Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wooden Churches # 21 - Hunkovce, Slovakia

This photogenic Greek-Catholic church stands on a small hill next to the road in the village of Hunkovce in north-east Slovakia. There are Rusyn wooden churches in nearly every village between the town of Svidník and the Polish border, but Hunkovce's church is the only one which can be easily seen from the main road while driving past. The church was built at the very end of the 18th century, probably in 1799, and was dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.
The church has a perfect Lemko design plan, with the tallest of three towers above the narthex (entrance area), the middle one above the nave and the lowest above the sanctuary. Each of the towers features intricately detailed onion domes with large ornamented metal crosses in Baroque style placed above. The wooden structure of the building sits on a low stone foundation layer to protect it from water seepage from the ground.
There is a small Greek-Catholic cemetery on the hill surrounding the church, with several cast-iron cross markers that date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The small shingle-roofed entrance gate beside the road is all that remains of the traditional wooden fence which once surrounded both the church and cemetery.
The village of Hunkovce saw heavy fighting in the battle for the nearby Dukla Pass in 1944; most of the houses in the settlement were destroyed, and the church suffered extensive damage to the roof and walls. It was later repaired and named a National Heritage Landmark building in 1968. At the southern end of the village there is a large World War Two German military cemetery with the graves of more than 2000 German soldiers who fought in the battle.
In 2010 the exterior of the church was fully reconstructed with new wooden siding and roof shingles (these photos were taken a few months before the restoration). The church is empty and has no interior fittings because the iconostasis and icons were removed and placed in museums in Bardejov and Svidník. No religious services are held here, since there is a modern Greek-Catholic church across the road which serves this purpose for the local villagers. If you'd still like to see the inside of the wooden church, try to find the local priest who is often in the modern church across the road.
Hunkovce is one of the easiest churches to visit in Svidník region because it is directly on the main road to the Polish border and many buses travel along this route daily. The bus from Svidník takes about 20 minutes to reach the village, and it is another 25 minutes from there to the border. After crossing the border on foot, Polish buses run from the border to the towns of Dukla and Krosno. Svidník isn't very aesthetically pleasing, but it is the most convenient place to use as a base when visiting the wooden churches in this region, and the town also has a superb outdoor folk museum and the Ukrainian-Rusyn Cultural Museum.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wooden Churches # 20 - Tročany, Slovakia

This newly restored church stands in the centre of the small village of Tročany, located south of Bardejov in eastern Slovakia. Research conducted during the past few years has confirmed that the church is much older than had been previously thought; samples taken from its wooden beams were tested and the date of its construction was found to be the end of the 15th century or the first years of the 16th century. This puts it into the same age bracket as the Roman Catholic church in Hervartov, previously believed to be the oldest surviving wooden church in Slovakia. It is among the oldest Greek-Catholic wooden churches in the entire Carpathian mountain region.
Dedicated to Luke the Holy Apostle and Evangelist, the church has a standard Greek-Catholic floor plan with a sanctuary, nave and narthex (entrance area). Above the entrance porch there is a bell tower topped with a very unusually shaped cap which looks like a candle extinguisher. A similarly shaped cap sits above the central nave, while the sanctuary has no cap or steeple attached. The bell tower contains two bells which are still in regular use during religious services. At the top of the cap of the bell tower is a simple double-barred cross, while the cap above the nave has a more decorative single-barred cross.
The interior contains a restored iconostasis from the 17th century, though it is missing some of its original features. Instead of the typical Last Supper scene placed above the middle Czar door there is the Mandilion, a picture of the face of Christ on a cloth without a crown of thorns. In the sanctuary the altar is decorated with an 18th century icon depicting the Descent from the Cross, while the preparatory table in the corner has an icon of Saint Michael the Archangel. There are small windows on the right-hand side of both the nave and the sanctuary which allow some natural light to enter.
Today the church is used by both Greek Catholics and Roman Catholics, so the interior contains some modern Roman Catholic fittings which thankfully do not detract from the beauty of the older Greek Catholic artifacts. The church has undergone several renovations throughout its history, with major work carried out in 1897, 1933 and 1968. In 2010 and 2011 the church was completely restored both inside and out with funding provided by the European Regional Development Fund as part of a cross-border project to promote economic growth and cooperation between south-eastern Poland and north-eastern Slovakia.
The key for the church is kept by a family which lives at the opposite end of the village; if you are standing at the church go left along the road, pass the turning point for the road out to the main highway, continue up the slight incline of the hill and the house is on the right, the second house past the village office. You need to open their front gate and walk up and knock on the door on the right side of the house. The family are used to opening the church every day for visitors and are very friendly (they even speak a word or two of English) and they have pamphlets and books for sale about the Greek-Catholic churches in the region.
Tročany is not serviced by regular bus transport, but it is a two kilometre walk from the village out to the main road running between Bardejov and Prešov, and there is a bus stop at the turnoff to the village where buses pass by every hour or two. Prešov is a major transport hub with train and bus connections throughout the country, while Bardejov is the best place to base yourself for a tour of the wooden churches found in its vicinity.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wooden Churches # 19 - Brežany, Slovakia

