Spis

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Spiš (in Latin: Scepusium, in Polish: Spisz, in German: Zips, in Hungarian: Szepes) is the name of a historic administrative county (comitatus) of the Kingdom of Hungary. Its territory is presently in north-eastern Slovakia and south-eastern Poland.

Today it is an informal designation of the corresponding territory (like Burgundy or French Basque Country), but also one of official 21 tourism regions of Slovakia.

Contents

Geography

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Spis.jpg
Coat of Arms of Spiš
Map of Spis county in 1910
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Map of Spis county in 1910
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Spis_Castle,_Slovakia.jpg
Spis Castle

Spiš county shared borders with Poland (or from the late 18th century to 1918 with the Austrian land Galicia) and with the counties Liptov (Hungarian: Liptó), Gemer-Malohont (Gömör-Kishont), Abov-Turňa (Abaúj-Torna) and Šariš (Sáros) in the Kingdom of Hungary.

Spiš was situated between the High Tatras and the Dunajec river in the north, the springs of the Váh river in the west, the Slovenské rudohorie mountains and Hnilec river in the south, and the line (including) town of Stará Ľubovňa - Branisko Mountain (with a 4822m long Slovakia's longest tunnel) - town of Margecany in the east. Its area was 3668 km² in 1910.

The core of the Spiš are the basins of the rivers Hornád and Poprad, and the High Tatra Mountains. Throughout its history, the territory was characterized by a large percentage of forests - in the late 19th century, the forests still constituted as much as 42,2% of Spiš.

Modern Characteristics

Though a prosperous region throughout its history, many parts of Spiš are poor regions today. But the territory features many sights, prosperous touristic activities and industry. It is one of the most attractive regions of Slovakia with beautiful mountains - the national parks High Tatras in the northwest, Pieniny at the Slovak-Polish border, the Slovak Paradise (Slovenský raj) in the southwest, the ancient castles Spiš Castle (the biggest in Central Europe, UNESCO world heritage), Stará Ľubovňa Castle, Spišská Kapitula under Spiš Castle (UNESCO world heritage,seat of Spiš´s bishop), Spišské Podhradie under Spiš Castle (UNESCO world heritage), The Church of The Holy Spirit in Žehra (UNESCO world heritage) and The Tree of Life Fresco in Žehra´s church (UNESCO world heritage).

Capitals

The capitals of the Spiš county were the Spiš Castle which was constructed in the 12th century and then from the 16th century (de-facto partly already from around 1300) Levoča (in Hungarian: Lőcse).

Historic Rulers

The main county heads of the county were basically from the following families:

History

Borders and origin

The territory of the Spiš county was originally populated by Slovaks. The southern part of the territory was conquered by the Kingdom of Hungary at the end of the 11th century, when the border of the Kingdom ended above the today's town of Kežmarok. The royal county Spiš (comitatus Scepusiensis) was created in the 2nd half of the 12th century. In the 1250's the border of the Kingdom of Hungary shifted to the north to Podolínec and in 1260 - in the northwest - to the Dunajec river. The northeastern region around Hniezdne and Stará Ľubovňa (the so-called "districtus Podoliensis") were incorporated only in the 1290's. The northern border of the county stabilized in the early 14th century. Around 1300, the royal county turned into a noble county.

Sedes of the ten lance-bearers

Until 1802, there was a special separate tiny county called "Parvus comitatus Small county/ Sedes superior Upper county/ Sedes X lanceatorum County of the ten lance-bearers", which was situated to the east of Poprad in present-day southern Spiš, and whose origin is unknown. From the 12th century onwards its inhabitants were known as the "guardians of the northern border". The inhabitants were Slovaks and the names of the settlements in the county were Slovak, as well. In 1802, when its inhabitants decided to merge the sedes with the Spiš, it included the following settlements: Abrahámovce, Betlanovce, Filice (today part of Gánovce), Hadušovce (today part of Spišské Tomášovce), Hôrka (including Kišovce, Svätý Ondrej, Primovce), Hozelec, Jánovce (including Čenčice), Komárov, Levkovce (today part of Vlková), and Machalovce (today part of Jánovce), but originally more villages were included.

The lance-bearers were squires. The "sedes" was a sum of areas, which did not constitute a continuous territory. It had an autonomous government, similar to that of normal counties, but was partly subordinated to the county head of the Spiš county. Till the 15th century, its capital was Špišský Štvrtok (which interestingly was not part of the sedes territories), then there were various capitals, and after 1726 the capital was Betlanovce.

