Bardejov, a royal free city and one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is the most beautiful town in Slovakia, and one of the five most important self-government areas in the Kingdom of Hungary with a Gothic touch.
In the northeast corner of Slovakia, almost on the border with Poland, lies the ancient town of Bardejov. The oldest written record of the town is a report from the Ipatiev Chronicle from 1241. Thanks to its location on the important trade route between the Black and Baltic Seas, and the extensive privileges granted to this seat by King Charles Robert in 1320, the small settlement quickly became a rich trade town. Its important status is also corroborated by the fact that in 1352 King Louis I ordered it to be fortified with walls and bastions. The fortification system, which was created on the basis of this decision, was one of the most perfect in this territory and is one of the best preserved ones in Slovakia. Thanks to its importance, it is part of the European Cultural Heritage Fund.
In 1376, Bardejov was promoted to a royal free city. The first mentions of the construction of the medieval Gothic Church of St. Giles, which was promoted to the Minor basilica in 2001, come from this period. Its indisputable architectural qualities, thanks to which it is one of the most important national monuments, are still surpassed by its interior decoration. Among the Europeans one-of-a-kind items belong its eleven Gothic winged altars with panel paintings. The basilica is the dominant feature of a rectangular square with burgher houses, some of which have preserved the features of Gothic and Renaissance architecture to this day. In the middle of the square stands the building of the Town Hall , which is one of the most valuable monuments in Bardejov. This unique building combines elements of the early Renaissance with a late Gothic style, making it the first Renaissance building in Slovakia. Today, the most valuable artistic and historical exhibits of the Šariš Museum are stored in the Town Hall. In the 16th century, Bardejov was known for its greatest development of culture and education. Leonard Stockel from Bardejov, an apprentice of Martin Luther and a friend of Philipp Melanchthon, compiled the first faith articles in East Slovak towns in 1549. However, his most important work in his life was the Latin town school, founded in 1538, which had a good reputation throughout Kingdom of Hungary. It became the centre of culture, education and the formation of religious life. The Renaissance building, which was rebuilt in the Classicist style in the 19th century, stands in close proximity to the Basilica Minor of St. Giles.
During the period of Humanism and Reformation, Bardejov continued the book manufacturing culture of the Middle Ages. With its printers, which existed in the years 1577 – 1715, and especially the quality and quantity of the production, it became one of the few cities in what was then the Kingdom of Hungary. The founder of book printing in the city was a Bardejov native Dávid Gutgesel. The first public library in the Kingdom of Hungary already existed in this town at the beginning of the 16th century. In 1581, it published a translation of the Martin Luther Catechism, the first book to be published in the national language on this territory. At the beginning of the 18th century, the first newspapers in the Kingdom of Hungary were printed in Bardejov.
In the 18th century, Hasidic Jews from Galicia region (today’s areas in Poland and Ukraine) began to settle here, which was also reflected in their building activities. In the years 1771 – 1773 they built a synagogue, which became the basis for the construction of a suburban centre. After a fire at the end of the 18th century, they began to build a new one in its place in 1810. The Jewish suburb, consisting not only of the large synagogue but also of the assembly building, the ritual baths and the economic part, is an urban uniqueness of the whole East Slovak region. In 2000, together with the historic centre of the city, it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.
Bardejov and its surroundings are characterized by diversity and variability, as in the area of the Upper Šariš region there is a border between Eastern and Western Europe and at the same time between Eastern and Western Christian Church. The Rusyns (also known as Ruthenians), Ukrainians and the Romani (colloquially known as Roma) still have an important place here, in the past it was significantly influenced by Germans, Jews and Poles. Members of the Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Greek Catholic denominations are well represented. Cultural diversity is manifested especially in numerous sacral monuments. Monumental originally Gothic Franciscan Church of St. John the Baptist with a monastery from 1380 was rebuilt several times throughout its history. Its present appearance dates from 1878. After the Patent of Toleration was issued, just behind the northern wall of the inner city, the Classicist Evangelical Church was built. The Greek Catholic Church represents the Church of St. Peter and Paul from 1901 – 1902. Neo-Romanesque style predominates in this eclectic building. The new Orthodox Church began to be built in 1991 in a modern Byzantine style in the northern part of the city. In the vicinity of Bardejov there are also rare wooden sacral buildings, which belong to a set of 27 wooden churches of the national cultural monuments in Eastern Slovakia.
An inseparable part of Bardejov is Bardejov Spa (Bardejovské kúpele) , which has been a well-known recreation and treatment centre since the period of Kingdom of Hungary. The oldest open-air museum in Slovakia is located on its premises. The Museum of Folk Architecture is a vital part of the Šariš Museum in Bardejov, as well.
Bardejov attracts visitors every year also thanks to the well-known Bardejov Fair, which traditionally takes place on the last weekend of August. Its tradition dates back to 1352 and is associated with the feast of St. Giles. At the same time, the Fair Bastion is taking place in Bardejov, which offers exhibitions of non-traditional works of art, concerts, films, theater performances and discussions in the shadow of the Hrubá bašta Bastion on Veterná Street. The most visited events in Bardejov Spa are Bardejov Spa Days taking place in July. At the two-day folk entertainment festival, a rich cultural program is prepared for the public, including attractions for children and a popular alley of crafts.