Part 1 of 3
In the early afternoon we left for Banska Shiavnica a mining town built on the site of an ancient volcano. Banska Shiavnica is a completely preserved medieval town dating to the third century BC. It has been declared a world Heritage site by UNESCO. Mining is now all but gone, save a few museums, the town is now a center for recreation and tourism because of its historical significance. We drove across country through small traditional villages and middle sized modern towns and never ending sunflower fields to get to Banska Shiavnica. We stopped for fresh bread and local salads at a popular road side stand.
We stayed at a 500 year old home which has been in Rastislav’s family for a few generations. It is equipped only with 19th century kitchen equipment and relies on an outhouse for the bathroom. The house is undergoing renovations but Rastislav plans to modernize the homestead and create an artist’s studio or colony on the property. It will be equipped with separate flats for visitors, fruit trees, a small lake and solitude to help the mind create. It was this home that inspired him to produce the book Shiavnica, a photo documentary about town and its surrounding villages.
We took the daily swim at one of sixty man made lakes known as tajchy. The lakes created a mechanical system system to remove water from mine by collecting rain water to operate pumps and provide energy for the mining operations.
Later in the afternoon we visited with Dr. Beata Nemcova, a professor of English and language arts. She has taken it upon herself and enlisted the help of some of her students to maintain an old Jewish cemetery and synagogue. There are only two Jews remaining in Banska Shiavnica. Beata tells me that one old woman has lost her mental capabilities and no longer is able to communicate effectively and seldom talks about the events of the World War. The other, a member of the Wellward family owns property in the city and a plot in the cemetery resides full time in Israel. When he dies he has chosen to be buried in Israel where most of his family now resides rather than in his homeland of Slovakia. The cemetery is situated high on a hill overlooking the classic city. After Hitler’s invasion and World War II Jews chose not to return to the Banska Shiavnica leaving the cemetery to fall into disrepair in the decades following the war. Many of the tombstones have fallen or have been pushed over. Many of the markers date to the 1700’s. Beata, who is not Jewish, feels a sense of responsibility to the site She says “with no Jews left here there will be no one with a vested interest in this sacred site.”
The next morning we wandered into town for the annual festival in the town square. Traditional Slovak goods, wooden toys and kitchen utensils, honey and honey liquor were on hand for sampling and purchase. The main church in the center of town, St. Catherine of Alexandria Church, built between 1488 and 1491 and consecrated in 1500, was open to the public. Above the through the belfry to the attic dead pigeons littered the stairwell. An eerie sensation passed before me. It was spooky to climb the weathered and worn out staircase into. Sounds from below were muffled while pigeons flew in and out of several open windows lining the spiral stair climbing the tower. The attic revealed an intricate and thick construction of wooden beams and joists, all well weathered and covered with bird and bat guano. The floor joists were mostly open but were covered in places by catwalks to reach the deep ends of the attic space. The air was thick and smelled musty. The space was dark and cavernous. The muffled sounds of celebration could be heard from the cobblestone streets below.