Starting from the busy cosmopolitan town of Pressburg (now Bratislava) they are heading to the tranquil provincial village of Trnava, which is situated about 50 kilometers to the north-east.
The coachman sounds his horn, cracks his whip and off they go through an early summer morning, the horses whinnying and stamping excitedly.
At Pezinok the country opens out, flat in every direction - they are leaving behind the wine-growing hillsides of the Malé Karpaty (small Carpathians), which now stretch off to the left.
Eventually, after a 2 hour ride, the steeples of Trnava's many churches appear on the horizon. They get a standing ovation, and cries of 'Vivat!' as the dusty train pulls into the sleepy countryside station.
Coming into existence
Myths flourish within Trnava's quiet walls. Once upon a time, as popular legend has it, the two main merchants paths running across the vast Podunajská Lowland grew tired of bearing travellers. "Why don't we take a rest ?" they asked each other. And so they did. And a settlement was promptly built over their junction on the banks of the Trnávka river.
As business and agriculture flourished, the settlement slowly grew into a town.
Tradition has it that King Belo the 2nd, nicknamed "Slepý" (Blind man), enlarged the town's borders in the 13th century to a circle whose circumference was set at the distance a pair of horses walking at an ordinary gait could cover in an hour's time.
Then came the beetling fortifications, built to protect the town during stormy times.Each of the 52 sections of the wall were built by masons from one of Trnava's then provinces. Trnavka river water filled the moat, and wooden draw-bridges were constructed to turn the once defenseless town into a fortified island.
In 1238, under the rule of a strong king, Belo the 4th, Trnava was raised to the status of the1st free royal town on the territory of modern-day Slovakia. This act, which brought with it many specific privileges, gave an enormous boost to the town's economy and ushered in a heyday of prosperity for handcrafts and trade. Among other rights, Trnavers were allowed to brew beer and execute their criminals by hanging.
The town flourished as time passed
Unfortunately, in spite of its vaunted fortifications, Trnava proved far from invincible. The town's walls were breached first by the Tartars (1241-2), whose raids laid waste to the entire territory of central Europe, and then by a weary succession of Hussites (1423), plagues (1630's), a great fire (1666) and the tedious uprisings and insurrections that proved typical of the 17th century.
Nothing daunted, the town entered a sort of golden era with the establishment of a university in 1635. Universitas Tyrnaviensis was the only institution of its kind in contemporary Hungary and attracted scholars and students from far and wide, making the town one of the most renowned cultural centers in Europe. But no sooner had the town begun to preen in the academic limelight than the university was removed to Buda (today's Budapest) in 1777, and Trnava's star tumbled from the heavens.
Trnava or a second Rome?
Counting all the steeples, spires and turrets in the town would be stern work. By the Middle Ages there were already five churches in Trnava, the capacity of which far exceeded the town's human population.
With five more catholic and one evangelical church built since then, Trnava now boasts 11 Houses of God, not to mention two Jewish synagogues and a Pravoslavna chapel, all built in the course of the 19th century.
But Trnava gained its reputation as a second Rome from the surprising number of its tabernacles, and from a vigorously Catholic spirit which was duly rewarded with the removal of the bishopric here in 1543,when its seat in Esztergom (Hungary) was endangered by the Turks.
From past glory to present ignominy
Much has changed since the glory days in the city center, where some unique districts fell into disuse and had to be pulled down.The ancient fortifications, too, lost their original importance, and had even become a nuisance by confining the growing town to the narrow embrace of the city walls. All ancient structures have had to give way to the pressures of urban development, which have intensified since the beginning of the century.
But if keeping old traditions alive is a worthy objective, developing new legends is even more important. The reopening of Trnava university in 1992, after a break lasting 215 years, was just such a renewal. And with the establishment in Trnava of the University of St. Cyril and Metod this fall, the level of education on offer has attracted flocks of young people to this west Slovak town of 72,000.
This new Trnava is in one sense diminished from its former glories. But with its many public sport facilities, including several playgrounds, a skating rink, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and of course the country's best football club, the town can claim an intense sporting community. And with its frequent cultural events, like the unique Dobro musical festival, the heart of Trnava is once again beginning to pulse.
20. Nov 1997 at 0:00 | Martin Pokluda