Banská Štiavnica

Banská Štiavnica

Population: 10,874

The town of Banská Štiavnica is in central Slovakia, in the middle of an immense caldera known as Štiavnica Mountains. It is a completely preserved medieval town with mining history.

In 1238, Banská Štiavnica was bestowed the privileges of a free royal town, meaning the mine owners reported directly to the king and need not pay taxes to middling nobility. The area quickly became one of the richest in Central Europe.

Town historians claim that Banská Štiavnica's miners were the first in the world to use gunpowder and technology continued to improve with the foundation in the 18th century of a mining academy, which was the world's first technical university.

The wealth in the seams beneath the town translate on the surface into the glorious array of ornate buildings whose restored forms now line the town square and central street.

The centrepiece of the square is the red column of the Holy Trinity. Around the town square are the gothic, white Church of St Catherine, the town hall, the yellow-fronted evangelical church.

On a gradient up from the main square is Banská Štiavnica's old castle form the 13th century and klopačka (roughly translated as a "knocking tower"), unique to mining towns.

The new castle is a white, Rennaissance fortress, occupying a far more tactically savvy position than the old.

For all of Banská Štiavnica's ample charms, there is an odd sense of lifelessness about the place. Bars, restaurants, pensions and hotels are plentiful.

The town of Banská Štiavnica, plus its mining monuments, were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993.