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.



Ponitrie Region

Bojnický Zámok

    Bojnický Zámok
 Bojnický Zámok
 Photo: Ján Svrček

Bojnice Castle rises majestically out of the densely-forested lowlands near the Malá Fatra region in neo-Gothic splendor, a combination of Royal Hungarian muscle and Hollywood-style production values. It is Slovakia's great kitsch castle, a grand illusion, a solid old Renaissance-style structure remade by a wealthy count in the late 19th century to mimic the romantic castles of France's Loire Valley.

Comparisons to Disneyland are common - and are either the castle's chief selling point or its downfall, depending on your tastes (or age).

The castle was originally built in the 13th century, with heavy fortifications that proved useful when Turkish invaders sacked the town below twice in the 16th century, neither time penetrating the castle. In 1527, the Thurzo family took over the castle and promptly remade it in the Renaissance style. In the 17th century, it received some baroque additions.

Then it stagnated for 200 years before being inherited by Ján Pálffy, a wealthy heir and castle-makeover enthusiast. Fascinated by the early Gothic royal architecture of France's Loire Valley, the stuff of romantic fairy tales, Pálffy set about transforming the stately, down-on-its-luck space into a palace worthy of his vast art collection. Working closely with a famous Budapest architect, Pálffy began his remodeling project in 1890, painstakingly creating the late-Tyrolian Gothic look the castle now has. He scoured Europe for period antiques and carefully installed them in his dream palace. He erected a new pointed tower on the castle's west wing that completes its modern skyline.

He died in Vienna in 1908, his reconstruction project unfinished. The family sold off much of the art and artifacts he had acquired.

Today, Bojnice Castle is a wonderful destination for travelers with children. Rumors that the castle is haunted have led to the whimsical International Festival of Spirits and Ghosts, held in the first week of May. Throughout the summer, the castle draws multitudes with its historical reconstructions and performances; the sight of men in tights clanking around with swords is not uncommon. The complex offers fun for the whole family: there's a zoo next to the castle, and in the town, there's a spa.

Oponice

The village of Oponice is located between Nitra and Topoľčany on road no. 593. The ruin of the castle, standing on a wooded hill in the Tríbeč mountains, is clearly visible from the road. The walk to the castle starts at the big manor in the village (green signs) and takes around one hour. According to legend, the Great Moravia ruler Svätopluk used to rest here and somewhere around is hidden his treasure which will be found when Slovakia needs it most.

The first written evidence of the castle dates back to 1300 when it belonged to Matúš Čák Trenčiansky. Thanks to its thick fortifications, the castle never fell to the Turks. However, after a fire in 1645, it was abandoned and left to fall apart.

There are two other palaces from the 16th and 17th century in the village. In the smaller one, a little museum has been opened. The larger one, surrounded by an English-style park is today in ruins. It served as the Apponyi library, at one time the biggest library in Upper Hungary.

Henrich Apponyi, who freed Oponice from Poduan Maharadga, and 1920s entertainer Josephine Baker are buried in the local church. Henrich Apponyi brought up his niece, Geraldina Apponyi, here. She is famous for marrying the Albanian king, Ahmed Zoga I, in 1938 and so becoming the last Albanian queen. She died in 2002.

Nitriansky Hrad

The castle is the most precious sight of the city - a memorial to centuries of momentous events.

Its foundations date from the times of the Great Moravian empire and are renowned as the Seat of Pribina. The first Christian church in Slovakia and probably the whole of central Europe was built here.

In the 11th century, it became the regional (župný) castle and in the 12th century the seat of a bishop.

The patron of the church is St. Emeram, St. Svorad-Andrew and St. Benedikt being two other saints actually buried here. Bishop Meško had a large cathedral and palace built in the 14th century, the church of St. Emeram forming a part of this complex.

The city and the castle were conquered and damaged by Turks in 1663. The castle acquired its current form after reconstruction, which followed the Rákoczy revolts at the beginning of the 18th century.

The castle is the seat of the Nitra diocese as well as the centre of the Archaeological Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

A walk through the ancient castle and streets and squares below is both a pleasant and educational experience. Visit the gallery, museum, the statue of Prince Pribina, Cyril and Method and the plague column. Look out for Kluch's house - its corner is held up by a statue of Atlas. When you look closer into his face, you will find out that it is the figure from the label of the Nitra beer Corgoň, Corgoň being a nickname of Atlas used in Nitra.

Gýmeš

Twelve kilometres east of Nitra (road no. E 571) is the village of Jelenec. Its castle is one of few that did not change owner throughout the Middle Ages - it belonged to the Forgach family for almost 600 years.

You can reach the castle in 30 minutes by following the yellow-signed path from the reservoir past a recreation centre called Remitáž. The path leads along a ridge where, on the right, there once stood a castle called Studený Hrad (Cold Castle). The walk to the castle from the ridge takes around 10 minutes (follow the green signs).

Another path leads from Kostoľany pod Tríbečom - approximately 4 kilometres from Jelenec. In this village you can see a Romanesque church from the 11th century with authentic wall paintings. After following the red signs for about 30 minutes, you will get to the famous Jelenická Gaštanica - literally a forest in a forest. It was established in 1240 by the Forgach family. Today these four hectares represent the most beautiful and oldest artificial chestnut vegetation in Slovakia, the oldest trees being around 350 years old. The green-marked path to the castle continues from the gaštanica for approximately 10 minutes.

The first written evidence of this castle dates back to 1226. It was gradually enlarged and in the 17th century reconstructed and fortified by bastions in a Renaissance style. However, Turks burnt it down in 1663. Despite its reconstruction and stronger fortifications, it was again seriously damaged in 1671.

In 1718 the castle was reconstructed in the baroque style as a symbol of family fame to serve for luxurious hunting. A new chapel with a family crypt was built and became a pilgrimage spot. The tradition of the lopatový tanec (shovel dance) also started at this time. According to the tradition all guests were welcomed at the main entrance with four hits of a shovel and a written record in the memorial book.

The castle was abandoned in the 19th century and left to fall apart.

For more information visit www.jelenec.sk.


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

Make your comment to the article...