Population of Slovakia: 5,3 mil.
Size: 49,000 km2 (similar to Switzerland and Denmark)
Largest cities: Bratislava 500,000, Košice 250,000
Coat of arms
Slovakia is a small central-European country that became independent in 1993, following the break-up of the former Czechoslovakia into the present-day Czech and Slovak Republics. It is similar in size to Switzerland or Denmark, covering 49,000 sq km. Even though the country lies close to central Europe’s large tourist centres – Vienna, Budapest and Prague – it was relatively little known until recently. Nonetheless, with a multitude of natural beauty spots and architectural sites concentrated in one relatively small area, it is certainly one of the most interesting places in Europe. The only thing that Slovakia does not have, given its location in the middle of a continent is a sea. Up to now, it has been mostly visitors from the neighbouring countries who have become familiar with Slovakia’s beauty, but it is only a question of time before the country becomes a new destination on the constantly expanding global tourist map.
A population of 5.3 million is another factor that ranks Slovakia among Europe’s smaller states. Since 2004 the country has been a member of the European Union. Its fast growing economy is based primarily on the automobile, engineering, steel, petrochemical and electro-technical industries. Still, its greatest potential for growth lies in tourism, for which the conditions in the country are ideal. Slovakia may be a small country, but there are sometimes dramatic differences between its regions, resulting from diverse geological conditions. The south, which covers about one-third of the overall territory, is typically made up of very fertile lowlands and almost no forests, and enjoys a warm climate with mild winters and hot summers. Grapes, apricots, peaches, melons and other fruits that need warmth and sun are grown there. Most of the rest of the country, however, is mountainous, with deep forests spreading all over its northern part, where cold winters and only mild summers are the norm.
As you move northwards, the mountains get bigger. And it is Slovakia’s highest mountains, the High Tatras, that form one of the country’s biggest attractions, and provide the image that people from abroad associate with it. The Tatras are characterized by deep valleys and steep rocky peaks. Here is found Slovakia’s highest mountain, the 2,655-metre-high Gerlach. This small country’s unspoilt countryside is truly its greatest attraction. More than 40 per cent of its territory is covered with dense forests, which are home to animals long missing from other parts of Europe. Slovakia’s natural treasures are protected in a total of nine national parks, which, together with other protected areas, cover 23 per cent of the country. Slovakia is also rich in karst landscapes with thousands of kilometres of caves. Although all but 12 of them are closed to the public, in order to preserve them for future generations, the dozen that are open to visitors are some of Europe’s most beautiful. Five are listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Slovakia abounds in mineral and thermal springs, which have been used as curative or resting places from time immemorial. Around many of them, internationally famous spa towns have developed.
The part of Europe that is now Slovakia has always been a place where various nations and cultures have mixed, each of them leaving its mark. After the Celts, the Romans and the Teutons, the territory of today’s Slovakia became the home of the Slavs, who were later joined by the Hungarians and the Germans. Between 1000 and 1918, Slovakia’s territory was part of the multi-national Hungarian Kingdom, known as Upper Hungary, and then part of Czechoslovakia until 1993, except for a brief period as a separate state during World War Two. The languages in common use were Slovak, German and Hungarian. The nationalities living here influenced one another and enriched their cultures. The effects can still be seen today, although few Slovaks are actively aware of them. Proof of those influences is found especially in the diversity of architecture in such a small area. Well-preserved medieval towns, idiosyncratic folk architecture, hundreds of castles and chateaux, unique wooden churches – those are all examples of the country’s rich cultural heritage, recognized also by UNESCO, and have become a magnet for visitors to Slovakia.