrenová suburb. A 10-minute walk from there takes you to the Slovak Agricultural Museum (May to Sept Tues-Sun 09:00 to 17:00), where you may get the feeling that such an important archaeological treasure could have been better promoted. The Nitra Museum at the edge of the pedestrian zone also presents a tiny but beautiful exhibition on the Great Moravian Empire.
In Nitra you never know when you will witness a further archaeological find. Ten years ago, during the renewal of the pedestrian zone, people found themselves walking over pits with human skeletons, which had been a medieval burial ground, but was dug up by the builders during the reconstruction. One of the most famous features of the pedestrian zone is a bronze sword that used to protrude from the ground. Recently, this artifact was damaged when a tourist train bashed into it.
Shopping and souvenirs
Most of the souvenir shops listed below offer typical Slovak folk and cultural icons, such as the fujara wind instrument, the valaška axe, woven shopping baskets, ceramics and wire products of the tinker’s trade, and dolls in traditional costume.
Nisys, Štefánikova 1, Tel: (037) 16-186, 741-0906, open Mon-Fri 08:00 to 18:00, Sat 08:00 to 12:00
Slovenská Izba, Štefánikova 55, Tel: (0904) 595-450
Slovenský Suvenír, Na vŕšku 1, Tel: (0903) 328-828
Agroinštitút Nitra, Akademická 4, Tel: (037) 791-0111, 791-0131, www.agroinstitut.sk
Bosorka, Štefánikova 8, Tel: (0905) 362-103, (0905) 842-598
Centro Nitra, Akademická ul, Tel: (0911) 122-015, daily 08:00 to 21:00 , www.centronitra.sk
Tesco hypermarket, Bratislavská, Nitra - Mlynárce, Tel: (037) 775-5111, 651-4210, www.itesco.sk, non-stop
FragnetPiaristická 2, Tel: (0915) 723-699, www.fragnet.sk
NC Comp, Fraňa Kráľa 7, Tel: (037) 773-1621.
Hotels, Restaurants and Amusements
Hotel Zlatý Kľúčik****
The Zlatý Kľúčik (Golden Key) is on the Zobor hill, offering luxuriously comfortable accommodation with a panorama view of the city.
Best Western Hotel Koruna****
Another four-star hotel on the Zobor hill above the city. The interior is decorated with a vineyard theme, as Zobor used to be covered with vineyards, and the hotel is built on the site of the former Zobor vintner’s house.
Hotel Centrum is in the downtown core with a view of the main monuments - the theater, the castle, and the pedestrian zone.
Another business traveler-oriented hotel on the outskirts of Nitra towards the Tesco store, the Alexander’s emphasizes comfort with its massage showers and top-notch mattresses.
Business hotel in the downtown core that offers more services, including an extensive wellness center, than most of the competition.
Stylish pension in the center of town.
One of the city’s top quality restaurants, but for the original décor and the quality ingredients used on the original menu. No high prices or stuffy atmosphere here. Try the steak and the avocado salad.
Pleasant interior, beautiful summer patio, and consistently good food.
The Pribina is located in a park called the Nitrianské kniežatstvo (Nitra Principality). Slovak meat specialties, wide assortment of Nitra wines
Reštaurácia Pizzeria Boccaccio
A typical Italian restaurant founded in 1997 by an Italian businessman who is already a third-generation pizzeria owner. One of the best-loved pizza parlors in Nitra for its rigorous adherence to Italian traditions.
Vináreň a reštaurácia Buganka
A “hunting” restaurant specializing in game and fine Nitra wines.
Irish Times Pub
Nitra’s Irish pub is in its pedestrian zone. The drinks menu is extensive, but the Irish also cooks well, and offers a selection of Philippine cigars.
Arched brick ceilings and a wine cellar atmosphere provide the setting for some of the best food in the city, drawing from several international traditions (mainly Italian).
Bars and pubs
Tel: (037) 772-1392, (0905) 155-800,
Dolce Vita Pub
Tel: (0903) 190-545
Tel: (0907) 736-119
Tel: (0905) 702-971
Atrium Garden Restaurant
Tel: (037) 692-4309
Pri synagóge 6
Tel: (037) 652-8260
Tel: (037) 651-3110, (0905) 275-498,
Tel: (037) 650-3220
Tel: (0905) 661-142
Café Casa Mia
Tel: (0905) 608-059
Café ty a ja
Tel: (0904) 877-638
Slovenské Poľnohospodárske Múzeum
Malá Galéria Akcent
Divadlo Andreja Bagara
These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2006, which you can obtain from our online shop.
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