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.
From the treasure of Mount Sitno to medieval toy-making
More than 3,000 years ago, excellent metallurgists, and skilled potters and stone-carvers lived in the surroundings of Mount Sitno. How do we know? They left behind a generous treasure on Holík Hill (adjacent to Sitno). Centuries later, Celts lived in the area, who perhaps wanted history to remember them as rich men, for their coins were found on Mount Sitno. This is, of course, a very simplistic perception, according to which we could consider the residents of Glanzenberg Hill childish, for they left behind medieval toys. In fact, the Glanzenberg location was about something else: various social groups, from miners to representatives of the Arpad dynasty, lived there, and in Gothic times, there was a chapel on the hilltop.
In the temples, there is art for both poor and rich
Whether you were a wealthy man from a safe stone house or a poor one from a simple wooden hut, the two Romanesque churches in Štiavnica were open to all. The first one, on the plateau below Mount Paradajs, was built quickly and in a plain style, because it was badly needed, along with the adjacent cemetery. Decorations were added later. Plans for a 15th c. luxurious Gothic renovation were interrupted by Ottoman attacks. And, although the people of Štiavnica rebuilt the church into a fortress, under the leadership of Renaissance architects and builders, the fortress turned out to be an elegant and functional building. The second temple, the current Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, was built at the beginning of the 13th c. Today, after several reconstructions, the church has a classicist appearance, despite retaining its older Romanesque walls. In 1500, the Church of St. Catherine, the patroness of the town, was erected. The altar we see inside today is from Baroque times. The original one was made by the mysterious Master MS, whose identity has still not been agreed upon by historians.
The threat of the Ottoman Empire attacks lasted for an unbelievable 150 years, and it really was not very sweet. However, owing to this threat, today we have a great view from the New Castle, which was built to protect the town. Ottoman warriors never conquered Štiavnica as did the enthusiasm of the Renaissance. As a result, beautiful palaces arose here under the hands of Italian masters; and the Chamber Court was turned into an impressive, multi-purpose building – a residence for a royal court representative as it should be! When the threat of Ottoman attacks vanished, the golden Baroque times began. They are commemorated by, for example, the bell tower of the Old Castle and the Calvary on the Scharffenberg hill.
Where mining ends, arts continue
In the 19th c., mining in Štiavnica began to lose its breath. This time is commemorated by the tobacco factory building which, with its palatial character, still decorates the former craftsmen’s suburb. The fading of mining did not change the love the people of Štiavnica felt for their town. When the Municipal Museum was opened in the Old Castle in 1900, local people donated thousands of precious items to its collections. In 1993, Banská Štiavnica was included on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List, and the town has been attracting an ever-growing number of admirers.
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.