It may seem a bit strange that a room on the second floor of the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest is the ideal starting point for exploring the past of Bardejov, a town in eastern Slovakia. But as history explains to us, the story of "Bartfa -the Hungarian name for Bardejov," is closely linked with the early development of the Hungarian crown lands.
It remains unclear what settlement lay before the 13th century in this picturesque corner of northeastern Slovakia known as Šariš. Whatever it was, it proved to be no more than a speed bump for westward moving Mongol armies. The real history of Bardejov begins after this date with destruction and subsequent withdrawal by the eastern invaders.
In order to bolster Hungary's defenses from threats in the east, King Bela IV began fortifying towns on the frontier like Bardejov to protect the young kingdom. But that is all the dusty room on the second floor of the museum explains. To learn more, journey to the town itself and see what else is revealed in this land of ironies.
If one had entered Bardejov as late as 15 years ago, one would have immediately been struck by the irony of Cyrillic street signs in this most German-looking town. History clears up this mystery though, for Bardejov has been home to many camps.
Besides defending his kingdom, King Béla was also preoccupied with getting rich. To this end, he lured Germans (and lots of them) to the hinterland to develop mining and other key industries. In "Bartfeld - the German name for Bardejov," trade was the name of the game, quickly raising this German colony's wealth and influence to a level rivaled in eastern Slovakia by only Levoča and Košice.
During this run of prosperity, Bardejov gained its most attractive and lasting characteristic: the fabled town square. One is hard-pressed to find a more beautiful square in all of central Europe.
The cobblestone square is surrounded by medieval houses and is dominated on the north side by St. Giles (Sv. Elgídia) church. This mid-Gothic masterpiece contains 11 wooden altars and a newly refurbished bell-tower, replete with a balcony that offers up a breathtaking view of the square below. As with many German enclaves in the Hungarian empire, the local inhabitants proved quite fickle and re-consecrated St. Giles as a Lutheran Church during the Reformation. The Catholics won the day, however, returning St. Giles to the allegiance of Rome and forcing the Protestants to move down the street to a rather unassuming white and yellow structure across from the modern post office.
Perhaps the most charming church in Bardejov is the Greek-Catholic St. Jacob's (just outside of the town wall on the southwest side) which warms the visitor with its rich Orthodox- influenced altars and frescoes. Worshippers here are the Ruthenians - a sizeable minority in the Šariš region and the reason behind the Cyrillic street signs just recently visible.
The whole story of Bardejov (whichever name) is illustrated through countless artifacts, dress, and documents contained in the museum located in the Old Town Hall in the center of the square. This building, dating back to the early 16th century, lays claim to being the oldest example of German Renaissance architecture in Slovakia.
Other highlights of a stay in Bardejov include a stroll along the town's fortifications, a sunset on Calvary Hill just east of the center, and a somber visit to the former synagogue (now a lumber yard) whose past is only revealed by a small plaque dedicated in 1991.
S&S Travel Tips
Trains head north from Humenné and towards the Polish border.
The fastest way by car is to take route 559, which runs straight along the Laborec river north from Humenné. But the most scenic way to get to Medzilaborce is to go by car from Svidník or the Dukla Pass along country roads that pass through villages like Ladomirová, Potoky or Miroľa, which are home to beautifully-preserved wooden churches. Route 575 runs between Svidník and Medzilaborce, and E371 connects Svidník with Prešov.
Warhol Family Museum of Modern Art- 749 Ul. Andy Warhola, 0939/210-59. Open Tue-Sun 10-17.
There is really no decent hotel or restaurant in Medzilaborce, and maybe none closer than the grim city of Humenné, 42 km away. A nice new pension recently opened on the tree-lined approach road to Humenné's chateau. If it is full, try Hotel Karpatia - Staničná ul. 1, 0933/2038 or 2037. Double, 300 Sk for Slovaks, 630 for foreigners.
Information center- Radničné nám. 21, tel 0935/186, 0935/726-072. Incredibly helpful staff.
Central Bardejovdoes not have any place attractive to offer. The nicest accommodations in town are at the brand-new Hotel Bellevue. Otherwise, try the grand old dames in nearby Bardejovské Kúpele.
Hotel Bellevue- Mihaľov, tel 0935/726-099. The priciest place in town, but probably worth it. The views are spectacular over the town and valley. Rooms have TV, phone, and a safe. The hotel has a restaurant, pool, sauna, solarium, fitness center and tennis courts.
Baal Šport Hotel- Kutuzovova 16, tel 0935/724-949. Double room with bath 520 Sk, breakfast 40 Sk. Dining room with café. Close to tennis courts.
Hotel Republika- Radničné nám. 50, tel 0935/722-721. Just a bad place to stay - dirty, unhelpful staff, overpriced, smelly. Double room 660 Sk, shared bath on the floor. Does have a central location.
Penzión Kopačka- Mihaľov, tel 0935/748-863. 4 km out on city bus number 8. Not bad for young people. Double room 300 Sk, bath on the floor, breakfast 40 Sk.
27. Aug 1997 at 0:00 | Robbie Morrison