Town history of Kezmarok

The area of Kežmarok was already settled 50 000 years ago. It is proved by the archaeological finds from the early Stone Age up to the period of the Slavonic settling. The Slavonic finds found in the Kežmarok area date back to the 9th and 10th century. 

Kežmarok was established by merging several settlements of the original Slavonic inhabitants with a settlement of German colonists (the settlements are first mentioned in 1251), who came after the Tartars´ invasion.

a/ The Slavs were coming to the area of the later town from the 8th to the 10th century. Some of them settled on the mountain above the Poprad River, along which a big trade route led. This route was connecting the Orient with Northern Europe. Thus, the St. Michael´s Settlement came into existence together with the St. Michael´s Church, which was built out of stone. People living in the settlement probably protected the mentioned road Via magna as well as the close border with Poland. However, they also occupied themselves with fishing. The settlement existed as early as the 12th century, maybe even sooner. The first mention of the St. Michael´s Church dates back to 1251. The settlement did not become a part of the Town of Kežmarok. It remained its suburb. In the 15th century, it was destroyed after the Hussite invasion in 1433.

b/ On the other bank of the River Poprad, also close to the trade route, the Holy Cross Settlement was established. It was named after its church, probably built out of wood. Its Slavonic inhabitants occupied themselves mainly with agriculture and grazing, but it is possible that also with trade. The settlement was incorporated into the residential area of the later town. The bases of its later stone church come from the half of the 13th century. 

c/ It has been said that there was one more settlement - the Settlement of St. Peter and Paul in the place of the present-day garden colony in Kamenná baňa. However, it is not mentioned in the documents from the 13th century. Maybe, it was destroyed immediately after the Tartars´ invasion. Or, did its inhabitants run away from danger?

d/ The fourth settlement existed in the place of the present-day castle courtyard. It was established by the German colonists. From 1241 to 1242, Tartars were coming to Hungary and destroyed everything what crossed their path. Some of the inhabitants were killed, the other ones rescued themselves by running away. When Hungary was literally unpeopled after the Tartars had left, the Hungarian king Belo IV. invited mainly German foreigners there. They were coming to Slovakia from the 12th century but there is no evidence of their impact on the territory of the later town. The Germans were already coming as experienced craftsmen and miners and they started colonizing the uninhabited areas. They were clearing forests, drying marshes, establishing villages. It is certain that Germans were in the area of Kežmarok as early as 1251. The Saxon village was namely built up in the place where a women monastery with a church (present-day courtyard of the Kežmarok Castle) are believed to stand in 1190. Nobody and nothing have ever confirmed this assumption. However, Gašpar Hain wrote about it in his well-known Chronicle of Levoča. 

It was this symbiosis of cultures of many nationalities as well as an excellent location near the big trade road, connecting the Orient with Northern and Western Europe, that enabled the fast economic growth of the rising town. In 1269, the Hungarian king Belo IV. granted Kežmarok the town rights, which allowed the burghers to elect a mayor, to hold a weekly market, to choose a priest, to use freely church and cemetery, etc. The burghers were obliged to pay the land tax
to the king, who was the land owner. In the town privilege, also the boundaries of the town area were set - the town area also included a part of the High Tatras. In the 15th century, Kežmarok being the free royal town won other political and economic privileges - the right of free fishing, exemption from paying the customs fee in Hungary and later on, also in Poland, free using of forests, the right of four annual markets and the right of the sword. The town also gained its coat of arms and finally, it was exempted from paying the frontier fee.

During more than 700 years of the town history, the area of Kežmarok experienced thirteen bigger war conflicts:

- More than 100 years lasting war with the Royal Town of Levoča. The cause was the so-called store right, which Kežmarok gained by deceit and trick. This important right was granted the Town of Levoča and the Town of Podolínec in the Spiš Region. The right was of great economic importance because it ordered foreign tradesmen to stay in the town for some time and sell their goods. 

- Fights for the Hungarian throne between the Polish king Vladislav and the widow of the Hungarian king Albert. 

- Kežmarok had led a war against its own castle for almost 250 years. The castle was built up to protect the town from the close border with Poland. However, it was not doing so and on the contrary, it fought against the town. Finally in 1655, the king was forced to declare Kežmarok the free royal town again. 

