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.

Eastern Slovakia

Spišský Hrad

    Spišský Hrad
 Spišský Hrad
 Photo: Ján Svrček

Of all Slovakia's castles, grand, gloomy Spišský Hrad is probably its most celebrated. It's reputed to be the largest castle ruin in Central Europe, and in its stony decay it seems to erupt out of the hill on which it's perched, as if the earth itself were trying to resurrect a lost Gothic past.

The Hungarian Kingdom built the castle in 1209 as a bulwark against invading Tatars. The castle hill, which looms 634 metres high, commanded a particularly fine vantage point for protecting the wealthy Spiš region from marauders, as it could guard the roads into the area from three different directions. For three centuries after its construction, the castle was continually reinforced. But gradually, the main military threat to the Kingdom shifted to the south, with the rise of the Turkish challenge. As a result, the military importance of Spišský Hrad waned, and when a fire devastated it in 1790, the Kingdom didn't bother to rebuild it.

Thus it has languished until today, although over the last 20 years a few of the old rooms have been restored enough to house a minor museum. It's worth entering the ruin just to see the valley as it was seen at the height of medieval Hungary's power, when rival kingdoms sought to knock it off its pedestal.

But the most interesting place from which to experience Spišský Hrad is down in the valley below, to see it as it was seen half a millennium ago by approaching peasants, royals, and marauders alike. It must have been a symbol of awesome power and wealth - much like the World Trade Center in New York City was before September 11, 2001.

Šarišský Hrad

Five kilometres to the north of Prešov, above the village of Veľký Šariš, stands one of the oldest and biggest castles in Slovakia. Road 68 leads to the village and to get to the castle you need to follow the yellow signs starting at a 14th-century Gothic chapel. The walk takes approximately 40 minutes.

The volcanic hill on which the castle is built is the site of a settlement dating back to the Old Stone Age. The first evidence of the castle dates back to the 12th century when it defended an important trade route. The dominant feature of the upper courtyard is a once-28-metre-high prismatic tower with 4.5-metre-thick walls. Only half of the tower has survived and if you are brave enough to climb the stairs hidden in its walls, you will be offered a beautiful view of the whole complex.

The owners of the castle (Soos, Perényi, Rákoczy) were often enemies of their king and by losing battles against him, they also lost their castle. At the end of the 16th century, the castle was fortified by new walls and a system of watchtowers. Unfortunately, in 1660 a gunpowder explosion seriously damaged the castle, a process of destruction completed by a fire in 1687. Since then, the castle has slowly fallen into ruin.

Hrad Turňa

When you follow the road no. E 571 to Košice, approximately 34 kilometres beyond Rožňava on the left-hand side, you will see the wonderful ruins of the castle of Turňa. Park in the rest area called "Pod Hradom" (which offers delicious fish soup called halászlé). Behind a hut (250 metres to the right of the rest area) starts the blue path that crosses the original path to the castle. The traces of carriages can be still be observed in the limestone while various precious flowers can be found on the castle hill, famous for being one of the most important floral sites in all of Slovakia.

The castle was built after a Turkish attack in the middle of the 13th century to defend the road from Gemer to Spiš. In the middle of the 16th century it was fortified with ramparts and cannons. Although it was one of the elaborate anti-Turkish system of forts, it still fell under occupation however in 1652.

In 1685, Schultz, the imperial general, ordered the castle to be pulled down so that the army of Thököly could not use it.

Nearby you can enjoy a beautiful view of Zádielska valley, Zádielska and Jasovská plateau as well as visit Jasovská cave.

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

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