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.


Castles and caves

 photo: Ján Svrček

Eparted from the Spiš region by the Volovské vrchy hills, the Gemer region stretches south to the Hungarian border. This often overlooked region is home to a number of intriguing sites making the area a pleasant surprise for travellers.

The regional capital of Gemer is Rožňava, a former mining town. According to local legend, the town was established after a wanderer in the area dreamt of gold while napping in the nearby hills. When he awoke, he began digging and struck gold. To mark the area, he placed three red roses on the ground, giving Rožňava (which is derived from the Slovak word for ‘roses’) its name.

The centrepiece of town is the Miner’s Square, where a 17th century watchtower stands. Other key sites include a Gothic church from the 14th century, a baroque church from the 17th century, and the Evangelical Church from the 18th century. The Mining museum on Šafárikova ul. is also worth a stop.

The appeal of the Gemer region, however, is not found in Rožňava but in three other places, all within easy reach of the town. The first is the Betliar chateau, a few kilometres north. The yellow and white mansion has 21 bedrooms, three dining-rooms, a billiard room, a massive library, a replica cave full of stuffed animals, and several other rooms in which guided visitors discover everything from elephant tusks to a 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy from the Giza pyramid. Adding to the foreign feel is the Buddha statue out front, sitting placidly in the large, manicured garden surrounding the mansion.

 photo: TASR

Betliar was owned by the Andrássy family and used as the family hunting lodge. The Andrássy’s were wealthy Hungarian nobility who earned their fortune in the 19th century through trading iron ore. They left the region in 1948 when Communism took over.

South of Rožňava is Krásna Hôrka, a stunning castle that looms over the village below from its perch high atop a stony outcrop. Like Betliar, Krásna Hôrka was also owned by the Andrássys, from the 16th century onwards.

A tour of the castle leads visitors through dozens of rooms showing old photos and furniture, plus various exhibits on weapons, counterfeit money making, and the fortress’s history. The tour ends in the chapel where the mummified remains of Žofia Seredy are found. Dressed in black and wearing a ghastly grimace on her pale white face, Seredy has her hand thrust outwards as if summoning a lover. One legend has it that she died of humiliation after discovering that her husband was having an affair. When the angry children plotted to murder the cheating father, the corpse raised its hand in protest.

The official story, though, is markedly less romantic. It seems that her hands used to be propped up by a bible placed on her chest. However, the left hand was accidentally broken and the bible removed when she was transported here from the village church.

The final Gemer site is found further south at Domica, where a 25-kilometre cave system burrows beneath both Slovakia and Hungary. The tour is highlighted by a cruise along the underground River Styx sliding past an eerie world of stalactites and stalagmites.

Most of the cave system is in Hungary, in Aggtelek National Park. Tours from the two countries are not integrated, so to tour the Hungarian side you’ll have to cross the border. On the Slovak side, tourists have a choice between 45-minute and 90-minute tours, except in January when the cave is closed.

-Chris Togneri, with Matthew Evans

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2002.

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