What I Did on My Summer Vacation: July 18–Banska Stiavnica (More Pictures!)

(500) Days of SummerTime to return to my What I Did on My Summer Vacation series (now with yet another pic–surely you can guess what the theme is to these pictures by now, yes?). As I’ve said before, I was multi-tasking on this trip. One thing I really wanted to do was go to a place I’d never gone before, where I could potentially set another book in the Vodnik series. I was pretty specific in my “checklist” for a perfect spot: it had to be old, it had to be a place with a more significant Roma population than Trencin has, it had to be uniquely Slovak, and it had to have a lot of history and folklore for me to drawn on. Thankfully my brother-in-law Milos came to the rescue, finding the perfect spot: Banska Stiavnica.
I’m not kidding, folks. This city is a hidden gem. Hidden for good reason–it ain’t easy to get to. I wouldn’t be surprised if I went to some places that less than 100 Americans have seen. Maybe less than 50. (More on that tomorrow.) There are no real highways to get there: you have to take windy back roads that are steep enough to make you wonder how in the world anyone survives a single winter there. The area’s smack dab in a dense forest that crowds in on the city from all sides, like the place is under siege. You finally get out of the switchbacks, and all of a sudden you see this:
This little town draped over steep hills (that make walking around it a real joy, let me tell you). It has a history that goes back to 9500 BC. Legend has it, a guy was out hiking and took a nap. When he woke up, there were two salamanders sitting there, watching him. One was coated in gold dust, one in silver dust. He followed them back to their homes and discovered the jackpot of all gold and silver mines. Where there’s gold, there’s interest. Once, Banska Stiavnica was the second largest city in Slovakia. It Then the mines dried up. It was visited by kings and was even the site of the first technical university in the world: a university devoted to mining. (They have a mural in town that commemorates the legend. It’s pretty cool: here are a couple of pieces of it)
One of the hallmarks of the city is a series of reservoirs (called Tajchy) that were devised to help the miners work better. At one point there were something like 60 of them around the area. Now there are only 20 or so left. (We visited a couple. They’re more places recreation spots these days, although Denisa was overjoyed to see that skinny dippers love to take advantage of them, too. She and I were sitting there talking, and a completely naked old man started lounging around next to us. Ah, Europe . . ) Here’s a picture. (Of a tajch, not a naked old man. Sorry to get your hopes up.)
While we were there, we first went to a chateau in the neighboring town of Svaty Anton. This place as absolutely incredible, but they didn’t allow any pictures of the interior. Remember, I’d just gotten through touring Vienna, so it wasn’t like I was going to be blown away by just any old building. But where in Vienna, all the old buildings have been restored (and updated with some modern amenities), Svaty Anton felt like the rulers had just left the room a few minutes before. It felt so much more authentic. (They have a website–check out the virtual tour in particular–but it doesn’t do it justice.) It just felt more real to me, and that’s the only way I can think of to describe it. Here’s a pic of the outside:
We then headed into the town. Milos had gone to school in the city, so he knew the place pretty well. We didn’t have a whole lot of time left for the day, so we mainly toured the outside of the city. (We did take a tour of the town, which boasted all about the “7 Wonders of Banska Stiavnica”: check ’em out here online). So I’ll leave you now with a few last shots of the city, and then some random people pics.
That’s the “new castle” in the back there. The old castle is from the 1200s. The new one is from the 1500s. And we wonder why Europeans look at us Americans as being such whippersnappers.
This is a church. Interesting story, actually. They set this church up as part of a complex for pilgrims. If you walk up and down the hill, it has a series of sculptures and reliefs that are supposed to recreate the life of Christ. For more info, check here. I was particularly surprised this made it through Communism. In fact, the whole city emerged from Communism pretty much unscathed, due in large part to the fact that since no more gold was there, the city didn’t draw much attention to itself.

Here’s a pic of the Mormon branch in Trencin. That’s about every active member, plus the missionaries and my family. Not very big.

Milos is a sucker for these pics. I took one:

And so did he:

Auditioning to be the 8th dwarf.

I might be a bit big for the role:

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