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.



Považie Region

Beckov

Passengers travelling east on the main Bratislava-Košice train line are treated to an amazing view about 90 minutes into their journey: the Beckov castle ruins perched high atop a 100-metre cliff.

The first fortification in Beckov was built in the 12th century, and it grew into a mighty castle guarding the border between the Bohemian and Hungarian kingdoms. Unshakeable for centuries, it withstood an invasion by the Turks in 1599. But then in 1729 it was burnt down and has remained in ruins since.

Hovering high above visitors, the ruins remain impressive. Smooth stone walls remarkably intact shoot up from the surrounding natural stone of nearly identical colour.

Enter the ruin through a wrought iron gate that leads to a sweeping courtyard. Once inside, you're left with the option all castle ruins offer: exploration. At Beckov, there are dungeons, derelict drawbridges, rocky stairways, ancient windows, and myriad other sites.

Duck in to the museum below the castle to see a model of what Beckov looked like before flames got the better of it. In the town below, there is a baroque church and a monastery built in the 17th century. The Jewish cemetery is also worth a look, with tombstones dated as early as 1739.

Trenčiansky Hrad

Another grand Slovak castle on a hill, this one overlooks the fine town of Trenčín, and its old centre packed with historical buildings.

The craggy hill on which it stands was well-trafficked for centuries before the present castle's erection in the 11th century. On one of its lower rock faces, visible only from the art nouveau Hotel Tatra in the town below, there's an inscription celebrating Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius's victory over the Germanic tribes in 179 A.D. Evidently, the Roman Legions maintained a fort here at the time.

The castle gained much of its present appearance under the ownership of Matúš Čák Trenčiansky, an oligarch who challenged Royal Hungarian authority and for about 10 years in the early 14th century wrested control of much of present-day Slovakia from the crown. He ruled his territory from Trenčín Castle, and it was Čák who built up the huge keep that remains today. After Čák's death in1321, Royal Hungary quickly reclaimed its lost territory and took over the castle.

By the 16th century, the threat of Turkish invasion inspired the castle's owners, the Zápoľskí family, to rebuild and add to the castle's fortification walls, giving them the beautiful and geometrically complex form they hold today. Alas, the walls are starting to falter, and in spring 2003, a large section crumbled, leading to the castle's temporary closure to the public.

In the late 18th century, the castle suffered the seemingly inevitable fate of all Slovak castles: a fire ripped through it. Since the 1950s, the castle has been the subject of serious preservation efforts. Its nooks and crannies are fun to explore, although you must submit to a 45-minute guided tour.

This grand castle, like so many others, is probably best savoured from below. A stroll through Trenčín's attractive, car-free Old Town provides innumerable grand views of the castle. And it's easy to find restaurants, pubs, and cafes with al fresco courtyard seating right under the hulking beauty.

Strečno

    Strečno
 Strečno
 Photo: Igor Ďurič

This imposing ruin situated on a picturesque hill over the River Váh was built by Matúš Čák Trenčiansky in the 13th and 14th centuries. Over time it belonged to Queen Barbara, Ján Korvín, the Zápoľskí family and, in the 17th century, to František Wesselény. His wife, Žofia Bošňáková (died in 1664), well known for her piety and kindness to people, was buried in the crypt beneath the castle. In 1674 on the order of an imperial captain, the fortification was pulled down, its inventory taken away and its buildings blown up, the castle having served as a refuge for Thököly's rebels.

After the revolt, the castle was donated to imperial generals - the brothers Löwenburg. In the crypt the body of Žofia Bošňáková was found, completely intact after 45 years having naturally mummified. It was transported to the Church in Teplička nad Váhom, at that time the seat of the Strečno county.

Between 1975 and 1992 the ruin was restored and then declared a National Cultural Monument. Today it houses a museum.

