Spiš (Latin: Cips/Zepus/Scepus, German: Zips, Hungarian: Szepesség, Polish: Spisz) is a region in north-eastern Slovakia, with a very small area in south-eastern Poland (14 villages[a]). Spiš is an informal designation of the territory, but it is also the name of one of the 21 official tourism regions of Slovakia. The region is not an administrative division in its own right, but between the late 11th century and 1918 it was an administrative county of the Kingdom of Hungary, (see separate article Szepes county).
The name is probably related to the appelative spiška, špiška known from Slovak (Eastern Slovakia and Orava) and Moravian dialects (Haná) - a (cutted) stick, a piece of wood or sugar, etc. Old Slavic pьchjati, pichjati - to stab, to cut → prefixed form sъ-pich-jь → after patalization and extinction of yers spiš. Spiš probably means "a cutted forest". The theory is supported also by the fact that almost all early Latin documents mention Spiš as silva Zepus (or with similar transcription) - the name of forest area.
Another theory is a derivation from Hungarian szép – nice → Szepes. However, according to Šimon Ondruš this etymology is linguistically impossible. The Slovak and the Polish name could not be derived from Hungarian Szepes because the combination "cosonant-e-cosonant-e-cosonant" is valid and common in Slovak (but also in other Slavic languages) without any need for phonetic adaptation and similar changes are not documented. On the other hand, the assumed phonetic adaptation Slavic Spiš → Hungarian Szepes depends on well known changes in the Hungarian language like vowel insertion (i.e. Slepčany → Szelepcsény) and vowel harmonization.
The region is situated between the High Tatras and the Dunajec River in the north, the springs of the Váh River in the west, the Slovenské rudohorie Mountains (Slovak Ore Mountains) and Hnilec River in the south, and a line running from the town of Stará Ľubovňa, via the Branisko mountain (under which lies the 4,822 m long Branisko Tunnel, currently the longest in Slovakia), to the town of Margecany in the east. The core of the Spiš region is formed by the basins of the rivers Hornád and Poprad, and the High Tatra Mountains. Throughout its history, the territory has been characterized by a large percentage of forests - in the late 19th century, as much as 42.2% of Spiš was forest.
The history of the region until 1918 is given in more detail at Szepes county.
The southern part of the territory was conquered by the Kingdom of Hungary at the end of the 11th century, when the border of the Kingdom ended near the modern town of Kežmarok. The royal county of Szepes (comitatus Scepusiensis) was created in the 2nd half of the 12th century. In the 1250s the border of the Kingdom of Hungary shifted to the north to Podolínec and in 1260 even further to the north (the Dunajec River). The northeastern region around Hniezdne and Stará Ľubovňa, the so-called "districtus Podoliensis", was incorporated only in the 1290s. The northern border of the county stabilized in the early 14th century. Around 1300, the royal county became a noble county.
Many of the towns of Spiš developed from German colonization. The German settlers had been invited to the territory from the mid-12th century onwards. The settlements founded by them in southern Spiš were mainly mining settlements (later towns). Consequently, until World War II Spiš had a large German population (called Zipsers; see Carpathian Germans) who spoke Zipser German; now, the only Zipser-speaking town is Chmeľnica (Hopgarten). Many smaller settlements were populated by settlers from Poland.
In 1412, under the Treaty of Lubowla, 16 towns, two castles and a number of villages in Spiš were pawned to Poland by Sigismund of Luxembourg to finance his wars with the Republic of Venice in Dalmatia. Among the towns that for 360 years belonged to Poland were: Stará Ľubovňa, Podolínec, Spišská Sobota, Poprad and Spišská Nová Ves. In 1772 all were annexed by Austria as a part of the Partitions of Poland.
In 1868, 21 Spiš settlements sent their demands, the 'Spiš Petition', to the Diet of the Kingdom of Hungary, requesting special status for Slovaks within the Kingdom.
Spiš after the creation of Czechoslovakia
In 1918 (and confirmed by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920), the county became part of newly formed Czechoslovakia. A tiny part of the territory (situated in today's Poland below the Rysy), amounting to 195 km² after an internal border dispute had been confirmed to be part of Galicia (Central Europe) (at that time the western part of Austria-Hungary) as early as 1902. After World War I northern Spiš was united with Poland and became the subject of a long-running border dispute between Poland and Czechoslovakia. (See separate article, Czechoslovak-Polish border dispute (1918-1947). In 1923 Slovak Spiš was divided between the newly formed Sub-Tatra county (Podtatranská župa) and Košice county (Коšická župa). In 1928-1939 and 1945-1948 it was part of the newly created Slovak Land (Slovenská krajina).
