The pride of the Upper Šaris region, the pearl of the east, the most gothic and most beautiful city in Slovakia – these are some of the most frequent attributes given to one of the oldest and most preserved Slovak cities – Bardejov.

The first reference to the city in historical sources comes from 1241. At the time the settlement lied at an important trade route connecting the Kingdom of Hungary with Poland and saw the arrival of Silesian colonists. In 1320 the Hungarian king Charles Robert of Anjou granted the settlement many privileges which in turn helped Bardejov to become a fully-fledged town.

In 1376, under the reign of Louis I, Bardejov finally became a free royal town. The city’s independence and a peaceful life of its traders and craftsmen were secured by fortifications consisting of impregnable gates, sturdy watchtowers and a surrounding moat filled with water.

During the fourteenth and fifteenth century the knack of Bardejov’s tradesmen made the city remarkably wealthy and famous. This golden period has left many artefacts, especially in the form of secular and sacral architecture, which remind of Bardejov’s illustrious medieval heritage.

The original medieval city center is a complex of roads and buildings surrounded by an almost uninterrupted fortification system. The city center has a rectangle profile and is dominated by the Basilica of Saint Egidius, the town hall and a row of burghers’ houses which sport typical period gables.

Bardejov’s urban core represents a unique structure of a highly developed medieval town. The city’s spacious square surrounded by a regular network of streets betrays the influence of late medieval European civilization. The original layout has been preserved without any major dramatic architectural change. A historical town reserve was set up, in the middle of the twentieth century, for the protection of the location.

The square is girded by burghers’ houses from the east, the west and the south. The gothic houses contain an additional layer of renaissance, baroque and classicist architecture. A graceful gothic-renaissance town hall, dated to the early sixteenth century, serves today as a museum dedicated to the rich history of Bardejov.

The Basilica of Saint Egidius, located in the northern part of the town, is arguably the most precious monument in the area. The oldest part of this three-part building comes from the fifteenth century. The interior of the church is adorned by 11 gothic winged altars dated to the same period. The carved altarpieces belong to the most prestigious pieces of work of its kind in Europe.

Another famous sight, the former humanist gymnasium, is located near the church. The urban school, in which Latin was the primary language of instruction, was founded in 1538. Leonard Stöckel – the school’s rector was an important protestant theologian and a student of Martin Luther. Under Stöckel the gymnasium reached an unprecedented fame and quality of education. Plays taking place at the school were the forerunners of the first real theatres in the region. The school was survived until 1775 when it was finally closed down. The facade of the building still sports a large sundial.

Almost all of the burger’s houses at the town’s square served as places of trade. While the meeting rooms were adorned by lavish paintings and artistic stonemasonry the houses’ entrances were furnished with rich portals. Many of the buildings still preserve their original gothic look.

The most interesting houses include the following: the Gantzaugh’s House (no. 13) – whose exterior is adorned in Rococo style; Town House no. 16 built upon a common ground of three joined gothic houses; House no. 26 which sports a rocaille painting depicting the crowning of Holy Mary; The so called “House of Wine” that hosted a local wine cellar since fourteenth century and last but not least the Rhody’s House located in southwestern corner of the square. This house is distinguishable from other houses by its external columnar archway.

A baroque statue of Saint Florian, the patron saint of firemen, was built in memory of a fire which destroyed the city in 1774.

Other major sights of the city include the Synagogue of Bikur Cholim located at the Kláštorská street, a building of former Franciscan monastery and Church of St. John the Baptist, the Executioner’s House on Veterná street as well a peculiar artefacts – the Street Lamp Column located in the garden of the Old Hospital. Allegedly it was under that post that Bardejov’s executioner decapitated captured convicts.

The fortification system is one of Bardejov’s signature sights. The city’s medieval fortifications belonged to one of the best in the area and are one of the best preserved in Europe. Written sources first allude to them in a royal letter from 1352 written by King Louis I. The king ordered the city to guard its perimeter by a defensive wall, multiple watchtowers and impregnable gates.

The defensive wall, watchtowers and moat were gradually strengthened by an allure, a forward zwinger line and a counterscarp. The entry gates were guarded by a drawbridge and since the sixteenth century also by a barbican. Every morning the main entrance to the town was switched among one of the four gates as a preventive measure against potential assaults.

The watchtowers Thick Bastion, Small Bastion, Gunpowder Bastion, Monastery Bastion, School Bastion, North Bastion, Renaissance Bastion, Rectangular Bastion, Red Bastion and Big Bastion are still preserved. Out of the four gates the best preserved is the Lower Gate whose wooden drawbridge was replaced by a stone one in 1821. The Upper Gate together with an adjacent barbican and a stone bridge is also partially preserved.

In 2000 the historical city center of Bardejov as well as the Jewish Suburbia was registered as a world heritage UNESCO site.

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Translated by:
Mgr. Samuel Beňa, M.A.