This distinctive church sits on a grassy hillside above the small village of Brežany, fifteen kilometres south-west of the city of Prešov. Although it is a Greek-Catholic church, it is located far to the south and west of the region where the majority of these churches can be found in Slovakia along the Polish and Ukrainian borders.
The church was built in 1727 and is dedicated to Saint Lucas the Evangelist. The structure of the building has little in common with other Greek-Catholic churches in north-east Slovakia, since it appears to have features usually associated with Gothic Roman Catholic architectural design (such as the church in Hervartov, Slovakia). It can be assumed that because the Brežany church was built relatively far away from other Rusyn Greek-Catholic churches the construction techniques of the Roman Catholics in the neighbouring villages formed a more significant source of inspiration for the builders.
The floor plan for the church follows the basic three-part system of Greek-Catholic design, with a small sanctuary, the nave as the central room and the narthex (entrance room) represented by a stand-alone bell tower with space for seating beneath it. The bell tower bears a strong resemblance to one exhibited in the outdoor museum in the town of Martin in central Slovakia, while the overall building design is similar to a wooden church in Trnové, a village just outside of Žilina.
The interior contains an iconostasis from 1733, as well as a number of impressive baroque icons. The most important of these icons depicts the coronation of the Mother of God. On the western side of the nave above the door several decorative paintings of biblical scenes can be seen. The front door of the church is also original and dates from the middle of the 18th century. The bell tower contains two large bells which are still in regular use during services.
The jointing system used to connect the ends of the log beams together is very simple (see the photo above), with a small groove cut into the underside of each beam and the ends extended slightly beyond the corners of the building. The gaps between the logs are filled with clay and then whitewashed, creating a striped black and white appearance which is very uncommon among churches in Slovakia, being more commonly seen in northern parts of Moravia and Bohemia.
Beneath the bell tower is a traditional folk object which is very rare now in this part of the Carpathian mountains (see the photo below). This device is used to make a loud repeated sound which would call the villagers to church services. When the handle on the right-hand side is turned it raises a series of wooden slats with wooden hammers attached to the ends of them, causing the hammers to strike the hollow wooden shaft below which then emits a high-pitched sound. These noise makers are similar to the wooden "clappers" traditionally used in the mining towns of central Slovakia (such as Banská Štiavnica) to wake the miners for the morning shift. Similar objects can also be seen in the wooden churches in the Maramures region of north-eastern Romania, further to the east along the Carpathian range.
The key for the church is kept by a family who live down below in the village, near the turning point for the laneway that leads up the hill to the church. Far fewer visitors come to see this church than some of the more well-known Greek-Catholic churches to the north-east, so the family are not used to opening the church for visitors unless an appointment is arranged in advance. Offering them a donation for the church could help in convincing them to come and open it for you.
Brežany village is serviced by a couple of buses per day (fewer on Saturdays and Sundays) which connect it with the central bus station in Prešov. Buses more frequently pass through the village of Rokycany which is a two kilometre walk to the south-east of Brežany. Prešov has frequent train and bus connections with Košice, Bratislava and other major cities throughout Slovakia.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wooden Churches # 18 - Maršíkov, Czech Republic