- The town fought on the side of the Hungarian nobility, who organized fourth anti-imperial uprisings in the 17th century. The uprisings were directed against the absolutist power of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty. When the town was defeated, three foremost Kežmarok personalities paid with their lives for it. Their execution should serve as a warning for others.

- Kežmarok also did not avoid the fights of the Hungarian Revolution from 1848 to 1849 connected with the stay of the Russian army, who came to suppress the revolution. It did not avoid the final fights for Spiš during the World War I. and at the end of the World War II., as well. 

Although the town survived several wars, misfortunes, fires and epidemics, it prospered economically. We know about 40 guilds, who were working in the town in the 15th - 19th century. With this number, Kežmarok ranked among the first ten Slovak towns. In the 15th century, the oldest guilds were those of locksmiths, fishermen, clothiers, blacksmiths and leather workers. The unique guilds were the guild of bag makers (one of the two in Slovakia) and the guild of saddlers 
(one of the four). All over Europe, Kežmarok was made famous by dyers, goldsmiths, carpenters, etc.. Although the guild production was cancelled in 1872, there were several enterprises in Kežmarok which had already been established before: stoneware manufactory, cloth manufactory, factory for the pitch production, starch production, brewery, the first mechanical spinning mill for flax and hemp yarn in Hungary, etc. 

Also the educational system and culture are hundreds of years old. Although the first reports of a school date back to the years 1383 - 1392, there is an assumption that the school had already existed one century before. After 1531, the school as well as the whole town, with the inhabitants of mainly German origin, became Protestant. During the 18th and 19th century, the Kežmarok grammar school was being reorganized into a school of a higher type - lyceum (there were only 4 lyceums in Slovakia). One was not allowed to go on in his university studies without completing it. Students from all over Central Europe studied at the Kežmarok Lyceum and many of them became famous writers, artists or scientists. The name of the Kežmarok school is also connected with the first mentions of music, theatrical performances and the first known trips to the High Tatras. Another extraordinary school was the vocational school of weaving - the first one in Hungary. In 1869, one of the first kindergartens in Slovakia was established in Kežmarok.

The Kežmarok Castle became the cultural centre of the upper classes. Up to the end of the 16th century, it had been the place of philosophical disputes and flourishing painting and music. There was also a printing house in the town where the Slovak, Hungarian, German and Latin books had been printed. During the 19th and 20th century, the number of printing houses in the town increased up to 11. 

The town can also boast the rich activity of several associations. The oldest one was the Shooting Association, which came into existence in 1510 according to a tradition. In 1862, the firemen established one of the first voluntary firemen´s associations in Slovakia. In 1867, the Association of the Spiš Doctors and Pharmacists was founded, in 1873, the Hungarian Carpathian Association, as the first tourist and nature preserving association in Hungary and the eight one of its kind in the world, etc. 

The science was at very high level here. Many natives of Kežmarok were scientists, e.g. the field of medicine brought fame to Kristián Augustini ab Hortis - the personal doctor of the King Ferdinand II., in the 18th century to Daniel Fischer - the founder of a private medical school, to Ján Daniel Perlitzi - the founder of the medical jurisprudence in Hungary, at the turn of the 19th and 20th century to Vojtech Alexander - the founder of radiography in Hungary. The other ones contributed to the development of the natural sciences. In the 18th century, Juraj Buchholtz Jr. became the author of the first cave map in Slovakia and the Tatras panorama. He was the member of several scientific societies abroad. In the 19th century, Tomáš Mauksch became the founder of the Tatras floristics, Friedrich Hažlinský the founder of the flowerless fauna research in Hungary. At the turn of the 18th and 19th century, the 2 personalities were dealing with the field of history: Martin Schwartner - the founder of statistics in Hungary and author of the first textbook of diplomatics, Kristián Genersich
- the author of the best monograph ever about Kežmarok.

In 1851, 4391 inhabitants lived in Kežmarok. In 1910, the population was already 7367. After the World War I., many Hungarians moved out of the town. As a result, in 1921, the number of population declined up to 6475. In 1938, there were 7360 people living in Kežmarok. However, during the World War II., and after it, the German inhabitants left, so in 1945, there were only 5469 people. According to the last census, 17.241 citizens live in Kežmarok.

