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.



Trenčín: Towering above it all

By James Thomson

    Overlooking the city: Trenčín Castle
 Overlooking the city: Trenčín Castle
 Photos by James Thomson

There is not, at first glance, much to attract visitors to Trenčín. Granted, it does have an impressive-looking castle, as anyone who has passed through on a train and bothered to look out of the window will attest. But since you can't throw a brick in this country without it hitting a castle that by itself might not seem like much of a reason to alight. In fact, there is a lot else to like about the town, and though there may be many castles in Slovakia, Trenčín's is one of the best.

The railway station still retains an authentic, pre-revolutionary feel. Which is to say that it seems to have entered the final stages of dilapidation. However, it is admirably positioned: a brief stroll through the park right next to it will bring you out in the city centre.

First stop is the Art Nouveau Hotel Tatra, the city's grandest establishment, directly beneath the castle. As well as a café serving home-made sweets, the hotel has another treat in store. Duck into the lobby and up two flights of stairs, then peer through the window in the alcove on the left: carved into the rock, just centimetres from the rear of the hotel, is evidence that Trenčín's military history predates even the castle above. Members of the Roman second auxiliary legion left their calling card, carved in stone, here in 179AD. It is still legible today.

From the hotel, the city clings to the castle rock; the traffic takes a wider orbit, and the centre dissolves into a series of pleasant squares.

    The view from the top.
 The view from the top.
 Photos by James Thomson

Town squares are something Slovakia does well. Despite rarely being square, they are almost invariably traffic-free, often adorned with a church or three, shaded by mature trees, and have an improbably large number of bars and cafes. Trenčín is no exception, and has the castle as a dramatic back-drop to boot. Also in common with many other Slovak towns, the handsome older buildings are interspersed with a smattering of shoddily-built, communist-era horrors. In fact, Slovak towns whose historic centres have avoided this fate stand a good chance of receiving UNESCO World Heritage recognition: Banská Štiavnica and Bardejov are examples of this.

There are not enough of these buildings here to spoil the party, rather just to liven it up a little. Among the concrete eyesores, a highlight for connoisseurs of Czechoslovakiana is the unlikely sight of a PRIOR store. These were the original communist department stores. The name has long since died out in most Slovak (and Czech) cities where, after a period in the 1990s when they traded as K-Mart, the stores are now owned and run by the British supermarket chain Tesco. But it seems Trenčín has successfully bucked the trend. Go in now and by some one-ply toilet paper.

    Both the River Váh and the railway line pass through Trenčín.
 Both the River Váh and the railway line pass through Trenčín.
 Photos by James Thomson

Unfortunately, reminiscing about the good old days is not going to get you to the castle. It is a hefty 150 metres above the town, but to reward those who make it up there (walking is the only way), at the top is a strategically placed 'bufet' serving cold beer and Kofola and, unsurprisingly, doing a brisk trade. After a restorative beverage overlooking the grounds, a tour of the castle beckons.

In the main building are some of the artworks and relics collected by the castle's generations of baronial owners, foremost among them Matúš Čák. Čák deserves a special mention since he's the nearest thing Slovakia got to an independent ruler in the Middle Ages. Technically a Hungarian noble, his vast property holdings, administered from Trenčín via a network of more than 50 other castles, covered most of what is now Slovakia. As a result, he accumulated quasi-royal powers. And unsurprisingly, the Hungarian kings were less than happy about this (his tendency to switch sides unexpectedly in disputes over the Hungarian throne cannot have helped).

When he died without an heir, in Trenčín castle in 1321, his estates were quickly broken up, though local rumour has it that since his tomb has never been found there is still some treasure out there somewhere.

    The Romans’ calling card.
 The Romans’ calling card.
 Photos by James Thomson

His 'kingdom' might be gone, but Čák's legacy here is still great. The castle's main 'Matúš' tower is named after him, and is the highlight of the tour. The lower floors are devoted to an impressive, if slightly disturbing, collection of mediaeval arms including maces, poleaxes, halberds, swords, early muskets and even some sabres and helmets left by the Turks. Some of the older swords, from the Čák era, were found as recently as fifty years ago, in the River Váh: drowning while attempting to cross rivers having been something of an occupational hazard for armoured soldiers.

Climbing further up, through a series of increasingly narrow and winding stairways, visitors finally emerge onto a balcony which surrounds the top of the tower, offering superb views of the rest of the castle and the surrounding country. From here, the scale of the defences becomes clear, with an enormous 20-metre high wall protecting the castle from attack from the rear. The character of this mediaeval fastness is only disturbed by the slightly incongruous sound of trains clattering along the main railway line below.

