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RELIGIOUS CAPITAL HAS STOOD AS "SLOVAKIA'S ROME," FOR 750 YEARS

Unlocking the secrets behind Trnava's past

There are two locked doors on the third floor of the Západoslovenské Museum in Trnava. One door looks like a museum exhibit itself, delicately painted to resemble marble and topped with a portrait of Jesus and Mary. It dates back to the days when the stark, Gothic building housed the nuns of the Convent of St. Clare. A placard nearby explains that the portal once led to the "Oratorio," and describes the pains taken to restore it to its Baroque glory. The door, however, is just one layer of Trnava's rich theological past. Armed with a slew of iron keys, a museum guide manages to turn this work of art into an entranceway and reveals what lies behind: a tiny chapel, half restored, with carved cherubims dancing on the ceiling.


All roads lead to Trnava. The parish church of St. Nicolas is the grandest of all 14 of Trnava's houses of worship.
Priroda

There are two locked doors on the third floor of the Západoslovenské Museum in Trnava.

One door looks like a museum exhibit itself, delicately painted to resemble marble and topped with a portrait of Jesus and Mary. It dates back to the days when the stark, Gothic building housed the nuns of the Convent of St. Clare. A placard nearby explains that the portal once led to the "Oratorio," and describes the pains taken to restore it to its Baroque glory.

The door, however, is just one layer of Trnava's rich theological past. Armed with a slew of iron keys, a museum guide manages to turn this work of art into an entranceway and reveals what lies behind: a tiny chapel, half restored, with carved cherubims dancing on the ceiling.

"Through there, you can see the church," the guard says, pointing at a thick plastic dropcloth. A peek under the corner reveals a wall of metal grillwork, and far below, the nave of a church. "Do you want to go down?" he asks.

Behind door #2...

Across the hall from the first painted door stands another of plain, brown wood. It leads down two narrow flights of stairs and into a room filled with tarpaulins and paint cans. "This was the refectory," the guide explains. He fumbles with the stack of keys, and, three padlocks later, opens the door into the church itself.

"For 50 years during communism the church was unused," the guide explains. Most of the front altar, dating from the first half of the 18th century, is still intact, and tall statues of saints watch over a great jumble of antique pews, dusty stained glass and stacks of stone cornices. The guide explains that restoration efforts have started, and that with seven or eight million Sk, the church could be returned to its former glory.

Religious epicenter


18th Century Trnava as carved by F.B. Werner.
Priroda

The tiny, tarnished jewel goes uncounted in the guide books hailing Trnava as "the Slovak Rome," citing its 14 houses of worship as proof. The best time to visit it is on a Sunday, when, until noon, the cobbled streets are silent, and the churches open their doors to those ready to explore their pasts.

Trnava holds the oldest preserved town charter in Slovakia, dating back to 1238. In the 16th century, when nearby Bratislava, just 50 km to the southwest, became a coronation site, Trnava took over as the Hungarian Empire's spiritual and cultural center; the Bishop-Primate moved in, and the Hungarian Diet held its sessions here.

The town hit its peak a century later when the Jesuits established the first Hungarian university in 1635. Nine buildings remain from that complex, including the imposing, double-towered University Basilica of St. John the Baptist on University Square.

A parade of other proselytizing groups followed the Jesuits - the Dominicans, the Franciscans, and the Poor Clares; a stroll up the pedestrian-only Hlavna ulica or along the decaying Divadelna Hviezdoslavova takes one past the massive 14th century CĆhurch of St. Nicholas; the Church of _______________, with its strange, water-filled grotto; and the Church of St. Helen, the oldest church in Trnava, dating back to before 1325.

Revival

Just east of St. Nicholas's Church, narrow cobbled streets demarcate the Jewish ghetto, abandoned since Trnava expelled its Jews in ____. These lead to the remains of two synagogues, one closed and crumbling, the other on the way to restoration. The cultural and religious life that smothered under Communism is starting to return. On any Sunday afternoon, right about when services end, the main square and its cafés fill with people. And in the basement of the museum, slowly, ever so slowly, a church is coming back to life.


Sights & Sounds Travel Tips

Getting there

By Train
From Bratislava there are numerous trains to Trnava. Stick with the fast train, or Rychlik, which leaves at 6:10, 8:10, 10:10, 12:10, and 14:10, plus at 13:20 except on Fridays. It will take just 30 minutes to get to Trnava.

By Bus
Buses from Bratislava take an hour and cost 33 Sk. They leave the main bus station each day at 8:50,10:10, 10:50, 11:35, 14:45, 15:25, 16, 17, and 18:30. Additional buses run Mon.-Fri. at 7:15, 9:30, 12:25, and 13:30; and Mon.-Sat. at 13.50

Lodging and Dining

Places to Stay

Hotel Pracharen, Metský dom lahôdok s.r.o., Radlinského 10
Brand-new apartment-style hotel, in the old town center. First class prices.
Tel: 0805 / 266 52 - Fax: 0805 / 249 79
Poland - Hotel Koliba, Kamenný mlyn
Quality hotel, priced medium-high, on the outskirts of town. 0805/337-07.
Hotel Slávia, sr.o. Nám. J. Herdu 2.
Communist-era lodgings, cheap and convenient -- close to the train and bus station. 0805/468-01
Hotel Budovateľ, Clementisa 12
Communist-era lodgings, cheap and not particularly convenient on the far edge of town. O8O5/411-62 or 501-343

Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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