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Journeying Through Slovakia 1996

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LEVOČA

HISTORIC TOWN RESERVE

I cannot remember my first visit to Levoca, I am sure I must have been just a child then. The first visit that I do remember was in 1989 while attending a folk dance choreography course given by Matica Slovenska in Stara Lesna and Repiste. After a week of really hard work we went on the trip in the surrounding area, Zdiar, Lendak, Cerveny Klastor, Dunajec, Kezmarok and Levoca. What a site, what a town. It is here where I fell in love with Spis and decided to get more familiar with Spis, study the area and document the work of Master Pavol from Levoca. Since then whenever I pass by Levoca, I always stop for a visit. I love to walk through the medieval Town Square and admire the architecture and frescoes of the surrounding buildings. There is a feeling in Levoca that is hard to describe; it's like you belong there. I always visit the Cathedral of St. James, as I now know the lecturers and I do have permission from the bishop's office to photograph. I never pass Levoca without taking pictures. Especially inside the Cathedral. I must have well over 500 pictures in my collection of all the altars and the beautiful and historical details. I always find some new angle or a something that I didnít photograph before. I have donated a set of pictures to the office and some of my pictures are on display at the cashier's office. So if you visit Levoca you will see them there.

The town of Levoca evolved from an old Slavic settlement dating back to 7th and 8th Century, preceding the Great Moravian period, near an old trade route. Foundations of a Romanesque church unearthed in the southern portion of the town suggest that site was permanently inhabited. In 1271 Levoca became the center and capital of the Spis County and in 1323 was proclaimed a free royal town with a number of rights and privileges. The historical artifacts and the culture of the town were created by numerous nationalities that used to live in the surrounding area: the home-born Slovaks, the German colonists, Hungarian nobility, and the inhabitants of the Rusyn, Goral and also Jewish origin. This was a metropolis a rich town of merchants and craftsmen, lying at the crossroads of international trade routes and possessing a great number of trade advantages, granted by the Kings, thanks to which it belonged to the most outstanding medieval towns of Europe.

In the center of Levoca is an oblong magnificently designed lavish square that used to be a market-place and center of commercial and social life. Now days you can't really feel as in the medieval times as baroque manor house was built I the middle of the square, a new Protestant Church stands at the square and latest addition is a new development of a super modern building that totally destroys the atmosphere at the South end of the square. Originally there were two structures at the square the parish church of St. James a National Cultural Monument, composed of a nave and two aisles, the construction of which was completed before 1400. It is the second largest Gothic Cathedral of Slovakia after St. Elizabeth Cathedral in Kosice. Its interiors adorned with works by our foremost medieval sculptor Master Paul of Levoca. They include the main Gothic altar, which is the tallest in the World (18.6 m) and dates from 1507-1518. In addition to the three central statues of Virgin Mary, St. James, and St. John the Apostle, relief's in the front sides of the altar-wings depicts Biblical scenes, the Passion, and the Last Supper. The three central statues along with the Last Supper belong among the most valuable masterpieces to be seen in the church which is also decorated with Master Paul's Four Johns altar dating from 1520, Altar of Birth from the beginning of the 15th century and a statue of St. George riding a horse from 1515. This statue is in separate Chapel of St. George in the Cathedral, closed to the public. I have never been inside, but where there is a hope, there is a way, and maybe this summer I will be able to photograph it. (Editor's note: I did manage to view and photograph the beautiful chapel in summer of 1996. Similar, but much bigger statute from Master Pavol is at the Roman Catholic Church in Spisska Sobota, near Poprad. Furthermore, the church contains earlier and late Gothic altars all together 14 of them, two Calvary's, senator's pews, statues as well as murals. A vaulted ceiling represents the Renaissance art with a painting on the Shoemakers' gallery, pulpit, church pews, candlesticks, epitaphs, tombstones, bars, etc.

Other noteworthy churches comprise a formerly Minorities church built in the first half of the 14th century and later converted into a Jesuit church and monastery. The church is adorned with Gothic murals, although the altars and other interior installations are early Baroque dating back to 1671 -75. The church also contains a Gothic corridor with remnants of murals.

Second original structure at the Town Square is the Gothic-Renaissance town hall, located south of the parish church now houses a museum. Its southern facade is adorned with Renaissance murals illustrating townsmen's activities. The Town hall underwent several structural modifications in the past. Originally built in Gothic style, it was destroyed together with archives by the great fire in 1550. Final reconstruction took place in 1893-1895. The Town Hall was used as a seat of the town administration until 1955. Since then it is housing collections of the Sipis Museum.

The square is lined with superb two-storied burgher houses; many of, which had formerly been Gothic but later, were converted to different styles. Noteworthy are their decorated facades and long yards with arcades and galleries. The town fortifications were built in the 14th century, while some turrets were not completed until the 15th century. The fortifications were gradually repaired, new ones were constructed, and large tracts have been preserved till the present day. One of the buildings that was added from outside to the fortification walls, now houses a restaurant. Since 1993 many buildings at the Town Square and throughout the town were restored to their original beauty and splendor. There are numerous first class hotels right at the town square. I am looking forward to this spring and summerís visits to my favorite town.

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Published in the Slovak heritage Live  newsletter Volume 4, No. 2, Summer 1996
Copyright © Vladimir Linder 1996 
3804 Yale Street, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5C 1P6
The above article and photographs may not be copied, reproduced, republished, or redistributed by any means including electronic, without the express written permission of Vladimir Linder. All rights reserved.