Welcome to Nitra – the mother of all Slovak cities

Country: Slovak republic
Region: Nitra region, Capital city of the region
Area: 100,48 km2 (38,8 sq mi)
Population: 76 426 (3.10.2022)

Nitra lies at an altitude of 190 metres (623 ft) above sea level. It is located in the Nitra River valley in the Danubian Lowland, where the bigger part of the city is located. A smaller part is located at the southernmost reaches of the Tribeč mountains, more precisely at the foothill of the Zobor mountain (587 m). It is around half-way between Slovak capital Bratislava, 92 kilometres (57 mi) away and central Slovak city of Banská Bystrica, 118 kilometres (73 mi) away. Other towns in the surroundings include Trnava to the west (53 km), Topoľčany to the north (35 km), Levice to the east (42 km), and Nové Zámky (37 km) and Komárno (71 km) to the south. A national natural reservation called Zoborská lesostep is located within the city’s boundaries.

The demographics changed dramatically during the 20th century; in 1910, from total population of 16 419: 9754 were Hungarians, 4929 Slovaks and 1636 Germans – Jews are hidden under these nationalities, estimated one quarter of total population. In 1940, Nitra was home to 4358 Jews.
Now, Nitra has a population of 76 426. (as of October 3, 2022), 36 268 Men, 40 158 Women

Nitra has been inhabited for 6,000 years. A large Celtic settlement was founded in the 4th century BCE in the locality Martinský vrch. Nitra is later (396 CE) mentioned in connection to the Germanic tribe of Quadi, as their possible capital.

The first Slavs arrived in the 5th century. In the latter half of the 7th century, the southern parts of Slovakia became part of the Avar Khaganate and the border between Slavic and Slavic-Avarian territory moved toward Nitra. Collapse of the kaganate at the end of the 8th century opened a new opportunity for a creation of new political units in the area. Nitra became the center of the Principality of Nitra in the 9th century, the oldest known Slavic political unit in the present-day Slovakia. The first known Christian church built by the Western or Eastern Slavs was consecrated in 828 at the seat of the ruling prince Pribina, and in the same year the town was first mentioned as Nitrawa. In 833, Pribina was ousted from Nitra by the Moravian prince Mojmír I and both principalities were united into the early medieval empire of Great Moravia. The Principality of Nitra was usually given to the heir of the Great Moravian throne as an appanage. But the practice eventually threatened unity of Great Moravia. Using rich resources of Nitra, both Prince Svätopluk I and Prince Svätopluk II revolted against their formal sovereigns. The level of autonomy they enjoyed was considerable, as documented by the Papal correspondence, addressing Svätopluk I of Nitra in the same way as two contemporaneous rulers of independent countries (Rastislav of Moravia, and Koceľ of the Principality of Lower Pannonia).

The city reached its height during the reign of Svätopluk I, who was the prince of Nitra from the 850s to 871 and then the king of Great Moravia until 894. It is likely that St Cyril and St Methodius settled in Nitra during their time of evangelising the Slavs from 863 and established their training college around Zobor. The first known Christian bishopric in Slovakia was established in Nitra in 880 (with Wiching as the bishop) and the first monastery in Slovakia was built on the Zobor Mountain during 880–881. During Svätopluk’s rule, Nitra consisted of five large fortified settlements and twenty specialized craftsmen’s villages, making it a real metropolis of its times. Several churches, for example in the Nitra Castle, Párovce, Nitrianska Blatnica, Lupka, Zobor, and Kostoľany pod Tribečom existed in and around today’s Nitra during the 9th and 10th centuries. Located beyond the city limits are the Great Moravian settlements of Chrenová, Lupka, Branč, Vráble and Zlaté Moravce.

