Calvary and Castles

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Slovakia  , Trencin,
Sunday, August 8, 2010

Yesterday, on the Banská Štiavnica Old Castle tour, you may remember the one room I had seen that really caught my attention was the room of wooden sculptures from the Calvary Mount. Before leaving town, I decide to see if I could climb the actual hill for myself. It wasn't advertised in any of the town's tourist info, and I wouldn't have known about it if not for the Old Castle museum, but it was marked (without comment) on the Banská Štiavnica tourist map. The town many not have really wanted visitors to the hill while they were working on the restoration.

I wasn't even sure if I could get into the site, but when I got there I saw it was on an open hillside, so I don't know how they would have kept anyone out. It certainly explained the vandalism problem, or at least how they could get access, vandalizing historic monuments wasn't something that could be easily explained to me.

Even in it's current state, I was captivated. It was the kind of stop I really liked. Clambering up and down rocky paths to see old monuments with no one else around. (Well, I could hear and see evidence of the restorers at work, but no other tourists.) The morning mist hid the hill's modern surroundings and added to the sense of being in another time.

My next stop was over an hour away, but also on a hill. I wouldn't say that Bojnice Castle was looming, but as I drove into the general area, I started wondering where it was and then saw it from the highway on the side of a hill. I'd say it was more lurking than looming, but it was impressive.

A castle of Hungarian kings dating from the 12th century, the current version was constructed in a Gothic Revival style, after the fairy tale castles the owner had seen in Italy. The interior of the castle could only be visited as part of a Slovakian-language tour. After my experience the day before, I was a little reluctant to commit to an hour and fifteen minute tour in Slovakian, but I really wanted to see more of the castle so I bought a ticket.

It turned out my problem with yesterday's tour wasn't the language, as I had assumed, but the fact that the inside of Banská Štiavnica's Old Castle just wasn't that interesting. There was a lot of the guide explaining tiny items in display cases, using excessive detail, which may have been fascinating if you could understand, but I could not. The Bojnice Castle tour was enjoyable no matter the language because the rooms were well decorated and there was plenty to look at while not-quite-listening to the guide.

The only complaint I had about the tour was the groups were too big. The entire group didn't fit into many of the rooms. The castle was busy because it was the weekend and there may have been some sort of special event going on involving a wild-bird show because I saw a few medieval-looking people carrying owls and the like, possibly in association with the zoo that was next to the castle. The guides were very tolerant of stragglers, though, so I usually just lingered a room behind to take pictures, since I couldn't understand the guide anyway, there was no need to hear her that well.

The castle did provide brochures in English with enough detail to identify the key items in each room. There were also a few subgroups of mixed English and Slovakian speakers on the tour, so I got a little extra from overhearing them. My favorite story left out of the brochure was the legend that a man had been offered the chance to become a Count, but that he was told in return he would never find true love. This came to pass as he fell in love with a woman and vowed not to marry her until he had completed building a special room for her in the castle. The room took so long to complete, that she had married another by the time it was done. To express his sorrow at the outcome, he placed a crown of thorns on one of the towers.

On my way back to the car, I stopped at one of the many vendors lining the walk to the castle and bought lunch. It was called langoše, and it was delicious. The bulk of the dish was fried dough. It tasted just a little sweet, but it was brushed with garlic sauce and sprinkled with cheese. It was extremely healthy I'm sure.

I still had one more castle on my list for the day, Trenčín Castle. However, because I spent some extra time in Banská Štiavnica visiting Calvary Mount I got to Trenčín only a half-hour before it closed. I didn't think that was enough time to make it up the steep hill from the gate to the lower area of the castle (parking was only at the very bottom of the climb), much less see anything, so I decided to wait until the morning. The castle did look impressive, though. The hill it was on came pretty much out of nowhere, and had a steep cliff on the city-facing side. I can't imagine how anyone could have attacked it in medieval times. Maybe there's a back-way in. I'll find out tomorrow.

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