Activities Supporting the Awareness of Historical Background and Creating an Image of a Townk

Katarína Koštialová


Societies as well as individuals are members of some group or groups, observe

similarities and differences, perceive time continuity and/or identify with the

environment. What is more important, they can be emotionally linked to

a cultural, ethnic, religious or other tradition or group.

In contrast to rural existence, life in a town is socially and culturally

much more differentiated; people participate in activities of various interest

groups, clubs, religious or national organizations, cultural, sport or alternatively-

oriented associations which, with their sub-cultural manifestations,

participate more or less in activities of the town.

Klíčová slova

identity, mental memory, development of the town

The cultural potential of a society involves not only various material and

spiritual values but also, in a broader sense, its objective (phenomenal) and

socio-cultural surroundings. The way of life (festal and everyday life) of the

inhabitants is influenced and formed by their surroundings. At the same time,

these surroundings are reshaped and influenced by people with their various

social activities, requirements, and interests. People expect the following from

their surroundings:

− identification with the place where they live;

− fulfillment of the need to belong somewhere, to feel affection for the

place where they live, its traditions, history and culture;

This work was supported, in part, by the EU 6th Framework Programme Project: Sustainable

Development in a Diverse World (SUS.DIV), CIT3-CT-2005-513438.

− security in the material, social and emotional sense;

− human surroundings and quality of life;

− possibility of communicating socially and of gaining some knowledge.

Nowadays, we prefer new possibilities of interpersonal communication.

They are connected with the disappearance of borders and the overcoming of

distances that help us to gain new emotional experiences and knowledge. We

are overloaded with information and influenced by homogenization – not only

with technical homogenization but also with spiritual homogenization. Surroundings,

culture, fashion, entertainment, food, etc., are also homogenized

(Petrusek, 2007). Such globalizing surroundings, complexity of cultural trends

and aspects force scientists (especially social and cultural anthropologists, philosophers,

sociologists, ethnologists, historians and psychologists) to think

about the sense of the existence of national, regional, local, urban and rural

cultures; about the importance of preserving and developing the cultural heritage,

identity and humanization of the surroundings and society.

According Petrusek, abandon of tradition, one’s own history, culture, and

identity is not a step which “society can afford without any risk… Each generation

has some problems with its tradition; each generation ignores or even

despises some aspects of tradition” (Petrusek, 2007, p. 316-317).

Experience and knowledge, coming from history, warn us that loss of identity

always means a fast or slow end of a community, which is usually followed

by gradual dissolution into foreign cultural surroundings. A community without

identity and its own history (more precisely, a society which is unable to

express its identity through cultural expression), trying to enter into European

integration processes, is sentenced to the above-mentioned dissolution (Hajko,


Societies as well as individuals are members of some group or groups,

observe similarities and differences, perceive time continuity and/or identify

with the environment. What is more important, they can be emotionally linked

to a cultural, ethnic, religious or other tradition or group.

The identity of an individual is created and developed in a cultural and

social-historical context and area. Memory of history and symbols connected

with identity provide awareness of the line joining us with our ancestors and

awareness of our development in time (Bačová, 1996).

In contrast to rural existence, life in a town is socially and culturally much

more differentiated: people participate in activities of various interest groups,

clubs, religious or national organizations, cultural, sport or alternatively-oriented

associations which, with their sub-cultural manifestations, participate

more or less in activities of the town.

In this paper, I concentrate on activities of two interest groups – “Friends

of the Pustý hrad Association” and “Sport Fans of the Pustý hrad Association”

(Pustý hrad means Deserted Castle or Desolate Castle) and how their activities

help to create awareness of the historical background and image of the town of

Zvolen. I will show activities of these two groups for the town and its inhabitants.

These activities focus on creating and propagating the historical feeling

of “Old Zvolen,” alias the “Deserted Castle.” At the same time, I will try to find

the answer to the question of whether the inhabitants of the town are aware of

the historical background of Pustý hrad and, if so, how they perceive this historical

background. I will try to analyze which visions, strategies and activities

toward stronger regional and historical identity will be planned and organized

in the future by the town for its inhabitants.