After the break-up of Great Moravia in 906/907, Nitra was ruled by Üllö(Jelekh), the son of Árpád. The Great Moravian appanage system was adopted by the Árpád dynasty of the newly established Kingdom of Hungary. As with much of the present-day Slovakia, Nitra was conquered by the Polish king Boleslaus I in 1003 or 1015 and stayed as part of Poland until 1018. As the seat of heir of the dynasty, Nitra kept its autonomous status until 1108. Even after the abolishment of the principality, Nitra remained the capital of the Nitra county and a seat of a bishop (since 1110). The town survived the invasion of Mongols in 1241. In 1248, Béla IV gave Nitra the privileges of a free royal town. However, the privileges lasted only for 40 years and became a landlord’s town. During the course of time, Nitra was controlled by Matthew III Csák in the early 14th century, was affected by insurrections against Sigismund of Luxembourg and was a target of Hussite attacks in the 15th century, at the time defended by Ispán of Nitra county, Stibor of Stiboricz and later his son Stibor de Beckov . After the Hungarian defeat at the Battle of Mohács in 1526 and subsequent Ottoman advances into the Hungarian territory, Nitra was under threat of Ottoman attacks. They failed to capture the castle three times, before they conquered it in 1663, when the city became a center of the Litra sanjak, which bounded to Uyvar eyalet. The town was reconquered in 1685. The town was also affected by anti-Habsburg uprisings, from Stephen Bocskay and Gabriel Bethlen uprisings in the 17th century to the Kuruc uprisings from 1703 to 1711, and the town burned down in 1708 as a result of fights. It was renovated in the 18th century in the Baroque style. As a consequence of the Revolutions of 1848, Nitra was awarded an independent self-government for the first time since 1288 and became independent from the Diocese of Nitra and its bishops. Still an agricultural and handicraft town, Nitra started to industrialize. Until World War I, distillery, agricultural machines factory, brewery, dairy and other works were established. The first indirect connection to a railway was a road built in 1850 to the closest station in Trnovec nad Váhom. The railway finally arrived to Nitra in 1876, when a connection from Šurany was built. Later, lines were built to Topoľčany, Hlohovec and Nové Zámky. As a part of Magyarization, from 1883 to 1919, Nitra was the seat of the Upper Hungarian Teaching Association (FEMKE), a government-sponsored association whose main goal was to apply Magyarization policies on Slovaks.

After World War I and disintegration of Austria-Hungary, the Czechoslovak Legions occupied the town since 10 December 1918 to secure the rule of newly established Czechoslovakia. Nitra continued to be the seat of the Nitra county, until it was dissolved in 1928. After break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Nitra became a part of the First Slovak Republic and once again a seat of Nitra county until 1945. The period of the First Slovak Republic was tragic for the numerous Jewish population of Nitra, which was first victimized by the anti-Jewish law and then mostly exterminated in German concentration camps. The rest of Jews fled the city and country. The city was liberated by the Soviet Red Army in 1945, for only three years of restored democracy in Czechoslovakia. The Communist period from 1948 to 1989 was marked by oppression of Catholic church, which has traditionally strong presence in Nitra. Catholic seminaries, monasteries and other properties were nationalized and converted to museums, schools and offices. This period experienced the extensive growth, building the housing projects and annexing of formerly independent villages. After the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Nitra became part of newly established Slovakia and became a seat of the Nitra Region in 1996.

The city has a wealth of historic structures and natural beauty in its surroundings. The most well known points of interest are the Nitra castle, the old town and the adjacent hill, named Zobor, overlooking the city.

Notable religious structures located in Nitra are St. Emmeram’s Cathedral in Nitra castle, a Piarist church of St. Ladislaus and the adjacent monastery. The oldest church of the city is the Saint Stephen church, which was built in the 11th-12th century, although the foundation of the building was constructed in the 9th century. The monastery on Piaristicka street was founded in the 13th-14th century. Its dominant church of St. Ladislaus was later destroyed by a fire and remodelled in 1742-1748 in baroque style. Two towers were also added. The main altar has a beautiful statue ornamentation which the portraits of Saint Stephen and Ladislaus I of Hungary. The interior was renovated in 1940 and three modern frescos depicting themes from Slovak history of Nitra were created.

