Levoča

Levoča Old Town Hall and St.James's Church

Levoča is a town in the Prešov Region of eastern Slovakia with a population of 14,600. The town has a historic centre with a well preserved town wall, a Renaissance church with the tallest wooden altar in the world, carved by Master Paul of Levoča, and many other Renaissance buildings. The town is known in German as Leutschau and in Hungarian as Löcse.

On 28 June 2009, Levoča was added by UNESCO to its World Heritage List.

Understand

History

Levoča is located in the historical region of Spiš (formerly Szepes County), which was inhabited as early as the Stone Age. In the 11th century, this region was conquered and, subsequently, became part of the Kingdom of Hungary and remained such until 1918. After the Mongol invasions of 1241/1242, the area was also settled by Germans. The town became the capital of the Association of Spiš Germans, with a form of self-rule within the Kingdom of Hungary. The oldest written reference to the city of Levoča dates back to 1249. In 1317, Levoča (at that time generally known by the German name of Leutschau) received the status of a royal town. In 1321 wide-ranging concessions were granted enticing merchants, craftsmen and mine-developers to settle in the town.

In the 15th century Levoča, located on an intersection of trade routes between Poland and Hungary, became a rich centre of commerce. It exported iron, copper, furs, leather, corn, and wine. At the same time the town became an important cultural centre. The English humanist Leonard Cox taught around 1520 in a school in Levoča. The bookseller Brewer from Wittenberg transformed his bookstore in a prolific printing plant, that lasted for 150 years. Finally, one of the best-known medieval woodcarvers, Master Paul of Levoča, settled here. In this period of prosperity several churches were built and the town had a school, library, pharmacy, and physicians. Levoča was a center of the Protestant Reformation in Northern Hungary.

The town kept this cultural and economic status until the end of 16th century, in spite of two damaging fires: the first in 1550 and another in 1599. The town started to decline during the anti-Habsburg uprisings in the 17th century. In a lurid sequence of events in 1700, the mayor of the town was accidentally wounded by a local nobleman during a hunt, generating a series of revenge attacks, finally resulting in the murder of the mayor, Karol Kramler. The mayor's arm was then cut off, embalmed, and preserved in the town hall as a call to further revenge. This became the subject of a novel about the town, The Black City, by the writer Kálmán Mikszáth.

The economic importance of the town was further diminished in 1871 when the Košice–Bohumín Railway was built just 8 km to the south, bypassing Levoča and going through the nearby town of Igló, (today known by its Slovak name, Spišská Nová Ves). Later, in 1892, a spur line was built from Spišská Nová Ves railway station to Levoča. After the Treaty of Trianon and the dismantling of the Kingdom of Hungary, the city became part of the newly formed Czechoslovakia and its traditional Slovak name of Levoča was formally adopted. Later, during World War II, under the auspices of the First Slovak Republic, 981 local Jews were deported from the town to extermination camps.

On July 3, 1995 Levoča was visited by Pope John Paul II. He celebrated a mass for 650,000 celebrants at the traditional pilgrim site of Mariánska hora, a hill about 2 km north of Levoča with a spectacular view of the town.

Levoča today

Levoča remains a quiet, almost sleepy, town - unless there is a major event taking place, they roll the pavements up at about 20.30. The populations who created an intellectual centre over the past centuries - Hungarians, Germans and Jews - have largely vanished as a result of the political turmoil of the 20th century, and the town's inhabitants are now mostly Slovak, but with a substantial minority of Roma (gypsies). Despite Levoča's UNESCO World Heritage status, little has been done to capitalise on the town's enormous tourist potential, and whilst this is in one sense attractive to visitors, it doesn't much help the town's economy. Nevertheless, an interesting sign is the increasing number of foreigners who have bought and restored some of the historic buildings in the main square and its surrounding streets - these include Britons, Belgians, Israelis, Ukrainians and at least one New Zealander - so the town is gradually developing its reputation and a cosmopolitan population.

As a former 'royal city' Levoča is a member of the 'Pentapolitana' association which links it with Košice, Bardejov, Prešov, and Sabinov in developing education, culture and tourism.

Geography

Levoča lies at an altitude of 570 metres (1,870 ft) above sea level and covers an area of 64.042 square kilometres (24.7 sq mi). It is located in the northern part of the Hornád Basin at the foothills of the Levoča Hills, at the stream Levočský potok, a tributary of the Hornád river. Poprad is 25 kilometres (16 mi) to the west, Prešov 50 kilometres (31 mi) to the east, Košice 90 kilometres (56 mi) to the southeast and Bratislava 370 kilometres (230 mi) to the southwest.

Get in

Levoča from Mariánska hora

By air

The closest international airports to Levoča are at Poprad and Košice. Poprad and Kosice are approximately 25 and 75 minutes by road from Levoča respectively.

The nearby airport of Poprad is presently (2015) served by scheduled flights to and from London, Gdansk and Warsaw.

By rail

The town has only a small railway station of its own, with occasional trains to the nearby town of Spišská Nová Ves‎ (about ten minutes by road).

Spišská Nová Ves‎ is however served by regular trains from Bratislava (about 5 hours). Košice, from which there are regular buses to Levoča and trains to Spišská Nová Ves‎,(about 50 minutes) is also served by rail from Budapest (about 3.5 hours).

An execllent overnight train service runs to Poprad from Prague (and back) - this also transports passnegers cars, saving a significant aount of driving. It is essential to bookin advance, especially during the summer and winter tourist seasons.

By bus/road

Levoča is linked by regular buses to Poprad, Košice and Prešov.

There are bus services to Poprad from Krakow in Poland. Poprad is also served by international bus routes from Western Europe,including London and Brussels.

Levoča is close to the E50 European highway and can therefore be accessed by road via Poprad from the west or via Košice from the east.

Get around

To get to Levoca Centre from the bus station, either walk straight through the apartment blocks and estates behind the station, and take the second or third left to bring you out onto the main road. Alternatively, take a right turn at the station, walk around the corner and you can cross the road, and walk up through the town. This is the easier option for those with a lot of baggage.

See

"Cage of Shame", punishment cage outside the old Town Hall

The historical centre, within the mediaeval fortifications, is quite small can be easily covered on foot.

Outside the centre

Do

Levoča main square

Levoča Mariánska púť, 1st Sunday of June. Large pilgrimage/gathering on the hill around Marianska Hora - up to 250,000 can turn up from across Eastern Europe. A good, friendly, carnival atmosphere.

Dni Majstra Pavla/Days of Master Paul. Occurs before the second weekend of August. Open air fairs (hand crafted souvenirs), folk dancing, open air cinema and a big town square laser show/disco to round off the weeks festivities.

Levočské babie leto/ Indian Summer in Levoča Classical musical festival taking place every year in October (2015: October 9th-12th). Musicians from all over Europe take part in the extravaganza.

Buy

Buy local crafts, especially during the 'Days of Master Paul' fair in August (see below). Particularly recommended; woven table and decorative cloths; carvings; shepherd's wooden musical pipes (fujárs).

Also look in the gallery attached to the art school in the main square for paintings by local artists.

Eat

Many of the town's hotels also have good value restaurants (see 'Sleep' below).

Drink

Sculptures from Master Paul's altar in St. James's Church

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Go next

Other attractions of the Spiš region are nearby, including the national park Slovenský Raj, Spiš Castle, the Tatra mountains, Vysoke Tatry, and the towns of Kežmarok and Poprad.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, July 25, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.