town where time stood still, Levoca was the walled capital of the richest region in Slovakia, Spis, for hundreds of years. The 24 Spis towns were settled by Germans invited by Hungarian kings to re-populate the area in the 12th-13th centuries, after Tatar raids killed most of the local inhabitants. Levoca is a showcase of 15th-16th c. architecture. The main square is lined with one-story Gothic, Renaissance and early Baroque houses, the former homes of rich merchants.

The town declined in importance from the 18th century on, which saved it from modern development, leaving it a perfect jewel for tourists to discover.

What to see:

* Church of St. Jacob’s (sv Jakuba) – The town’s best known attraction, with magnificent wooden winged altar carved by Master Pavol of Levoca – the country’s most famous Gothic craftsman.
* Cage of Shame (Klietka hanby), a wrought iron pillory for women accused of wrongdoing, built by the Protestants
* Original 14th-15th c. fortified walls of the town
* Town Hall (radnica) with frescoes and a museum on Spis culture (Spisske Museum) with icons, paintings and furniture, some from 14th century.
* Minoritian church and monastery with baroque interiors
* Thurzo House (Thurzov dom) – A burgher’s home with lovely sgraffito decoration
* Spiss Museum (Levoca) – Located in three historic buildings in the picturesque Renaissance town of Levoca are exhibitions showing the history, art history and folk arts/crafts traditions of the Spiss area, and of the town of Levoca in particular.

Pilgrimage church

On a hill overlooking Levoca is the neo-Gothic Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin. Up to 250,000 people flock here for the annual Marianske Pilgrimage the first weekend of July. In the 13th century, a small fort on the hill protected the townspeople from Tatar raids. To give thanks for being spared, they built a chapel (later a church) with a statue of the Virgin Mary. This statue is now the main symbol of the Marianske Pilgrimage, which during the Soviet Era became a powerful form of protest to the Communist regime. Pope John Paul II participated in the pilgrimage several times before (and once since) becoming pope.