During World War II, when Czechoslovakia was divided, Spiš was part of independent Slovakia, and formed the eastern part of Tatra county (Tatranská župa) from 1940 to 1945. Slovakia joined the Axis, and the Polish part of Spiš (together with the Polish part of the county of Orava) was transferred to Slovakia. During the war all the Jews of the area were deported or murdered. When Soviet forces approached from the east at the end of 1944, most of the ethnic Germans in Spiš fled westward, between mid-November 1944 and 21 January 1945 (see also Carpathian Germans). Their property was confiscated after the war (see Beneš decrees).
After World War II the prewar borders of Spiš were restored, with the most of the county going to Czechoslovakia, and a small part to Poland. In 1948, it became part of the newly created Košice Region (Košický kraj ) and Prešov Region (Prešovský kraj), whose borders however were completely different from those of the present-day regions of the same name. From July 1960 it became part of the newly created Eastern Slovak region (Východoslovenský kraj), which ceased to exist in September 1990.
In 1993, Czechoslovakia was split and Spiš became part of Slovakia.
According to censuses carried out in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1869 (and later in 1900 and 1910) the population of Szepes county comprised the following nationalities: Slovaks 50.4%, (58.2%, 58%), Germans 35% (25%, 25%), Carpatho-Rusyns 13.8% (8.4%, 8%) and 0.7% (6%, 6%) Magyars (Hungarians).
The current ethnic composition of the region, however, is much different. As mentioned above, many Jews and ethnic Germans were removed or left during World War II.
Present-day Spiš has a number of Romani settlements and Romani are a substantial minority there.
There are also 40,000-48,000 Gorals (Slovak: Gorali; literally Highlanders). Although a negligible number in census terms, they are a distinctive minority with their own culture, and speak a dialect of Polish (or Slovak-Polish dialect continuum), especially elders. They consider themselves as Slovaks and, in present, speak mostly Slovak language. Official Slovak 2011´s census reported only 3084 Poles living in Slovakia.
Historically, economic activity in the region has been based principally on agriculture and forestry (formerly mining, too), which explains why Spiš belongs to the relatively poor regions of Slovakia. Since the late 19th century, tourism has helped the local economy, and sanatoria and winter sports resorts have been built in the High Tatras and the Low Tatras, and areas such as the Slovak Paradise (Slovenský raj) in the south-west and the Pieniny National Park at the Slovak-Polish border. Other tourist destinations include the region's historical sites like Spiš Castle and nearby Spišské Podhradie, Spišská Kapitula, Žehra and the town of Levoča (all of which are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites), Kežmarok, and Stará Ľubovňa Castle. The tourism industry has developed rapidly in Spiš, aided by the introduction of regular flights to Poprad Airport and improving rail and road connections.
Spiš today is one of Slovakia's 21 tourist regions. It no longer however represents, as did its predecessor, an administrative region.
Since 1996, Spiš has been divided between the modern Košice Region and Prešov Region and is covered approximately by the following six administrative districts: Poprad, Kežmarok, Stará Ľubovňa, Spišská Nová Ves, Levoča and Gelnica, except for the eastern half of the Stará Ľubovňa District that had been within Saris county and three villages of the Poprad district (Štrba including Tatranská Štrba, Štrbské Pleso and Liptovská Teplička from Liptov county.)
- Krempaská, Zuzanna, Sixteen Scepus Towns from 1412 to 1876, Spišska Nova Vés: Spiš Museum. ISBN 9788085173062
- Ondruš, Šimon (1980). "Pôvod názvov stovenských vrchov, hradov a stotíc". Studia Academica Slovaca 9 (in Slovak). Bratislava: Slovenská akadémia vied. pp. 281–282.
- Krempaska (2012), 2-5.
- Dudášová-Kriššáková, J. Goralské nárečia Bratislava 1993
- Kamocki, J.; Skawiński, M. "Problemy etniczności a narodowości na przykładzie Spiszu" In Terra Scepusiensis. Stav badań nad dziejami Spiszu Gładkiewicz R., Homza M. (eds.) Wrocław: Lewocz, 2003. ISBN 83-88430-25-4 pp. 707-716.
- Trajdos, T. M. (ed.) Spisz i Orawa w 75. rocznicę powrotu do Polski północnych części obu ziem Kraków, 1995. pp. 24-37.