The city of Prešov is situated on a territory between 49 degrees of latitude and 21.15 degrees of longitude with an elevation of 296 meters. The 49th parallel crosses the city in the middle of the main square. The city is situated on both banks of the Torysa and Sekčov rivers, at the northern tip of the Košice Basin surrounded by the Slanské vrchy Mountains and the Šariš Highlands. The city of Prešov, including its suburbs, has more than 100,000 inhabitants who live on a territory of 125 square kilometers. Prešov became the natural center of the Šariš Region as early as the Middle Ages. After the foundation of the Slovak Republic in 1993 and the subsequent new administrative organization, the city became the center of both the Prešov District and the Prešov Region. The Prešov Region is the largest of all eight regions of Slovakia.
Prešov was established on a territory that had been attracting settlers for centuries evidenced by archaeological research which discovered the remnants of a settlement dating from the Middle Palaeolithic Era (80,000 – 40,000 B.C.). Subsequent exploration confirmed the hypothesis that the Torysa riverbanks were populated in later periods as well. In the 13th century, after the Tartar invasion in 1241, a new influx of German colonists invited by King Belo IV exerted a considerable impact on the region. The Saxons significantly influenced the formation and development of medieval cities due to the exclusive privileges granted to them by the sovereigns. In Prešov, the Germans settled north of the Slovak colony, on the terrace of the Torysa river, on the site of the later square. The first written record of Prešov dates back to the 7th November 1247 and is found in a document issued by King Belo IV (see the picture). Further records of the city of Prešov occur more frequently, especially after 1299 when the royal city was granted municipal privileges by King Andrew III. The city began to develop much more rapidly afterwards, particularly because it was granted further privileges by other rulers. Those privileges amazingly boosted the city’s economic, political and cultural development. Its advantageous location, on the crossroads of important west-east and north-south trade routes, also enhanced the development of the city. Therefore, the city was nicknamed “Little Vienna” and “Little Leipzig” in the 16th century.
The history of Prešov is extremely dramatic, interesting and, at the same time, specific. The city’s appearance began to transform and it gradually changed into a massive fortress throughout the 14th century. Granting the right to build the city walls (by Louis I in 1374) meant that Prešov could be protected from destruction in the time of war; which, however, could not have been completely avoided. Both the Habsburg rulers and the Anti- Habsburg troops occupied the city between the 16th and the 18th centuries, each leaving their marks there. The significance of Prešov increased after 1647 when it became the seat of the Šariš County.
Prešov has been a multicultural city open to different ethnic and national influences. Its inhabitants were mostly Slovak, Hungarian, Ruthenian, Ukrainian, Jewish and Polish artisans and traders. Prešov has always welcomed various religious denominations. Initiated by evangelic clergy, the original Roman-Catholic population converted to Evangelic Protestantism in the 1630´s. During the Counter- Reformation in the late 17th century, a segment of the population reconverted to Roman Catholicism. New denominations, such as Greek Catholic (Uniate – 18th century), Jews (19th century) and Russian Orthodox Church (20th century) increased the diversity of religious life in Prešov.
Prešov is significant with regard to ecclesiastical administration, being the center of Slovakia’s Greek Catholic Archdiocese, the seat of the Roman Catholic Deacon’s Office and the seat of the Episcopal Office of the Eastern District of the Evangelical Church in Slovakia. In addition, it is home to one of only 15 Orthodox churches in the world, which covers both Slovakia and the Czech Republic. A wonderful synagogue situated in the city center represents Jewish Church.
In the course of its history, the city of Prešov has always been renowned for its ample opportunity to gain education. The Evangelical College established in 1667 drew on the tradition of an earlier municipal humanistic school. The quality of education and training of the Evangelical College attracted also many foreign students. Its tradition was sustained with the later establishment of tertiary educational institutions.
Prešov is currently an important university center. The University of Prešov with its eight faculties, along with the Faculty of Production Technologies, and the Institute of Automation Technology (both being educational units of the Technical University of Košice) offer excellent opportunities for education. In addition to Elementary Schools, there are numerous Secondary Schools which make the city a young and vibrant place.
Prešov is the interface of past and present. Tradition, tolerance, high educational potential, inhabitants´ commitment and geographical proximity of three neighboring countries – Poland, Ukraine and Hungary, make this city very attractive. These features also contribute to the city’s further development.