Spiš Castle by Pierre Bona – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Spiš (pronounced ‘Spish’) is an ancient county of the former Kingdom of Hungary, now mostly located in Slovakia (with some of its northernmost parts in Poland). The core of the region is formed by the basins of the Poprad and Hornad rivers, and the High Tatra Mountains at its north (now the border with Poland ). On its eastern margins the massive ruins of Spiš Castle, (just a few miles from Levoča) still survey the region. The castle, together with the nearby church of Zehra and its mediaeval wall paintings, and the picturesque miniature city of Spišska Kapitula, constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which also includes the town of Levoča, the historic capital of Spiš.
The region’s chequered history reflects the many influences to which it has been subjected. Originally settled by Celts and Slovaks, it became part of the Great Moravian Empire of the 9th century, and later part of Poland. Conquered by the Hungarian Kingdom in the 11th and 12th centuries, it was ravaged by Tatar invasions of the early 13th century. Following this, Germans were invited to settle in the county and developed much of the mining and associated industries which led to its prosperity in mediaeval times. As a consequence the region is a rich mixture of many traditions, reflected in the Spiš dialect which contains traces of many languages. This cultural heritage is also reflected in the area’s attractive architectural legacy.
Also close to Levoča, the Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise) National Park offers exceptional opportunities for hiking and exploration, in a unique ecological zone with its own rare flora and fauna, amongst hills and rivers, spectacular caves and dramatic gorges. To the west and north of the town rise the High Tatras, a beautiful and spectacular alpine chain offering fabulous walks in summer and superb skiing and sports in winter.