by Viera Dvořáková, PhD.
Folk architecture in Slovakia is characterised by the immense diversity of expression, the richness of forms and symbols at regional level resulting from a continued process of evolution over the past millennium. This process was influenced not only by natural, economic, social and cultural determinants but also by the geographical features of the Slovak landscape.
The diverse and very articulated landscape topography of the Slovak motherland, with significant differences in altitudes, precipitation and temperatures and the diverse types of soil and original flora and fauna, have created the basic prerequisites for the diversity of forms in folk architecture. Indeed, these conditions have had an impact on the raw material base of folk construction culture which can be divided into two basic groups, with both of them adhering to the principle of using the sources and raw materials which were most readily available.
Up to the mid 18th century, with the vast forests covering most of Slovak territory, the construction of wood dwelling houses prevailed, although relatively few of these structures have survived to the present day. During this period wood constructions were widely used throughout the entire northern area of Slovakia and their use even reached as far as the peripheral lowland belt, where earth houses of diverse construction predominated.
In the 20th century, the floating imaginary frontier between the area of earth, (and later stone masonry) house in the south and wood house construction in the north copied more or less the direction of parallels, roughly above the central Váh River and Hron River areas, above the central Spiš and lower Šariš areas. The differences in external appearance amongst wooden buildings were mostly a question of whether the basic building material came from deciduous or from coniferous trees. Uneven walls made of large trunks of deciduous trees used in lower altitude areas (Šariš, Gemer, Novohrad, Hont, Tekov) were flattened out by being smeared with earth from both external and internal sides and whitewashed.
On the other hand houses constructed from straight coniferous trees did not need to be additionally flattened and the buildings made of them kept their characteristic timbered look. Equally, in the use of traditional roofs use was made of the most easily available resources: in northern areas it was wooden shingle, softly modelling the roof covering, while in the southern areas the mighty roofs were covered with thick layers of straw or reed.
Beside the impact of terrain geomorphology on the location and arrangement of settlements and the material solution of individual constructions, the second most important element in the overall picture of rural settlements is the layout and the functional segmentation of their basic composition elements, agricultural houses or granges. The farmyard constituted the core element. It had to provide the family with ample space not only for living but also for carrying out different husbandry activities. The self-reliance and self-supply of the family was a natural necessity. The gradual fragmentation of land, determined both by historical development and by social conditions, had a marked effect on the basic character of housing development in particular settlements, leading to a variety of different configurations in the disposition of built-up areas – from unilaterally built-up plot with objects being lined up behind each other into the depth from the public road with characteristic houses facing the street with gables, through the angular built-up forming a characteristic street line of houses, bilaterally built-up plots up to closed form of courtyard built-up. Construction types, as well as construction and technological principles were also affected by other factors, such as a number of colonisation waves or the influx of foreign ethnic groups bringing with them new principles and elements of layout solutions and constructions. However, the practicality of solutions and availability of building materials remained the key requirements.
The last quarter of the 20th century is associated with systematic efforts to protect the most valuable arrays of folk architecture taking the form of folk architecture monuments reserves. The Government of the Slovak Republic has gradually preserved monuments in the villages of Čičmany, Podbiel, Ružomberok-Vlkolínec and Ždiar (in 1977), Osturňa and Špania Dolina (1979), Sebechleby-Stará Hora and Veľké Leváre (1981), Brhlovce (1983), and Plavecký Peter (1990). Currently folk architecture monument reserves may be found in 10 municipalities. Altogether they feature several though not all characteristic areas of Slovak folk architecture.
Building in Brhlovce, hosting a museum exhibition
Čičmany Folk Architecture Reservation
Osturňa Folk Architecture Reservation
Plavecký Peter Folk Architecture Reservation
Podbiel Folk Architecture Reservation
Stará Hora – Sebechleby Folk Architecture Reservation
Špania Dolina Folk Architecture Reservation
Veľké Leváre Folk Architecture Reservation
Vlkolínec Folk Architecture Reservation
Ždiar Folk Architecture Reservation