Spiš (-Slovak; Latin: "Scepusium", _de. Zips, _hu. Szepesség, _pl. Spisz) is a region in north-eastern Slovakia, with a very small area in south-eastern Poland. Spiš is an informal designation of the territory (like Burgundy), but it is also the name of one the 21 official tourism regions of Slovakia. The region is not an administrative division in its own right, but between the late 11th century and 1918 it was an administrative county of the Kingdom of Hungary, (see separate article Szepes county).


The region is 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 (Slovak Ore Mountains) and Hnilec River in the south, and a line running from the town of Stará Ľubovňa, via the Branisko mountain (under which lies the 4,822 m long Branisko Tunnel, currently the longest in Slovakia), to the town of Margecany in the east. The core of the Spiš region is formed by the basins of the rivers Hornád and Poprad, and the High Tatra Mountains. Throughout its history, the territory has been characterized by a large percentage of forests - in the late 19th century, as much as 42,2% of Spiš was forest.


Early history

"The history of the region until 1918 is given in more detail at Szepes county."

Traces of settlement in the Neanderthal era have been found in remains at Gánovce (Gánóc) and Bešeňová (Besenyőfalu).

The territory of Spiš was later populated first by Celts. It belonged to the state of Great Moravia (Veľká Morava), and after its dissolution became part of Poland. 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 near the modern town of Kežmarok (Késmárk). The royal county of Szepes ("comitatus Scepusiensis") was created in the 2nd half of the 12th century. In the 1250s the border of the Kingdom of Hungary shifted to the north to Podolínec (Podolin) and in 1260 - in the northwest - to the Dunajec River. The northeastern region around Hniezdne (Gnézda) and Stará Ľubovňa (Ólubló), the so-called "districtus Podoliensis", were incorporated only in the 1290s. The northern border of the county stabilized in the early 14th century. Around 1300, the royal county became a noble county.

Many of the towns of Spiš developed from German colonization. The German settlers had been invited to the territory from the mid-12th century onwards. The settlements founded by them in the southern Spiš were mainly mining settlements (later towns). Consequently, until World War II Spiš had a large German population (see Carpathian Germans).

Many smaller settlements were populated by settlers from Poland. In 1412, under the Treaty of Lubowla 13 main cities passed to Poland. Among the cities that for 360 years belonged to Poland, were: Stará Ľubovňa, Podolínec, Spišská Sobota (Szepesszombat), Poprad (Poprád) and Spišská Nová Ves (Igló). In 1772 all were annexed by Austria as a part of Partitions of Poland.

In 1868, 21 Spiš settlements sent their demands, the 'Spiš Petition', to the Diet of the Kingdom of Hungary, requesting special status for Slovaks within the Kingdom.

piš after the creation of Czechoslovakia

In 1918 (and confirmed by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920), the county became part of newly formed Czechoslovakia. A tiny part of the territory (situated in today's Poland below the Rysy), amounting to 195 km² after an internal border dispute had been confirmed to be part of Galicia (Central Europe) (at that time the western part of Austria-Hungary) as early as 1902. After World War I northern Spiš was united with Poland and became the subject of a long-running border dispute between Poland and Czechoslovakia. (See separate article, Czechoslovak-Polish border dispute (1918-1947)). In 1923 Slovak Spiš was divided between the newly formed Sub-Tatra county ("Podtatranská župa") and Košice county ("Коšická župa"). In 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 Tatra county ("Tatranská župa") between 1940 and 1945. Because the Slovak army took part in German aggression against Poland, the Polish part of Spiš (together with the Polish part of the county of Orava) was transferred to Slovakia. During this period many thousands of Jewish residents of Spiš were deported to Nazi extermination camps, and the longstanding presence of Jews in the region came to an end. At the end of World War II, 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). Their property was confiscated after the war (see Beneš decrees).

After World War II the prewar borders of Spiš were restored with the most of the county belonging to Czechoslovakia again and a small part to Poland. 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.


According to censuses carried out in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1869 (and later in 1900 and 1910) the population of Szepes county comprised 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). (People identified as Tóts (Slovaks) is some part spoke dialects that belongs rather to Polish language. Hardly any Hungarians lived in the territory during the existence of the Kingdom of Hungary. The sudden increase after 1869 is due to statistical interpretation (use of "most frequently used language" as criterion) and extensive Slovakization which entailed assimilation, especially of Germans. The figures thus do not make clear how Jews were categorised, but their numbers must have been substantial as many of the towns had synagogues (one survives in Spišské Podhradie (Szepesváralja)) and Jewish cemeteries still survive in Kežmarok (Késmárk), Levoča (Lőcse) and elsewhere.

The present breakdown of population in the region would however be very different. The Germans were effectively deported in the years following World War II. As mentioned above, virtually all the local Jews were deported to extermination camps during the First Slovak Republic.

Present day Spiš has a number of Roma settlements and the Roma people are a substantial minority of the region's population.

There is also a very small minority of Gorals (Slovak: "Gorali"; literally Highlanders). Although a negligible number in census terms, the Gorals have their own distinctive culture and dialect.


Historically economic activity in the region has been principally based on agriculture (and in former times mining) and it remains one of the relatively poorer regions of Slovakia. However tourism has always been an asset, with the sanatoria and the winter sports in the High Tatras and Low Tatras, areas of natural beauty such as the Slovak Paradise ("Slovenský raj") in the southwest and Pieniny at the Slovak-Polish border, and the region's many historic sites. These include Spiš Castle and the nearby sites of Spišské Podhradie, Spišská Kapitula and Žehra (all of which are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites), the towns of Levoča and Kežmarok, and Stará Ľubovňa Castle. The tourism industry is now developing swiftly, aided by the introduction of international flights to the airport at Poprad and improving rail and road connections.

piš today

Spiš today is one of Slovakia's 21 tourist regions. It no longer however represents, as did its predecessor, an administrative region.

Since 1996, Spiš has been divided between the modern Košice Region and Prešov Region and is 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.)

The present population of the Spiš region is about 320,000; almost half the population lives in towns, the largest of which are Poprad (55,000), Spišská Nová Ves (39,000) and Kežmarok (17,000).

External links

* [http://www.spis.sk/en.html (Unofficial) Spiš web site]

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