This large timber church stands in the small village of Maršíkov in the Jeseníky region of North Moravia in the Czech Republic. It was built in 1609 using wooden beams taken from an older wooden church which had been dismantled in the nearby town of Velké Losiny. The wooden church in the village of Žárová, a few kilometres north of Velké Losiny, was constructed in 1610 with wood taken from the same dismantled church.
The church in Maršíkov was originally Lutheran, and was dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of late-period Renaissance folk architecture in the Czech Republic. Up until the early 1900's a low stone wall surrounded the church and the village cemetery which was located directly behind it. The cemetery was moved to a location on higher ground further away from the road.
The interior contains unique Rococo-style decorations from the late 18th century. The main altar includes a painting of the Archangel Michael, while the side altars depict the Virgin Mary and Saint John of Nepomuk. The walls of the nave are covered with timber boards with overlapping joints and are painted in dark red and grey. In the choir above the entrance area there is an organ from the 18th century.
The wooden steeple at the centre of the roof line is topped with a large onion dome which is grander in scale than those usually seen on the 17th and 18th century wooden churches found in this region. The dovetail joint interlocking system used to connect the ends of the wooden beams is typical for wooden churches in Silesia and northern parts of Moravia and East Bohemia.
The key for the church is kept by the family which lives in the house directly in front of the church entrance. They are used to opening it a few times per week for Czech and German bus tour groups, but they may be a little hesitant to do so for individual tourists who come unannounced, especially if they are busy with other activities. Offering them a donation for the church (50 to 100 crowns) might provide the right encouragement.
The village of Maršíkov isn't serviced by buses very frequently, but it is an easy two-kilometre walk from the town of Velké Losiny, which has frequent train and bus connections with Šumperk and Zábřeh, both of which have regular connections with Olomouc, Prague and other parts of the country. There are several restaurants and accommodation options available in Velké Losiny because tourists come to visit the spa, chateau and hand-made paper museum in the town and use it as a base for hiking in the Jeseníky mountains.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wooden Churches # 17 - Nová Polianka, Slovakia (now in Svidník Outdoor Museum)

On a hill above the town of Svidník in north-eastern Slovakia lies the Ukrainian and Rusyn Village Museum, a collection of farm buildings, windmills and other historical wooden structures gathered from the surrounding region. The highlight of the museum is the Greek-Catholic wooden church originally from the small village of Nová Polianka, a few kilometres south of Svidník.
The church was built in Nová Polianka by local craftsmen around 1766 (some sources suggest as early as 1763) and was dedicated to Saint Paraskeva. During World War II the church and the village were badly damaged, and a newer brick church built in the 1930's became the main place of worship for the villagers.
The wooden church continued to be used for services until 1960, but in 1961 its condition had deteriorated enough that it was torn down. In the 1980's plans were made to found the Ukrainian and Rusyn Village Museum in Svidník, and it was decided that the church from Nová Polianka should be fully reconstructed for the museum based on the original architectural plans.
Eighteenth-century icons and interior fittings were collected from several different Greek-Catholic churches in the region and used to decorate the interior of the rebuilt structure. The church was opened as a part of the Village Museum in 1986, and since 1993 occasional Greek-Catholic masses and other religious services have been held there.
Built from pine wood, the church has a three-section floor plan in the typical Lemko style, with three accompanying steeples and beautifully decorative wrought-iron crosses above. The steeples and crosses are arranged in height with the highest above the entrance room, the middle one above the nave, and the lowest one above the sanctuary.
The wooden walls of the interior of the original church in Nová Polianka were covered in paintings of scenes from the Bible, but these were not recreated for the church in the museum. The iconostasis dates from the early 18th century and came from a church in a nearby village. There is a royal door at the centre of the iconostasis but the deacon doors for the two side entrances into the sanctuary are missing.
Standing next to the church is a wooden bell tower with a pyramidal shingled roof and an onion-shaped steeple topped with a cross. Two bells have been installed in the tower and are rung on special occasions. surrounding the church and bell tower is a low wooden fence with a shingled top in the Rusyn style which is typical of this region of the Carpathians.
The Village Museum in Svidník is open daily except Mondays from the beginning of May until the end of October. A Rusyn-Ukrainian folk festival is held in the village museum every year in June, attracting thousands of visitors to the event. Svidník is not connected to the railway network, so the most convenient way to get there by public transport is by bus from Prešov, Košice or Bardejov. Regular buses also run north from Svidník to the border with Poland at the Dukla Pass, where it is possible to catch a bus on the Polish side to the town of Krosno.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wooden Churches # 16 - Kožany, Slovakia