Arrival of the Germans

Most of the towns (not settlements!) of Spiš arose from German settlements, for the creation of which German settlers had been invited to the territory since the mid-12th century. They came mainly after the devastating Tatar invasion in 1242, which turned the Spiš, like other parts of the Kingdom of Hungary, into a largely depopulated area (some 50% of the population were lost). Subsequently, King Béla IV of Hungary invited Germans to colonize the Spiš and other regions of Slovakia, present-day Hungary and Transylvania. The settlers were mostly experts and miners. The settlements founded by them in the southern Spiš were mainly mining settlements (later towns). Consequently, until WW II Spiš had a large German population (see Carpathian Germans). The last Germans came in the 15th century.

In the early 13th century, the people of the Spiš created their own religious organization called the "Brotherhood of the 24 royal parish priests", which received many privileges from the local provost. It was re-established after the Tatar invasion in 1248.

At the same time, the German settlements of the Hornád and Poprad basins created a special political territory with special administration. They received collective privileges from King Stephen V in 1271, which were confirmed and extended by Charles Robert in 1317, because the Spiš Germans had helped him to defeat the oligarchs of the Kingdom of Hungary in the battle at Rozhanovce in 1312. The territory was granted self-government privileges similar to those of the royal free towns. In 1317, the special territory included 43 settlements, including Levoča and Kežmarok, which withdrew before 1344. Since 1370 the 41 settlements of the territory applied a uniform special Spiš law system (called "Zipser Willkür" in German). Initially, the special territory was called "Communitas (or Provincia) Saxonum de Scepus". By the mid-14th century, the territory was reduced to 24 settlements and later the name was changed to "Provincia XXIV oppidorum terrae Scepusiensis" in Latin / "Bund der 24 Zipser Städte" in German [i.e. Province/Union of 24 Spiš towns]. The province was led by the count (Graf) of Spiš elected by the town judges of the 24 towns.

There was yet another privileged territory in the Spiš: Until 1465, the privileged German minining towns in southern Spiš (e.g. Gelnica, Švedlár, Mníšek nad Hnilcom, Helcmanovce, Prakovce, Vondrišel (today called Nálepkovo), Jaklovce, Margecany, Smolník, Slovinky, Krompachy) were exempt from the power of the Spiš county head, too.

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Pawn of Spiš towns and the Province of 16 Spiš towns

The Province of 24 Spiš towns was dissolved in 1412, because - to be able to finance his war against Venice - King Sigismund of Luxembourg pawned 13 of the towns of the former Province, as well the territory around the Stará Ľubovňa (i. e. the royal domain Stará Ľubovňa, plus Hniezdo and Podolínec) to Poland in exchange for 37000 heaps of Czech groschens (=88000 guldens). Similar short-time pawns (without interest payments) were usual at that time (pawn of the Nitra county, Bratislava county, Brandenburg march etc.). This pledge (pawned towns) however was supposed to be returned to the Kingdom of Hungary as soon as the loan would be repaid and nobody did expect that the pledge would take 360 years (from 1412 to 1772).

The main 13 settlements pawned Ľubica, Poprad, Matejovce (today in Poprad), Spišská Sobota (today in Poprad), Stráže pod Tatrami (today in Poprad), Veľká (today in Poprad), Ruskinovce (not existing anymore, in Military training area Javorina near Kežmarok), Spišská Belá, Spišská Nová Ves, Spišské Podhradie, Spišské Vlachy, Tvarožná and Vrbov did not form a continuous territory. They kept their privileged status (now with respect to Polish kings which did not change the privileges) and created the "Province/Union of 13 Spiš towns" in 1412. The remaining 11 towns of the former 24 towns, which created the "Province/Union of 11 Spiš towns" in 1412, were not able to maintain their privileges and as early as in 1465 they were fully incorporated into the Spiš county, i. e. they became subjects of the lords of the Spiš Castle. Most (8) of them gradually turned into simple villages and largely lost their German character.

The pawned territories remained politically a part of the Kingdom of Hungary (and of its Esztergom diocese), while the economic use of the territories was subject to pawn to Poland. Poland also held the administrative powers in the area and was entitled to appoint a governor/administrator (starosta) for the territories, with his seat in Stará Ľubovňa, to manage them economically (especially to keep the tax revenues) and to position guards at important road crossings even outside the pawned territories. One of the first Polish governors of Spisz was the famous knight Zawisza Czarny. Due to their international "middleman" position (German towns with Slovak subjects in the Kingdom of Hungary pawned to Poland) the towns experienced an economic boom. The use of the Polish language was promoted by the Polish administrators and students from the territories attended the Polish Jagiellonian University of Kraków.

