These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.



The promise of the past

By Zuzana Habšudová


Považská Bystrica

Population: 42,773
Economy: engineering, agriculture, tourism, small business
Mayor: Ľuboš Lackovič, Tel: (042) 4325-856, primator@povazska-bystrica.sk

Important contacts

www.povazska-bystrica.sk (only in Slovak)

Municipal Office:
Centrum 2/3
Tel: (042) 4325-856
open Mon-Fri 07:30 to 12:00 and 12:30 to 15:30

Information Center:
Štúrova 5/9
Tel: (042) 16-186 or 426-0598
www.tikpb.sk


    The communist grey of Považská Bystrica is slowly giving way to vibrant colors. This view of downtown (foreground) shows the gothic church to the left, and the Manin peaks at the rear.
 The communist grey of Považská Bystrica is slowly giving way to vibrant colors. This view of downtown (foreground) shows the gothic church to the left, and the Manin peaks at the rear.
 Photo Dana Mahútová

"Don't tell me we're actually going to stay in this dreadful communist town!"

As a first reaction to arrival in Považská Bystrica it left a little to be desired, but the 24-year-old Bratislava student was clearly appalled as she got her first close look at her university schoolmate's home town.

"Every time I pass this place on my way from Bratislava to Žilina I'm happy I don't have to stop," she wailed. "And now I'm about to spend three days here!"

As wounding as such comments can be to Považská Bystricans, they remain the received wisdom in Slovakia about what the town has to offer, and with some justification: With its 43,000 inhabitants in a valley on the upper reaches of the Váh River, Považská Bystrica remains a striking example of communist thinking as expressed through urban architecture.

Concrete dominates the center of the town, and large, dreary paneláky (blocks of flats built of concrete panels) litter the surrounding hills.

    A 14-storey office building rises in the center of town
 A 14-storey office building rises in the center of town
 Photo Dana Mahútová

"The greatest architectural curiosity of Považská Bystrica is the absence of a historical core," said Dana Mahútová of the municipal office's regional development department. "This is the result of a complete clearance [of historical buildings] that started in 1966. Unlike other Slovak cities, the oldest building in the downtown center here is the library, which was built in 1900, and in 2000 was included on the list of Slovakia's cultural monuments."

The meteoric rise of the enormous housing estates on the town's outskirts paralleled the growth in output from the town's communist-era machine factory, Považské strojárne. The new residents of the new tenements clamored for the downtown core to be revamped, and their calls were heard. During the 1970s and 1980s the old town was completely rebuilt.

Bohuslav Kortman, the town's chronicler, expressed the feelings of the longtime residents as they watched the communists erase their past. In his 1998 book Považská Bystrica a okolie kedysi a dnes (Považská Bystrica and Surroundings: Then and Now) he wrote: "Our 100-year heritage slowly disappears in the hands of the earthmovers and under the ploughs of the bulldozers. We watch as the last act in one of our town's historical eras is played out. The older citizens find it especially hard to part with the houses they have lived in for generations. At the same time, they are quickly getting used to present-day amenities like central heating, baths and gas..."

The original buildings that framed the streets in the downtown gave way to new facades. A 14-storey office building sprang up in the center; the old synagogue was turned into a department store; schools arose along with cultural and youth centers. A memorial to the political hero of the First World War, Milan Rastislav Štefánik, gave way to a new one celebrating the end of the Second World War and the communist-adopted Slovak National Uprising.

    The Sidlisko Rozkvet (Rozkvet housing estate) that spreads over the town´s surrounding hills actually looks quite appealing at night. Great Manin lies to the left.
 The Sidlisko Rozkvet (Rozkvet housing estate) that spreads over the town´s surrounding hills actually looks quite appealing at night. Great Manin lies to the left.
 Photo Dana Mahútová

But after decades of communist grey, Považská Bystrica is slowly returning to the more vibrant colors of both its past and future. The concrete of the previous era is giving way to modern buildings and refreshing greenery in the town's center. Banks, supermarkets, hotels, heated pools and up-market restaurants brightly advertise their wares, while the strip of bars and discos opposite the main train station pulses with youthful energy on weekend nights.

