Banská Štiavnica, known as ‘silver town’, is hidden deep in the Štiavnické vrchy Mountains. The rapid blossoming and fame of this medieval free royal town during the Middle Ages was directly connected with its wealth of ore veins and the possibility of their exploitation. The town´s importance is evidenced by its large size, even as far back as the Romanesque period in the early 13th century, and the richness of the preserved architecture from later periods. The representative town centre, formed into its present-day shape during the 16th century, is characterised, except for the spacious Gothic-Renaissance houses, by the Town Hall and the late Gothic Church of St Catherine situated on the Holy Trinity Square. In the same period, under pressure of expected incursions by Turkish hordes, Banská Štiavnica´s citizens built a fortification system. The Piargská brána gate, rebuilt in the Baroque style, and the New Castle above the town are all that now remains of this system at the present time. A number of other monumental buildings dominate the town. These include the Old Castle, originally a Romanesque parish church, which was also rebuilt into Renaissance anti-Turkish fortress and the seat of the Middle Slovakia Mining Chamber. It also includes today´s Parish Church of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, the originally Romanesque church at the Dominican Monastery and the remains of the Gothic hospital Church of St Elizabeth, which defined the then southern boundary of the town in the 14th century, along with the originally late Gothic Church of the Virgin Mary of the Snows, which complement the multicoloured palette of medieval religious buildings in the town. The complete Baroque set of buildings making up the Calvary, built and revitalised by Jesuits on Scharffenberg, and the Classicist Evangelical Church in the town centre by J Thaller, were added in the period 1744-1751.
The town centre was completed in the Baroque epoch by the sculptor Dionyz Stanetti, who created the monumental Trinity Column. The main Banská Štiavnica town square was named after this column. The historic core consists of rows of characteristic spacious Gothic-Renaissance burgher houses with their immense vaulted entry halls. Older, less-organised structures were incorporated into them. Some of the houses’ cellars, dug into the rocky ground, connect with tunnels that are clear evidence of previous mining activity. One particular Banská Štiavnica phenomena occurs on Trojičné námestie square, where two- and three-storey houses facing the square have their top floors at ground level on the street behind them. The characteristic amphitheatre layout of the town can be seen today in the transition from the compact settlement of the town centre into the smaller free-standing construction of small miners´ houses scattered across the green fields of the narrow valley.
As regards the significance of mining history, large complexes of mostly-unused technical works are a very important and valuable part of the built heritage of the town and its surroundings. Their construction was connected mainly with the exploitation and processing of rich poly-metallic ores, particularly silver. Shafts, tunnels, extraction towers and a sophisticated water management system consisting of artificial lakes called tajchy connected with each other by canals, have been preserved on the territory of the town and in its wider surroundings. Water energy was used for propulsion of mining mechanisms pumping underground water that permanently flooded lower levels in the mines. These facilities and surface remnants of mining activities – pingy (depressions), surface mines, mounds, dumps etc. – gradually became an inseparable part of the urban environment and they are now also protected as part of the Štiavnické vrchy Protected Landscape Area.
The exceptional role of Banská Štiavnica as a world centre of technical education since the mid 18th century is documented by the set of 11 buildings connected with the activity of Mining and later with the Mining and Forestry Academy, which was founded in Štiavnica in 1762 on the basis of a decree issued by Empress Maria Theresa. This, probably the first technical university in the world, educated mining and forestry experts who later worked not only in the former Austria-Hungary, but also practically all over the world.
The extraordinary intactness of the architectonic complexes of Banská Štiavnica, protected since 1950 as a Town Conservation Reservation, was one of the reasons for the inscription of the town and technical monuments in its surroundings in the List of World Heritage in 1993.