From the highest of Devin’s towers, Slovakia wraps behind and around you, Austria sits across the Danube River flowing at the castle’s base, Hungary rests over and past Bratislava to the south and on a clear day the hills of the Czech Republic can be seen way in the northern distance. Its central location and position above the Danube made Devin a powerful strategic seat and one that lasted from the 9th century until it was ruined by Napoleon in 1809.
Later that century, influential members of the Slovak Nationalist Movement—a intellectual revolution which began beneath cultural suffocation by the ruling Hungarians—met at Devin Castle to remember the greatness of the first and (at that time) only true Slovak state to have existed, Great Moravia. It was there, in the ruined and overgrown castle, that their quest for a national Slovak identity began in earnest. To mark the occasion, these poets and scholars all took old Slovak names like Miloslav (Glorifier/Celebration of Love) and Velislav (Glorifier/Celebration of Greatness). My translations are quite rough, as what these names express are rather difficult to convey in English in any decent way. Most of them ended in -slav, a suffix meaning “glory”, while the roots of the names were usually concepts like love, homeland, battle and so on.
Milan, a Slovak friend and budding historian, explained the details of the castle’s history as we paced through the ruins and overlooked the surrounding countryside. With a wry smile he inquired if I too would take a Slovak name here.
“Why not?” I shrugged, “Any suggestions?”
He began to list some potential names, but none of his suggestions really seemed to resonate with me, and I wondered if I couldn’t just create my own…
I pondered and then confidently asserted, “Amerislav.”
“What…?” He appeared dumbstruck for a moment, then just smiled and shook his head, amused but exasperated.
Devin castle had been on my list of “must-see”s since I came to Slovakia and I was lucky enough to actually get to see it. Despite this fortune, I otherwise made the mistake of only pursuing these “must-see”s over my last couple months in the county. Several amazing castles and historic sites have escaped me and there is virtually no chance to experience them before I leave. I won’t let myself regret failing to see these locations, however, for two reasons. 1. I will certainly be back and have plenty more time to visit all the things I didn’t get the chance to see this time round. 2. Regretting something that can’t be helped now serves no purpose but to discourage me further. That said, I will make sure to impart the lesson I learned to new exchange students. Try your hardest from the start, leaving things for later will only leave you with little time.