Inanimate nature

Geo-historical development

The Tatras themselves were formed roughly 570 million years ago. The granite massif, which today is exposed and comprises a large portion of the mountains themselves, was deep in the Earth’s crust, covered by softer rock. Throughout the Mesozoic and Tertiary, the area went from being submerged under an ocean or above water in the form of islands. Forming of the surface began in the early Tertiary when the mountain-creating forces drove the granite core upwards (the elevation of this action is estimated at around 3,500 m) and water eventually eroded the remainder of the softer rock covering this granite. This means the Tatras themselves are a young mountain range in a geological sense. The movement of glaciers occurring in the multiple glaciations that took place in the Ice Age in the Quaternary is the main factor in the final form of the Tatras today. The glaciers receded approximately 10,000 years ago, leaving behind deep glacial valleys, moraines, tarns, rock crotches with multiple peaks, towers and needles interlaced tight ridges.

Geological conditions

The Tatras are a core mountain range. The geological structure of the Tatras comprises a crystalline core that forms the primary portion of the ridge line and their southern slopes. This area accounts for approximately 2/3 of the entire Tatra range. It is primarily comprised of magmatic rocks, specifically granite and schist. Secondary rock sediments are deposited on the crystalline core forming a covering layer that is primarily composed of quartzite, limestone, dolomite and shale. Such areas account for the remaining 1/3 of the Tatras (Belianske Tatras and a portion of the Western Tatras – Osobitá, Sivý vrch and Červené vrchy). The crystalline core and its covering layer form a geological unit known as Tatricum.

Geomorphological conditions

The Tatras belong to the Fatra-Tatra Area of Western Carpathian sub-province in the Carpathian province. Its edges make minimal inroads into the Podhale-Magura Area. Tatra National Park covers the highest portions of the Carpathians. The Fatra-Tatra Area is represented inside Tatra National Park by the following geomorphological units:

  1. Tatras – comprising the sub-units of the Western Tatras (Osobitá, Sivý vrch, Liptov Tatras, Roháče, Červené vrchy and Liptovské kopy) and Eastern Tatras (High Tatras and Belianske Tatras).
  2. Podtatranská kotlina basin – which is comprised of the Liptovská kotlina, Popradská kotlina and Tatranské podhorie sub-units.

The High Tatras are the dominant feature of the Tatras geomorphological unit and the backbone of which forms the main ridge line with a system of ancillary ridges and crotches. The main ridge stretches from Ľaliové sedlo saddle on the western side to Kopské sedlo saddle with a total length of 26.5 km. The ridge features the tallest peaks in the Tatras (Gerlachovský štít 2,654 m and Lomnický štít 2,629 m) and a total of 25 peaks with an elevation above 2,500 m. The main ridge of the Western Carpathians reaches a distance of approximately 37 m. Most of its peaks (29) are at an elevation of 2000 m or higher. Bystrá (2,248 m) is the highest peak in the Western Carpathians.

The Tatras are a unique phenomenon in terms of the formation of their surface (glacial, glacial-fluvial and periglacial forming). Glaciers played the largest role in shaping the terrain of the mountains, etching in the long, glacial valleys with their broad basins, rock ridges, peaks and rock walls and faces. Of the few dozen glaciers, the largest was in Bielovodská dolina valley and was around 14 km long and roughly 300 m thick.

The erosion and accumulation activity of the glaciers created massive moraines bounded by lakes and tarns and there are over 100 such tarns. The largest and deepest of the tarns in the Tatras is Veľké Hincovo pleso tarn at an elevation of 1,946 m, covering 20 ha and with a depth of 53 m. The highest lake in the Tatras is Modré pleso tarn (2,192 MASL)

The various forms of peaks, cliffs, scree, stone seas and specific forms of soils are all imposing. Karst phenomena are associated with the outer limestone and dolomite covering layer of the national park, including chasms, limestone pavements, canyons and gorges, caves, springs and waterfalls. The most well-known of the numerous natural caves is Belianska jaskyňa (discovered in 1881 with a length of 1752 m). The preciousness of the inanimate nature in the area is due in particular to the diverse range of very attractive surfaces and shapes and their concentration in a relatively small area.

The territory belongs to two drainage areas: the Baltic Sea with the Vistula River and its tributaries (Dunajec) and the Black Sea with the tributaries of the Danube (Váh).

The area has a cold alpine (High Tatras and the Roháče portion of the Western Tatras) and montane (Western Tatras and the Belianske Tatras) climate.

Geographical conditions

Tatra National Park is located in the north of Slovakia in the cadastral territories of 22 towns in the Tvrdošín, Liptovský Mikuláš, Poprad and Kežmarok districts (and the Orava, Liptov and Spiš regions). The park is bounded by the following coordinates: 49°05’ - 49°20’ north and 19°35’ -20°25’ east.

