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Things to do in Banska Bystrica
Things to do in Slovakia



Banska Bystrica


Banská Bystrica is a city in central Slovakia located on the Hron River in a long and wide valley encircled by the mountain chains of the Low Tatras, the Velká Fatra, and the Kremnica Mountains. With 76,000 inhabitants, Banská Bystrica is the sixth most populous municipality in Slovakia. The present town was founded by German settlers, however it was built upon a former Slavic settlement. It obtained the municipal privileges of a free royal town of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1255. The copper mining town acquired its present picturesque look in the Late Middle Ages when the prosperous burghers built its central churches, mansions, and fortifications. It is the capital of the kraj (Banská Bystrica Region) and the okres (Banská Bystrica District). It is also the home of Matej Bel University. As a historical city with an easy access to the surrounding mountains, Banská Bystrica is a popular winter and summer tourist destination.

Most of the historical monuments are concentrated near its central, picturesque SNP Square, which teems with flowers and street cafes in the summer. The square is named after the Slovak National Uprising. It is dominated by a clock tower built in 1552. Although less known than its famous counterpart in Pisa, it is a leaning tower with the top 40 centimetres (16 inches) off the perpendicular. A plague column was erected in the square in the 18th century in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for ending a deadly plague. The column was temporarily removed before a visit of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1964 because a religious symbol was considered too embarrassing a background for the Communist leader's speech. The St. Francis Xavier Cathedral is a copy of the Jesuit Church of the Gesu in Rome and is since 1776 the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Banská Bystrica. Other major monuments on the square include an Art Nouveau fountain from the beginning of the 20th century and a black obelisk raised to the honor of the Soviet soldiers killed during the liberation of the city in 1945.

Most buildings enclosing the square and in the nearby streets are well-preserved Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque noblemen's mansions and wealthy burghers' residences. The most interesting among them are the Benicky House and the Thurzo House, the latter hosting a museum with a regional archaeological collection and remarkable Gothic frescos. Most of the buildings in the center have been transformed into luxury stores, restaurants, and cafes. SNP Square itself was completely reconstructed in 1994.

The museum located at the Memorial of the Slovak National Uprising contains a large military collection, including an open-air exhibition of World War II tanks, artillery, aircraft, and armored trains.

Banská Bystrica has also a large network of marked hiking trails all around the city. In wintertime, it attracts fans of cross-country skiing and downhill skiing, as there are a number of ski resorts close to the city, including the Donovaly resort famous for dogsled racing.

The oldest part of Banská Bystrica is City Castle at the edge of SNP Square. It is enclosed within what has remained of its original fortifications - a barbican protecting the main gate, three bastions, and part of the walls. City Castle served as the city's administrative center and it also protected the king's treasury. The Parish Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary built in the Romanesque and Gothic styles contains precious Gothic altars and sculptures. One of the altars was carved by the famous Master Paul of Levoca. The church was built in the 13th century. It is still surrounded by remnants of its ancient cemetery. The neighboring Church of the Holy Cross was built in 1452 by the Slovak burghers as a counterpart to the Church of the Virgin Mary that then acquired the attribute German. The Matthias House was built in 1479 as a five-story late-Gothic structure with a Gothic portal and stone console balcony. It served as a temporary residence of King Matthias Corvinus and his Queen Consort Beatrix. The Renaissance Old Town Hall, dated from 1500, has been transformed into an art museum.

There are four theaters in Banská Bystrica. The State Opera was founded in 1959. It has given the opera world several divas, Edita Gruberová being the most famous one. Every summer, the State Opera organizes a popular open-air festival at Zvolen Castle. Študio tanca is a professional contemporary dance theater established in 1998. A professional marionette theater, Bábkové divadlo na Rázcest√≠ (Puppet Theater at the Fork in the Road) founded in 1960, organizes the only marionette festival in Slovakia. Theatre from the Passage is Slovakia's only theater with a mentally disabled cast whose mission is to help integrate mentally disabled people in society.

The oldest museum in the city is the Museum of Central Slovakia, founded in 1889. Its historical exposition is located in the Thurzo House on SNP Square, while the natural history exposition is in the Tihányi Mansion in Radvan. The Old Town Hall building at City Castle hosts the State Gallery specialized in contemporary Slovak art. The Museum of the Slovak National Uprising features a collection of 203,000 militaria, including an open-air exhibition of World War II heavy weapons. Other noteworthy museums are the regional Literature and Music Museum and Slovakia's only Postal Museum.

The town is the setting for the book St Peter's Umbrella by Kálmán Mikszáth, published in 1895. The book was part of a large increase in Hungarian writing at the time, which was symptomatic of the rise in Hungarian separatism against what was seen as the oppression of the German Habsburgs.

From 22 to 28 February 1959 the first festival of the Czechoslovak cinema was presented in Banská Bystrica. While it was planned by Cesky film as a showcase of the national film production it turned into a tribunal for those films that did not fit the ideological guidelines of the Communist Party.

There are four folklore ensembles for adults and three for children. Their aim is to preserve and present Slovak folklore traditions, especially the traditional music. The oldest one is the award-winning Urpin Folklore Ensemble, founded in 1957. Mladost Folklore Ensemble is affiliated with University of Matej Bel.

FK Dukla Banská Bystrica is the local football club, playing in the top Slovak football league, the Corgon Liga. They have their home ground at SNP Stadium, with a capacity of 10,000. Other clubs based in the city include the Extraliga ice hockey club HC 05 Banská Bystrica and the basketball club BKP Banská Bystrica.



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