The small village of Kožany lies in rolling countryside surrounded by fields and forests in a remote region of north-eastern Slovakia, between the towns of Bardejov and Svidník. This small Greek-Catholic church sits on a low hill at the western end of the village, with views across the surrounding farmland.
Dedicated to the Lord's Meeting with Simeon, the church was constructed in the second half of the 18th century by local builders. The three-roomed structure sits on a low stone foundation and features a bell tower above the entrance area. Three bells are kept in the tower and the oldest was cast in 1406, making it one of the oldest church bells to be found in Slovakia.
The inerior of the nave contains colourful paintings on the wooden walls, a unique feature among the timber churches in this region. The paintings were created between 1793 and 1797 and depict many scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. A Last Judgement icon on canvas, painted in the the late 18th century, is one of the most precious works found in the church.
The iconostasis dates from the beginning of the 18th century, and here again is a unique feature, since instead of a Czar door and two Deacon doors at the sides, there is a main Czar door and only one side Deacon door, likely because of the narrow width of the nave. The bars placed over the windows on the exterior of the church are another unique feature, since they are made of hand-crafted wrought iron and are as old as the church itself.
The key for the church is kept by a family which lives in a house several doors down from the church on the same side of the road. They charge a small entrance fee and have some books and pamphlets about the wooden churches in the region available for sale.
Getting to Kožany by public transport is possible, since there are several buses per day on weekdays which go to the village from Bardejov's main bus station (fewer on Saturdays and Sundays). Getting to Bardejov is easiest by bus from Prešov, Poprad or Košice, all of which have transport connections throughout the country.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day Trips from Košice, Slovakia - The Top 25 Destinations

Eastern Slovakia has an astonishing number of attractions packed into a very small geographical area, with towering mountains, rustic red-roofed towns, castles, caves and wooden churches all waiting to be explored. Košice is by far the largest city in the eastern half of Slovakia and it has a range of impressive sights to see in and around its well-preserved central square and the Cathedral of Saint Elisabeth. For those visitors who would like to base themselves in the city for a few days to use it as a base for day trips into the surrounding countryside, I have put together a list of the best places that can be visited in a single day. I have given each destination a star rating out of five to provide an idea of how worthwhile they are to visit, and the destinations are organized by distance into three categories - within one hour of travel from Košice by public transport, within two hours, and within three hours. The pictures in this article show, from top to bottom, The High Tatra Mountains, Betliar Chateau, Bardejov old town square, Markušovce Chateau, and Spiš Castle.