The park boundaries to the north is the state border with Poland covering an approximate length of 60 km. The park itself has an elongated shape from west to east. The park reaches its greatest width, approximately 17 km, in its eastern section between the border with Poland in the Bielovodská dolina valley and the boundary of the administrative lands of the city of Vysoké Tatry near the town of Mlynčeky. The southern boundary of the park in the Podtatranská kotlina basin is irregularly shaped as it follows the edge of the forests or the foot of the Tatras themselves.

The eastern most point of the park and its buffer zone is located at the edge of the forest nearby the town of Lendak, with its western limit at the edge of the forest near the mouth of Suchá dolina valley to the north east of the town of Liptovské Matiašovce. The northern most point is located on the border to the north of the hamlet of Podspády and in Tichá dolina valley in Oravice with the southern-most point at the edge of the forest between the towns of Gerlachov and Batizovce.

Hydrological conditions

The national park land is a part of the rooftop of Europe and is characterised as headwaters for many waterways that flow into the basins of two seas, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. The portion of the Western Tatras in Slovakia is included in the drainage area of the Black Sea, and the main collector river is the Váh, into which the tributaries from the southern slopes of the Western Tatras empty; their northern slopes enter into the Váh from the Orava tributaries. Waters from the High Tatra portion of the park are included in Black Sea drainage area and specifically the basins of the Biely Váh and Kôprový potok stream. Most of the High Tatras and the Belianske Tatras are in the Black Sea drainage area. Most of their waterways empty into the Poprad River, only the northern side of the national park empties into the Bialka and the Javorinka and then into the Dunajec.

High annual precipitation and low climatic evaporation are typical for the area of Tatra National Park, which means that there is ample water to supply the tributaries. The average in the national park (including the buffer zone) per year is 1,150 mm of precipitation, 70% of which is drained off by the rivers and 30% of which evaporates. In the highest elevations of Tatra National Park, an average of 50 to 60 litres of water per second drains away from every km2 of park land.

Among the most typical relics of the glacial age in the park are certainly our unique natural lakes, also called tarns. There are 20 in the Western Tatras and 85 directly in the High Tatras. No tarns are found in the limestone Belianske Tatras. These lakes are found in the scrub zone of the Western Tatras while most of the lakes are in the alpine meadow and rock zones in the High Tatras. The Tatra lakes are of glacial origin and were formed in excavated glacial basins which gradually filled with water from the melting glaciers. The three largest lakes in Tatra National Park are: Veľké Hincovo pleso tarn (covering 20.08 ha with a maximum depth of 53 m), Štrbské pleso tarn (19.76 ha with a maximum depth of 20 m) and Nižné Temnosmrečianske pleso tarn (12 ha with a maximum depth of 38 m). Most of the tarns in the Tatras are unsuitable as fish habitat and most of the lakes were never naturally populated by fish anyway. Various attempts have been made in the past to introduce salmon species in particular in tarns such as Veľké Hincovo pleso tarn (evidently the body of water at the highest elevation in Slovakia with fish), Popradské pleso tarn, Štrbské pleso tarn and Jamské pleso tarn.

The waters of Tatra National Park represent one of Slovakia’s natural treasures. As such, most of the bodies of water and waterways have been declared National Conservation Areas (Národné prírodné rezervácie or NPR) or a part of other such areas, including Tichý potok, Kôprový potok, Biela Voda, or Popradské pleso, Štrbské pleso and others, where they are afforded 5th degree protection, or the highest level of protection available.

Landscape

The landscape of the Tatras is more than just the shape of the ground, the rock faces and names. It is an unforgettable and craggy face. The centuries-old cuts and gouges are the result of natural processes and human activity.

The natural shape of the Tatra landscape is determined by natural processes occurring with the development and the emergence of the mountains themselves, multiple glaciations, river and wind erosion and the encroachment of vegetation is the distant past and the landscape was also altered with the arrival of humans. Humans adapted the primary environment to their needs that reshaped and reformed it, activities that have all left traces behind on the landscape. The scope of such interventions is proportional to the technological advancement of the culture and age in which such activities were conducted. (Photo 1 - panorama of the Tatras, in winter, from SpB).

