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Košice: Rebel town mixes cultures through its past

When walking along the Košice's main street (Hlavná ulica), it is not uncommon to hear Hungarian as often as Slovak. Indeed, just before World War I, Košice, or Cassa, was the second most important city in Hungary.
The city's proximity to the east, where the Ukraine touches the Slovak border, can be felt behind the East Slovak museum on the square where an old wooden church pays tribute to the mixture of Ruthenian culture brought to the city. Between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends, a huge open market (bulčak) behind the VSŽ football stadium offers all kinds of cheap junk (magazines, spare parts, old Russian records, household items, even old eastern European money that makes great souvenirs) sold by Ukrainians.



When walking along the Košice's main street (Hlavná ulica), it is not uncommon to hear Hungarian as often as Slovak. Indeed, just before World War I, Košice, or Cassa, was the second most important city in Hungary.

The city's proximity to the east, where the Ukraine touches the Slovak border, can be felt behind the East Slovak museum on the square where an old wooden church pays tribute to the mixture of Ruthenian culture brought to the city.

Between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends, a huge open market (bulčak) behind the VSŽ football stadium offers all kinds of cheap junk (magazines, spare parts, old Russian records, household items, even old eastern European money that makes great souvenirs) sold by Ukrainians. It is this mixture of different cultures with Slovak that makes Košice unique.

Villa Cassa

Located in the Hornád River valley, Košice sits on some of the oldest settlements in Slovakia. In fact, the oldest Paleolithic settlement in Europe with constructed dwellings was discovered on the outskirts of the city.

The first written mention of Košice is found in a charter dating to 1230 in which it is referred to as Villa Cassa. Traces of its past can still be found within the old town where parts of the old wall built to protect the town in the 13th century still stand.

Wandering through the city, one can't help but notice Košice's coat of arms located prominently all over. In 1369 King Louis the Great gave Košice the first coat of arms ever to be given in Europe. Košice has always been a bit of a rebel city. In the 17th century Košice was the center of opposition against the ruling Habsburgs and featured prominently in several of the Hungarian magnate rebellions.

In 1945 Košice briefly served as the capital of liberated Czechoslovakia when its president, Eduard Beneš, declared the new government on April 4, 1945. The negotiations that followed among political leaders led to the declaration of the infamous Košice Program - leading to the eventual communist takeover of the country.

The most important event in Košice's recent history was the establishment of East Slovak Iron and Steel works (otherwise known as VSŽ) on the outskirts of the city in 1960. Since then, the plant has grown to become the largest company in Slovakia and dominates the area's economy.

Tourist zone


The shining capital of the east. Košice is undergoing a makeover.
Reid Deaver

Most tourists flock to the main street, originally a medieval square, where the former Hungarian influence can be seen in the beautiful buildings that line this long street. In particular look for the former Andrássy Palace at number 81 (unfortunately now marred by the giant Dom Potravín sign in front) and the former Pongrácz-Forgács Palace located at number 10. It's possible to catch a show in Hungarian at least once a week at the Thalia theater.

The most recent addition to the street is the former state theater which opened in 1993 after years of renovation. Built in the Neo-Baroque style between 1897 - 1899, its beautiful interior from this time period is worth nosing around in.

The main street is dominated by spectacular St. Elizabeth's Gothic cathedral. This cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in Slovakia and the only one of its kind in eastern Europe. The construction of the church dates to the end of the 14th century and was completed in 1508.

The exquisite interior of the church is dominated by the main altar which was created in 1474 - 1478 by unknown artists. Just left of the altar is a sturdy wooden door where the administrative office of the church lies. Knock and the door opens where if you are sympathetic enough you might be able to persuade the church keeper to pull out a key and take you to the tomb of Francis Rákóczi.

Rákóczi, a famous Hungarian noble, led one of the revolts against the Habsburgs in the early 18th century and after dying in exile in Turkey was later brought to Košice with great fanfare in 1906 and buried in St. Elizabeth's.

There are several museums which will keep anybody occupied for several hours. The East Slovak Museum is located at the end of the main street where a statue of a marathon runner stands on Marathon Square. The museum has a wonderful exhibit called "The Košice Gold Treasure," which has gold coins dating back to the 15th - 17th centuries. Also included is an exhibition on the history of money in Slovakia.

The Mikluš Prison museum, not far from the middle of the main street, shows what the city's dungeons were like. Besides old balls and chains and a rack, there are pictures showing how to effectively torture people. One such picture has a man tied to a chair as a hooded man is about to swing an axe to chop his head off. Less gruesome is a scale model of Košice in the 1700's as well as old maps of the city and surrounding areas.

Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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