Wednesday, November 10, 2010


[Kalvaria (Calvary)]

Kalvaria is a rather surprising hill: Unlike Klokocina (huge and sprawling) or Zobor (huge and mountain-shaped), Kalvaria is small, contained, and right in the middle of things. This is an unhappy metaphor, but imagine a wart on the landscape. (That word comes to mind probably because we just took Phoebe to the vet for a strange bump on her back that's been growing at an alarming rate. Turns out it's just a common wart, the same as a human would get.) It's a small, steep bump with no precedent--it's in the middle of the flat stare mesto.

I've been to the church on Kalvaria twice now with Ruth, and I've always liked the little hike up, the modest view at the summit, and the church itself, which is very old. Kalvaria is practically in my proverbial backyard: it's maybe a ten-minute walk from the apartment, straight past the hospital complex. I just have to have it set as a destination in order to get there, because not only is it in the opposite direction of all the action (go left, get to Mlyny/Centrum/stare mesto; go right, go nowhere), it's at the end of the line, the end of a long street; you'll never just chance to pass it.

It was Thursday (I believe?) and I had a free afternoon before me, so I set off for Kalvaria. Now, what I haven't mentioned yet is the most important part. The church at Kalvaria is actually not at the highest point. Just beyond it is a grassy slope, with a chapel and large sculpture at the top (more on that later). I can see the chapel perfectly from the balcony of our apartment. From Kalvaria's church, the hill looks like a thirty-second blip you could run up, and the chapel looks close enough you could just almost reach out and touch it. So, though I'd seen the chapel many times, and been so close to it all this time, for whatever reason I'd never been up there. The view was rumored to be amazing, so time to see for myself!

I powerwalked up to the church. The way there is a very long, gradual hill, until you finally get in sight of the church, and then it's a very steep little last stretch. I got up there in maybe ten minutes. It was 4 PM, I think, but we went through Daylight Savings on Halloween, so the sun was getting low in the sky. The air was fresh and crisp and the fall colors were at their max. (Apparently no one sweeps the sidewalks leading up to Kalvaria, because I was shuffling through a thick carpet of dry leaves the whole way. It was nice.)

For the first time, I walked past the church. I meant to waste no time. There was an incredibly beautiful forest opposite the church I'd never really looked at before; I saw an old man with a cane shuffling down the little rocky path between trees blooming Fall. It was so perfect, I just had to see where the path might lead... But I resisted. A little further on was another opening in the woods, but this time there was no path, just flattened ground to show where animals had trod. I was irresistibly reminded of the story of the nicely-paved path to Hell and the brambly, uneven path to Heaven. (Not that I'm casting aspersions on the old man.)

At then I was at the foot of the final hill. Seen up close, it was actually a long way up. The hill was steep, just grass with a lot of exposed rock. I was wearing my boots (no, not good traction), so I had to make my way carefully.

Along the side of the hill are Stations of the Cross. Kalvaria is a pilgrimage site, most often in Spring (apparently its best season-- all the heather blooms). Each Station is a shed-sized structure with identifying Roman numeral, roof, and locked gate; behind the gate is a frieze/painting depicting one of the stages. I'll admit I was in a businesslike mood, and I didn't stop at any of the Stations...But I looked at them a little better on the way back down, and I'll take more time next time. (There will definitely be a next time.)

The climb was wonderful. It was strenuous in the spiritually-purifying way. I appreciated the steepness of the hill and especially that they hadn't made it any easier for pilgrims by putting in a path, or stairs, or a handrail. You've got to put in the effort to get the full sense of accomplishment.

There was a forest of pine trees along the hill, the wind was blowing strong, and the golden afternoon sun was glowing right in my eyes, illuminating everything. Definitely a Solsbury Hill sort of moment. My "eagle" who flew out of the "night" was actually a crow. It fits.

I finally reached the summit after at least five minutes at full speed. Only solitude would have made the moment better (there was a couple there indecently making out behind the chapel). The view was simply the best I've had yet from anywhere in Nitra. (Only the view from the top of Zobor might be better, but I think it's too high up to have the same feel.) It was the most interesting angle. I was above everything, but it wasn't a bird's-eye view; somehow, I could see every street in Nitra, but I also got excellent profile-views of all the buildings, rather than just seeing their tops. I could see the living room window of the apartment! I felt like I was standing over a perfect scale-model of the city. All the distances seemed incredibly shortened, the buildings miniature (but the right size for close inspection), and yet I didn't feel like I'd gone that far; I looked down the hill, and it didn't seem so long.

The view was panoramic, 365 degrees. Absolutely incredible. I got a perfect view of all of Klokocina (I'm tempted to go back up Kalvaria with a notebook and sketch out a map of that maze-like hill), I got a rare close look at Chrenova (I don't know of another hill where you would be able to see it so well), Zobor loomed huge ahead, I was in the heart of the stare mesto, and it was all laid out for my viewing pleasure. Behind me, beyond Nitra, were all the fields, stretching much further than the eye can see.

The actual chapel up on Kalvaria was locked, so nothing there, but it's important as the best visual landmark of the hill. Actually, what somehow seems to be more famous than the view, is the large sculpture up on Kalvaria. It's nearly life-size, and seems very fitting after the progression of the Stations of the Cross. It's the three crosses, Jesus in the middle, a criminal on each side of him. The criminals and their crosses are made of dull gray stone, their faces and bodies are rather rough-hewn. Jesus himself, along with his cross and the little roof above him marked I.N.R.I., is fully painted and beautifully formed. At his feet are rows of candles, and a little stone vase worked into the design has a bouquet in it. It's very cool.

Also up on the summit, but unexamined by me, is what looks like a large, ancient stone wheel, come to rest on its spokes. It's a kind of table maybe? I would have gone and looked, but there were people sitting there. In my optimism I'd expected to have Kalvaria all to myself, and probably the six other people up there had hoped for the same thing. Oh well.

Kalvaria is a must-see, and something I have to return to as soon as possible. This weekend hopefully. I want to go up at night-- not only would that really be a Solsbury Hill moment, the city lights have got to be incredible. I mean, the city lights are so gorgeous just from the window in my bedroom...

I meant to have another sort of interlude moment in this post, but I think I'll leave it at that and publish this thing, because otherwise it might not get posted for a while. Sorry about that, and keep the faith!

Much love!

1 comment:

  1. Rhiannon,
    I looked up photos of Kalvaria; it's height and views are strikingly similar to the hill I spent my most memorable afternoons on for years. It was a foothill of Mount Diablo where I kept my pony, then my horse, so I spent most every afternoon there for three years. The transition from sunset to street lights always took me by surprise due to the twilight; my dad finally gave up punishing me for coming home in the dark because I could never tell it was dark on the flats. I'm happy that you find being up there a healthy pause from your normal day. Love, mom.