Friday, March 02, 2007


On our final day of traveling, we chose to go to the picturesque town of Levoča. Situated in the north-western part of Eastern Slovakia about 42 km from our starting point of Tatranská Lomnica. With the frequent bus stops, the trip took about 1 ¼ hours. It was notably warmer here, prompting us to stuff our hats and gloves away. Levoča is a very historical town, originating in the 13th century and built up by German colonialists and dislocated Slavic peasants. However, it was during the 14th and 15th centuries that the town really became prosperous due to its strategic position as Central European trading center on an important trade route of the Hungarian Kingdom. Buildings constructed by the burghers of the royal free town are well-preserved and contribute to the beauty of this old town. A tragic fire in 1550 destroyed most of the original Gothic structures, but the wealthy city rebuilt itself in the Renaissance style now seen. During the 16-18th centuries, the town declined due to aristocratic uprisings (and fighting for trade center rights with Kežmarok) and Turkish expansion.

Renaissance town
Upon entering the old city, the first building we saw was the Town Hall, dating back to the 15th century. The bright white façade glistened against the then-blue skies. Between the windows in the upper floor were rather faint paintings of women, representing symbols of civil virtues: moderation, carefulness, bravery, patience and justice. On the lower level were a series of archways, added in 1615. Next to the Town Hall was a bell-tower (built between 1656-1661) and the Cage of Shame, a 16th century metal cage used to punish minor delinquencies.

Church of St. Jacob
After walking around the town and enjoying the well-preserved Renaissance buildings, we headed over to the Church of St. Jacob, built in the Gothic style at the end of the 14th century. The sign on the iron gate indicated the times of the tours, so we went to a small but pleasant place for a sandwich (too many fatty meals of the Slovakian specialty had been eaten this week). Back at the church at 1pm, it still was locked, so we walked over to the town information center to find out how to get a tour. I wanted to see the famous carved altar by Master Paul of Levoča and wasn’t going to leave until I did! After purchasing the ticket at a building across from the church, we waited for the 2pm slot. The lady opened up the locked gate and let us in, locking the gate after us. Thankfully, she turned on the lights in the church, making it possible to see the beautiful treasures contained inside. After listening to the coin-operated audio commentary, we walked around.

Master Paul’s beautiful main altar made out of limewood was a sight to see. Although it rose 18.62 meters in height, it seemed light and airy, reaching towards the heavens but in an unobtrusive manner. Light from the tall, narrow gothic windows filled the negative spaces in the upper part of the altar. Gold was the dominant color, but colors were used sparingly, particularly in the backgrounds of the outer triptych relief carvings. I wanted to get closer, but the section was roped off at quite a distance. Below the main section was a carving of the Last Supper. To me, it looked like there was a head on the table. Later at a souvenir shop, I asked the shopkeeper about the carving. Puzzled as was her co-worker, she phoned and replied that it was John sleeping. An interesting rendition!
There were many other smaller altars, each dedicated to a saint or part of Jesus’ life. Each altar had a cloth embroidered with purple designs. On the walls were more carvings and some paintings. Olja especially liked the angels and would have loved to have added a few to her collection. The lady was getting impatient, but we were determined to stay until we had seen what we had wanted. We were glad we had waited and finally saw the insides of this marvelous church. Here is a website that gives you a little taste of the church:

Back to Belgrade
On Saturday morning we packed up our belongings, and waited for the bus to leave at 11:30 am. It was another long bus ride back to Belgrade, with a few stops including the customary wait at the Slovak/Hungarian border. Finally at 2:30 am the taxi dropped me off at my apartment. It had been a fulfilling, but relaxing week.

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