Kosice is a special place. I could tell when I arrived though maybe my judgment was clouded by the fact that everyone I talked to from there and from Slovakia as a whole were so incredibly nice. When primed so positively, it’s easy to like what you see.
The history of Kosice is the stuff of legends. Seriously. It’s been a crossroads of Europe for centuries. After the Mongol invasion of the 13th century the city needed to be repopulated. The Hungarian king at the time invited Germans to populate the lush area. And so it was for centuries, with Germans, Hungarians, Jews, and Slavic tribes living side-by-side in relative harmony for centuries.
Even in just the past 100 years, here’s how things have gone for Kosice.. it was part of the Austria-Hungary empire until World War One. Then it became part of Czechoslovakia until 1939, when it became part of Hungary again. When World War Two concluded in 1945 Kosice again joined Czechoslovakia. On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Kosice is Slovakia’s second biggest city.
Random fact: Kosice received the first European coat of arms in 1369.
Kosice has the longest promenade and best preserved historical center in Slovakia. But it also represents the gateway to so many amazing things including the Tokaj wine region, 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 4 national parks, the Tatra mountains, and numerous castles that line the nearby countryside.
Being the European Capital of Culture in 2013, Kosice has greatly increased its tourist infrastructure of late. It still lags behind other nearby cities like Prague or Krakow in this respect, but in my opinion it was a welcome change. Everyone more or less spoke English but there was still a very Slovak vibe in the city – something so many places give up in pursuit of tourist dollars. It remains to be seen whether Kosice can maintain its local feeling in the face of increased tourism. I hope it can.
For example, St. Michael’s Chapel, located right next to St. Elisabeth Cathdral (the symbol of the city), can be visited. You buy a ticket in the cathedral, but then you have to ask someone to open the chapel for you. You can also ask them to open the door to go underneath the chapel where there are some tombs of families. I don’t know why the families are buried there, but modern Kosice is built on top of the old city making for interesting adventures underground.
While here I tried Bryndzové halušky, one of the national dishes of Slovakia. It’s boiled potato dough (like Italian gnocchi) with sheep cheese and bacon. Very heavy and hearty, but very good as well!
Another very interesting thing about Kosice is that it’s home to Europe’s oldest marathon. It’s run the first weekend of October every year and is called the Kosice Peace Marathon.
Jews had lived in Kosice for centuries, but in World War Two almost all of them were killed. Now a very small Jewish contingent lives there. There are a couple synagogues, one all but destroyed on the inside. There are plans to renovate it and turn it into a permanent exhibition of some kind.
I really liked Kosice and it was a shame I didn’t have more time to explore it. I definitely want to come back in the future and do some more exploring in Eastern Slovakia, keeping Kosice as my base of course 🙂