Eastern Slovakia, June 3rd-6th, 2000:
We'd heard that Slovakia boasts the highest density of castles in Europe. We could believe that by the evidence that greeted our eyes from the highway.
With so many miles of medieval wall, they sometimes have to resort to simple measures to help preserve them.
The castle where Dragon Heart was filmed is Spissky Castle in Eastern Slovakia. A half hour outside town we saw this enormous construction and thought it was a distant mountain peak.
The Spis were an isolated kingdom in Slovakia that rose to build an formidable civilization that peaked during the 13th century. In the shadow of Spissky Castle is Spisska Kapitula, a walled town where only clergy were allowed to live until communists appropriated everything in the 1940s.
Today the castle and monastery have a quite dignity surrounding them. The gardeners and the clergy move about their activities as if they are contemplating scripture as they work.
Even though their language is Slavic, they've adopted some conventions from Latin that are recognizable in any language.
Like much of Eastern Europe, Slovakia has a history of many ethnic groups having inhabited the land. Saxons were invited in by the King of Hungary to help guard the northern empire against Tatar invasions.
Their attention to aesthetic details is still evident in Levoca, a mining town and urban center that grew rich in the 1300s.
The home of a long dead mining Baron's looks as if it's waiting for his return to throw a party for guests in sumptuous clothing.
A long stretch of double wall still remains as if waiting for the gas lamp lighter to make his rounds.
The city hall had burned down at one point and was rebuilt in Renaissance style.
At the south end of the main square lies a monument to an old custom. When adulterers were caught, the woman was put inside this cage, and the man tied to a stake outside. They were disgraced like this for 24 hours, after which they were banished from the town.
The 'new' (1750) Minorite Church.
Unmistakably new, artists have livened up the square with a renaissance theme.
Another lovely Saxon feeling place is Bardejov.
We arrived too late to be let into the church, but we saw the priest behind the gate and held up our hands in a prayerful sign: "Please?"
Not only did he let us in, but he pointed to the pictogram saying 'No Cameras' and waved his hand in that universal motion that says: never mind that.
Which meant we were able to take pictures of this amazing gothic altar with four hinged panels showing scenes from the life of Jesus.
Outside the walls is an example of soaring wooden sculpture.
After our tour of walled towns, we went searching for the peasants of Slovakia.
We found evidence of their activities: a garden protected by scare-kerchiefs.
In Jedlinka we were finally able to connect a small bit with local peasants. Wearing her house dress to work in the garden, this Slovakian woman saw us looking at the local Orthodox church and offered to let us in.
Inside the church were fine examples of the local Iconography.
Honoring Mother Mary extends to honoring the Mother of Mother Mary -- Anna.
Mother Mary takes the world under her protection.
A typical barn shows the signs of modernization: the old trappings of animal drawn farming are displayed for aesthetic purposes.
On our way out of the country, we discovered that all the villages are wired for sound. A public address system reaches every corner. No need to turn on the radio for the local news; when you hear the music, just stop what you're doing and wait for the announcer.
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