Slovakia also has rich folk traditions: songs, dances, art, costumes and architecture.
The Slovak Republic lies in central Europe. Relatively large differences in elevation are characteristic of Slovakia. Central and northern Slovakia are more mountainous; the Carpathian bow extends across these regions. The south and east of the country lie in the lowlands, an important agricultural area in Slovakia. The most important river is the Danube, which connects the capital, Bratislava, with two European metropolises – Vienna and Budapest.
The territory of Slovakia has been settled from the oldest times. Several cultures inhabited its territory until they were dominated by the expanding Celts in the 4th century BC followed by the German-Roman rivalry at the turn of the Eras. In time of Migration of Nations the first Slavs arrived here. The Samo`s Domain existing in the mid-7th century with the territory of Slovakia as its central part was followed by establishment of the Nitra Principality at the beginning of the 9th century and finally the Great Moravian Empire was established in 833 AD - the first common state of the Slovak and Czechs ancestors. After the fall of Great Moravia the Old Hungarian tribes invaded the territory of Slovakia, and the territory of Slovakia with its inhabitants became part of the Kingdom of Hungary for the long thousand years.
The Hungarian state was consolidated after centuries of internal struggle between the nobility and the ruler and economic growth occurred also in the territory of today`s Slovakia, which was also the result of the thriving mining towns or the trade centers. In what is now the city of Bratislava, the first university of Slovakia, Academia Istropolitana was established in 1467. The royal house, which ruled the country after the invasion the Turks undertook in Europe, was that of Habsburgs which withheld the throne until 1918. From the perspective of the Slovak nation, the crucial period in their history was the 19th century when the Slovaks formulated their own political program for the first time. The promising development of the national movement though, was mutilated by the Austrian-Hungarian Compromise signed in 1867 and the following period of Magyarisation which lasted full 50 years. Only the First World War activated the anti-Austrian-Hungarian resistance, which culminated in 1918 by the declaration on the joining of the Slovak nation with the Czech nation into a whole - the Czechoslovak Republic.
The independent Slovak State was established in Slovakia in 1939 as an outcome of international events, however, the end of the Second World War brought about restoration of Czechoslovakia. The communist party gradually seized power in the country and the communist dictatorship was overthrown only through the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The democratic process exposed several problems, which resulted in the break-up of the common state of the Czechs and Slovaks and the establishment of the independent Slovak Republic (1 January 1993).
Slovakia is a member of the European Union from May 2004. In December 2007, it became part of the Schengen Area and from 1/1/2009, upon the adoption of the single European currency EURO; Slovakia also became one of the countries of the European Monetary Union.
The dominant feature in the surface of Slovakia is the mountain range High Tatras. The Tatras are considered the gem of the West Carpathian Arch, which occupies a great part of the Slovak territory. They consist of the Western and Eastern parts and their most visited and most popular range is that of the High Tatras.
The Carpathian Arch falls into several more or less parallel mountain ranges (for instance Nízke Tatry, Malá Fatra and Velká Fatra, so popular among trippers), which are separated by brief depressions. The depressed areas form a belt of valleys sometimes connected by narrow passes and sometimes by wider river valleys. The varied surface of Slovakia also displays three lowlands: Záhorská nížina in the west, Podunajská nížina in the south-west and the Východoslovenská nížina lowland in the south-east of Slovakia.
Rivers rise in Slovakia and drain to neighboring countries. Part of the main European watershed cross the territory of Slovakia, which divides the sea-drainage area of the Baltic and Black Sea, and the second biggest river in Europe – the Danube also flows across the country.
The biggest river that flows to Slovakia from Germany and Austria is the Danube – one of its main symbols. It flows across the territory of Slovakia only on a short section at Bratislava (22.5 km); the remaining part of its Slovak flow (149.5 km) creates the state boundary with Austria and Hungary. The Danube has its biggest flow rate in the summer, when the glaciers melt in the Alps.
In the summer natural lakes or artificial ponds, built on almost all the biggest Slovak rivers, are becoming more and more popular. However children rather swim in the thermal swimming-pools and south-western Slovakia is studded with such swimming pools.
The fauna of Slovakia is extremely varied. Animals, which there are about 40 thousand species of, live in the forests. The biggest inhabitants of forests are mainly the brown bear, wild wolf, forest wild pig and forest deer. Mountain bison is a rarity, which is the biggest European overland mammal, living in the bison field in Topolcianky in western Slovakia.
When taking a tour on high up in the Tatra Mountains you can glimpse a chamois or a marmot, which rank among the very skittish animals. The Tatra chamois is a completely unique species of chamois, as after the ice ages finished, it was evolving thousands of years absolutely isolated. Therefore it is much different from the relative chamois species in the Alps or the Apennines, and this species cannot be found anywhere else in the world. As at the present there are only something more than 200 pieces of them, they are very strictly protected.
In the high mountain environment you can find many birds of prey, such as for example rock eagle, falcon, mouser or hawk.
You can find a number of animals on the fields and meadows as well. The animals living there usually have an undistinguished silver-brown or yellow-brown color, which merges with the surroundings and protects them against their enemies. Field rabbit, partridge and field quail rank among the typical inhabitants of meadows and fields, as well as mice, ground squirrels and hamsters. On the fields of south-western Slovakia we can also see the big bustard, which is the biggest European bird.
In middle and northern Slovakia famous fishing wards are located, where you can catch a catfish, carp or a pike. River otter and many other water birds, such as for example storks, herons, swans and ducks, live beside the rivers and water surfaces.
Owing to the vivid ecological conditions, Slovakia is very rich in flora and fauna. An estimate of 2,400 original species of vascular plants and even more species of grasses, mushrooms, mosses and lichens can be found here, which is more than for example in the six times bigger territory of Poland. Many species evolved and remained only in Slovakia.
Continuous vegetation of greenwood, coniferous, as well as mixed forests, have been preserved in Slovakia. In the lowland and lowest parts of the mountains it is the hottest and driest, where mainly oak forests grows. In some lower situated places, mainly in towns and villages we can find more protected vestures of small-leaf lime tree, which is the symbol of all Slavs. It is a bit wetter and colder in the higher mountains, in the beech forests. The majority of the forests in Slovakia are beech forests. Underneath these forests more kinds of mushrooms grow that Slovak people like to pick and prepare delicious meals using them.
Cold, much wetness and less fertile soils are suitable for spruce forests, which grow higher than the leech forests. They are often mixed with pine and fir forests. Fir is the highest tree in the Slovak forests and grows up to the height of 60 m.
In the height above the sea level of 1,500 m we find the upper forest border. Higher above the spruce forests on the little fertile soils grows only scrub, and there are also high mountain meadows. At the highest places in the mountains these meadows are called mountain meadows. The highest points of the Tatras reach to the zone of rocks where the most resistant mountain plants grow, such as mosses and lichens. The peaks of the highest Slovak mountains comprise only rocks without soil.
Beside the rivers, on fertile soils meadow forests grow with willows and poplars. Mainly the lower situated places with fertile soils are deforested, and in the place of the oak and meadow forests you can find today mainly fields and meadows.