The old town (Staré Mesto) is dominated by the castle (Hrad), which is one of the most interesting ancient structures in Slovakia. Archeological findings in the past decades indicate that a large fortified castle had already stood here at the time of Samo’s Empire, in the seventh century. Recent archaeological findings prove the existence of a church from the ninth century beneath the more recent Gothic St. Emmeram’s Cathedral. The construction of the stone castle began during the 9th century during the reign of the Prince of Nitra Svätopluk. The castle currently serves as the seat of one of Roman Catholic bishoprics in Slovakia, which was founded in 880 as the first bishopric of western and eastern Slavs, which continued its existence since then, with the break from the 10th century until around 1110.

The Dražovce church is a remarkable example of the early Romanesque architecture.
The synagogue was built in 1908-1911 for the Neolog Jewish community. It was designed by Lipót (Leopold) Baumhorn (1860–1932), the prolific Budapest-based synagogue architect. Located in a narrow lane, the building is a characteristic example of Baumhorn’s style. A mélange of Moorish, Byzantine and Art Nouveau elements, it faces the street with a two-tower façade. The sanctuary is a domed hall supported by four pillars that also support the women’s gallery. After more than a decade of painstaking restoration by the municipality of Nitra, the building is now used as a center for cultural activities. The women’s gallery houses “The Fate of Slovak Jews” – Slovakia’s national Holocaust memorial exhibition. The synagogue serves as a permanent exhibition space for graphic works by the Nitra-born Israeli artist Shraga Weil.

The most powerful medium wave transmitter of Slovakia, running on 1098 kHz, was situated in Nitra at Velke Kostolany until recently. This transmitter could broadcast throughout all of Europe at night. Since 2003, however, it has operated on lower output to save energy cost, and has transmitted regional programming only.

The Virgin Mary’s mission house at the Calvary hill was built in 1765 for Spanish order of Nazarens. They were taking care of the church and pilgrims. Later, the building served as an orphanage. In 1878-85 this building was rebuilt in the Novoromanesque style and in 1925 one new floor was added to the building. The building as we know it today is a work of Slovak architect M. M. Harminec. Nowadays the whole building is mission house of The Divine Word Society. The Mission museum of nations and cultures is located in this building.

The Three Sticks og King Svätopluk
The famous legend about the three sticks of Svätopluk appeared in the fairy tale works of the enlightened Byzantine Emperor, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, some time in the middle of the 10th century. There it is written that before his death, the mighty Svätopluk, King of the Great Moravian Empire, called his three sons. He gave a stick to each of them, ordering them to break it. The mighty young men fulfilled the wish of their father with ease. Then the king ordered the three sticks to be tied and again called upon his sons to break the bundle. This task proved to be much harder. In this manner, the king demonstrated to his successors the need for unity, because only that could ensure their invincibility and prosperity for the country.

Locusts, Earthquakes and Fires
From time to time, the otherwise peaceful life in 18th-century Nitra was disturbed by some catastrophe. Chronicles recorded that in August 1747, swarms of hungry locusts appeared in the vicinity of the town, destroying all the crops. This natural phenomenon repeated the next summer too, but the people scared the green boarders away with screams and drumming, not allowing them to settle. Where they did manage to settle, the layer of locusts reached to the height of one meter. In the years of 1751 and 1763, there was an earthquake in Nitra, but it didn’t cause major damage. Much more devastating, however, were the two fires, in 1761 and 1762. The first one broke out in Párovce, and the second one affected almost the whole Lower town. However, the people of Nitra experienced the most devastating fire in October 1775. The damage was disastrous, 105 houses were burnt down. The fire broke out under interesting circumstances. It was allegedly caused by a woman who was trying to catch sparrows nesting in her house in the night and, pursuant to law, wanted to deliver them to the town hall. The mistake was that she was using a burning torch to light with, and the roof of the house was thatched… The situation repeated in March 1793, when the fire spread to the Upper Town as well. The parish church of St. Jacob’s in the Lower Town had to be demolished after the fire.