In this paper I use information from interviews with respondents, observations,

questionnaires, the regional press, photo documentation, strategic plans

of town development and the results of a public questionnaire made by the Zvolen

Town Hall focused on the development of tourism in the town.

The town of Zvolen is situated in Central Slovakia and was a royal town in history.

This year, we are celebrating the 765th anniversary of its foundation. The

first reliable document of the independent royal town of Zvolen is the royal

charter of King Belo IV of December 28, 1243, reinstating Zvolen’s town privileges.

The town has approximately 45,000 inhabitants. The town has always

had a very favorable location and represents an important national and international

railway junction.

Pustý hrad alias Old Zvolen Castle

Old Zvolen Castle (Vetero Zolium), called, since the 19th century, the Deserted

Castle , is situated above the town on the confluence of the Hron and Slatina

Rivers. In the 12th century, Old Zvolen Castle was the seat of the royal “komitat,”

that is, a territory extending over the whole area of today’s Central SloThe

ruins of the Deserted Castle belong to the Slovak cultural heritage thanks to their historical

and architectonical importance.

vakia. Although the castle is located very high above sea level, its foundation

before the 13th century is indubitable (according to the latest research) (Zvolen,


The location of the town and royal “komitat” was not chosen by accident,

but it was a question of a reasonable choice. The advantageous strategic-geographic

location and the continuity of an ancient Slav settlement played an

important role in the choice of Zvolen as an economic, administrative and military

center in the later colonization process (Hanuliak, 1998).

Pustý hrad (the Deserted Castle) creates the typical panorama of the town.

Between 1241 and 1255 a large fortification – refugium was built. Since then,

the castle’s area of 7.6 hectares has remained the same; all the buildings were

constructed within this fortification. The ruins show that there were actually

two castles (the Upper and Lower Castle) which were only 1 kilometer apart

and were not built at the same time. In the first half of the 15th century, the

importance of Pustý hrad faded away a little after the construction of the new

Gothic castle right in the town. The towers, palaces and bastions of the castle

served only as living quarters for the numerous troops of Ján Jiskra of Brandýs.

At the time of the conquest of the castle by Ján Huňady the castle buildings

were destroyed by fire (1452) and since then Pustý hrad has been in ruins. It

has been slowly disappearing from the mental memory of the inhabitants.

The first systematic excavation work in Pustý hrad was realized between

1886 and 1889. Since 1992, the archaeological research has been renewed. .

The present archeological research is also closely connected with the presentation

of the revealed architecture.

Characteristics of the group

The “Friends of the Pustý hrad Association” (the Association) was established

in 1998. The main goal of the Association is the preservation and systematic

publicity of their historical cultural heritage – the castle called Pustý hrad.

Activities of the Association are focused on the following:

− cooperation and support by organizing archeological works;

− protection of the area of the castle against vandalism;

The Deserted Castle is one of the largest castles in Europe; e.g., the Castle of Spis has only 4.95


Preservation of the castle of Pustý hrad is systematically financed within the framework of the

budget of the town of Zvolen.

− publicity of the castle in different ways (more or less traditional);

− cooperation with the town of Zvolen and other organizations on the

realization of events connected with the castle;

− presentation of the results of the archeological research for their preservation

and for public interest

The group and the urban community

One of the main goals of the Association is better publicity for the castle and

organization of traditional and alternative events which should support historical

awareness (not only of the inhabitants of Zvolen) and increase interest

in this town. The interest of the people is an important factor in their participation,

although their interest is mostly only latent. The Association prepared

two multimedia CDs about the history of the castle. The CDs were distributed

to elementary schools, where they serve as a teaching aid for regional history.

The Association also organizes many events for the public – regular lectures

on Pustý hrad (its history, archeological research and discoveries); literary

and art competitions connected with the castle; a regular climb on the

castle hill in September, etc.

The urban community and Pustý hrad

Group climbs to historical, symbolical or memorial places play an identification,

cultural-social, educational and memorial importance in Slovak history,

e.g., a climb with Štúr and his followers on Devín hill (in 1836), on Kriváň hill

(in 1846); a climb within the framework of an international youth meeting on

Rysy hill; ascent to the monument of M. R. Štefánik in Bradlo, and a climb on

Sitno hill are well-known.