"Považská Bystrica is a young town that is gradually undergoing reconstruction," said Mahútová of the municipal office. "But wherever you look, you also see magnificent natural resources and traces of history."

The city lies amidst the spectacular surroundings of the Považie region, which teems with hikers and rock climbers in the summer. The old villages down in the valleys are starting to recover their inhabitants following the collapse of the area's largest factory, and even to recruit new blood in the form of settlers interested in reconstructing the old traditional drevenice houses.

There are six castles within Považská Bystrica district, all of which are decaying ruins. The 13th century Považský Castle is closely tied to the town's past: One of its lords, Ján Podmanický, built the town's Gothic Roman-Catholic church in the 14th century. The church was later rebuilt in the Renaissance style, and its windowpanes were made by Vincent and Viera Hložník, great Slovak artists, in 1951.

    The two Manin peaks that frame the town to the east are separated by a p icturasque canyon crated by a river. Its steep walls are popular with climbers.
 The two Manin peaks that frame the town to the east are separated by a p icturasque canyon crated by a river. Its steep walls are popular with climbers.
 Photo Dana Mahútová

Tourists come to Považská Bystrica primarily for hiking, biking, climbing and skiing in the surrounding hills, such as Strážov and Javorníky, and the Manín Canyon and Súľov Rocks. Many are struck by the beauty of the tiny preserved traditional village houses against the scenic natural background, once so at odds with the communist planners, but now the source of the town's post-communist heartbeat.

After a weekend of shopping and dining in the town's new establishments, and mushroom picking and lake swimming in the nearby Podvažie municipality, the Bratislava university student was grudgingly revising her earlier assessment.

"I think I'm starting to like Považská Bystrica now," she said, with the surprised expression of someone who never thought they would hear themselves speak such words.


Accommodation

Hotel Manín
Štúrova 5/9
Tel: (042) 426-1985

Penzión Bystrica
Žilinská cesta 1
Tel: (0905) 841-920
www.penzionbystrica.sk

Hotel Sparta
Športovcov 211
Tel: (042) 432-5414
www.sparta.sk

Hotel Podjavorník
(at the end of the Papradno valley)
Tel: (042) 439-3015
www.podjavornik.com

Dining

Banco del Peru
Centrum 33
Tel: (042) 426-0882

Probably the most frequented restaurant in the town, serving Mexican cuisine among potted cactuses.

Námorník
Lánska 950
Tel: (042) 432-1114

Next to the town's heated swimming pool, this restaurant is furnished in a maritime style and lures customers with its generous portions of baked smoked pork knee.

Country Salón
Lánska 941
Tel: (042) 432-3540

Situated not far from Námorník, this is a gathering spot for country and folk music lovers. The stylish wooden interior often hosts live performers and serves spicy food.

Things to see and do

Považský/Bystrický hrad(castle)

This historical monument on the Váh River is a ruin. Erected in the 13th century, the castle is haunted by legends and currently also the added danger of falling rocks. Traditional stories include that of Beautiful Hedviga, who was wanted by the castle's infamous owners, the robber barons Ján and Rafael Podmanický. To get to the castle (at your own risk) follow the yellow trail from the church in Považské Podhradie. The ascent takes about 20 minutes and offers a great view.

Manínska tiesňava(canyon)

Between the Malý and Veľký Manín hills that rise beyond the town towards Žilina leads a tiny pass through magnificent limestone rocks. This place is a haven for climbers and hikers climbing the two peaks.

Sídlisko Rozkvet (housing estate)

The best view of the town and the easiest to reach (by bus). The Rozkvet (Bloom) suburb is also called Helena, as its housing estates sit on a 400-meter hill that houses the St Helena Chapel from 1728. Every year the estate's 11,000 inhabitants, mostly emigrants from surrounding villages, organize the Helena Feast, which reminds them of village fairs with its merry-go-rounds, music, sweet delicacies and beer.

Jasenica Manor House

This newly reconstructed Renaissance cultural monument near the Považský Castle has just opened to the public. Jasenica village forms the entrance to the 20-kilometer Papradno Valley leading up to the Javorníky mountain range at the far end on the border with the Czech Republic. In the summer the mountains are a beehive of activity with blueberry and mushroom pickers, hikers and mountain-bikers.


These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2006, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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