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Attention that doesn’t please

Banská Štiavnica has always been full of visitors. Today it attracts peaceful tourists, but in the far past, most often those who had an appetite for the town’s wealth were drawn here. They were a threat to the town, kidnapping and impoverishing its inhabitants, robbing and marauding properties. Štiavnica did not always manage to protect itself; however, in the case of the Ottomans, it did. Their attempts to invade the town lasted the longest but, in the end, they left with empty hands.

Banská Štiavnica, as seen by an unknown artist, approximately 1590 – 1610. Resource: Art web

The plague pandemic, which spread through the areas under the Habsburg Monarchy in 1711, was the last one in our regions, ending around 1714. Resource: Scholars Resource: Bridgeman Art Library

Under the protection of the red monks

Since Banská Štiavnica was a source of wealth for the royal treasury, the rulers were sensitive to reports of thefts and robberies in the town’s surroundings. So, it was understandable when, blessed by His Majesty, a troop of so-called “red monks” came to the town in the 15th c. to provide security.

Some say that they were Templars; however, trustworthy resources claim that the red monks were from the Johanniter order. Johanniters were the members of the Knights Order of St. John the Baptist of Jerusalem. The legend says that about 50 of them came to the town and the people of Štiavnica welcomed them with open arms. They needed the monk’s protection, for the precious metals that were mined here attracted also people of merciless behaviour. It is said that the red monks soon controlled the main roads as well as the forest paths, checking every nook and cranny in the area. If someone seemed suspicious and had no witness to verify their good reputation, the red monks engaged such person in work – in the mine, or at the reconstruction of a monastery to castle. God forbid that the poor thing would try to escape the work, for when caught by the monks once again, the most pleasant thing that he could have prayed for was the gallows. Apparently, a few cases were enough to alert people, for it is said that Štiavnica became a town free of crime within a year, and bandits stayed a safe distance from the town. In the end, however, the fame of the red monks was buried by their own misdoings. Abducting four women, the monks hoped to secure themselves financially. It is said that the commander was hanged and the others driven out of town. Whether this story is true and that the monks actually had their hermitage near the saddle Červená studňa (Red well), nobody knows. It is certain, however, that Johanniters once truly lived in Štiavnica. This is proven by a record from March 1494, which was made by the notary Lucian Cole, who was also the secretary of the Johanniters’ General Prior. The document credibly attests to the fact that the monks of this order lived and worked in central Slovakian mining towns.

How come the Ottomans never conquered Banská Štiavnica?

The town of Štiavnica, full of silver and gold, was very attractive to the conquerors from the Ottoman Empire. All the more difficult is it, then, to believe that they never got hold of Banská Štiavnica, although it was among their priorities and they had an entire 150 years to do so.

After the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the doors to the Kingdom of Hungary were opened for the Ottomans. They managed to get as far as the Hont region, the area where Banská Štiavnica was located. From May 1544, when they plundered the villages of Ilija and Žibritov, the Ottomans regularly exhibited their power so that the people of Štiavnica could see it, attacking Banská Belá five times, killing six people in Banský Studenec and dragging into captivity 70 others, burning houses in Štefultov, and invading Sigelsberg (today, part of Štiavnické Bane). In 1571, the Emperor Maximilian II lost his patience, and sent an angry letter to the people of Štiavnica, asking them to finally do something. So, the people of Štiavnica embarked on building a double-circular fortification, the centre of which was the Old Castle – St. Mary’s Church rebuilt into a fortress. Both the outer and inner circles had gates that you will have difficulty finding today – they were located at the upper part of the Holy Trinity Square, at the beginning of Horná (Upper) and Dolná (Lower) ružová streets, at the entrance stairs to the Forestry High School, and also in the upper part of Radničné square. The gates that remain are the Piarg Gate and the Lower Gate (the Church of St. Elisabeth today). In the Kammerhof (the Chamber Court building), two 16th c. bastions have been preserved – they are proof that the State properly protected its stocks of precious metals. In the lower part of the town, Pavol Rothan – Rubigall built a fortified farmstead. And we should not forget the New Castle. It served as a fortified observation point, and relayed signal fires between Mount Sitno, Pri pekných lipách (At nice lindens) hill, and the castle above the town of Sklené Teplice. This all cost a lot of effort and money. So, although the Ottomans never entered the streets of Banská Štiavnica, the locals must have been justifiably furious about their presence in the region.

Old Castle, originally the first parish church in Banská Štiavnica, could hold more than a thousand people. Under threat from the Ottoman Empire, the church was rebuilt as a stylish fortification. Resource: Gashpar Creative

Bastion in Štiavnické Bane – once part of the anti-Ottoman fortifications; today, seat of the municipal museum and the museum of Maximilian Hell, a famous physicist, astronomer, and mathematician. Resource: Ultrastav, s.r.o.