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.



Brhlovce: Carved in stone

By James Thomson

    The terrace from within...
 The terrace from within...
 Photos by James Thomson

Brhlovce is famous in Slovakia for its 'cave dwellings'. Despite the name, these are not the remains of a prehistoric civilisation (though some are pretty old) but the product of some ingenuity in exploiting the local geography.

The rock hereabouts is largely volcanic tuff: light but strong, and easily worked. In Brhlovce it emerges from the ground as a cliff, into which several houses have been cut over the years.

The downsides of this approach (no chimney; no windows on three sides; every extra inch of headspace requires a lot of extra chiselling) were outweighed by the cheap real estate (just find a patch of rock and start digging) and the inside temperature (the rooms are a constant 17-18 degrees, winter or summer).

There is also the security aspect: the caves are popularly believed to have provided protection from marauding Ottomans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Each cave-house in the village now has a more conventional dwelling in front of it, though several of the caves are reportedly still inhabited. One, though, has been turned into a museum. Its rooms, and especially its open-to-the-air workshop, have very low ceilings.

    A cliff-top setting.
 A cliff-top setting.
 Photos by James Thomson

But they're south facing and so not as dingy as they sound. There is even a moderately pleasant first-floor terrace. Inside plumbing was never really an option, however: a deep well in the courtyard provides the incoming supply; the outgoing is left to your imagination (or else a modern port-a-loo, plonked in a corner).

The stone-working techniques, which were brought to Brhlovce by Italian craftsmen working on local castles and churches, were not restricted to the houses. The volcanic tuff is also found in the form of headstones - of all denominations - in local graveyards.

The area around Brhlovce, known locally by its Hungarian name, Hont, is a quintessential Slovak rural landscape. Heading south, wooded hills give way to a seemingly endless vista of huge fields laid out on low ridges, gently rolling away to the horizon. Understated but impressive, it's a great area to just cruise around.


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

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