Back in the castle precinct, there are some bigger armaments, including a trebuchet (the mediaeval equivalent of artillery), and an area where you can polish up your archery skills.

    Long way up: the scenic path to the castle.
 Long way up: the scenic path to the castle.
 Photos by James Thomson

There is also a well, to which a favourite local legend attaches. This tells of how the well was dug by over the course of four years by Omar, a Turkish noble, and 300 of his men, in return for the release of his beloved Fatima, who was being held in the castle. The almost equally impressive truth, according to guides, is that the 80-metre deep well was actually dug by the castle's soldiers, who toiled for 40 years in the fifteenth century to break through the rock. And even then it never proved a reliable source of water, the lack of which remained the castle's Achilles' heel.

Returning to earth you will pass a restaurant named after one of the star-crossed lovers. The Fatima restaurant is where our heroine's veil is said to have caught on a tree as she fled with Omar. It is the kind of place that has 'tourist trap' written all over it but, despite the creaking of the kiddy trampoline competing with some epically bad music, it has a terrace to die for. Above is the castle; below, the town and the valley of the River Váh spread out beneath you. It's a stunning location.

    Trenčín’s attractive...
 Trenčín’s attractive...
 Photos by James Thomson

Back in the town, there are several places worth a visit. The City Tower, which hosts art exhibitions and can be climbed for a small charge, offers good views of the town centre.

The oriental-looking dome you can see from the top is a former synagogue, in a neighbouring square, which also hosts exhibitions but is well worth a look in its own right.

Cafe Alžbetka in Mierové Námestie - next to the Piarist Church, and with a great view of both the castle and the City Tower - is a nice place for a coffee.

Events

April - May: Trenčianska hudobná jar (Music Spring in Trencín)Festival of classical music

May 1: Open City – Open Europe – Slovakia (and Trencín) celebrates its accession to the European Union Fun and festivities in the spirit of Europe (Mierové námestie, Štúrovo námestie)

June - August: Kultúrne leto (Summer of Culture)Music, dance, and other cultural events to make the hot summer refreshing (Mierové námestie)

June-July: Art Film International Film Festival www.artfilm.sk

July: Bažant Pohoda The biggest Slovak summer open-air festival (Trencin Airport) www.pohodafestival.sk

September: Pri Trenčianskej bráne (At Trencín's Gate) Festival of traditions, traditional folk arts, dance, singing, and fun (Mierové námestie)

September Džes pod hradom (Jazz Below the Castle) The second largest music event in Slovakia www.jazzfestival.sk

October - November : Trenčianska hudobná jesen (Musical Autumn in Trencín) Music makes rainy and shortened autumn days more enjoyable

November: Mountains and City Festival Movie festival about mountains and adventure (ODA and the Metro movie theatre) www.horyzonty.sk

Dececemebr: Caro vianoc pod hradom (Charming Christmas below the Castle) Welcoming St Nicolas to town, Christmas markets, concerts and disco on New Year's Eve

For additional contact details, please see the travel directory section and directory.spectator.sk.


MAP OF TRENČÍN


    
 
 © MAPA Slovakia Plus s.r.o., 2008


























1.Bus and train stations

(Autobusová a železničná stanica), Železničná ulica (map G4)

2.City Gallery

(Mestská galéria), Mierové nám. 18 (map C5)

3.City Office

(Mestský úrad), Mierové námestie 2 (map C5)

4.City Tower

(Mestská veža), Sládkovičova ul. (map C5)

5.Culture and Information Centre

(Kultúrno-informačné centrum), Sládkovičova ul. (map C5)

6.Hotel Tatra (Unique Roman inscription from 179A.D.)

Ul. gen.M. R. Štefánika 2 (map E4)

7.M. A.Bazovský Gallery

(Galéria M. A. Bazovského), Palackého 27 (map D4)

8.Museum of Ancient Times

(Múzum antiky), Mierové nám. 22 (map C5)

9.Parish Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary

(Farský kostol Narodenia Panny Márie), Farská ulica (map C5)

10.Parish Stairway

(Farské schody), Farská ulica (map C5)

11.Piarist Church of Francis Xavier

(Piaristický kostol sv. Františka Xaverského), Mierové nám. (map C5)

12.Synagogue

(Synagóga), Štúrovo námestie (map B5)

13.The House of the City Executioner

(Katov dom), Matúšova 14 (map D5)

14.Trenčín Castle

(Trenčiansky hrad) (map E5)

15.Trenčín Museum

(Trenčianske múzeum), Mierové námestie 46 (map D4)

16.Zlatá Fatima Passage

(Pasáž Zlatá Fatima) (map C4)



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

Make your comment to the article...