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.



Šumiac: Ding dong merrily on high...

By James Thomson

    Some of Mr Gigac’s 2,000 bells.
 Some of Mr Gigac’s 2,000 bells.
 Photos by James Thomson

If bells are your thing, then a treat awaits you in Šumiac, a village in the foothills of the Low Tatras (Banská Bystrica Region).

There, beneath Kráľova Hoľa mountain, is a family museum containing no fewer than 2,000 of them. Not church bells: instead, the kind that shepherds attach to their sheep and cattle. They come from all over the world: Switzerland, Japan, Egypt, Mexico and Australia are all represented. Accompanying them are a collection of musical instruments, sheepskin coats, shepherds' leather belts, and antique folk costumes.

The museum is as much about its owner, the redoubtable Mikuláš Gigac, as his bells. He is a unique individual, often decked out in full folk costume and wielding a fujara (with intent). His rare gift for self-promotion has helped to ensure that his distinctive chops can be admired in many books on Slovak tourism and folklore.

    I have an accordion and I’m not afraid to use it: the redoubtable Mikuláš Gigac.
 I have an accordion and I’m not afraid to use it: the redoubtable Mikuláš Gigac.
 Photos by James Thomson

Not that the attention is undeserved. He has a fine singing voice, leads a renowned folklore group, and is a talented musician, able to play ten instruments including the violin, the accordion, the fujara, another instrument that bears an uncanny resemblance to a walking stick, and, of course, the bells.

Some of the bells, which Gigac started collecting 50 years ago after his grandfather gave him six as a present, are more than a hundred years old. He says that the best - i.e. the sweetest-sounding - were made in Kecskemét in Hungary, noting with pride that the forgemasters there came from Ruthenia, as did Gigac's own family.

Oddly the museum, which gets about 1,000 visitors a year, is not well-signposted, but anyone in the village should be able to point you in Mr Gigac's direction.


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

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