Nitra's castle has towered over the city for centuries.
The Modern City
Even in the middle of the day, the wide sidewalks along the main street are crammed with people. Residents pack bus stops and crosswalks, fill the town marketplace, and hurry in and out of the shops lining Štefánikova trieda. Outside the city center, hordes of workers climb off of buses at big factories; thousands of students rush
to classes at the Agricultural University; and spectators pack Agrokomplex, the mammoth convention center that draws over 1.5 million visitors to Nitra each year.
Although the big employers are in the suburbs, the city's cultural life is in the center. To get out of the crowds for a minute, take a quick detour off the main street and stop in at the Babkové Divadlo (puppet theater) on the street called 7. Pešieho pluku. Whimsical creatures dance across the mural that covers the building; inside, the painted floors and hanging puppets create a fairy tale world.
Past the puppet theater, Štefánikova trieda turns into a pedestrian zone pulsing with music; at the end, the gargantuan new Andrej Bagar Theater stands guard on Svätoplukovo nám. From the square, the old town on the hill rises like a painted stage set over the bustle of the modern city.
Great Moravian metropolis
In fact, climbing up the hill is like disappearing into another time. Back in the 9th century, when the first castle and church were built, Nitra, then the principality of Count Pribina, was one of the centers of the Great Moravian Empire. Now Pribinova ulica, the old town square, is a quiet place, the silence broken only by the footsteps of priests and nuns.
Follow a young cleric into the biggest building on the square, the Veľký Seminár (Big Seminary). The outside of the building is adorned with statues; the inside, on the other hand, is disappointingly modern, without the atmosphere of the old monastery.
But one room still holds the secrets of the past: the seminary library. Behind a double set of wooden doors, the ancient library gleams with the gilt from the spines of 60,000 books; the treasures line carved oak shelves that stretch to the ceiling. The oldest book, under lock and key, is from 1475; most of the tomes in this magical room date back to the 16th century.
From the seminary, cross the square and follow the old walkway through an arch and up to the castle, still the residence of a bishop.The castle is dominated by churches - three, in fact, now combined in the spectacular Bishop's Cathedral with its Baroque ceiling frescoes.
Up to Zobor
The higher you go in Nitra, the further back into the past you go. From the castle, walk up through the residential streets (or take local bus number 10 to the end station) to the chair lift that runs up Nitra's mountain, Zobor. Ride or hike up to the 588-meter peak to explore the castle ruins at the top, or search for the ruins of the oldest monastery in Slovakia. Just don't forget that you do have to come back to the modern world.
9. Oct 1997 at 0:00 | Hannah Wolfson Spectator Staff