Destinations Within One Hour of Travel from Košice:

** Jasov Monastery and cave - (40 minutes) By bus from Košice main station to the town of Jasov; the cave is at the base of the hillside near the southern end of the town

** Herľany Geyser - (45 minutes) By bus from Košice to the village of Herľany

** Prešov - (35 minutes) By train from Košice main station

** Veľký Šariš castle and Šariš brewery - (50 minutes to 1 hour) By train or bus from Košice main station, sometimes changing to another bus or train in Prešov is required

* Slanec Castle - (35 minutes) By bus or train from Košice main station

Destinations Within Two Hours of Travel from Košice:

***** Spiš Castle - (1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes) By bus from Košice main station to Prešov, then change to a second bus to the town of Spišské Podhradie. You can't miss the castle on the hill, it dominates the landscape for miles around

***** The High Tatra Mountains - (1 hour 50 minutes) By train from Košice main station to Poprad, then change to the mountain railway to reach Starý Smokovec. From there you can take the funicular up to Hrebienok which is the starting point for many possible day hikes in the Tatras. Start early if you are going to travel to and from Košice in a day

**** Levoča - (1 hour 45 minutes) By bus from Košice main station to Prešov, then change to a second bus to reach Levoča

**** Bardejov - (1 hour 50 minutes) By bus from Košice main station

**** Krásna Hôrka Castle - (1 hour 15 minutes) By bus from Košice main station to the village of Krásnohorské Podhradie, the castle is clearly visible on the hill above the town

**** Slovak Paradise National Park - (1 hour 25 minutes to 1 hour 50 minutes) By train from Košice main station to Spišská Nová Ves, then by bus to the village of Čingov which is the starting point for many hikes into the park

*** Kežmarok - (1 hour 40 minutes to 2 hours) By train from Košice main station to Poprad, then change to a bus or train to reach Kežmarok. The bus and train stations are next to each other in Poprad

*** Gombasek Cave in the Slovak Karst National Park - (1 hour 40 minutes to 2 hours) By bus from Košice main station to Rožňava, then change to a second bus to the village of Slavec and get out at the stop along the highway after the village at the turning point for the road to Silica village. From the bus stop take the trail to Gombasecka cave, it's about 1 kilometre

*** Betliar Chateau - (1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes) By bus from Košice main station to Rožňava, then change to a second bus to reach Betliar village

*** Spišská Sobota - (1 hour 15 minutes) By train from Košice main station to Poprad; Spišská Sobota is a historic village on the edge of Poprad, about a 20-minute walk east from the train station

** Markušovce Chateau - (1 hour 15 minutes) By regional train from Košice main station to the village of Markušovce

** Tročany wooden church (1 hour 20 minutes) By bus from Košice main station to the village of Janovce, then it's a 1.5 kilometre walk along the local road to reach Tročany village

** Brežany wooden church - (1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes) By bus or train from Košice main station to Prešov, then change to a bus to reach Brežany

Destinations Within Three Hours of Travel from Košice:

**** Dobšinská Ice Cave - (2 hours 30 minutes) By train from Košice main station, changing to a second train in Margecany

*** Bardejovské Kúpele spa and outdoor folk architecture museum - (2 hours 5 minutes) By bus from Košice main station

*** Stará Ľubovňa Castle and outdoor architecture museum - (2 hours 15 minutes) By bus from Košice main station; the castle and outdoor museum are 1.5 kilometres north of the bus station in Stará Ľubovňa

*** Domica Cave in the Slovak Karst National Park - (2 hours 15 minutes to 2 hours 40 minutes) - By bus from Košice main station to the village of Plešivec, then change to a second bus to the village of Kečovo and get out at the stop next to the cave (before the village) called Kečovo Domica. From the Domica cave it's a 2 kilometre walk across the border into Hungary to Aggtelek village and the Aggtelek Karst caves, which are equally impressive

*** Ochtinská Argonite Cave - (2 hours 5 minutes to 2 hours 20 minutes) By bus from Košice main station to the village of Gočaltovo and get off past the village at the stop called Gočaltovo Hradok. From there it's a two-kilometre walk up into the hills to the cave entrance

** Svidník folk architecture museum - (2 hours 10 minutes) By bus from Košice main station

** Humenné folk architecture museum - (2 hours to 2 hours 15 minutes) By bus from Košice main station