Perhaps the most celebrated town in central Slovakia (Banská Bystrica Region), Banská Štiavnica is a shadow of its former self.
In the seventeenth century the population was several times greater than it is today; as recently as the nineteenth century it was the second-biggest town in Slovakia. Its centre was filled with buildings fit for a wealthy and important town. A mining school, one of the earliest technical colleges in Europe, was founded here.
Now, most of the people are gone: even on a warm autumn weekend the town has a sleepy feel. It livens up for several annual festivals, but the rest of the time it can appear positively comatose. Fortunately, the buildings remain. Along with the area's early industrial infrastructure - especially a complex system of reservoirs and channels which surround the town - they have earned it a place on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
It is a marvellous place just to wander around. There are two castles, the older one in the centre of town, the newer one (built to defend from Ottoman raiders, for whom the mines and the town were an extremely juicy target) on a hill just outside it. There is a picturesque Calvary on another hill (actually a dormant volcano).
Best of all are the Renaissance burgher houses, some of which are being converted into restaurants, cafes and hotels - but at a pleasingly slow pace: there is still plenty of the crumbling old plaster which has been banished from the old towns of other Slovak cities, in particular Bratislava's, over the last twenty years. The town's position, at the confluence of several steep valleys, means there are great views wherever you go.
Events in Banská Štiavnica
Traditional ball in The Open Air Mining Museum
May: Festivalu kumštu, remesla a zábavy (Craft Festival)
Famous Craft Festival including not only a traditional craft market, live astronomical clock and medieval bath, but also a varied programme for both children and adults.
June: Silver veteran rally
Traditional veteran car competition
Summer Jazz Fest, Slovak and foreign jazz musicians perform at various places in the historical centre. Amphitheatre, Church of St Catherine (Kostol sv. Kataríny)
July: Animatus Lusus - Live Chess
Chess played on Námestie Sv. Trojice with local volunteers in historical dress serving as chess figures.
(Nám. sv. Trojice)
July: Festival peknej hudby
(Festival of Nice Music)
Classical music in the Old Castle and picturesque chapel of the Sv Anton Manor House.
August: Folk & World Music Fest
Folk, Rock, Jazz and other kinds of world music
August 1: Nezabudnuté remeslá
Traditional craftsmen from the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia take over Námestie sv. Trojice during a festival
August: 4živly (4elements)
Summer film festival and seminar
(Amphitheatre, Old Castle, Cinema Akademik)
August: Noc na Starom zámku
(Night at the Old Castle)
Night tour of the Old Castle in July and August
August: Cap a l’Est - Cesta na Východ (Road to the East)
A multicultural European festival of poetry, drama and music; French and Slovak are the main languages of the event.
(Amphitheatre, Old Castle, Cinema)
September: Salamandrové dni
The citizens of Banská Štiavnica dress in traditional costumes and weave like lizards through the streets of the Old Town in an annual parade recalling the town's past as a leading European mining centre. Legend has it that a poor shepherd first discovered silver in the Banská Štiavnica hills when he noticed silver dust on the backs of lizards.