4 things to do in Spisske Podhradie Slovakia
On my last road trip around Eastern Slovakia we also visited the little town Spisske Podhradie located not far from the famous Spis castle. For both of us, me and dad, it was our first proper visit to the town. Usually in the past we would just go to admire the majesty of the Spis castle. But let’s go back to top things to do in Spisske Podhradie if you ever get lost in that part of Slovakia…
The local name in Slovak is spelled with accents as Spišské Podhradie.
Spisske Podhradie history
The first written mention dates back to the middle of the 13th century (1249 to be exact) but it is believed that the town was inhabited well before that by German settlers. Originally Podhradie was established as the extramural castle settlement at the elevation of 430 m. Thanks to its location beneath the castle, it quickly became one of the most developed towns in the Spis region. In the past, town inhabitants were mostly craftsmen providing guild articles for the castle. Some of them became famous for cloth and boot making. Later on also well-known Spis sausages (spiššké párky) were made in town and then sold even in Budapest. I still remember spis sausages from my childhood. But as I turned vegan in 2013, I do not eat meat any more.
Over centuries, Spisske Podhradie developed into a separate town. Many people do not know it is not a village, but a town. I was not sure of that either until we asked at the tourist information center at the main square.
Nowadays, Spisske Podhradie is a town of approx. 3,800 inhabitants. It’s such a cute little town which would make anyone want to wander around its streets for hours. At least that’s the feeling I personally got while there. Wish it was not raining during ou visit, otherwise I would have seriously spent an entire day strolling around and taking hundreds of photos of the red, gree, yellow and orange merchant houses.
Thanks to its historical importance, Spisske Podhradie was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 together with Spisska kapitula, Spis castle and Zehra church.
4 things to do in Spisske Podhradie
1. Spisska Kapitula
Slovak name of Spišská Kapitula literally translates as Spis Chapter or Spis Canonry.
The first mention of the ecclesiastical settlement Spisska Kapitula is from the 12th century. It used to be a separate village which developed around the late-Romanesque St. Martin’s Cathedral. In 1662 to 1665 walls were built around Spisska Kapitula which unfolded into a very small town of 30 houses with up to 300 inhabitants only. In 1776 Kapitula became the seat of the Diocese of Spis.
The original Spisska Kapitula consists of a single street with houses on both sides, a former monastery and St. Martin’s Cathedral. The Cathedral with 2 towers is one of the biggest Romanesque buildings in Slovakia. It was built in the 13th and in 15th century some Gothic parts were added. You can find a beautiful secular wall painting from 1317 above the entrance gate inside. We can admire 8 altars inside, out of which one is more 500 years old. Big part of the church is the Gothic Chapel of the Zapolsky family with tombstones of the Zapolsky brothers Imrich and Stefan.
Unfortunately, it’s forbidden to take photos inside of the St. Martin’s Cathedral which is why you should pay a visit there on your own 🙂 It’s worth it even when you are not a religious person (me and dad are not and still enjoyed walking around and breathing in the peaceful atmosphere).
You can check my video of the St. Martin’s Cathedral below. It’s in Slovak but with English subtitles:
In 1995, Pope John Paul II visited Spisska Kapitula. Relics with a drop of his blood can be found at the bottom of the Gothic altar inside the St. Martin’s Cathedral, at the Zapolsky’s chapel.
Nowadays, Spisska Kapitula is part of the town Spisske Podhradie, just a district.
Spisska Kapitula was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
A yellow synagogue was built in the Spisske Podhradie city center in 1875. At that time quite a big group of Jewish people were living in town. Unfortunately, they were expelled from there during the WWII Holocaust. Not only the synagogue shows the town had a large number of Jewish inhabitants. A Jewish cemetery just outside of the town is yet another sign of it.
Because the synagogue has no Bimah with Torah any more, it does not serve for Jewish religious purposes in the present.
*Bimah is a sort of a podium/altar where rabbi speaks from.
*Torah is central reference of Judaism, or Jewish written laws.
