Prešov, the metropolis of Šariš, is situated at the crossroads of old trade routes from Potisie northwards to Poland and from east to west at the confluence of the Torysa River and the Sekčov Stream.
Settlement in the territory has been documented since the Neolithic Age. The Slavs built permanent settlements in the territory of Prešov from the end of the 8th century, with the core of the earliest settlements situated in the area of the present-day Slovak street, running parallel to the main road from north to south. Members of Hungarian tribes founded a settlement in this territory at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries. Colonists from German Saxony invited by King Bela IV arrived after the Tatar invasion and settled in the neighbourhood of an older Slovak settlement.
The oldest written mention of Prešov dates back to 1247 By the end of the 13th century the town was granted the ‘rights of Spiš Saxons’, and in 1342 Prešov acquired town rights when it obtained an exemption from the rule of the Count of Šariš. The older sacral building in the middle of the stretched lens-shape square, originally the single-nave Church of St Nicholas, existed in this period; its construction began in 1347. Prešov was promoted to the status of a free royal town in 1374 and later in 1480 it became a member of Pentapolitana, the alliance of five Eastern Slovak free royal towns. It also belonged to the eight most important towns in the Kingdom of Hungary.
Thereafter town walls were built and completed in the first half of the 15th century. Houses made of stone prevailed during this period and use of stone was also supported by monarchs after a great fire. Trade benefiting from many rights flourished in the 15th century and this fact was reflected in an increasing population and in the construction of burgher houses made of stone in the enlarged area of the town. Burgher houses were usually of the passageway or parlour type. At the same time, townspeople extended the Town Hall.
Burghers built fountains and cisterns in order to provide a water supply in the town. In this connection a special hydraulic facility, the so called kumšt (kunst in German), was constructed in the 15th century in one of the town bastions to pump water into the cisterns. The so called Caraffa’s Prison, originally serving as an arsenal, was built in the early 16th century. Simultaneously, the town council decided to complete the construction of the three-nave Church of St Nicholas under the leadership of the local Master John. During this period the Renaissance style was coming into use in the reconstruction of houses and creation of church interiors. It is perhaps best represented in an attic belonging to the Rákoczi House.
During the stormy period of class uprisings in the 17th century the town fell into disfavour with the monarch, not only for its support of the Gašpar Pika uprising but also for taking part in the Thököly rebellion. After its suppression a military court under the direction of General Caraffa sentenced 20 prominent burghers and in 1687 they were consecutively tortured and executed. A memorial on the corner of the Evangelical College building commemorates this event, known to posterity as the Prešov Massacre.
Prešov became the seat of Šariš County in the late 17th century, and in spite of rebellions, fires and plague epidemics which reduced its population during the 18th century it began to flourish. Burghers renovated house facades in the Baroque style and built imposing town palaces. One of the most attractive is the Klobušický Palace, which dates from 1756.
Industrial development at the start of the 19th century contributed to the economic growth of the town. Newly-established manufactures induced an inflow of people from the countryside. A fire in 1845 resulted in the total change of roofing used on burgher houses. Poor people built their houses close to town walls and some parts of those walls were demolished. Only two bastions, Vodná and Kováčska bašta, remained after this time.
Prešov became the centre of the Orthodox Church at the start of the 19th century. The seat of its diocese was in the former Minorite monastery and church, reconstructed in 1848. The Jewish community built the orthodox synagogue in the Moorish style in 1898. A section of the Košice-Bohumín railway line deviating from Kysak to Prešov was also constructed during this period. The Art Nouveau building of Bosakova banka was built at the end of the square in the first quarter of the 20th century.
The historic core of Prešov was declared a Town Conservation Reservation in 1954 for its intact preserved architectonic monuments and unique town-planning concept.