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A book you browse by walking

When you walk through Banská Štiavnica, you have the feeling you are viewing a richly illustrated book. It is full of tales about amazing human creativity which, even in the hardest times, helped the town catch its lost breath.

A palatial façade turned the tobacco factory into an elegant building, dominating the town’s suburb and representing a new direction for development as mining went into decline. Resource: Lubo Lužina

A piece of Versailles in the Botanical Garden

A world-wide quest for experience is a compulsory ride, and not just for the heroes of traditional fairy tales. Wandering the world played an important role in the life of the respected blacksmith-artist Karol Fizély, the creator of the forged gate to Štiavnica’s Botanical Garden. The beauty of the gate has its roots in the residence of French kings.

Karol Fizély (1844 – 1933) was from the blacksmith family of Fizélys, who originally lived in the town of Fiesola, near Florence. Inheriting the craft from his father, Karol tested his craftsmanship on his travels in Austria, Germany, England and France. Paris enchanted him so much that he stayed there to work for three years. The rococo inspirations Versailles gave him did not let him sleep until he had fulfilled them. After he returned to Banská Štiavnica, he took over his father’s workshop there. The son forged his talent, skills and mastery not only into ornamented plaques, window grids, gates, door handles and railings, but also into the education of more than 180 apprentices who later worked successfully far and wide. Karol Fizély had no competition in this part of the world. The pair of black swans on the gate to the Botanical Garden conceals the mystery of his art. Confident shapes, perfect circles, simple lines and precise work are codes worth deciphering.

Hope dies last and funds the building of monuments

You have most probably heard that the plague epidemic of 1710 killed half of Štiavnica’s inhabitants. But, perhaps, you have not heard about the power of hope in those who survived. It saved the town and resulted in a monumental Baroque sculpture, which is one of the symbols of Banská Štiavnica today.

The plague of 1710 was cruel. The Grim Reaper swept away the lives of women, children and men without favour, without mercy – more than 5,000 in a few months. It seemed that Štiavnica was doomed and would cease to exist. But the people who escaped the disease managed to make a miracle happen. They prayed to the Holy Trinity so fervently that the plague suddenly disappeared. Those who survived embarked on the revitalisation of the town with great energy. Fifty years later, Štiavnica was the third largest town of the Hungarian Empire. In the summer of 1751, Emperor Francis I, the Duke of Lorraine (his wife, Maria Theresa did not feel fit enough to travel to Štiavnica after giving birth to their 12th child) came to visit the town. Štiavnica enchanted him! And when, in his luxurious apartment in the Berggericht building (on Holy Trinity Square), he heard the story of the prayers that had been so effective against the plague epidemic, he felt moved by the power of the people’s determination, humility and hope. He was so deeply affected he decided to donate golden ducats to the building of a municipal stone altar to commemorate the victims of the plague and thank the patron saints who protected the survivors. The sculptor Dionysus Stanetti prepared the concept and designed the project for a monumental Baroque sculpture. His colleagues in his workshop made a wooden model of the sculpture. The stone-cutting master Karol Holzknecht started the work, which lasted for an unbelievable 11 years. In July 1764, the huge sculpture received its blessing in the presence of sons of Francis I, Princes Leopold and Joseph II, and it still proudly dominates the Holy Trinity Square today.

Aerial view of Banská Štiavnica, a town you can browse through like an open book. Resource: Gashpar Creative

Buildings dominating Banská Štiavnica, lithography by Hugo Löschinger. Resource: Austrian National Library