Banska Stiavnica was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status for many reasons. Hidden amongst green rolling hills you will find a delightful complex of picture-perfect old towns, an amazing number and variety of churches, a unique educational institution and open-air museum, an ingenious 20-lake water supply, pumping and power generation system created in the 18th century, and a host of other unusual historical monuments that together are protected by the UNESCO designation.
At one time Banska Stiavnica was the third largest city in the Hungarian kingdom. It was also one of the most productive gold and silver mining centers in all of Europe in the 13th-18th centuries. Not only were there rich veins of precious metal to exploit, but the town became famous through its mining academy, the first of its kind, founded in 1762. In fact, this was the world’s first technical university. Forestry was later added as a specialty. In the early 20th century, mining and the academy ceased. Rather than destroy the old town, a new town was developed below it. So today we can see the historic Banska Stiavnica in all its former glory, with scarcely any modern buildings.
While the open-air mining museum and academy are fascinating, Banska Stiavnica is much more than mining. Some say it is the prettiest town in Slovakia, with cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved buildings from Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque periods and Neo-Classical periods. And don’t miss the Botanical Gardens behind the Mining Academy.
What to see
* Trinity Square (Trojicne namestie)
Charming old town square with Baroque red marble plague column, dedicated to the Holy Trinity (Susosie sv. Trojice)
* Calvary Hill
For the best view of the town, with beautiful churches and idyllic scenery along the way, climb Scharfenberg hill – a dormant volcano — with 14 Stations of the Cross.
* Open-air mining museum (Banicke muzeum)
Don a hard hat and go down a mine shaft and tunnels to see how medieval miners worked. Exhibits describe the many mining techniques – adopted around the world but developed here.
* Town hall (Radnica)
The clock on this Baroque structure tells time counter-clockwise!
* Old Castle (Stary zamok)
A Romanesque Church that was transformed into a fortress to meet the threat of the Turkish invasion.
* Mining & Forestry Academy (Banicka a lesnicka skola)
Best to visit for its fine botanical gardens – 250 non-native species including California redwoods, planted early 19th century.
* Miner’s Knocker (Klopacka)
Giant wooden clapper used to wake miners in the morning
* Piarska Gate (Piarska brana)
The only remaining gate of the town’s extensive anti-Turk fortification system
* New Castle (Novy zamok)
Built as a watchtower against the Turks (16th c.) it offers a good view over the town and map showing how close the Turks came.
* St. Catherine’s Gothic Church (Kostol sv. Katariny)
15th c. late Gothic style