St. Emmeram´s Legend
In the 8th century, many missionaries peregrinated in Europe, spreading Christianity among pagan nations. The monk Emmeram (Emmeramus) peregrinated with a similar aim to the Avar tribes in the east. His mission, however, came to an early end in Regensburg, Bavaria. Upon request of the local duke, he settled in a town lying at the Upper Danube, where he soon became bishop. However, the duke’s daughter, Ota, came into his life ineluctably. She indicated him as the father of her still unborn son to divert attention from the real seducer. Ota’s hot-blooded brother mounted his horse, and set off to find the bishop, who was on his way to Rome. He reached him, and after addressing him ridiculously as “bishop and our brother-in-law”, he started to get even with him. Without considering the venerability of the bishop’s office, he took cruel revenge on Emmeram. He had the unfortunate man taken to a barn and tied to a ladder. One by one, he was deprived of his eyes and of all his limbs. The tortured man was, in spite of all pain, constantly singing praises of the almighty God. He was silenced only by cutting out his tongue. Even though the disfigured bishop was found still alive, he succumbed to his serious injuries. After Emmeram’s death, miracles started to happen. The cut-off legs of the bishop raised on their own and, with no external help, walked into the heavens, which was reason enough to declare Emmeram saint. Today, this saint is the main patron of the town of Regensburg.

Vazul´s Legend
Apparently, the first Hungarian king, Stephen I, did not have a liking for his cousin Vazul. He despised him so much that he imprisoned him in the Nitra Castle. He did not take into consideration that he had just become the appanage Duke of Nitra. In 1031, Hungary lost its direct successor to the throne. Stephen’s only son, Emeric, suddenly succumbed to complications from his hunting injuries caused by an enraged boar. Stephen appointed his nephew, Peter Urseolo, as his heir. Vazul, however, also had a rightful claim on the throne, so an executioner was sent to Nitra by the king to gouge out the eyes of the wretched Duke and pour molten lead in his ears. To tell the truth, this deed was not befitting of a would-be saint and patron of Hungary. Later chroniclers justified this cruel act of King Stephen as defending Christianity against the pagan Duke Vazul.

The Maurus Legend
The legend named after its author, Bishop Maurus, from what is today the Hungarian town of Pécs, comes from the year 1064. The original text is lost, only its several copies from a later era are known. The most popular of these is in the Munich Codex from the 15th century. The heroes of the legend are St. Zorard and St. Benedict. Zorard, a benedictine monk of the Zobor Monastery, following the example set by the Palestinian Abbot Zosimus, retired to a cave and devoted himself to the lifestyle of a hermit. During Lent, he ate only 40 walnuts given him by the Zobor Abbot, Philip. One day, weakened by the strenuous work in the forest and by strictly fasting, he suddenly fell unconscious. He would have most probably died in the remote place, but he was found by a young man who looked like an angel, and took him back to the monastery. Zorard related the miraculous deed to his disciple Benedict who, after the death of his master, also decided to become a hermit. He retired to a barren place near today’s Skalka pri Trenčíne. After three years of an ascetic life, Benedict was assaulted and killed by three robbers. They threw the monk’s corpse to the river Váh. One year after the unfortunate event, people noticed a female eagle on the river bank, which was focusing on one spot. Right there, they found the incorrupt body of the hermit. With great honour, they buried him in St. Emmeram’s Cathedral in Nitra, by the side of Zorard. Both men were declared saint in 1083.