In the first weekend of September, a regular climb on the hill of Pustý hrad

takes place in the town of Zvolen. It is a socio-cultural and hiking event connected

with the end of the archeological season on the castle. It is organized

by the town of Zvolen in cooperation with the Association and other socio-cultural

and sport organizations. The year 2007 saw the 15th annual climb to the

castle. Mostly inhabitants of Zvolen but also people from all over Slovakia who

The first CD (2000) is focused on the history and research of Pustý hrad. The second CD (2002) is

an extended edition in English and German with more information about the town and its surroundings.

In the period of socialism, a climb on Rysy Hill was organized in 1913as a memorial to V. I. Lenin.

are interested in history and hiking participate in the climb. The above-mentioned

event is enriched by a performance of historical sword-play, musical

groups or theater.

A Ride through History on bicycles is organized by the “Sport Fans of the

Pustý hrad Association.” The 6th annual ride started in different places representing

the countries of the Visegrad Four (the Castle of Spiš in Slovakia,

Slavkov near Brno in the Czech Republic, Wisla in Poland, and the Visegrad

Castle in Hungary) and finished in the town of Zvolen and at the castle. Billboards

in the town contained the message: “Greetings from and to Pustý hrad

through Poland, Moravia, Hungary and Slovakia are sent by the team of cyclists

who represent the town of Zvolen and Pustý hrad.”

Responses of participants in the climb prove that people feel the need to

identify with the place where they live and feel affection for this place and its


“I am an old Zvolen inhabitant and Pustý hrad is a significant piece of history

of our town” (male, 1930).

“It is awareness of our history. I live in Zvolen and therefore I feel proud of

Pustý hrad and also of Zvolen Castle” (female, 1961).

“I visit the castle not only during the organized climb. I prefer to be here when

there are not so many people. Once we heard a lecture by Dr. Hanuliak. It lasted

maybe two hours and I got so much information. I find the castle a cultural attraction

today” (male, 1975).

“I was at the castle as a pupil. There was only a grassy hill and nothing more.

Now, it is totally different. I like to walk here with my family and have a barbecue

with the children” (female, 1970).

In the mental memory of the inhabitants of Zvolen, the Deserted Castle

is connected with various events and activities that publicize it. There are also

ecumenical masses besides the above-mentioned sport, hiking and cultural

events. There are also informal club evenings, meetings of friends and colleagues

with a guitar. Sport competitions and history contests are organized

for children (called “International Children’s Day on Pustý hrad”; the sport

competition is called the “Key to Zvolen’s Fortress”).

Town strategy and cultural-historical awareness of the inhabitants

Regardless of the aim of the visit to the castle (historical, sport, hiking, cultural,

social, etc), it is important that Pustý hrad is an integral part of the mental

memory of inhabitants of the town of Zvolen, as is shown in a questionnaire

realized by the Town Hall in 2005. The questionnaire helped to prepare marketing

strategies for the development of tourism in the town.

One of the questions in the questionnaire: What is most interesting for

tourists in the town and in its surroundings? The order of places was following:

1. Zvolen Castle

2. Pustý hrad (the Deserted Castle)

3. Spas of Sliač and Kováčová

4. Square of the Slovak National Uprising

5. The Môťová dam

6. nature in the surroundings

7. Kráľová – ski center

8. Wood and Forest Museum

9. J. G. Tajovský Theater

10. Evangelical Church and Catholic Church

11. Borová hora Arboretum

One question in the questionnaire was open and many respondents wrote

many interesting tips for tourists, but mostly they think that what is most interesting

for tourists are historical sites. The Gothic Zvolen Castle, part of the

national cultural heritage, is in first place along with the Slovak National Gallery,

and the castle of Pustý hrad is in second place.

Another question in the questionnaire requested tips and comments for

better development of tourism in our region. The respondents suggested better

publicity for town and cultural sites. The inhabitants expressed greater interest

in more cultural events connected with the history of the town.

One of results of the questionnaire is that the inhabitants of Zvolen consider

their town as quite attractive for tourists. They consider the historical

sites, theater, music and folkloric events as the most attractive. At the same

time, the inhabitants expressed only average satisfaction with the level and

choice of cultural activities in the town. It is necessary to use the cultural-historical

potential of the town more efficiently, to emphasize better publicity for

the historical sites and cultural events, and to support the interest of the inhabitants

in their historical and cultural heritage (Koštialová, 2006).

