The mausoleum of, or rather shrine to, one of Slovakia
's foremost but also quite controversial national(ist) heroes. The site in Ružomberok is not strictly speaking a mausoleum – because the man's body isn't actually there. It was hidden towards the end of WWII
and after the war the whereabouts of his body were unknown. But his empty marble sarcophagus is still there, as well as a death mask on display inside the original glass coffin used during his funeral.
More background info:
Andrej Hlinka was a Catholic priest, banker and politician, co-founder and long-time chairman of the Slovak People's Party. He's best known, on the one hand, as one of the key figures in advancing the idea of an independent Slovak nation. On the other hand, his legacy has been hijacked by the ultra-right-wing nationalists, especially after Hlinka's death in 1938 (just before Slovakia
did for the first time achieve independence following the Munich Agreement).
In his latter years Hlinka himself rather tried to steer a political course in between the ultra-right radicals and more moderate conservatives. But after his demise the Nazis of Slovakia even took his name, in the form of the infamous Hlinka Guards. Their Flying Squads (i.e. death squads) became henchmen in some of the worst atrocities the Nazis
committed in Slovakia during WWII
, both in the Holocaust
against Jews and Roma as well as in the reprisals following the crushing of the Slovak National Uprising in 1944 (see Muzeum SNP
The name Hlinka is thus highly tarnished and the worship of his legacy (also by contemporary right-wingers) is accordingly controversial, to say the least.
The mausoleum had been originally constructed as a memorial to those killed in World War One
, but after Hlinka's death in August 1938 the local government changed their plans and decided to turn the site into a dedicated Hlinka mausoleum. In October 1939, Hlinka's remains were transferred to his mausoleum in a grand ceremony.
He didn't stay long, though. In the spring of 1945, as the Soviet
Red Army was entering Slovakia
and began liberating the state from Nazi rule, Hlinka's body was again moved, this time to a “safe place” where it would be kept until it was safe again to return him to his mausoleum. But this never happened. All information concerning the whereabouts of his body were lost in the chaos at the end of WWII
and the early post-war years. Despite lots of rumours and (conspiracy) theories, the search for Hlinka's body led to nothing.
The emerging communist
rulers of the CSSR
, moreover, had little interest in resurrecting Hlinka's legacy. They actually closed the mausoleum in 1948, literally bricking up the entrance, and turned the outside of the site into memorial to both WWI and WWII.
It was only after the fall of communism in 1990 (see Velvet Revolution
) that the town decided to reconstruct the Hlinka mausoleum – never mind that they didn't have the body. And so the interior was partly restored to its original design, but there were also changes (e.g. an original Virgin Mary statue was replaced with the metal cross we see today). In 2003, the original glass coffin, in which Hlinka had been on display in Bratislava before his funeral, was placed in the anteroom of the mausoleum, complete with a (copy of a) Hlinka death mask inside.
Yet more refurbishment and changes to the facade were undertaken in 2007 and additional information plaques installed to give the place the look it has today.
What there is to see:
First you have to ascend a totally oversized set of steps halfway up the hillside towards the church above the mausoleum. At the top there is a kind of balcony and behind it the doors to the mausoleum as such. When I was there it was out of the normal summer opening times so my Slovakian tour guide had arranged for it to be opened especially for us by a local guide (see below
Once inside the first thing that strikes you is the brass-and-glass coffin in the centre of the anteroom. In particular, what immediately jumps out is the fact that there is what looks like a bullet hole in the glass at the end where the feet of the deceased would have been.
Whether this is really a bullet hole or just a crack in the glass that it sustained while being transported and that just happens to look like a bullet hole is unclear. The local guide was adamant that it can't really be a bullet hole – because there was no corresponding exit hole on the other side of the coffin and he also claimed that no bullet was ever found.
The official leaflet he handed out, on the other had, did claim that it was a bullet hole, one that the coffin sustained when the Soviets liberated Slovakia
at the end of WWII
. Who is right is impossible to tell, but what is certain is that the hole provides a striking bonus to the dark appeal of the whole site … and also intriguing ops for creative photography.
