Heraldry is the tradition of keeping a coat of arms as identification for familial and regional heritage. Before coming to Europe, I only thought of these coats in their stereotypical medieval sense, decorating some chivalrous knight’s shield or flying on a banner above a feudal lord’s keep. However, across the continent, these images are still produced, displayed, and bear significant meaning!

We are all familiar with the griffins, lions, and other mythic symbols that decorate the coats of arms of great houses. Such as in the intricate displays like the British Royal family’s crest or ones as simple as my own Dundas clan’s coat of arms. Usually, these symbols are intrinsically tied to surnames and may even vary between branches within the family.

The Dundas Clan coat of arms, depicting a fierce lion.
The royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom.

In contrast, heraldry of Slovak and Central European tradition may be shared by entire villages or other large groups of unrelated people and the adornment often swings towards the simpler side.  Every village and city in Slovakia has a coat of arms unique to it and its traditional identity. The exact history of many of these images is difficult to trace, though some are quite apparent. In the future, whenever I am visiting a new city, I will be sure to ask about each coat’s meaning. Below are just a few of the thousands of coats which decorate Slovakia.