Κυριακή, 1 Οκτωβρίου 2017

Mystical Slovakia - part II

(Kaštiel Vlachy, Korytnica Kupele, Banská Štiavnica Medieval Town and Mines, Bojnice Castle...)

The next day started with a morning tour of the same areas, before sadly we had to leave and after a final short stop at the lake, move on to a day that would be mostly devoted to urban exploration. Had time not been pressing, we would have drove a few km further to the East and visit Spiš Castle, but since we were leaving the next day, our plan was rather tight.  

Kaštiel Vlachy

Our first stop was Kaštiel Vlachy, in the vicinity of  Liptovský Mikuláš, a two storey historical Renaissance Manor dating back from the 16th century, and eversince having seen several different uses, with its last restoration works taking place in 1957-58 while rebulding the elementary school, later on home to the municipal office, but for the last two decades having fallen out of use and now laying abandoned in the middle of the village of Vlachy.
Kastiel Vlachy

The doors and windows were barred, so we could only partially observe the remains of the Baroque architecture. Other than that it looked quite vacant and despite the current owner's publicly expressed intention to have it renovated, intended for an agricultural use, due to the lack of investors and funding, ten years later it still looks left to a grim fate... 
Kastiel Vlachy - interior

Kastiel Vlachy



Korytnica Kupele 

Driving beside the dam and the lake Liptovský Mary, and continuing on our scenic route through the Tatra Mountains National park, it didn't take us long to reach our second stop, the abandoned Healing Spa and sanatorium complex of Korytnica Kupele
The origins of the spa date back to the 16th century as the healing effects of mineral water from the springs were noticed early. Thanks to its high calcium content Korytnická minerals helped in the prevention of osteoporosis, but also in the treatment of patients with various digestive difficulties, diabetics, and other conditions... In the 19th century, the spa settlement grew and as the number of patients increased, business bloomed. 
The local Mineral water (still being sold today) kept receiving several awards at world exhibitions and at one time it was the only European healing water to be marketed in the USA. Its alleged healing powers were found to be helping in all manner of ailments. Initially people drank it and then they also started to swim in it. For the healing effects the baths were compared to Karlovy Vary, or to Montecatini in Italy and they had become the most famous spa in Austria-Hungary, receiving many important people as regular guests, even Emperor Franz Joseph himself. From the beginning of the 20th century until 1974, there was even a narrow-gauge railroad leading to the spa. 
An old postcard with Korytnica amidst a stunning landscape
The path through the park now leads to derelicts...

The decline of the spa has begun after the First World War. Still they remained in use and treated several patients and remained popular during the whole Communist era. They were owned by the state until 1995 when they were privatized, and in 2002 their managing company ended in bankruptcy, as health insurance companies ceased paying for spa treatment and sales slumped. Ever since the larger section of the spa lay abandoned, with several buildings from different eras, some even of monumental architecture, slowly and steadily being claimed by nature and now rapidly falling apart, reminding rather a ghost-town...
An old postcard from Korytnica
The exterior does not look so much changed from the photo on the postcard, but the inside...
Exploring the abandoned buildings
The first building we had entered was the Espresso Café. Today there's nothing there to remind of the place where the patients used to meet with their loved ones. Broken glasses, shattered pieces of plaster, empty bottles and garbage everywhere... Drops of blood shattered around the floor and a handkerchief dipped in (thankfully) dried dark red blood were quite an alarming finding, particularly after we were able to easily follow the trail to various other parts of the building, too... Perhaps someone had stepped on a nail, there were quite a few boards with nails on the floor creating potential traps to someone not careful enough, or not wearing the proper shoes. Or, it might have been something else all the same. Perhaps some sort of foul play?... We went up the stairs to the second floor (the red drops continuing there as well), and examined all of the rooms, but didn't really want to linger much longer there, with the atmosphere heavy and sort of depressing...
Espresso building
Marks of drops of blood all over the floor
We then moved on following the path that crossed the lushly green Narodny park, and entered some more buildings we found in our way. A former cultural center. A historical house, labelled "Olga".  A bottling plant... The same fate more or less in every one of them. Walkways covered with weed, all glasses shattered, in some cases parts of the roof having collapsed.
Hygiea was once the curative house

Even the memorial of the Slovak National Uprising that stood there from the 60s has been vandalized, with two of the figures welcoming the arrival of the partisans now -rather inexplicably- having vanished.
the memorial of the Slovak National Uprising