Ghosts over the Zobor
In the oldest part of Nitra, in the Upper Town, the most well-known ghost was a headless monk. He appeared only very rarely, but gained notoriety by the fact that whenever he did appeare to someone, a calamity, misfortune or natural disaster happened. His place of work was the Castle Street. The headless monk was always wearing a Franciscan robe, with sandals on his feet; actually, but for the missing head, he had a discreet human appearance. The folk legend owes us where and why he had lost his head. I can remember a friend who has allegedly seen the monk with no head. During a storm in the night, lightning hit his parental house which burnt to ashes. The scary legend is connected also to the path from Mostná Street to the castle hill. Allegedly, at the end of the pathway, right at midnight, a man appeared asking for alms with a hat in his hand. When the terrified pedestrian threw a few coins to his hat, the money fell as if the hat had no bottom. Elders from Nitra used to say that it was the ghost of miller Risman. Miller Risman was very tight-fisted, never giving alms to beggars, and that is why he had to pay for his greediness. In front of the castle gate, a black dog is said to be appearing at midnight, with big, bloody eyes and a long tail. It guards the entrance to the castle and drives away anyone wanting to step through the gate. Allegedly, it is the ghost of a Turk who had killed numerous defenders before this castle gate and, as a punishment, has to keep guard here. The first corner house on Irecká Road (later Leningradská, today Braneckého Street) used to be a yeoman’s manor house. The house was called Očkay’s manor house because it was property of the famous General Očkay, executed in Nové Zámky for treason to Rákóczi. Well, in front of this manor house, regularly at midnight, a black carriage used to appear, which the famous general himself used to board in his other-worldly, that is beheaded, form. He used to set off for journeys along Párovce, said to be looking for his lost head. In Rolfes’ mine, by chance, clay buried a 5-year-old child. Since then, a child’s cry is heard from the mine. In the older starch mill (premises of the former sugar refinery), nobody wanted to work as a guard at night. In the courtyard of the starch mill, eerie things kept happening at midnight, as the guards were keen to relate. A regular funeral used to be conducted there with the coffin in which the corpse could be clearly seen. The funeral choir, along with the priest, used to sing terrifying tunes. In the village of Tormoš (today the Chrenová part of the town), the best husbandman once noticed that his four cows are not giving milk, as if they had already been milked in the night by someone. So he stayed up in the night and, behold, at midnight he noticed an old woman slipping into the byre. He immediately ran after her, but there was no sign of her in the byre any more. On the other hand, instead of the four cows there were now five. The husbandman was a clever guy, immediately realizing what the matter was. He decided to get the better of the witch. He ran to the shed, searched for all the cowshoes and the necessary tools, and shoed all five cows. The fifth one, however, never again turned up at his place. Witches are, after all, women who do not like wearing cowshoes on their feet.

Nature of Nitra and its vicinity is typical for its location on the boundary of mountains and lowlands. The smaller northern part stretches to the Tribeč mountain region, the southern lies in the country of mamelons of Danube Lowlands, which surrounds the valley of the river Nitra. For the majority of citizens of the Danube Lowlands, Tribeč is the first “real” mountain region, which is easily accessible in every season. The Zobor Mountains are situated in the southern part of the Tribeč mountain region. Although, they are not very high, comparing to the Danube Lowlands they are real mountains, where you can walk on marked walking trails through continual woods or steppe grasslands. Except the Zobor Mountains, Nitra offers other natural oasis, which became favourite places of relaxation for home residents and also tourists. Nitra Calvary, Gallows Hill (Šibeničný vrch) and Nitra Town Park belong to the pieces of preserved nature on the territory of the town. World of plants is presented to students and public by the Botany Garden of Slovak Agriculture University in Nitra, which is situated nearby Agrokomplex Show Grounds. Vicinity of Nitra offers other interesting places, such as Bison Park in Lovce, Arboretum in Mlyňany, and Chestnut Park in Jelenec or National Stud in Topoľčianky.

The Zobor Mountains Nature trail with 27 stops shows the most beautiful sights of the territory of the Zobor Mountains. The total length of trails is 14,7 km.

The most popular destination of rambles in the Zobor Mountains is Pyramída, which is by mistake quite often considered to be Zobor. They are separated by a significant mountain saddle. A recommended starting point of a walking tour to Pyramída is Zobor Sanatorium, where from a blue trail leads up to the peak.

Did you know, that the most precious plant of the Zobor Mountains is the Slovak penny – crees (Thlaspi jankae)? The tiny plant with white flowers lives only in the Zobor Mountains and Slovak Karst. We cannot find it elsewhere in the world; this is why it is endemic.

During the end of the summer a praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) can be seen in NNR Zoborská lesostep. It was given its name because the typical position of front legs on its chest, what seems as the mantis was praying.

Created: 17. 10. 2022