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.



Špania Dolina: Mountainside delight

By Howard Swains

    Špania Dolina, a village to make you wish you were a miner.
 Špania Dolina, a village to make you wish you were a miner.
 Photo by Howard Swains

If you've ever pondered where the copper rods and tablets came from that ended up on Christopher Columbus's ship, the official travel literature issued by the Banská Bystrica regional government can put your mind at rest. They came from Slovakia, and Špania Dolina, specifically.

This nugget of obscure nautical trivia begins the official blurb about this ancient iron and copper mining village, a bizarre choice since Špania Dolina is of the most attractive spots in the entire region and scarcely requires the tenuous endorsement of a 16th century Spanish explorer. The village's hillside location amid thick, colourful woodland, demands a enervating zig-zag approach through the trees. On arrival, the scattering of wooden-topped miners' houses built on all gradients – neighbours are not so much left and right as above and below – make Špania Dolina a chocolate-box delight.

    Miniature miners go to work every hour.
 Miniature miners go to work every hour.
 Photo by Howard Swains

Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour around the small village centre, following steep, narrow streets and paths through a web of telegraph wires whose acute angles resemble ski-lift cables. The tour passes entrances to the mine shafts and the best examples of mining-house architecture as well as a splendid wooden-roofed church, best approached via a 161-step, covered staircase leading to it from the main square. Information is also available about the technological innovations pioneered in the village, including a unique 15th century watercourse, which was a system of troughs and ditches that channelled sufficient mountain water down the valley to power mining machinery.

(After the mines ran out in the 19th century, villagers in Špania Dolina took to lace making to stay afloat and some of this work is also visible in the residences around the village.)

Back at the foot of the hill, the former klopačka tower housed a huge block of wood which, when struck by a mallet, would summon miners to work with a loud, dull knock that echoed around the village. (It now houses a pension and restaurant.)

Furthermore, in 2004, the construction of a grand clock was completed to remember the town's mining heritage. On the hour, two doors slide open to reveal an industrious tableau of clay model miners, going about their subterranean business for five or so minutes – accompanied by a resonant knocking, of course.


These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2008, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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