Slovakia is a country in central Europe, bordered by the Czech Republic to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east, and Hungary and Austria to the south and southwest. Central Slovakia is dominated by the lush Ore mountains, while the Carpathian mountains form a border between Slovakia and the south of Poland. The climate of Slovakia is European continental. Summers are warm and dry, while winters are rather chilly. January is the coldest month, with the average temperature around 0ºC; when cold northeasterly winds strike, temperatures can fall further. In the summer, the average temperature hovers between 20ºC and 25ºC, though July can be as hot as 30ºC.
Slovakia is known for Bratislava, its largest and most vivacious city, home to a stunning Old Town, with its maze of cobblestone streets. This country is also home to romantic castles, including Bratislava Castle, which dates back to the 9th century. One of the most beautiful castles is Orava, perched upon a vertiginous rock overlooking the Orava river. Devin Castle, meanwhile, offers spine-chilling views to the glistening Danube and Morava rivers. In the north lies the High Tatras National Park, with its majestic mountain peaks, inviting mountain lakes, waterfalls and unique plant species. Some of the most famous Slavs in the world include tennis player Martina Hingis, movie actor Peter Lorre, and talented director, Ivan Reitman. Slovak cuisine is also famed among tourists, who enjoy tucking into dishes like bryndzové halušky (sheep cheese gnocchi), fried fish, and hearty kapustnica (cabbage soup).
Slovakia has been settled by various populations for thousands of years, with Slavs calling the area home in the 6th century A.D. one of the greatest empires to call this rea home is the Great Moravian Empire, which rose to prominence in the 9th century and included the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary as well as Slovakia. After the demise of the Moravian Empire, the Magyars (ancestors of modern day Hungarians) took over for a thousand years. In 1526, the Turks were victorious at the battle of Mohacs. Hungary was dismantled and the Hapsburgs of Austria came to rule Slovakia, which came to form part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Slovakia formed part of Czechoslovakia after World War I, and became a communist state of the Soviet Union after World War II. In 1993, the Slovaks and Czechs peacefully decided to separate, and Slovakia became an independent country.
Because over one third of the land comprises forest, Slovakia is home to an array of mammals, including wild pigs, rabbits and foxes. Various bird species also call the verdant valleys home, and fish such as trout and carp inhabit the rivers and streams. Rare endemic animal species include a land slug called deroceras fatrense, the Eurasian lynx and the great bustard (the biggest flying bird in Europe). The flora, too, is rich and varied and includes oaks, maple and hazelnut trees in the lowlands, and coniferous trees, the sessile oak and fir trees in the mountains. Some endemic species include the alpine aster and the pulsatilla slavica.
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