Slovakia’s second largest city, Košice has long been the southeastern administrative and cultural equivalent of the nation’s western capital, Bratislava. It is now an important centre for trade and commerce as well as being the seat of the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic.
Although traces of settlements date back to the end of the Stone Age, the first written reference to Košice was in 1230. The city has the oldest coat of arms in Europe, received in 1369. It became a significant trade centre from the early fifteenth century. As part of Pentapolitana, an alliance of five eastern Slovak cities, the city profited from its geographical position near the Polish–Slovak frontier.
In the struggles for the Hungarian throne in the fifteenth century, Košice’s municipal treasury financed expeditions against the Poles and the Hungarians under the leadership of Jan Jiskra. The military importance of the city increased as additions were made to its fortifications in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by Hungarian rulers eager to increase their defences in eastern Slovakia against the Turks. A Hungarian bishop, Benedict Kischdy, founded a Jesuit university in Košice in 1657 which was later to become a Royal Academy.
The nineteenth century saw further growth. In 1804 when Košice had its first bishop, the church of St Elizabeth was made a cathedral. The economy was boosted in 1870 after the construction of a railway station east of the town centre.
As the newly independent state of Czechoslovakia flourished after World War I there were prosperous times for Košice. Under Hungarian control throughout World War II, Košice came once more into the Czechoslovakian sphere in 1945 and was made the seat of the Slovak National Council. In the same year, the pro-Soviet ‘Košice government’ was formed. Although this was in operation for only 1 year, it orchestrated the ‘Košice Program’ which called for the violent repatriation of all resident Hungarians. It also began a process of economic centralization and state controlled education and industry which continued under communism.
Along with chemicals, textiles, glass, minerals, and furniture, the region produces steel, Slovakia’s main export industry. Previously a Slovakian company (VSZ Košice and eleziarne Podbrezová), the mammoth U. S. Steel Košice (affiliated to U. S. Steel) is one of the leading European steel manufacturers. Košice’s train station was built in the late nineteenth century and provides services to major cities. The airport has regular flights to Bratislava, Prague and Vienna. In recent years the city has been home to an international television festival.
Places of Interest
The Cathedral of St Elizabeth is one of the few examples of high Gothic architecture to be found in Eastern Europe. Next to it is the Chapel of St Michael, the city’s second oldest building. The city is home to the East Slovak Theatre, used by one of Slovakia’s two professional ballet ensembles.