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Brezno: Rich folk tradition flows along the Hron

Icy breath fogged up faces as people stood all around with their hands jammed in coat pockets and with scarves wrapped tightly up to their ears. The soft crunch of snow under foot could be heard as people took that sort of half step to keep moving, to keep warm. Every day people gather at the Brezno bus stop located at the north end of a long rectangular medieval square. Buses come cruising through on the main road that cuts through the heart of this city located virtually at the epicenter of the country as they make their way to towns north, south, east, or west.
Tucked between the heavily wooded mountains of the Low Tatras and the extensive mountainous ridges of the Slovak Rudohorie, Brezno nestles itself peacefully on the Hron River. From the first moment on the square, its size gives the false impression of a large town. The river can be heard as it rushes through these mountains.


Heart of the square. Assumption of the Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church (1781) dominates the ever-changing main square.
Daniel J. Stoll

Icy breath fogged up faces as people stood all around with their hands jammed in coat pockets and with scarves wrapped tightly up to their ears. The soft crunch of snow under foot could be heard as people took that sort of half step to keep moving, to keep warm. Every day people gather at the Brezno bus stop located at the north end of a long rectangular medieval square. Buses come cruising through on the main road that cuts through the heart of this city located virtually at the epicenter of the country as they make their way to towns north, south, east, or west.

Tucked between the heavily wooded mountains of the Low Tatras and the extensive mountainous ridges of the Slovak Rudohorie, Brezno nestles itself peacefully on the Hron River. From the first moment on the square, its size gives the false impression of a large town. The river can be heard as it rushes through these mountains. Church bells echo into the night. Every weekday music blares from speakers adorning lampposts between three and three-thirty.

Burgher houses from the 17th century line the square, some beautifully reconstructed, and some with boards nailed to second story windows. Wide roads fit at right angles around the square. In the middle is the square's centerpiece, the old town hall (1770) which is now a regional museum, and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church which dates back to 1781. Trees aspire to the same heights as the church tower on the square, giving the whole area a park-like feel.

The reason for the large size and unique feel of the square is that gold and silver were found in the hills surrounding the town. Quickly the town built up, expecting to grow as the riches were pulled out of the earth. But the sources soon dried up, and miners had better luck around Banská Bystrica, and Banská Štiavnica. Brezno's balloon-like expansion was soon abandoned.

In front of the regional museum where a proud statue of Milan Rastislav Štefaník, a World War I hero, stands amidst now frozen fountains, the ground was the site of two World War II cemeteries. First the Germans laid their soldiers there during the Slovak occupation, but then moved them as they retreated. The Russians then put their fallen soldiers in the same place as they fought their way through the town. The Russian soldiers are now buried in the town cemetery overlooking the town.

The square also had its share of name changes. When Czechoslovakia was formed the square was named after M.R. Štefaník. During the first democratic Czecho-Slovak state in the 1920 's, it was called Masaryk square after the Czechoslovak president. During the wartime period of alignment with the Nazis, it was renamed Hitler square. After the communists took power the name changed to Gottwald square for the first president of communist Czechoslovakia. After the 1989 revolution the name returned to Štefaník square.

The town was burned in 1517 by Prince Doczyoycami, a jealous nobleman from the neighboring castle of Slovensky Lupča. Doczyoycami had wished to rule the town, but because the Hungarian king had given Brezno royal town privileges, he had no legitimate claim to do so.

In 1576 the Turks came near Brezno but never invaded. It is taught that Bombura, a knight, and the town's patron saint, staved off the Turks. But in reality, as the director of the museum Jan Weis explained, the Turks never invaded and Bombura put down two rebellions against the Hungarian monarchy. Look for the town's coat of arms shown on the new city hall on the corner of the square. It portrays Bombura.

Folk culture

Besides the square, the most alluring attraction in the Brezno region are the small villages that spread east to west along the Hron River. It is here that traditional Slovak folk culture has its roots. The most accessible to tourists is Čierny Balog, a village known for logging. Old men and women still dress, still live as they did two hundred years ago.

Married women had to wear a hat if out of the house. They have different hats for their different moods: darker colors for sadness like at a funeral, bright colors for a festival or marriage. The hats are richly embroidered with squares stitched into them. As the woman grows older, the squares grow smaller. The best time to take in this sight is at early morning or early evening church services.

Čierny Balog is also famous for its narrow track railroad that was used at the beginning of the century to haul logs out of the forest. The rails opens May 1 running from Brezno to Čierny Balog.

Old wooden utensils are still used in homes as are the beautifully painted ceramics of the region. Each village has its own style of music and dance. There is a huge folk festival in Heľpa, a village 25 km east of Brezno, the last weekend in June.

With all the wilderness around, there is great skiing at Chopok and Čertovica in the Low Tatras, as well as hiking once spring blossoms.


S&S Poprad Travel tips

Brezno Information Center - Nám. M.R. Štefánika 55, tel: 0867/ 634 221, fax: 0867/ 632 001.

GETTING THERE

By car - From Bratislava, follow signs to Nitra (97 km) then pick up Route E 571 east to Zvolen (102 km). From Zvolen it's a short 21 km to Banská Bystrica on the two lane E 77 heading north and another 43 km on Route 66 to Brezno along the Hron River.
By train - There is only one direct train to Brezno from Bratislava a day leaving at 6:03. Back from Brezno to Bratislava direct train leaves at 18:13. Travel time takes four and a half hours. Price is 158 Sk.
By bus - More convenient are buses which leave from Bratislava daily 03:30, 8:15, 10:50, 14:35, 15:00, and 16:50. Trip time takes approximately four hours and fifty minutes except the express bus at 16:50 which takes roughly a half hour less, but no bathroom break. Price is also 158 Sk.

LODGING

Hotel Bystrá - Bystrá 119, tel.: 0867/ 695 3036. Prices double room: 700 Sk foreigners, 580 Sk Slovaks. Located fifteen minutes west of Brezno in the village of Býstra.
Hotel Ďumbier - Kuzmányho 1, tel.: 0867/ 632 661. Prices double room: 700 Sk foreigners, 400 Sk Slovaks. Newly renovated on the main square.
Hotel Stavbár - Rázusová 51, tel.: 0867/ 632 886. Prices double room: 550 Sk foreigners, 400 Sk Slovaks.
Penzión Flautner - Býstra 50, tel.: 0867/ 695 171. Price is 400 Sk foreigner or Slovak.
Chata Osada Bystrá - Tel.: 0867/ 695 190. Cottages for 5 - 12 people. 400 Sk per person.
Chata M.R. Štefánika - Pod Ďumbierom, tel.: 0867/ 695 120. Mountain cottage (nothing luxurious) for 120 Sk per person.

Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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