Super Spis

by Helene Cincebeaux

Spis - its grandeur extends from the snow-capped High Tatra Mountains to lush meadows, thick forests, ancient churches, castles, and quaint villages. In Spis you can swim in the mouth of a thermal crater at Vysne Ruzbachy or visit the beloved Pilgrimage place in Levoca where millions greeted the Pope last July. A surprising number of Americans have Spis roots.

The area was thinly settled until the 11th century, then the population increased until it became a county in the middle of the 12th century. Feudal lords and knights ruled the region. Hungarian King Stefan V granted many privileges and the Spis towns prospered and formed a Trade League. Some of the wealth came from veins of precious minerals and metals tucked into the mountains, gold, silver and argonite.

For some 350 years the northern part of Spis was mortgaged to the Polish King Wladislaw II. Thirteen of the wealthiest Spis towns were transferred to pay the crown's debts: Bystrany, Hari-chovce, Hrabusice, Iliasovce, Kurimany, Mlynica, Odorin, Smizany, Spissky Svrtok, Velky Slavkov and Zakovce.

Spis was known for its rich market towns, elegant manor homes, and Spis Castle which crowns a hilltop beside a major route across Slovakia. It's one of the outstanding Gothic castles in Europe.

It's hard to match Spis for sheer physical beauty - along with the Vysoke Tatry, the magnificent Slovak Paradise is a protected area where bears roam freely. A great deal of magnificent Spis is protected. Dobsina Ice Cave is a national treasure, first mentioned in the 13th century. The Pieniny National Park on the northern border includes the communities of Haligovce, Lesnica, Velky and Male Lipnik as well as Cerveny Klastor, the famed Red Cloister with its reknowned view of the Three Kings. Tourists enjoy riding the log rafts on the Dunajec, seeing the scenic rock formations with bits of history, while regaled with Spis history and songs.

The Spis region received immigrants from other countries - Germans and Belgians from the 1100's, and Poles (some members have traced their roots to Polish nobility), and the mysterious sheep-herding Valachs that settled on the hillsides.

Spis is famed for its delicate lace, sheepskin coats, felts hats topped with eagle feathers and folk villages. Jakubany is known for its Rusyn culture. Osturna is another charming Rusyn village and many others are scattered throughout the region, such as Slovinky. Zdiar near the Polish border has earned the status of historic preserve of folk architecture. The enthnographic museum is well worth a visit to glimpse life in another age. It's a great halusky stop too.

Major towns include Spisska Nova Ves, Poprad and Kezmarok, over 750 years old and famed for its wooden church, every inch of the interior is loving-ly carved and covered with painted decoration. Flowers riot among angels and apostles. The northern Spis town of Stara Lubovna is crowned by a castle, an outdoor folk museum and some of the best pirohi in all of Slovakia. Medieval, walled Levoca is unique. St. James boasts the highest Gothic altar in all of Europe. This magnificent work of art was carved by Master Pavol over a period of eleven years. His biblical faces are as alive today as when he carved them some 500 years ago. Levoca was the seat of self-government for the 24 Spis towns since 1271 and was named a free royal town in 1323. More than 50 historic buildings surround the main square, and 200 nearby, many with intricate stone carved doorways. A special delight is the cesnakova polievka (garlic soup) at the Three Apostles restaurant on the main square.

Other little known highlights - Klastorisko in the Slovak Paradise, a deep valley which sheltered residents against the rampaging Tartars in 1241. The palace at Markusovce with its museum of antique furniture. The healing Spas. The precious Gothic wall paintings at Zehra Church, in fact the treasures in village churches throughout Spis attest to a rich artistic and religious heritage.

Torysky Kostol

Super Spis!

This article was published in the Vol. 9, No. 2 issue of Slovakia: A Slovak Heritage Newsletter published by the Slovak Heritage & Folklore Society International, for a sample copy send 2 stamps to Slovakia, 151 Colebrooke Dr., Rochester NY 14617.

This article is copyright The Slovak Heritage and Folklore Society. It may not be reproduced by any means without the express written permission of The Slovak Heritage and Folklore Society. Images on this page are copyright 1993, Helene Baine Cincebeaux and are from her book, The Treasures of Slovakia. They may not be reproduced without the express written permission of Helene Baine Cincebeaux.

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