Geographically and traditionally the heart of Slovakia’s heartland, Banska Bystrica is home to 85,000 citizens and some of the country’s most memorable cultural icons and conventions – including the elegant square, lined with charming restaurants, cafes, shops and pensions.
History in Banska Bystrica, and in the other older towns in the greater area, really begins with Slovakia’s glory days of metals mining, roughly from the 15th to 18th centuries. Copper, and to a lesser degree iron, enriched Banska Bystrica, as still evidenced by the fabulous town square. Once the mines were exhausted, by around 1900, the area declined somewhat. It blazed its way back into history late in World War II, as the focal point of the two-month Slovak National Uprising against the Nazi troops.
Today sizeable museums to both the periods are some of the most formal attractions in Banska Bystrica. More memorable for most, however, is the renaissance architectural legacy left behind by the vast wealth generated by the old mining industry. Most of these cluster around the sprawling square: the 16th-century clock tower (its winding staircases climbable by visitors in the summer), onion-domed churches built into the traces of the town walls and numerous smaller but no less striking facades reward the observant visitor with remarkable details. Two of the most exceptional are easily located by their addresses: the arcaded “Venetian House” at number 16, and Thurzo House with its intricate paint-job and roundish windows at number 4.
How to Get There
Though it is a few kilometres off the main transport lines, connections make Banska Bystrica quite accessible. By train or bus, many links throughout the day (by way of Zvolen 20 kilometres south, and Martin a bit further to the north) make it feasible to travel here from Bratislava, Prague and other points throughout Slovakia and central Europe. By car, an express highway connects the town to Zvolen, through which the E571 passes.
Nearby, most noted attractions offer more of the same old mining riches, though with delightful variations. Banska Stiavnica, a UNESCO cultural heritage site, drew most of its riches from silver, and its vanished wealth is evident far beyond its square in a tumble of historical houses. The tiny but once affluent town of Kremnica thrived on the gold in the lush hills surrounding it, and also exists in an almost intact renaissance form, gorgeously nestled in surrounding nature. The spirit of both towns draws a large number of artists, artisans and occasionally performers. Several worthwhile castles and palaces are also in the general vicinity.
City of Banska Bystrica
Official web site of the municipality and the info center.