The uniqueness of the picturesque village Podbiel, with about 1300 inhabitants lies in its rich history. Its importance is underlined by its location. Podbiel is typical Orava village in Northern Slovakia, situated at the old merchant road, also known as Amber Road or Old Salt Road, which from time immemorial, before the Celtic settlement of Orava, wound along the river, and then through the village Malatiná and further through the Malatinský pass to Liptov.
Road ensured transport of goods from the current Baltic coast in Poland, down south to the Balkans, or in the then Western Europe. Obviously merchant caravans had to have protection, which ensured guard checkpoints. Few people today know, that in times of Hungaro Empire, in Podbiel was the second customs control after customs in Tvrdošín, because some buyers bypassed Tvrdošín customs in order to circumvent the fee. However, in Podbiel they had been forced to pay - control could not be avoided.
Geographical importance of Podbiel lies at the confluence of two rivers: The larger Orava and smaller Cold River that flows from the Western Tatras - Roháče. It is assumed that at that time the Celts, some of which, living in our region, is appointed Cotini, mined ore just under Rohace in the Blatna valley, or in other places near Podbiel. Cotini were known masters in the manufacture of iron and their blacksmiths were famous... They were also using local peat, but it was destroyed by founding and building of the village. Cold River (Studená), with its original name Biely Potok (White Stream) was an ancient name derived from one of the two rock cliffs that towers above Podbiel for ages. The first of the cliffs, called Biela skala (White Rock) is an ancient fort, where was documented Celtic fortified settlement and burial. It was discovered in the archaeological research of Mr. Čaplovič, then castellan of Orava Castle in 1962. Findings are preserved in the museum of Orava Castle.
According to some legends, there was a Templar fort on the White Rock. It is still possible to observe contours of the fortified mounds, witch protected citizens from enemy raids. A few hundred meters northerly, there is a second cliff, called Červená skala (Red Rock). During random searches, there was found a lot of clay fragments, suggesting an ancient settlement. A finding of stone knife suggests inhabitants in Stone Age. The importance of this locality is highlighted by water fountain at the top of the cliff, which is a great peculiarity and advantage for the people of that time.
The Red Rock is a place, where even today is possible to find fossils of various creatures. According to legend, a long time ago, the shepherds found a fossil of human body. It says that they broke it to pieces out of curiosity of what is inside. There are rumors, that local teacher was able to save a part of the head, which is reportedly in some museum in Budapest.
Visitors and even residents of Podbiel have to climb the cliff to realize, seeing with their own eyes, that the village is situated on peninsula created by rivers Cold and Orava.
In present times, Podbiel belongs to one of architectural gems of folk architecture witch its preserved wooden buildings, and supposedly most preserved original unit in Central Europe. It si a total of 64 original wooden houses, mostly built in the late 19th century. It is interesting, that in every cottage is with the name of the builder cut also a sign like a rosette. The character of Celts was a sign of their most important deities which was a sun. It is preserved to this day, although it is a pagan symbol...
A few kilometers behind the village, toward Western Tatras, there is retained another gem - a remnant of ironworks, so called Františkova huta (Francis smelter), also known as a Hamor. It has a retained original blast furnace. Hamor was built in the early 19th century in 1836. There was processed an iron ore from surrounding Western Tatras and others adjacent sources (villages Zuberec, Habovka, Oravice, Malatina...). Locals named if after German hammer, from which arose present Hamor. It was a huge water hammer used to crush imported iron ore before being burden into blast furnace. The energy of water wheel was also used to refine produced iron, and blowing air into blast furnace to achieve requested temperature to melt iron ore. Attentive visitor can notice remnants of water flume even today. The original route of the water, until recently, also drove a preserved water mill for grinding flour over Podbiel, even more towards Western Tatras, known as Bruncakov mill. It is still possible to find remains of iron ore behind blast furnace. Every year, in late August, there is festival called "Tavba", where are being shown old craftworks and smelted iron ore in small blast furnace.
In the times of Hungarian empire, there was also a paper mill in this site, but now, there are no remains of it. The witnesses said, it was a production of parchment paper, used for important royal documents. At the end of the 19th century, there was built a brewery and distillery. It ceased by buying by Czech brewery, to which it appeared as an unwanted competitor in the production of high quality black beer, because of export to the all of Europe. There also was a huge steam sawmill to process wood. It supported the construction of narrow railway from Podbiel to current museum Brestova, total length of about 20 kilometers. It was the beginning of great timber harvesting crusade in Western Tatras. Railway was destroyed in the year of entry to service, in great flood that destroyed all bridges and big pieces of track, including steam locomotive. The remains of railway are still visible along current road to Zuberec.
Today, if you accommodate in village, you will find many ideas to the rest roams in surrounding wood, where you can collect medical plants, many species of mushrooms, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and hazelnuts. The attraction is also a rafting the river Orava, and souvenirs from local wood crafters. You will be excited about small local museum, former church school. It was founded by local catholic priest Donát Čarnogurský. In local pensions, you can taste meals prepared by old local recipes.
It is worth mentioning, that from Podbiel, it is easy to get to Orava Castle, Orava Dam, to horse riding in Dlhá. Orava is favorite tourists destination all year. In summer, there are possibilities of hiking, cycling, fishing, rafting rivers... In winter its mainly skiing, ski reosrts are almost in every village. The winter scenery around Podbiel will leave in you unforgettable experience.
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