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.



Southern Slovakia

Levice

Travelling west to east, the journey begins in Levice, a town of 35,000 on the Hron River. In the city centre are the crumbling remains of the town castle, which was first built in the 13th century to defend the rich mining towns to the north.

Originally a Gothic structure, it was rebuilt into a renaissance fortress in the 16th century, when it was incorporated into the kingdom's anti-Turkish defence system. Invading Turks destroyed the castle in the 18th century. It was partially rebuilt in the 20th century, but today remains in ruins.

Čabraď

First built in the 13th century to defend access routes to central Slovakia's mining towns, Čabraď castle was reconstructed in the 16th century to withstand the Turks. Unlike some of its less fortunate neighbours, Čabraď was never overrun. But when the threat of Turkish invasion was lifted in the 17th century, the castle lost its importance and its inhabitants moved out. To assure that it would never be occupied again, they burned it down as they left.

Today, the ruins are one of the country's least accessible. A small sign off a local road (road no. 75 heading west from Veľký Krtíš) points the way (look for the sign on the right immediately after passing the marked road to Cerovo village). But for those who hike through the Krupinská planina (Krupina plain) forest to the castle, which now sits in Slovakia's biggest national protected area for snakes and other reptiles, the view of the sturdy fortifications rearing up from the wild vegetation is unforgettable.

Fiľakovo

    Fiľakovo
 Fiľakovo
 Photo: Ján Svrček

Built on an outcrop of volcanic rock and lowering over the village below, south-central Slovakia's Fiľakovo Castle seems an intimidating and invincible fortress. But appearances can be deceptive - in 1554, when 10,000 invading Turkish troops laid siege to it, the citadel fell quickly into Turkish hands. It remained there for the next 39 years.

To ward off the expansionist Ottoman empire, several castles were erected or fortified in the late Middle Ages on modern-day Slovak soil. During the 16th and 17th centuries, troops of the Hungarian Empire struggled constantly against the aggressive intruders. Wherever they failed, towns conquered by the enemy had their buildings burned, their valuables looted, their men killed and women raped.

Ruins are all that remain of that long-ago Slovak Maginot line - the castles were built atop hills within sight of each other to signal approaching enemies. Nevertheless, a tour of these historic sites takes visitors on a journey to another era, when bloody battles were waged for decades on the central European plain.

Hronský Beňadik

North of Levice on the Hron is a former monastery in the village Hronský Beňadik. The abbey was first established in 1075, and the local monks were for centuries instrumental in spreading Christianity.

The monks left in the 16th century when the complex was fortified and absorbed into the anti-Turkish defence system. In the 19th century the grand church was renovated in the Gothic style, and the monastery was declared a national cultural monument in 1945.

To get to Hronský Beňadik, take road no. 564 north out of Levice for 15 kilometres.

Divín

To the north-east of Čabraď is Divín Castle, built in the 13th century by the local lords of Lučenec. In the 16th century, the castle was rebuilt and expanded into an anti-Turkish invasion fortress. But the efforts were to little avail: the Turks occupied the castle from 1575 to 1593.

In the 17th century, the House of Balassa, a rough lot notorious for their reckless and thieving ways, also inhabited Divín. One member of the clan, Ján Balassa, was twice imprisoned for fomenting anti-Habsburg conspiracies. For these reasons, the imperial general Strasoldo had the castle demolished in 1694 to drive the family out.

To get to Divín, follow road no. 50 north out of Lučenec to Mýtna, then take a right at the village's only intersection and follow the road a few kilometres to Divín.

Bzovík

Also located on the Krupina plain, the Bzovík castle has one of the country's best-preserved fortification systems. The square fortress has four four-storey bastions, with 20-metre-tall walls surrounding a courtyard where the remains of the cathedral sit.

The castle was originally a Benedictine monastery built in the 13th century. It was heavily damaged during a 15th century attack by the Hussites. A century later, it was fortified again with the aim of fending off the Turks.

To get to Bzovík, follow road no.527 approximately 20 kilometres north of Veľký Krtíš.

Modrý Kameň

Modrý Kameň (Blue Stone) Castle was first erected in 1137. Originally designed as an anti-Tartar fortress, in the 16th century it became yet another link in the anti-Turk chain of castles. In July 1575, however, the Turks conquered the castle after a three-day battle and stayed for 18 years. While retreating in 1593, the Turks blew the castle up, leaving it in ruins.

In 1730, Gabriel Balassa - a member of the House of Balassa, one of the richest and wildest Hungarian families of the day - had a baroque castle built where the lower part of the original castle had stood. The upper Gothic castle was left in ruins. When asked why the castle is named 'Blue Stone', a groundskeeper said: "There was probably a blue stone in the original fortification. It could still be here, but nobody knows where."

On a hill above the ruin is Calvary Hil, the castle today houses the Slovak Museum of Puppets and Toys.

To get to Modrý Kameň, follow road no. 527 south out of Bzovík in the direction of Veľký Krtíš. The ruin is approximately five kilometres north of Veľký Krtíš.

Šomoška

    Šomoška
 Šomoška
 Photo: Igor Ďurič

The final stop on the ruins tour is Šomoška, which literally straddles the Slovak-Hungarian border - while the ruins stand on Slovak soil, the village just metres away is Hungarian.

Šomoška, built in the 13th century, expanded in the 16th century, and occupied by the Turks in 1573, is now a ruin.

If you've got your passport, you can cross into Hungary and visit from the south. If not, the hike up from Slovakia follows an 'educational trail', with curiosities explained along the way. One such site is kamenný vodopád (stone waterfall), a range of basalt lava formations which hardened into curved columns 4 million years ago and now resemble liquid rock pouring into a stone sea. Such basalt columns, which at this site are a haven for snakes and lizards, are found at only seven places on earth: Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Northern Ireland, California and Wyoming. More volcanic activity can be seen at the nearby ruin in Hajnačka.

The Šomoška ruin is in remarkable condition, crowned by a two-storey main tower with apertures looking out on the Hungarian village below. It is also for sale. Across the country, some 60 castles, chateaux and monasteries have been put up for sale by their owners (mainly municipalities or individuals who acquired the property after Communist-seized land was returned to the original owners). The cultural sites have been placed under the hammer because owners lack the finances to renovate or reconstruct.

To find Šomoška, follow road no. 71 south out of Fiľakovo towards the Hungarian border. On the highway as you approach the town of Šiatorská Bukovinka will be a large sign for Šomoška. Take a left into the town and follow a gravel road to the trailhead, where you'll be expected to pay a Sk30 entry fee.

Komárno

Komárno is located approximately 100 kilometres southeast of Bratislava, its castle built on the confluence of the Danube and Váh in the 11th century. It was several times enlarged and renovated in a Gothic style.

The history of this castle ended in 1527 when it was badly damaged by the soldiers of King Ferdinand I who wanted to prove that none of the old castle could resist the new weapon - cannons.

After defeat at Moháč, the Hungarians rebuilt the castle according to the projects of Italian war engineers. The old fort (stará pevnosť) was situated on an isle enclosed by the rivers Danube and Váh plus an artificial channel between these two rivers. In 1594 it resisted a month-long siege of a Turkish army of 100,000 soldiers.

When the Turks conquered Nové Zámky in 1663, a new fort (nová pevnosť) with a pentagon courtyard, bastions and water ditch was built nearby. This resisted all attacks but did not withstand a severe earthquake in 1783; at which point Emperor Jozef II decided the fort was useless and donated it to the town.

During the Napoleonic wars, the fort was reconstructed and the defence system protecting the city was built. The fort still remains a symbol of European military architecture.

For more information visit www.komarno.sk.


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

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