The region of Tatra National Park was once a part of the former Liptov, Orava and Spiš counties. Specific historical developments determined the development of urbanisation, architecture and evidently were transposed into the reshaping of the landscape. These areas were not continuously settled; however, the earliest known settlements date back to the early Stone Age in the Palaeolithic. (Gánovce site, approximately 3 km to the south east of Poprad). A fundamental change in settlement activity in the area occurred in the late Stone Age, the Neolithic, with agrarian settlements taking over from hunter gatherers. The densest concentration in upper Spiš during this period was along the Stráne pod Tatrami - Matejovce - Poprad - Gánovce line. A sharp increase in settlement activity occurred in the Middle Ages beginning in the 12th century and was associated with colonisation processes. More compact and larger inhabited structures, towns and villages, began to form. A roadway network began to form in connection with the Magna via road. The colonisation process, in particular the intensive migration of ethnic Germans, had a significant impact on the formation of the settlement system and the structuring of the original village sites. The largest of these with an area of around 2000 ha belonged to the village of Veľká. Identification of settlement activities and a significant expansion of agricultural lands resulted in intensified wood cutting activities and the creation of a transport connection between the towns and villages in the basin down into the valley and passes at the main peaks of the Tatras themselves. This historical process determined the formation of local cadastres in the area below the mountains until the 1950s. Historical cadastres largely had an elongated shape that followed the morphology of the site in a direction of north west and south east of the elevation gradient from the ridge of the High Tatras to the bottom of the Popradská kotlina and Liptovská kotlina basins. In the Western Tatras, the orientation is largely west north-west and east south-east. A fundamental change in territorial administration occurred in the 1950s, which led to the redistribution of the historical cadastres and the seizure of a portion of the land in the Belianske and High Tatras from local cadastres with the establishment of the city of Vysoké Tatry in 1957.

The type of settlement structure in this region was of course determined by the morphology of the area. Two types of settlements were established. The first were mountain settlements, which were followed by spa hamlets located in the optimum bio-climatic zone at an elevation from 850 m to 1350 MASL. The first construction work outside of the mountain settlements in the Tatras as was the construction of the log (hunting) chalet of Count Stephen Csaky under Slavkovsky Peak in the 1793. This was followed by a wave of construction of more chalets that formed the core of modern day Starý Smokovec. Elements of their typical architectural shape (log walls, pitched shingled roof and small window openings) were eventually incorporated into newer construction. The small summer destination became a spa centre. From 1833 to 1867, when Starý Smokovec was leased by Ján Juraj Rainer, the city began to compete with well-known mountain centres in Austria and Switzerland. The Vila Flóra and Švajčiarsky dom buildings document this important historical period today. Other settlements in the Tatras followed after Starý Smokovec.

The completion of the Košice-Bohumín Railway in 1871 had a major impact on the development of settlement structures. Tatranská Lomnica began to compete with Starý Smokovec at the turn of the 20th century. The new Studený Potok – Tatranská Lomnica railway line completed in 1895 had a major role in increasing its competitiveness. A year later, in 1896, the narrow-gauge cog railway from Štrba to Štrbské Pleso was built. This connected Štrbské Pleso with the foothills before any of the other spa settlements. Tatranská Lomnica was connected by rail to Starý Smokovec in 1911.

Typologically, all of the spa settlements can be characterised by an open, heterogeneous construction style with a spa resort forest (forested park) oriented along a transverse road. The character of the grand environment of the climate therapy spa was emphasised by the quality of the architecture of the spa house itself and the landscaping and park areas in surrounding areas with outdoor furniture, fountains and works of art. The objective was to create a pleasant environment to improve the overall therapeutic effect along with optimum integration into the mountainous landscape.

The High Tatras from the very beginning of their recreation and therapeutic history were among the most ambitious regions in Slovakia internationally. This was expressed in their urban structures and architecture. Development was characterised in the first phase of development by alpine motifs (fishing motifs and half-timbered construction) as well as technical methods. Local Germans from Spiš imported these elements in their positions as investors or contractors (for instance, two Carpathian German architects, Gedeon Majunke and Guido Hoepfner). The High Tatras had developed an international reputation along these lines by the end of the 19th century. (half-timbered architecture, photo 2 - Grandhotel Starý Smokovec; photo 3 - Vila Ilona)

The next important development in terms of the landscape and the image of the landscape itself was the construction of the first sanatorium by Dr. Mikuláš Szontágh in Novy Smokovec in 1875, which was designed by architect M. Harminc. The architecture from the turn of the century to 1920 added elements of Hungarian secession, historicism and eclectic design to the alpine motif. Massive investments as well as more intimate architecture were always created as a composition and in connection with the surrounding natural environment. Landscape alterations and architecture took on a modern appearance with the establishment of Czechoslovakia and the arrival of urbanism. Large treatment complexes appeared, examples of which include the Sanatorium in Vyšne Hágy, Morava in Tatranská Lomnica and Palace in Novy Smokovec. These were constructed in a modern style, and the same can be said for technical projects, including the cable car line to Lomnický peak and the alpine chalets. It is symptomatic that all of the structures were the works of renowned and top Czechoslovak architects, including A. F. Libra, B. Fuchs, M. Harminc, D. Jurkovič and F. Weinmurm. A brief episode of Socialist realism appeared in the High Tatras after World War II (National Committee building in Stare Smokovec). Modern designs reappeared in a big way in the 1960s and 1970s, in particular in conjunction with the Nordic Ski World Championships, which were held here in 1970. (photo 4 base station of the Tatranská Lomnica - Skalnaté Pleso cable car line)

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