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.



Through the hills of Slovak history

By James Thomson

    The Flintstones come to Myjava.
 The Flintstones come to Myjava.
 Photos by James Thomson

Recent times have not been kind to Myjava and nearby Brezová pod Bradlom. The towns, which both have an important place in contemporary Slovak history - Myjava, for instance, was the site of a famous declaration of Slovak national interests during the upheavals of 1848 - have been blighted by the least attractive forms of communist-era 'development'.

While such pre-fabricated innovation is mercifully confined to the outer parts of most Slovak towns, here it intrudes on the centre. Myjava's core may feature the usual baroque church and a monument celebrating the area's most famous son, Milan Rastislav Štefánik, but they are dim points of light in an otherwise bleak cityscape. To liven things up, the owner of one unremarkable building ('U Freda' - Fred's Place – on Hodžova) has even gone so far as to spray its interior with concrete in order to make it resemble The Flintstones' cave, and park a rather impressive mock-up of Fred's car outside. The menu is similarly themed, though one suspects Hanna-Barbera are still waiting for that royalties cheque.

    The church at Brezová pod Bradlom, where Dušan Jurkovič is buried.
 The church at Brezová pod Bradlom, where Dušan Jurkovič is buried.
 Photos by James Thomson

Fortunately, the decaying concrete cannot detract from the loveliness of the surrounding countryside. And it is in the villages and rolling hills beyond the towns that one gets a better sense of Slovakia's identity.

Above Brezová pod Bradlom, as its name suggests, is Bradlo hill where, under a gigantic travertine monument fit for a king, lies Štefánik.

The scale of the Bradlo monument reflects Štefánik's significance in modern Slovak history: he is perhaps the nearest thing the nation has to an unblemished twentieth century icon (see box). The views from the monument are fantastic, and it's a favourite place for locals to come for some quiet contemplation.

Štefánik was born in Košariská, a village beneath Bradlo, where his birthplace is now a small museum dedicated to his memory. As well as photographs and his uniforms, it displays mementoes from his extensive travels (among them a New Zealand Maori dictionary and native masks from South America). The museum has information in English; nearby is a restaurant, U Juhása, serving good food, where English is also spoken.

The Bradlo monument is the work of one of Slovakia's most important architects, Dušan Jurkovič. Jurkovič himself is buried in the cemetery of Brezová's main church; his tomb is marked by a large monument, featuring the pyramidal motifs common to much of his work. The tomb also doubles as a war memorial to the Slovak fallen in battles from 1848 to 1945. This is particularly fitting given that some of Jurkovič's most noted early work was the design of monuments to Slovak war dead in World War I, mostly in Galicia (now part of western Ukraine).

    The birthplace of Ľudovít Štúr and Alexander Dubček, in Uhrovec.
 The birthplace of Ľudovít Štúr and Alexander Dubček, in Uhrovec.
 Photos by James Thomson

Across the Váh valley from Myjava and Brezová is another town with an important place in modern Slovak history. Uhrovec has the unique distinction of being home to two of the foremost Slovaks of modern times: Ľudovít Štúr, the father of literary Slovak and all-round cultural icon; and perhaps the most famous Slovak of all, Alexander Dubček, the Czechoslovak communist leader who tried to build 'socialism with a human face' during the Prague Spring.

And if that were not enough, both men were actually born in the same small house in Uhrovec. Unsurprisingly, the building has been turned into a national cultural monument, with one half featuring displays on Štúr and the other on Dubček. Most information is in Slovak, but information sheets are available in English.

    Uhrovec
 Uhrovec
 Photos by James Thomson

Atop a nearby hill, Jankov Vŕšok, is a monument to those who fought in the 1944 Slovak National Uprising (or SNP). Presented, especially during communism, as a seminal event in Slovakia's wartime resistance to German dominion, the uprising failed but entitled Slovakia to be included among the victors (in association with the Czechs) at the war's end.

Like Bradlo, it is a poignant, windswept spot, with the ruins of Uhrovec castle visible on a neighbouring hill. On public holidays Slovak patriots reportedly pay homage here. Given the 'Slovak' and 'national' emphasis laid on the uprising it is interesting to note that the memorial is inscribed with the words of a great Czech patriot and warrior, Jan Žižka: "Nepřátel se nelekejte, na množství nehleďte" - "Fear not your enemy, and disregard their number."


These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2009, which you can obtain from our online shop.

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