Since Poland did not want to return those prosperous towns, attempts of the Kingdom of Hungary to repay the debt (most notably in 1419, 1426 and 1439) failed and later nobody was ready to pay the huge sum anymore, although the whole kingdom was talking about the necessity to do so. After an excessive misuse of the towns had occurred - especially by Teodor Konstanty Lubomirski, Maria Józefa of Habsburg, queen consort of August III of Poland, and by Count Heinrich Brühl -, Maria Theresa of Austria decided to recuperate them by force: she took advantage of the Polish noble insurrections in the second half of the 18th century and occupied the towns by force (with the consent of the then Polish king Stanislaus II of Poland) without debt repayment in 1769. This act was confirmed by the First Partition of Poland in 1772, and then in 1773 when the pawn was cancelled. In 1778 the 13 towns regained their privileges of 1271, the privileges were extended to the other 3 previously pawned towns, and this newly formed entity was named "Province of 16 Spiš towns". The capital of the province was Spišská Nová Ves. However, the privileges were gradually reduced and some 100 years later only religious and cultural rights remained. Finally, the province was dissolved altogether and incorporated into the Spiš´s county in 1876.

Some other events

The subsidiary of the Hungarian Chamber (the supreme Austrian financial and economy institution in the Royal Hungary) responsible for eastern Slovakia and adjacent territories (i. e. not only for the Spiš) was called the Spiš Chamber (Zipser Kammer in German). Its seat was the town of Košice (sometimes Prešov) and it existed from 1563 to 1848.

А Lutheran synod, the so-called Spiš synod, took place in the Spiš in 1614. It discussed the Protestant organisation of the Spiš county and Šariš county. In the Catholic sphere, a separate Spiš Bishopric was created in 1776.

In 1868, 21 Spiš settlements sent their demands, called the Spiš Petition, to the Diet of the Kingdom of Hungary. It demanded a special status for the Slovaks within the Kingdom of Hungary.

After the creation of Czechoslovakia

In 1918 (confirmed by the Treaty of Trianon 1920), the county became part of newly formed Czechoslovakia. As treated in detail below, 195 km² of the county were annexed by Poland. The (remaining) county continued to exist temporarily till 1922 but with other powers etc. In 1923 the Spiš was divided between the newly formed Sub-Tatra county (Podtatranská župa) and Košice county (Коšická župa). 1928-1939 and 1945-1948 it was part of the newly created Slovak Land (Slovenská krajina).

During World War II, when Czechoslovakia was split temporarily, Spiš was part of independent Slovakia and formed the eastern part of the Tatra county ( Tatranská župa) between 1940 and 1945.

At the end of WWII, most of the Spiš Germans were evacuated between mid-November 1944 and 21 January 1945 in order to escape the Red Army approaching from the East (see also Carpathian Germans).

After World War II Spiš county was in Czechoslovakia again. In 1948, it became part of the newly created Košice Region (Košický kraj ) and Prešov Region (Prešovský kraj ), whose borders however were completely different from those of the present-day regions of the same name. From July 1960 it became part of the newly created Eastern Slovak region (Východoslovenský kraj), which ceased to exist in September 1990.

In 1993, Czechoslovakia was split and Spiš became part of Slovakia. Since 1996, the Spiš has been part of the modern Kosice Region and Presov Region and has been covered approximately by the following six administrative districts: Poprad, Kežmarok, Stará Ľubovňa, Spišská Nová Ves, Levoča and Gelnica, except for the eastern half of the Stará Ľubovňa District and three villages of the Poprad district (Štrba including Tatranská Štrba, Štrbské Pleso and Liptovská Teplička from Liptov county.)

Border dispute with Poland

A tiny part of the territory (situated in today's Poland below the Rysy) became part of Austria (at that time the western part of Austria-Hungary) as early as in 1902. In 1918, when Austria-Hungary ceased to exist, the territory thus "automatically" became part of Poland.

When Czechoslovakia was created in 1918, Poland and some of local organisations wanted to annex the prosperous Spiš region and Polish troops occupied Spiš on 6 November 1918. But after a defeat at Kežmarok on 7 December 1918, the Poles were forced to leave the territory. In June 1919, however, the Poles occupied again northern Spiš and in addition northern Orava. In Spiš they demanded the whole northern half of the region down to Poprad, though units were withdrawn after order from Warsaw in January 1919. Although both governments promised to carry out plebiscites in villages in northern Spiš and northeastern Orava about whether those people want to live in Poland or in Czechoslovakia, plebiscites were not held and both governments agreed to arbitration (this situation reoccurred after WWII in 1945, when this region was again ceded to Poland by president Beneš). At the Paris Peace Conference (1920) Poland reduced its demands to the northwesternmost Spiš (including the region around Javorina). Almost the present-day border line was set by a conference of ambassadors held at Spa (Belgium) on 28 July 1920: Edward Beneš agreed to cede to Poland 13 villages (especially Nowa Biala, Jurgów and Niedzica; 195 km²; pop. 8747) in northwestern Spiš and 12 villages in northeastern Orava (around Jablonka; 389 km²; pop. 16133), the inhabitants of which were almost exclusively Slovaks. Poland however still demanded further territories, especially those around Javorina and Ždiar (both in the Tatras). The conflict was only resolved by the Council of the League of Nations (International Court of Justice) on 12 March 1924, which decided that Czechoslovakia can keep the territory of Javorina and Ždiar and which entailed (in the same year) an additional exchange of territories in Orava (the territory around Nižná Lipnica went to Poland, the territory around Suchá Hora and Hladovka went to Czechoslovakia). The new frontiers were confirmed by a Czechoslovak-Polish Treaty on 24 April 1925 and are identical with present-day borders. Poland however remained unsatisfied.

