Košice is the second largest city in Slovakia after the capital Bratislava. It is situated near the border with Hungary and lies in the valley of the Hornad River, at the foot of the Cierna Hora mountains to the north and the Ore Mountains to the west.
With a population of approximately 240,000, the city is the economic, industrial, educational and cultural centre of eastern Slovakia. The U.S. Steel Košice steel mill is the largest employer in the city and the biggest company in the country. Košice is home to the Slovak Constitutional Court, three universities, a number of dioceses, lots of museums, galleries, theatres and an international airport.
The area has been populated since the Paleolithic Era with the Slavic people arriving in the 8-9 c. The settlement grew due to its fertile soil and its strategic location at the crossroads of the long-distance trade routes linking the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, Poland to Transylvania, the east to the south of Europe. The medieval town of Košice developed gradually from a number of settlements, monasteries and fortified sites that were built in the next centuries. It was first mentioned in writing in 1230 as Villa Cassa and was later known as Cassovia in Latin, Kaschau in German, Kassa in Hungarian, and finally Košice in Slovak. On May 7, 1369 Košice became the first European city to receive its own coat of arms by King Louis the Great of Hungary – the first European ruler to grant an armorial warrant to a city as a legal entity.
The town expanded rapidly after the arrival of the German colonists in the middle of the 13th c. By the end of the century Košice became an important market town for barter of imported goods from Prussia, Germany and Poland and the next couple of centuries were a period of peace and economic prosperity. The threat of Turkish invasion, followed by the religious conflicts of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, as well as the series of aristocratic rebellions against the Habsburgs, brought armed conflicts and political turmoil in the 16th and 17th centuries. And yet, it was in this period when the Jesuits managed to turn Košice into a centre of learning with its own university and a number of secondary schools. In the following centuries the town flourished and grew and by the end of the 19th century Košice was already one of the most important industrial cities in Hungary. The aristocracy moved into town and added new Baroque, neo-Classical and Romantic architectural masterpieces to the urban landscape.
In 1918 it became part of the first Czechoslovak Republic and after the Hungarian occupation (1938 -1945) for a short period, Košice became the capital of the re-established Czechoslovakia. From the 1950’s onwards the city experienced fast development and huge growth, due mainly to the establishment of the steel company, which led to a fivefold increase in the city’s population, and a twentyfold expansion in its built-up area.
Almost all of Košice’s historic sites are concentrated in the city’s historic centre, which offers an eclectic mix of architectural styles and is considered the largest urban heritage area in Slovakia. Most of the landmark buildings can be found on and around the city’s Main street and Main Square. The long street is dotted with Renaissance and Baroque palaces, Catholic churches, and Gothic houses and boasts a busy pedestrian zone with lots of boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.
Considered one of the most beautiful squares in the country, Main Square was built in the place, where the road broadened to form the town’s market place and thus acquired its spindle shape. In its centre the German colonists raised a parish church, which was later replaced by the 14th-century Gothic cathedral of Saint Elisabeth. The Cathedral, which is the largest in Slovakia, has a length of 60 m, a width of 36 m, a total area of 1,200 sq. m. and a capacity of over 5000 people. Apart from the church, the complex of the cathedral comprises two more adjacent buildings – St Michael Chapel and the Urban Tower with its 7-tonne bell.
Just a few meters away you will see the building of the National Theatre, built in a Neo-baroque style in 1899. The interior boasts a harp-shaped stage and beautiful plaster ornaments, while the ceiling is decorated with scenes from William Shakespeare's tragedies. In front of the Theatre building is another must-see attraction in Košice – the singing fountain. With its surrounding park, relaxing music, dancing waters and ever-changing multicolour lights, the fountain is a favourite stop for visitors and locals alike.
Behind the theatre building you will see Immaculata - a beautiful Baroque column, capped with a sculpture of Virgin Mary and erected in the 1720s to praise her for ending the plague epidemic in Košice between 1709 and 1710. Legend has it that the relics of St Valentine are hidden beneath the structure.
Overlooking the Immaculata is a pretty Art Nouveau house, called the Beggar’s House. According to the story, the house was built in 1898 by a beggar, who made so much money from the generous Košice people, that he built a house in one of the most desired parts of the city. As the money was a gift, he didn’t have to pay any taxes. On the top of the façade there’s a statue of the beggar himself, slightly bent over and tipping his hat.
Košice is the city with the highest number of palaces in Slovakia. The most important among them are: the Former Town Hall, the Andrassy's Palace where you’ll find the biggest cafeteria, the Pongrácz - Forgács' Palace, housing the Regional State Library, the Csáky - Dessewffy Palace - the seat of the Constitutional Court of Slovakia and the Captain's Palace housing the Slovak Technical museum.
While in Košice, one should drop by the East Slovak Museum and have a look at the Košice gold treasure, displayed in the museum’s vault. It consists of 2,920 gold coins from around Europe, 3 medals, and a 2.14 m. chain from the 17th century.
Košice was well deserved a European Capital of Culture in 2013, as it has the best street art scene in Slovakia with huge murals adorning building walls around the city, the former military barracks serving as culture centres, the old swimming pool transformed into a contemporary art museum, and numerous craftsman stores and art galleries.
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