Lying in a great caldera created by the collapse of a volcano, BANSKÁ ŠTIAVNICA is Slovakia’s oldest mining town. In the third century the Huns discovered precious metal here, and by the Middle Ages it was the largest source of gold and silver in the Hungarian Empire. During the Ottoman Wars the town sprouted fortifications, watchtowers and a castle to repel marauding Turks. As the metal reserves dwindled the inhabitants migrated, leaving the town unmodernized. Nowadays the population of about 10,000 is divided between the blue-collar descendants of mining families, and hotel-owning entrepreneurs from out of town, who tolerate each other grudgingly.

Main square Námestie sv Trojice is dominated by the Holy Trinity column, a red marble monolith marking the end of the plague in 1711. Southeast is Radničné Námestie, the Gothic Church of St Catherine and the Town Hall (Radnica), the latter with a clock that marks hours with its big hand and minutes with its little hand – according to an unusually credible local legend it was the work of a drunk clockmaker. Continuing southeast you’ll come to the minimalist New Castle (Nový Zámok) and Church of Our Lady of the Snows.

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