Historical names of the Town of Kežmarok
Caseoforum (1361), Forum Casaeorum (1307), Forum Caseonum (1301), Forum Caseorum (1329), Kasmark (1269), Kazmarc villa (1270), Kaymarc (1270), Kayssmark (1288),
Käszmark (1269), Kesemark (1369), Kesmarck (1392), Kesmarco (1388), Kesmarg (1294), Kesmark (1269, 1270, 1294), Kezmarc (1329, 1330), Kezmark (1294), Keysmarch (1272),
Keyssmarkh (1269), Késmark (1288), Kismark (1294), Kissmark (1294), Kiszmark (1293), Kümark (1294).

More in this category: Municipal Coat of Arms »

8 comments

  • Comment Link Tamar Katz March Thursday, 24 March 2016 17:41 posted by Tamar Katz March

    Grace Colley,

    Do you know more about the Jews of Kezmarok?
    I am impressed and grateful for your comment

  • Comment Link Joan Kunsch West Friday, 04 March 2016 22:31 posted by Joan Kunsch West

    Your photographs and history have been helpful. The current area looks beautiful.

    I am trying to learn the history of my family and hope that you are willing to help in my search.

    Following is information I have from current family records:

    Johann Kunsch
    Born - 2 August, 1855
    Baptized - 26 August, 1855 Velka Lomnica, Kezmarok, Slovakia
    Father's name - Johan Kunsch
    Mother's name - Susana
    Married - 24 January,1883 to
    Maria Probstner (Probsztner)
    Born 15 May, 1863
    Baptized 17 May, 1863 Velka Lomnica,
    Kezmarok,Slovakia
    Parents - Michael Probstner, Maria Bretz
    First son - Janos Pal Kunsch
    Born 24 January, 1885
    Baptized 1 February. 1885 Velka Lomnica, Kezmarok, Slovakia
    Parents - Janos Kunsch, Maria Probsztner

    My grandfather (Johan Kunsch) had a workpass dated 25 February, 1886 stating that he was born in Hunfalu, Szepes,Magyar. He is listed on a New York Passenger List as being Austrian, sailing from Bremen, Germany, and arriving in New York on 15 March, 1886.

    Other family oral information I have is that Johann(John, my grandfather) Kunsch had a sister, Susan who was born about 1865 and married in 1886 in Austria. She and her husband Samuel Buckowing (Buckomine?) immigrated to the United States in 1886.

    Any additional information you can provide about the above individuals would be appreciated.

  • Comment Link maria kubova Tuesday, 16 April 2013 16:48 posted by maria kubova

    neviete niekto nieco o keltoch a kk ? :) dakujem

  • Comment Link Mária Liskayová, Žilina Thursday, 16 December 2010 11:00 posted by Mária Liskayová, Žilina

    Vážená pani Baráthová, dočítala som Vašu knihu "Nepokojné mesto". Milujem historickú beletriu a Vašu knihu som prečitala jedným dychom. Historické fakty a osudy ľudí podané v tak poučnej a v neposlednom rade vtipnej forme! Ďakujem za príjemný zážitok. Do ďaľšej práce, ktorú si vysoko vážim, Vám chcem popriať veľa úspechov.

  • Comment Link Grace Colley Monday, 25 January 2010 15:20 posted by Grace Colley

    Mrs. Barathova,
    Your history is interesting however you did not say that the Jews were forced to leave Kezmarok during WWII and that it was a Hungarian border town from the 1200s. Also you also did not mention that Count Tho"ko"ly who was born there and died in Turkey was also reburied there. It sounds to me like you are trying to invent history or to rewrite it. Kezmarok was an important Hungarian town with a large Hungarian and German and Jewish majority. It was also a Slovak fishing village before the Hungarian time. I am sure you will not include this, but it is offensive that you try to reinvent history.

  • Comment Link Martin Šromovský Thursday, 10 December 2009 16:59 posted by Martin Šromovský

    súhlasím s pani Saturyovou, je to hanba, že na oficiálnej stránke mesta je iba nejaký propagačný materiál, aj to len tak na boku

  • Comment Link Administrator Wednesday, 07 October 2009 15:14 posted by Administrator

    Vďaka patrí hlavne pani Nore Baráthovej, ktorá pre náš web texty zostavila...

  • Comment Link Adriana Saturyová Thursday, 01 October 2009 18:10 posted by Adriana Saturyová

    Vďaka za históriu Kežmarku, najrýchlejšie som ju našla na Vašom webe a som sklamaná, že na oficiálnej stránke mesta Kežmarok hľadám históriu zbytočne...

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