The Slovak Republic (Slovak: Slovenska republika, Slovensko) is situated in Central Europe, and it shares its bounderies with Ukraine (common boundary is 90 km), Poland (444 km), Hungary (515 km), Austria (91 km) and Czech Republic (215 km). It occupies almost 48 845 km2. The territory of Slovakia is divided into 8 regions (sing. kraj), which are, in their turn, divided into 79 districts.
Its population is about 5 415 million people. Slovaks — 85.5%, Hungarians — 11%, Romanians — 1.5%, Czechs — 1.1%, Ukrainians and Russians — less than 1%.
The biggest cities are Bratislava (the capital, 548.6 thousand people), Košice (245.2 thousand people), Prešov (95.8 thousand people), Žilina (87.8 thousand people) and Nitra (87.3 thousand people).
Bratislava is one of the youngest capitals in Europe. It became the capital of the independent Slovak Republic in 1993. It is the biggest city in the country where more than 550 thousand people live at the area of 367.5 km2. The city is situated on both sides of Danube river. The bigger part of the city is located in the lowlands, the rest is on the woody hills of the Little Carpathians (Malé Karpaty), where the powerful arch of the Carpathians takes its rise.
There are two important landmarks in the history of Bratislava: the year 1291 when the city obtained the status of a free royal city, and the period between 1563 and 1830 when Bratislava was the coronation city of the Kingdom of Hungary. The historic centre of the city, where almost 300 architectural monuments are located, was the bystander of the coronation of 11 monarchs (including empress Maria Theresa) and 8 queens. It was during Maria Theresa's governing (1741-1780) that Bratislava experienced its architectural, social and cultural raising. Empress visited the city with great pleasure, accompanied by aristocrats, who built up costly palaces there, in the rococo and classicism style. One of the palaces, the Grasalkovičov (Grasalkowich's) Palace, is nowadays the residence of the President of the Slovak Republic.
Slovakia is the country of incredible contrasts: Vysoké Tatry (the High Tatras) (Gerlachovský Štít, 2655 m) and Nízke Tatry (the Low Tatry) (Ďumbier, 2045 m), extinct volcanoes' craters, unusually beautiful underground caves, waterfalls and thermal springs. The country has 200 tourist centres, they include everything for an active recreation both in winter and in summer.
Slovak caves are believed to be truly unique. In 2009 twelve caves of Slovenský Kras National Park (Slovakian carst) became open to the public. Among well-known caves there are Domica, Jasovská, Ochtinská Aragonitová and Gombasecká caves. To observe the Krasnohorska cave is only available with a speleologist. In this cave one can see the travertive pillar 32.6 m high, which is in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest in the world.
Mineral springs and thermal waters have made Slovakia a famous spa resort. Piešťany is an international centre where musculoskeletal disorders, arthritis and central nervous system diseases are treated. It has 12 springs with ordinarly mineralized, sulphate-biocarbonaceous and calcium-sodium waters. Sulfuric muds in Piešťany belong to the peloids of highest quality in the world.
The oldest health resort in Slovakia is in Bardejov town, its medicinal water was first mentioned in 1247. In 1505 6 cabins for bathing were built near the springs. This health resort was visited by such monarchs as empress Maria-Luisa, Russian tsar Oleksandr, empress Elizabeth, spouse of Franz Joseph I (Sisi). In 1960-s the modernization of Bardejov health resort was started. During that period, the clinic with the balneo hospital was built, with an indoor swimming pool, new sanatoriums and hotels. Ten bicarbonaceous-chloride, natrium and carbonic cold medicinal springs are used for drinking courses of medical treatment, inhalations and water treatment for metabolic disorders and digestive system, bladder and kidney diseases.
The youngest and warmest spa resort in Slovakia is Dudince town, situated on the slopes of Krupinská lowland. It dates back to 1951, when the first sanatorium with baths was built. Cold and cool bicarbonaceous-chloride, natrium-calcium and carbonic mineral waters are used in Dudince to cure rheumatism, Bekhterev's disease, nervous and cardiovascular diseases. By its unique chemical structure and influence on health, specialists compare the water in Dudince to the ones in Vichy spa resort, in France.
Banská Štiavnica town with its unique mountain-ore hydro-cultural system is an interesting place for tourists (60 man-made lakes, connected with each other by arches and water galleries, digged out under the town on 17 floors, 900 m deep and several kilometres long). They call Banská Štiavnica a silver town due to silver mining and its inhabitants' wealth. Only in 1740 almost 23 000 kg of silver and 600 kg of gold were obtained. All 215 national cultural monuments, two castles within the same town and two Late Romanesque basilicas, located very close to each other, testify to the city and its residents' wealth. Development of mining engineering in Banská Štiavnica was confirmed by Maria Theresa's decision to found the Mountain Academy there in 1762, world's first establishment of higher technical education. In the XVIIIth century it was the third town by size in Hungary. Nowadays, mining engineering is just a tourist attraction here. Near the lakes, preserved on the hills of Štiavnica, there are tourist footpaths. Under the ground there is a labyrinth of mines and galleries with mining machines, and on its surface there are building and technical monuments. Tours to the mines are available in the open-air mountain museum.
Historic sources inform that in the past there were about 300 castles in Slovakia. The present-day maps show 168 castles, 109 of them being national cultural monuments. One of the biggest castles in Slovakia is Trenčín castle. This is a complex of palaces (the Zápolyis', Barbora's and Ludovic's palace) and Matúš Čák's tower where the walls are almost 4 m thick. In the castle, the Trenčín museum's exhibition is placed, which includes patrimonial portrait gallery that belonged to the Illyeshgazis, the castle's former owners. Besides, large underground rooms of Cherveny Kamin castle — the Renaissance fortification building, are of interest too (the biggest one is 70 m long and 9 m high). The castle's rarity is Zoloty Orel (Golden Eagle) chemist's shop (the XVII century) and the picture gallery with portraits of Maria Theresa, Franz of Lotaryngia's and other aristocratic clans' representatives. Nowadays, the castle is designed with the thematic expositions from the Slovak National Museum. Among them there is a unique collection of furniture, oriental carpets, ceramics, porcelain and weapons.
Quite as interesting is the unique complex of Spišský castle, which is one of the biggest in Central Europe, and the monuments in its suburbs — Spišské Podhradie, Spišská Kapitula and the Church of the Holy Spirit in Žehra village. The complex has been preserved remarkably well, which happens quite rarely. It consists of a big feudal lodge together with a settlement, opposite to which there is a fortified post of the church board. It is situated within 19 km from Levoča town. The view of the castle is magnificent from Godkovci village, close to Žehra village. 6 km from the castle, Spišská Kapitula is located.
Oravský castle is situated by the important road from Poland via Slovakia to Austria and Hungary. This unbelievable creation of the medieval craftsmen rises above Orava river at a height of 112 m, and it is the major tourist attraction in Orava town. In these latter days, one of the oldest Slovak museums is situated in the castle.
Seven monuments in Slovakia are included into the World Heritage List:
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