Inside the glass coffin a death mask is on display at the top of a silk sheet. Its white plaster shape is spookily reflected on the inside of the various glass panes – again inviting creative photography. Fortunately it is allowed to take photos here, in fact the guide seemed to positively encourage it.
Other than the glass coffin, there's a bust of Hlinka to the right and a shiny metal sculpture involving a cross in the back, flanked by the brass lid of the coffin on the one side, a Slovak flag on the other, and two strange brass tubes on both sides. In front of the cross there are a few wreaths and a flowerpot.
To the left the actual mausoleum branches off, separated from the rest of the cave-like room by a low banister and double gate. In the centre of this part stands the massive marble sarcophagus for Hlinka – but it is empty (see under background
In a corner by the entrance is a table with a few leaflets, a book about Hlinka and an open guest book that the local guide urged us to sign. You never quite know what to put at such controversial sites, so it's probably best to simply give a name and date.
On balance, I found this a rather bizarre site to visit. On the one hand it was cool, especially for photography (thanks to that bullet hole and the reflections inside that glass coffin), on the other I felt just a little uncomfortable to be visiting such a shrine to a figure so steeped in controversy. But then again, I had been to the "Big 4
", and all of those certainly beat any degree of controversy Hlinka could exude, so I don't actually know why I found him more problematic. Possibly because the site had been especially opened for us, as if we had been on a dedicated pilgrimage. However, both the local guide and my main guide from Bratislava (see below) assuaged any such uncomfortable feelings. Instead it was rather turned into the enjoyable side of bizarre.
This is by no means a top dark site in Slovakia
but worth taking in when in the area and when there's time for the stop. But I wouldn't say it's worth travelling for specifically.
in the centre of the provincial town of Ružomberok in northern central Slovakia
, some 35 miles (60 km) by road north of Banska Bystrica and ca. 160 miles (260 km) north-east of Bratislava
Access and costs: Varying seasonally – easy in summer, much more restricted at other times; free.
Details: You can get to Ružomberok by train – the mausoleum is only a short walk from the station. Just cross the river and walk along the smaller stream up to the Adria shopping complex and turn right and then left to get to the bottom of the steps leading up to the mausoleum. If you come by car, parking can be an issue but normally you should be able to find somewhere around the square beneath the mausoleum/church.
The regular opening times of the mausoleum are seasonal only: in August daily except Sundays and Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – outside those times between September and July you have to arrange for someone to open the place specially for you. A local phone number is provided on a sign by the entrance. (Or you can pre-arrange this in advance by emailing maga(at)ružomberok.sk).
When I was there in October 2015 it was part of a longer two-day guided tour of central Slovakia
that had been organized for me by the Bratislava-based operator “Authentic Slovakia
” (see their sponsored page here
!) and they had made the necessary arrangements in advance. Since the local guide hardly spoke any English, I was glad it had been organized like this, since communication over the phone could have proved rather tricky.
Time required: not long, with the local guide's talk about 20 minutes, without much less.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
In general see under Slovakia
The nearest other dark attraction to Ružomberok is the abandoned spa of Korytnica just off the E77 mountain pass leading south to Banska Bystrica. The latter has a more significant and in part thematically related sight in the form of the Muzeum SNP
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
The Low Tatras National Park begins just south of the town, and the more alpine High Tatras lie not much further east – both represent the best of the scenery, hiking and wildlife-watching that Slovakia
has to offer – plus, in winter, skiing.
- Hlinka mausoleum 1 - with church and grand stairs
- Hlinka mausoleum 2 - entrance
- Hlinka mausoleum 3 - glass coffin
- Hlinka mausoleum 4 - with bullet hole
- Hlinka mausoleum 5 - death mask inside
- Hlinka mausoleum 6 - reflection of death
- Hlinka mausoleum 7 - bust
- Hlinka mausoleum 8 - empty sarcophagus
- Hlinka mausoleum 9 - view out