Rafting down the River Váh is to be recommended - the route start 7 kilometres from Strečno. (Duration: 1 hour, available: April 15 - October 10, price: Sk190 per person). You can also use the ferry to cross the Váh to Varín (Sk40 per car, Sk15 per person) and then follow the road up to Teplička nad Váhom where Žofia Bošňáková is now buried.

For more information visit www.strecno.sk.

Čachtice

    Čachtice
 Čachtice
 Photo: Chris Togneri

About 80 kilometres northeast of Bratislava, along the eastern flank of the Small Carpathian mountains, there stands a dramatic but utterly ruined castle outside the village of Čachtice. It's one of more than a dozen ruined castles that line the mountain range's eastern edge, and no paved roads lead visitors to it, only scraggly hiking trails.

Yet Čachtice Castle is one of Slovakia's most internationally known landmarks. That's because it was home to Erzsébet Báthory, the 16th century countess who committed atrocities against peasant girls from nearby villages. The story of Báthory, whom legend has christened the "Blood Countess", is typically told as a kind of vampire myth, or, more recently, as a variation on the mass-murderer theme. Yet what the Báthory case most clearly illustrates is the impunity with which the Hungarian nobility lorded over its subjects, in this case Slovaks.

Here is what is known about Báthory's career. Born in 1556, she descended from two different strands of the hopelessly intermarried Báthory family, and like some of her relatives, she was given to fainting spells and fits of mindless rage. (One of her uncles was nicknamed, simply, "Crazy.") She grew up in a family castle near the Hungarian border with Transylvania, which no doubt contributed to later vampire associations. The family had a notoriously cruel attitude toward the peasants under their control, treating them as sub-human and viciously punishing any perceived insubordination.

In 1571, Báthory married Count Ferenc Nádassdy, a warrior-knight known for his valour in wars against the Turks. He so loved war, and pursued it with such zeal, that he became known as the "Black Knight". Left alone by her husband, according to later court documents, the young Countess began to conspire with a small coterie of intimates to torture young peasant girls. The frequently absent count frowned upon this habit, and it wasn't until he died in battle in 1604 that the Countess lost all restraint. According to court documents, she allegedly tortured and murdered 600 girls and women by 1610, sexually abusing them as well.

Court records say that when her lover and accomplice Anna Darvulia died in the early 1600s, Báthory struck up a relationship with a widowed noblewoman, who convinced the Countess to direct her wrath at aristocratic girls. That's when she ran afoul of royal authorities. She was convicted of murder in a secret trial, and sentenced to house arrest for life in the depths of Čachtice Castle. Her accomplices were executed. Court records remained sealed for centuries to protect the Báthory and Nádassdy names, but the story spread through the area.

The legend arose that she regularly drank and bathed in the blood of virgins - hence the vampire associations - but the incredibly explicit court records do not bear that claim out. They do, however, tell a story of long-term, systematic atrocities committed against peasants without royal rebuke.

Súľovský Hrad

Súľov, approximately 15 kilometres from Žilina, can be reached by a path marked by green signs starting at a cottage also named Súľov (approximately a one-hour walk). The beautiful, but rather strenuous path leads through overwhelming natural scenery dominated by a stone formation called the 'Gothic Gate', plus towers, needles and columns of cainozoic rock.

The castle was built in the first third of the 15th century, its main objective being to observe and guard the road. It was one of the so-called signal castles, which formed an important channel of communication. A fire in the middle of the 16th century destroyed the castle. It was later repaired but after an earthquake in 1763, no further reconstruction was carried out and the castle began to deteriorate.

The view from the castle over the columns and towers of Súľov amphitheatre is breathtaking.

Súľov has one interesting claim to fame. In 1738 Ladislav G. Škultéty, the longest-serving soldier in the world, was born here. It is said that he served as a soldier for 80 years under 4 emperors, fighting in 256 battles in 22 wars. His portrait is exhibited in the manse in the nearby village of Mojtín, a little obelisk was erected for him in Pružina and you can see his beautiful equestrian statue in Budapest.

For more information visit www.sulov.sk.


These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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