If you want to enter, you can go to the tourist center at the Marianske namestie during their office hours and ask the staff to go and open the synagogue for you. The synagogue is undergoing a nice renovation which gives you a possibility to admire stunning blue ceiling, colorful windows and interesting columns. We can notice many Moorish elements in the beautiful wall paintings.
The Orthodox style is proved by three entrance doors. The main middle door was used only by rabbis, while other Jewish men would enter through the right door. Similarly to other synagogues, the 6-pillar balcony was used only by women who could climb up there using the left door. Now there’s even a chance to walk up to the female gallery using the same left side doors. As the synagogue is not a Jewish place of worship any more, men can take steps to the original female’s balcony now, too.
Synagogue now holds art exhibitions and is a place of many cultural events. There was a painting exhibition at the time of our visit in mid-June 2017. The Synagogue should not be missed while in town and I highly recommend it as one of the things to do in Spisske Podhradie.
3. Church of Brothers Hospitallers
Another famous church in town is located just a 2-minute walk from Marianske namestie. Its Slovak name is Kostol Milosrdných bratov. The first interesting thing I noticed is that the church is not painted with one unifying color. Its main facade is light blueish with white, while its left side facade on the Levocska street is bright yellow.
The Church of Brothers Hospitallers was built in 1672 by Polish brothers who were invited there by Stanislav Heraklius Lubomirski. The brothers received 2 merchant houses and a chapel to use. On the chapel’s place they built the current church which is adjacent to a monastery.
There’s 3 altars in the 25-metre long church, and the ceiling is covered with wall paintings. If there’s not a mass going on when you are in town, and you would like to enter the church, it is possible. Just go to the tourist information center TIC on the Marianske namestie and they will open it for you during office hours.
4. Merchant houses
Spisske Podhradie has a very picturesque city center. Colorful Gothic-Renaissance merchant houses with big gates are spread around the town. I recommend you to simply go for a walk along the main square Marianske namestie from which you can also spot the marvelous Spis castle. Then, if you get time, make your way to the side streets. The houses are so beautiful you won’t know where to look first.
3 things to do close to Spisske Podhradie
1. Spis castle
The main attraction of the area, the Spis castle is not situated right in Spisske Podhradie, but 4 km away on a limestone hill. That’s why I did not include the castle in the list mentioned above. The Spis castle is a must see when visiting this part of Eastern Slovakia because it is probably the biggest castle complex not only in Slovakia, but also in Central Europe. The views from the castle are marvelous. The view of Spisske Podhradie before a storm tok my breath away.
2. Zehra Church of Holy Spirit
The Spis castle mentioned above officially belongs to the Zehra village located a few kilometres away. Zehra, or Žehra in Slovak is also known for its unique UNESCO Church of Holy Spirit dating back to the 13th century. The castle proudly shows its well-peserved wall paintings from 13th to 15th century. You can visit or during a mass, or need to call a guide to open the church for you. So worth it!
3. Siva brada (Grey Beard)
Siva brada is a travertine hill with a Baroque Chapel of the Holy Cross from 1675 located just 3 km from Spisske Podhradie. Siva brada is more known for its geysir which used to jet water to up to 2 metres of height. Unfortunately, because of low water pressure, the mineral water now springs out only into a bubble pond on both sides of the hill. Many locals and also passers-by go there to fill their water bottles with natural water which is completely untouched by humans.
TIP: Hungry? On the way to Siva brada, stop at the Spissky salas, which is the most famous restaurant in the area. They offer many traditional Slovak meals, such as pirohy or halusky. And if you are vegan like me, you can at least get UGO fruit ice cream just outside of the salas. Finally 🙂
Spisske Podhradie is located 75 km from Kosice, so still within 100 minutes by car from Slovak second biggest city. Both Zehra and the Spis castle are still in Kosice region, while Spisske Podhradie and Spisska Kapitula are already in Presov region. To find out more about other UNESCO Sites located within 100 minute distance from Kosice, check out Unesconadosah website.