The above-mentioned fact is included in the program of economic and

social development of the town of Zvolen, which determines the goals and

development priorities for the town. Support for activities aimed at education

of the inhabitants concerning the town/region and its cultural-historical

and natural heritage is one of the priorities. The document also defines strong

and weak aspects of the town. On one hand, the fact that the town of Zvolen

is a place with a rich history and cultural heritage is a strength. On the other

hand, a weakness is that the inhabitants lack a feeling of civic responsibility,

which is connected with low participation in the activities and administration

of the town. According to results of the document, strategy for the preservation

of the cultural heritage and a system of educating people to be proud of the

town and region are also missing (PHSR, Enclosure 2 – Analysis).

Visions of further development of the town, incorporated in complex longterm

suggestions, should tend to develop an awareness of the historical background

and help build a feeling of identity with the town. The “Old Zvolen”

Project offers several ideas connected with publicity of the history of the town

and Pustý hrad: foundation of an archeological open-air museum, lighting of

the area, construction of a cable railway, building of an observation tower, etc.,

which can emphasize the historical and cultural importance of the town’s heritage.

The castle of Pustý hrad, or rather Old Zvolen Castle, exists in the mental

memory of the majority of the inhabitants of Zvolen, thanks to the above-mentioned

activities and events and contributes to creating an emotional membership,

identity and affection toward the place where they live.

Katarína Košti alová has been doing scientific research in the Science and

Research Institute of Matej Bel University since 2005. Before that, beginning

in 2000, she worked at the Social and Cultural Studies Institute of the Faculty of

Humanities of Matej Bel University. Recently Dr Koštialová has been studying socioprofessional

and network groups in urban surroundings and urban folklore and

folkloristics. In conjunction with Grant Project 6RP SUS .DIV (Sustainable Development

in a D iversity World) she has focused on themes connected to life in an urban

society and social- and cultural-diversity phenomena.

In conjunction with Grant Project 5RP she has also studied gender questions,

especially in regard to women in civil and political life. Teaching: University teaching

and, recently, referee of the Museology and Cultural Heritage study programs

and the European Cultural Studies program of the Faculty of Humanities of Matej

Bel University.

Many inhabitants of the town and also members of the Association prefer the name Old Zvolen

Castle because the castle is not “deserted” or “desolate” any more.


Bačová, V. (1996). Etnická identita a historické zmeny. Štúdia obyvateľov vybraných obcí

Slovenska. Bratislava: Veda, Vydavateľstvo SAV, Spoločenskovedný ústav.

Bačová, V. (1996). Identita v sociálnej psychológií. In: Výrost, J., Slaměník, K. (Eds.).

Sociální psychologie. Praha: ISV nakladatelství. s. 211–234.

Gajdoš, P. (2002). Človek Spoločnosť Prostredie. Bratislava: Veda, Vydavateľstvo SAV,

Sociologický ústav.

Hajko, D. (2005). Globalizácia a kultúrna identita. Nitra: Univerzita Konštantína

Filozofa v Nitre, Filozofická fakulta.

Hanuliak, V. (1998). Pustý hrad nad Zvolenom. Pamiatky a Múzeá, 1, roč. 47

Koštialová, K. (2005). K problematike mestského cestovného ruchu. Etnologické

rozpravy. 2, s. 66–75.

Petrusek, M. (2007). Společnosti pozdní doby. Praha: Sociologické nakladatelství

SLON. Zvolen. (1993). Martin: Gradus.

Archive materials and information sources

Zvolenské noviny. Vol.: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2006, 2007

Nový Vpred žurnál. Vol.: 2000, 2001

Kronika Združenia priaznivcov Pustého hradu

Program sociálneho a hospodárskeho rozvoja mesta Zvolen (PHSR).

Akčný plán mesta Zvolen 2007–2013. Materiály MsÚ Zvolen

Marketingová stratégia rozvoja cestovného ruchu. Materiály MsÚ Zvolen

Katarína Koštialová

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