The oldest mining town in Slovakia, Banska Stiavnica is located in southcentral
Slovakia. Individual parts of the town spread upwards form a picturesque
valley to the terraced slopes of Glanzenberg, Paradajs, Sobov, and Kalvaria,
which form a part of the volcanic Stiavnica Hills. Man-made lakes dating from
the 1600's dot the hills surrounding the town. Lakes Klinger, Stiavnica,
Hodrusa, Belian, and others were built for use in the mining industry.
The Stiavnica Hills have been designated a Nature Conservancy Area, they are one of the largest ranges of mountains of volcanic origin of the West Carpathians, and contain different types of volcanic minerals. The insect realm is well-represented, especially by the butterfly family, 120 species of birds and more than 40 species of mammals are found in the region. Several species of bats live in abandoned mines.
The main attraction for the settlement of this relatively inhospitable mountainous area was the presence of precious metals, mainly silver and gold. The term terra banensium (land of miners) was used to describe the region as early as 1156, refering to a grouping of settlements connected with the mining of several kinds of ore, mostly silver. Banska Stiavnica achieved its legal status as a town in 1255 (but possibly as early as 1237), during the period when the first town charters were being granted in the Hungarian kingdom. Its town charter was used as a model for other mining towns, as for example, Banska Bystrica (1255).
At that time, there was only one fortified area in the vast ore district - the castle which was located on top of Glazenberg. This castle represented the king's enclave - the Mining Chamber - controlling the revenues flowing the mines.
The prosperity of the gold and silver mines and the town's promotion to the level of an Independent Royal Town influenced the later building-up of the town and its architecture. The older sacral buildings were rebuilt in the Gothic style. The town spread along the main road. During 1442-1443, the town, including churches, burghers' houses, castles and mining works, suffered damage from the struggle for the Hungarian throne, as well as from an earthquake. These events gave cause for the renovation of burgers' houses and sacral buildings, as well as for the construction of new ones, including the town hall, town fortifications, and a new parish church, among others.
The one-nave St. Catherine's Church, with its late Gothic reticulated vaulting, was built by the burghers in the centre of town in 1488-1491. Following the construction of St. Catherine's, the middle of the C16th gave rise to the large-scale project of the building of the houses around the main square Holy Trinity Square, located below the parish church. The church itself was rebuilt to a Late-Gothic hall during the years 1497-1515.
At the end of 15 and the beginning of C16, the mining production began
to stagnate in the Banska Stiavnica ore district, even though the yields from
the mines were still considerable. The cause was a combination of the not-yet
solved problem of water pumping, and the decrease of gold and other precious
metal prices on the European market.
During the extensive building activity of C16, plans for the construction of Trinity Square and the reconstruction of the town became less important than the need to fortify the town against the Turkish armies. The older burgers' houses were reconstructed and extended, new grand Renaissance palaces arose, and the offices of the Mining Chamber and its head - the Chamberlain - the High Royal Administrator were built.
The former parish church was rebuilt into a fortress for defense against the Turks. In the western part of the town the New Castle was built as a watch tower. The main roads were closed off by the Antol, Belian, Kammerhof, Piarg, and Roxer gates.
At that time the contacts of Banska Stiavnica with other European minig centres were orientated towards searching for and inviting specialists both on water pumping and water treating for ore preparation. Owing to the concentration of extraordinarily gifted inventors, such as M. K. Hell, S. Mikovini, J. K. Hell and others, various inventions such as the highly effective water reservoir and canal system, and machinery for water-pumping, helped to revitalize the pro- duction of ore and to advance the standard of mining in Banska Stiavnica. At the same time the importance of the town as a promoter and supporter of techni- cal achievements increased. In addition, it gained new prominence as the most important centre of precious metal mining in the Habsburg monarchy. This fact is confirmed by the establishment of the first mining school in Hungary in Banska Stiavnica (1735), which was subsequently promoted to the Mining Academy in 1762, as a result of its being the best-known centre of mining science and technology in Europe at that time.
This new period of economics prosperity incited the growth of the town, and influenced its appearance. The older dominant buildings and palaces obtained Baroque features, the interiors were redone, and the facades became nearly uni- form.
During C18, Banska Stiavnica was the third largest town in Hungary. By this time, the town boasted a water supply system, roads were paved, and new Baroque and classicist monumental buildings appeared in the town. To the east of the town the grandiose Baroque complex of Calvary (Stations of Cross) was constructed on the dormant volcano, Scharfenberg. The town centre was completed by the addition of the classical Lutheran church. The imposing Baroque plague column executed by Italian sculptor Stanetti features the Holy Trinity. It also gave the name to the main town square where is stands: Holy Trinity Square.
Ore production in the Banska Stiavnica decreased toward the end of C19,
and the main interest of the town shifted from mining to education.
and Forestry Academy, surrounded by the Botanical Garden, were constructed
to the east of the town centre between 1892 and 1912.
Ironically, due to the overwhelming economic stagnation of the town, its scheme an the magnificent architecture of the town centre have remained intact, without any interference of further building activities. The present appearance of this historical town is the result of continuous development, reflecting political and economic conditions and cultural changes in the region.
In 1950 Banska Stiavnica was declared one of the first Urban Conservation Areas in Slovakia and in this time the town belongs to the international monuments covered by UNESCO.