It has been an indecently long time in coming. But finally we are shedding some light on the image that has been synonymous with Englishmaninslovakia from the very beginning: namely the city-centre-scape of Košice, fanning out around the majestic cathedral of Dóm svätej Alžbet, or St Elizabeth’s Cathedral.
When I am newly arrived in a town I do one of two things. I might look for a cafe or restaurant, nothing fancy, ideally a bustling joint where locals slurp away on coffee or wolf down cheap but good set-lunches without ceremony, a place where no one really cares who the stranger at the corner table might be, a place where you can sit unhassled an hour or so – order something simple and imbibe. I might do that. Otherwise, I’ll go searching for that town’s high point, a place to survey it all from and get bearings, a place to relish the state of having ARRIVED rather than being in the uncertain, draining state of GETTING THERE. Clambering to the top of Košice Cathedral is the best way, when you are in Slovakia’s big eastern metropolis, of fulfilling arrival strategy 2.
Built between the 14th and 16th centuries, this is an impressive building: it’ll make Bratislava’s St Martin’s Cathedral seem tame in comparison. The accolades and the stat-breakers pile up: Slovakia’s most elaborately decorated church, Slovakia’s biggest church… More striking even than the Gothic decor is, as far as the interior is concerned, the double-spiral staircase, with two intricately intertwined sets of steps in opposing directions.
But, the frescoes, sculptures and crypts of the interior are not the focus of this post. Plenty of info exists on each painting and stage of the cathedral’s development. Obviously (you may have guessed) this post is about climbing up to the top of the north tower for a view over the city that rivals the viewing gallery of the UFO in Bratislava for Slovakia’s best city vista – and at considerably less cost.
Whether someone is there to collect your entrance fee or not at all is a bit of an uncertainty. Usually, it’s some old, bent lady who awakes from her catatonic stupour to croak out about the tons of gold and other jewels used on the roof. She’ll collect the 1.50 Euro entrance fee if she’s there, but try the heavy-set door (just to the left of the entrance to the main cathedral) in any case: it will often yield!
The steps are incredibly steep and worn with the heavy footfalls of yore as you ascend to several antechambers and, above, the bell tower itself. Above the bell chamber again and you come across the fascinating display on the hlaznice – the city guardians who, in centuries gone by, tarried up here for hours and even days to watch out over the city perimeter for would-be foes on the approach.
Up an even steeper flight of stairs and then, via a wooden ladder, you come out on the flimsily-fenced-in peak of the north tower. Round-the-clock views out across the city and the hills beyond unfurl before you.
And? And pictures often impart more of a story than words ever can…
OPENING: 9:30am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday
ADMISSION: 1.50 euros.