In October 1938, on the eve of World War II, Poland occupied some northern parts of Slovakia and (see also Munich Agreement and First Vienna Award)- Poland received from Czechoslovakia the above mentioned territories around Suchá Hora and Hladovka, around Javorina, and in addition the territory around Lesnica in the attractive Pieniny Mountains, a small territory around Skalité and some other very small border regions (they officially received the territories on 1 November 1938). The newly formed (on 14 March 1939) independent Slovakia, however, received back both the territories lost in 1938 and the territories "lost" in 1920-1924. The reannexation happened in October 1939 (officially confirmed on 24 November 1939). The reason for this was that Slovakia participated in fascist Germany's attack on Poland in September 1939 (although the Slovak participation was rather symbolic in reality due to the small size of the country's army).

In January 1945, these border territories were liberated by the Soviet Red Army. The inhabitants of the whole Orava and Spiš (i. e. incl. the territories "lost" in 1920-1924) created authorities similar to those in the remaining Czechoslovakia (Slovakia ceased to exist again) and were preventing Polish authorities, which were trying to recuperate the territories they had before WWII, from entering the region. The Czechoslovak President Beneš, however, decided to give the territories regained during WWII (i. e. northern Spiš and northern Orava) to Poland again (the corresponding formal act was signed on 20 May 1945), although a plebiscite on the territories showed that 98% of the population wanted to keep northern Spiš and Orava in Czechoslovakia, and there very many protests in the form of delegations visiting the president himself, petitions to Prague and Poland, protests by American Slovaks and protests by the Slovak clergy. Thus, on 20 May 1945, the pre-WWII borders between Czechoslovakia and Poland were restored.

Polish troops occupied northern Orava and Spiš on 17 July 1945 and expelled Slovak clerks, teachers and priests. Various (organized and individual) lootings and persecutions of Slovaks in the annexed regions followed. There were even armed clashes in some villages and a number of Slovaks were killed. As a result, some 6,000 Slovaks (25% of local population) left Orava and Spiš villages situated in Poland till 1947. Slovaks from the Polish part of Spiš settled mainly in the newly created industrial town of Svit near Poprad, Kežmarok, Poprad, and in (at that time depopulated) German villages near Kežmarok. Slovaks from the Polish part of Orava settled mainly in Czech Silesia, and in (at that time depopulated ) German villages in the Czech lands (Sudetenland).

It was only on 10 March 1947 (after lengthy negotiations) that a treaty guaranteeing basic rights for Slovaks in Poland was signed between Czechoslovakia and Poland. As a result, 41 Slovak basic schools and 1 high school were opened in Poland, most of which however were shut down in the early sixties by order of Polish authorities.

Nation(alitie)s

According to censuses performed in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1869 (1900, 1910) the population of the Spiš county included the following nationalities: Slovaks 50.4%, (58.2%, 58%), Germans 35% (25%, 25%), Ruthenians/Ukrainians 13.8 %(8.4%, 8%) and 0.7% (6%, 6%) Magyars (Hungarians). Almost no Hungarians had been living in the territory throughout the centuries of the existence of the Kingdom of Hungary. The sudden increase after 1869 is due to statistical manipulations ("most frequently used language" as criterion) and extensive Magyarisation which entailed assimilation especially of Germans.

There is a very small minority of so-called Gorals (Slovak: Gorali; literally: Highlanders)(a negligible number in censuses). The Goral ethnographic group is found in both Poland and Slovakia, and they illustrate the conundrum of national identity. The decisive factor in Gorals' auto-identification is not ethnic but territorial: Gorals living in areas with a long tradition of belonging to the Polish state identify themselves as Polish, while those living in the former area of Upper Hungary identify themselves as Slovak. This controversy surfaces from time time when the Polish government in 1918 said:,,They are Polish", while the Gorals in Slovakia have considered themselves Slovak at least since the 18th century(when first censuses occured).

Districts

From the beginning of the 15th century, the county was subdivided into three processuses. The number was changed in 4 in 1798. In the 2nd half of the 19th century the number of processuses (districts) was increased.

In the early 20th century, the districts and their capitals were:

Urban districts:

pl:Spisz sk:Spiš

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