Košice is the biggest city in eastern Slovakia and in 2013 was the European Capital of Culture together with Marseille, France. It is situated on the river Hornád at the eastern reaches of the Slovak Ore Mountains, near the border with Hungary. With a population of approximately 240,000, Košice is the second largest city in Slovakia after the capital Bratislava.
Being the economic and cultural centre of eastern Slovakia, Košice is the seat of the Košice Region and Košice Self-governing Region, the Slovak Constitutional Court, three universities, various dioceses, and many museums, galleries, and theatres. Košice is an important industrial centre of Slovakia, and the U.S. Steel Košice steel mill is the largest employer in the city. The town has extensive railway connections and an international airport.
The city has a well-preserved historical centre, which is the largest among Slovak towns. There are many heritage protected buildings in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau styles with Slovakia's largest church: the St. Elisabeth Cathedral. The long main street, rimmed with aristocratic palaces, Catholic churches, and townsfolk's houses, is a thriving pedestrian zone with many boutiques, cafés, and restaurants. The city is well known as the first settlement in Europe to be granted its own coat-of-arms.
The first evidence of inhabitance can be traced back to the end of the Paleolithic era. The first written reference to the Hungarian town of Košice (as the royal village - Villa Cassa) comes from 1230. After the Mongol invasion in 1241, King Béla IV of Hungary invited German colonists to fill the gaps in population.
The city was made of two independent settlements: Lower Košice and Upper Košice, amalgamated in the 13th century around the long lens-formed ring, of today's Main Street. The first known town privileges come from 1290. The city grew quickly because of its strategic location on an international trade route from agriculturally rich central Hungary to central Poland, itself along a greater route connecting the Balkans and the Adriatic and Aegean seas to the Baltic Sea. The privileges given by the king were helpful in developing crafts, business, increasing importance (seat of the royal chamber for Upper Hungary), and for building its strong fortifications. In 1307, the first guild regulations were registered here and were the oldest in Kingdom of Hungary.
As a Hungarian free royal town, Košice reinforced the king's troops in the crucial moment of the bloody Battle of Rozgony in 1312 against the strong aristocratic Palatine Amadé Aba (family). In 1347, it became the second place city in the hierarchy of the Hungarian free royal towns with the same rights as the capital Buda. In 1369, it received its own coat of arms from Louis I of Hungary. The Diet convened by Louis I in Košice decided that women could inherit the Hungarian throne.
The significance and wealth of the city in the end of the 14th century was mirrored by the decision to build a completely new church on the grounds of the previously destroyed smaller St. Elisabeth Church. The construction of the biggest cathedral in the Kingdom of Hungary - St. Elisabeth Cathedral - was supported by the Emperor Sigismund, and by the apostolic see itself. Since the beginning of the 15th century, the city played a leading role in the Pentapolitana - the league of towns of five most important cities in Upper Hungary (Bardejov, Levoča, Košice, Prešov, and Sabinov). During the reign of King Matthias Corvinus the city reached its medieval population peak. With an estimated 10,000 Hungarian inhabitants, it was among the largest medieval cities in Europe.
The history of Košice was heavily influenced by the dynastic disputes over the Hungarian throne, which together with the decline of the continental trade brought the city into stagnation. Vladislaus III of Varna failed to capture the city in 1441. John Jiskra's mercenaries from Bohemia defeated Tamás Székely's Hungarian army in 1449. John I Albert, Prince of Poland, could not capture the city during a six-month-long siege in 1491. In 1526, the city homaged for Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor. John Zápolya captured the city in 1536 but Ferdinand I reconquered the city in 1551. In 1604, Stephen Bocskay occupied Košice during his insurrection against the Habsburg dynasty. Giorgio Basta, commander of the Habsburg forces, failed to capture the city, but Ferdinand I eventually recaptured it in 1606. Stephen Bocskay died in Košice on 29 December 1606 and was interred there.
On 5 September 1619, Gabriel Bethlen captured Košice in another anti-Habsburg insurrection. He married Catherine von Hohenzollern, of Johann Sigismund Kurfürst von Brandenburg, in Košice in 1626. On 18 January 1644, the Diet in Košice elected George I Rákóczi the prince of Hungary. In 1657, a printing house and a college were founded by the Jesuits there. The city was besieged by kuruc armies several times in the 1670s and it revolted against the Habsburg emperor. The rebel leaders were massacred by emperor's soldiers on 26 November 1677. A modern pentagonal fortress (citadel) was built by the Habsburgs south of the city in the 1670s. Another rebel leader, Imre Thököly captured it in 1682, but the Austrian field marshal Aeneas de Caprara got it back on 1685. In 1704-1711 Prince of Transylvania Francis II Rákóczi made Košice the main base in his War for Independence. The fortress was demolished by 1713.
In the 17th century, Košice was the capital of Upper Hungary (in 1563-1686 as the seat of the "Captaincy of Upper Hungary" and in 1567-1848 it was the seat of the Chamber of Szepes county (Spiš, Zips), which was a subsidiary of the supreme financial agency in Vienna responsible for Upper Hungary). Due to Ottoman occupation, the city was the residence of Eger's archbishop from 1596 to 1700. Since 1657, it has been the seat of the historic Royal University of Košice (Universitas Cassoviensis), founded by Bishop Benedict Kishdy. The university was transformed into a Royal Academy in 1777, then into a Law Academy in the 19th century. It ceased to exist in the turbulent year of 1921. After the end of the anti-Habsburg uprisings in 1711 the victorious Austrian armies drove the Ottoman forces back to the south and this major territorial change created new trade routes which circumvented Košice. The city began to decay and turned from a rich medieval town into a provincial town known for its military base and dependent mainly on agriculture.
In 1723, the Immaculata statue was erected in the place of a former gallows at Hlavná ulica (Main Street) commemorating the plague from the years 1710-1711. This was one of the centers of the Hungarian language regenerate movement which published the first Hungarian language periodical called the Magyar Museum in Hungary in 1788. The city's walls were demolished step by step from the early 19th century to 1856; only the Executioner's Bastion remained with few parts of the wall. The city became a seat of its own bishopric in 1802. The city's surroundings became a theater of the war again during the Revolutions of 1848, when the Imperial cavalry general Franz Schlik defeated the Hungarian army on 8 December 1848 and 4 January 1849. The city was captured by the Hungarian army on 15 February 1849, but the Russian troops drove them back on 24 June 1849.
At the beginning of the 19th century, there were three manufacturers and 460 workshops in 1828. The first factories were established in the 1840s (sugar and nail factories). The first telegram message arrived in 1856 and the railway connected the city to Miskolc, Hungary in 1860. In 1873, there were already connections to Prešov, Žilina, and Chop (in today's Ukraine). The city gained a public transit system in 1891 when track was laid down for a horse-drawn tramway. The traction was electrified in 1914. In 1906, Francis II Rákóczi's house of Rodosto was reproduced in Košice and his remains were buried in the St. Elisabeth Cathedral.
After World War I and during the gradual break-up of Austria-Hungary, the city at first became a part of the transient "Eastern Slovak Republic", declared on 11 December 1918 in Košice and earlier in Prešov under the protection of Hungary. On 29 December 1918, the Czechoslovak Legions entered the city, making it part of the newly established Czechoslovakia. However, in June 1919, Košice was occupied again, as part of the Slovak Soviet Republic, a proletarian puppet state of Hungary. The Czechoslovak troops secured the city for Czechoslovakia in July 1919, which was later upheld under the terms of the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.