With nearly 100,000 residents, Presov is the country’s third-largest city and a seat of regional government in north-eastern Slovakia. In spirit, though, this is something of a small town with much of the flavour of the surrounding Saris territory’s villages. The town centre and high street has most of the architecture and museums, and cultural and food service establishments, that interest the visitor.
Though it was already part of the Hungarian empire by 1200, Presov was one of the last sections of Slovakia to come under its sway. Over the next few hundred years, it was frequently a centre of rebellion, both anti-Roman Catholic and anti-imperial, the last traumatic event being the a slaughter of 24 prominent locals in 1687. Trade (from once very wealthy mines of salt and opal) and time, however, have resolved ill feeling, and today Presov is a peaceful seat of regional government.
Presov’s zenith in wealth and influence came in the 15th to 17th centuries, the periods most remarkably represented in the historical buildings in and around the town square. The church at its centre dates from the 13th century, but its prize features are the slightly later Crucifixion carved by Master Paul of Levoca, and fragments of wall paintings. Several museums, chiefly those dedicated to Judaism and salt mining, enrich the town.
As Slovakia’s third-largest city, a number of businesses operate from the Presov area. Chief among them are the Saris brewery now operated by SABMiller, and the salt plants that still draw on the ancient local mines.
How to Get There
Presov is on a branch train line; to travel from Bratislava, nearby Kosice and most of Slovakia it is necessary to change at the tiny village station at Kysak.
By car, there is an express highway to Kosice (30 min) and with the help of a tunnel also an easy trip to the Spis and High Tatras areas. Many buses also stop in Presov, from local and regional centres.
Presov is the unofficial capital of the distinctive Saris region, as well as the nearest city to the largest collection of extant wooden churches near the town of Svidnik. Presov is also within easy reach of the cities of Bardejov and Kosice, and the regions of Spis, the Tatras mountains and Slovak Paradise.
Spis (pronounced SPEESH) boasts one of the few castles that effectively deterred Tatar raids, even as surrounding settlements were wrecked by them. Dating from 1120, the castle was reinforced in various periods, serving notably in the Reformation wars under Hussite leader Jan Jiskra. Gradually, the castle became more of a show-place for owners from a series of aristocratic owners, until a careless fire gutted it in 1780. The four hectares of splendid ruins underwent restoration in the 1970s and today are generally accessible and include a museum.
Because it’s a bit off the beaten track, the simplest route to the area is by car, to the village of Spisske Podhradie, about halfway between Presov and Poprad. If you’re dependant on public transport, Either way, it’s a good day trip from Kosice, the High Tatras or Slovak Paradise.