Banská Štiavnica


It was already getting late in the afternoon when we got back to the car and left. We still had to drive another hour to get to the medieval town of Banská Štiavnica, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known since the medieval times as one of the most famous mining settlements in Europe (it was the main producer of silver and gold for the Hungarian Kingdom), and with the oldest known mining settlement having been founded there as early as the 3rd century B.C. by the Celts, the town's history has always depended on the exploitation of its abundant underground resources. The site was described as "terra banensium" ("the land of miners") as early as in 1156. The name "Štiavnica" (meaning "acidic stream") was given to the settlement in the valley, while the settlement of the hill above was named "Bana" (i.e. "mine"). For just 3 days we had missed the local annual traditional event, the Salamander Procession during which the town's history is presented, beginning with the legend of the salamander. The story relates how the town's mining tradition has began, after a shepherd dozing half asleep on the slopes of today’s Old Town Hill had suddenly seen two lizards the back of which were glittered with gold a and silver dust, and curious as he was, he rolled the boulder where they hid only to find underneath a nugget of gold... 
Looking out from the hotel to the rainy street
The pension we had booked to stay (Cosmopolitan II) standing in the center of the Old town is itself a historical house built in the 16th century and its ground floor even hides a mining shaft, part of which is used as a wine cellar, and beyond that, an underground art exhibition room with an amazing atmosphere (-and, as I would later find out, the ability to produce... strange shadows on the walls like the one that looked like a 'crouching hag' in one of my photos...) 

A dragon sculpture on a tree part of the exhibition in old Mine and wine cellar

The exhibition in the wine cellar includes a stake for burning witches. I really don't think there was a real witch in the room with me at the time, yet I'm still unable to figure out which one object in the room could be causing the "crouching silhouette" shadow on the right wall...

With Maria, we were both amazed to see the label hanging from the front door of our room that read "Hell's room"! Trying to figure out how it had got this name, I noticed some strange scratches on the old wooden floor that resembled (well..., sort of) a little horned devil. So, we thought, that must be it...
A room with character. Quite a spacy one, too.
Little 'devil' on the floor

Later on of course, while going through the history of the town in more detail, I figured out that the name of our room probably came from Matej Kornel Hell and his son, Jozef Karol Hell, two outstanding mining technicians who lived in the town at the time of its golden age, at the turn of the 18th and early 19th century. 

As most restaurants were aleady shut quite early in the evening, our walk around the historical center under the dim rain ended in the only place serving food that we could find open, a pizza house that was itself built over an old mine shaft... 
Being served pizza right next to the old Mine shaft

Night rooftop view of Banska Stavnica from our window...
The next morning we visited the Open Air Mining Museum and, after learning about the history of mining of the town and having acquired a basic theoretical knowledge of the mining buisiness, dressed in a miners overcoat and a (very-very useful) hardhat and with a stylish lantern in hand, we followed our guide down the slope and into the Bartolomej Shaft, and then further descended to the Ondrej Shaft, which dates back to the 17th century. 
Entering the underground through Bartolomej opening
Ahead of us an endless labyrinth of tunnels
Sofia an Alex from Timetravel.gr and Maria while being explained the history of the Mines. In Slovak...
And we continued to follow some of the long labyrinthine tunnels, at times almost squeezing through the most narrow parts, lowering our heads -and still scratching the ceiling with the edge of our hardhats every so often-, walking several kilometers in a cyclic route that eventually took us back out to the surface... 
Many a times the mine workers must have felt the need to light a candle or two and pray while down here... 


Bojnice Castle

Having been left with just a few hours until the time that we needed to be back at Bratislava airport, we quickly farewelled the mining town and drove to the castle we have left for the end, which by many is considered the most "fairy-tale" castle in Slovakia, Bojnice Castle. We left the car and took the path going all the way around the moat and got some stunning views of the castle.  

Bojnice Castle
Bojnice is mentioned since 1013, initially as a wooden fort, gradually replaced by stone. In the 15th century it was owned by King Matthias Corvinus son of John Hunyadi (-whose names were already familiar to us from our trips to Transylvania, at the city of Cluj and the also amazing castle Corvin). Several legends from that era concern the evil warden of the castle, Peter Póky, who had even tried to kill Prince János, Matthias Corvinus' son after the castle had passed to him. Accused of various crimes, the warden was publicly drawn and quartered in 1496. In the 16th century the former fort underwent an excessive reconstruction in a Renaissance style castle, and from 1889 to 1910, in the ownership of Count János Ferenc Pálffy, it aquired most of today's romantic, Neo-Gothic look, in a style after the French castles in Loire valley.  
Bojnice Castle, exterior, Tower view
The guided tour lasted 1.5 hour, during which we were taken through rooms of stunning beauty, and had the opportunity to admire beautiful and luxurious furniture, unique paintings and all the wonderful decorations. 
with Maria in one of the Halls
After following the Gothic stairway all the way up to the towers, we went back to the yard and after a stop at the mausoleum, we entered the tunnels that lead to a fantastic cave underneath the castle. 
The rain water falling down into the castle cave and creating small ponds

We left with beautiful memories and the best impressions and promised to be back again, this time for a Night tour, perhaps in spring time, during the annual International Festival of Ghosts and Spirits. 

In any case, we were quite happy to have successfully completed about all of our targets during this trip, except perhaps one or two secondary ones that have been left pending -perhaps on purpose- for the next time that we happen to find ourselves again in this beautiful country.


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