The district town of Svidník is situated in the northern part of Low Beskydy Mountains, at bottom land terrace at the mouth of the river Ladomírka flowing to the river Ondava at an altitude of about 230m (754.59ft). The town arose in 1944 by merger of two formerly independent municipalities - Nižný (Lower) Svidník situated at the left bank of the river Ladomírka and Vyšný (Upper) Svídník located at the right bank of the river Ondava.
Traces of settlement in Svidník and its surroundings are evident already from the prehistoric ages. There are findings of mammoth tusks and teeth and stone axes from the late Stone Age. In 1992 by the river Ondava near Svidník there was silver denarius found from the period of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180AD) which proves the existence of an ancient Amber Routes passing through the present-day town of Svidník.
Convenient geographic location, the name and status of Svidník in the early Middle Ages and the first records on the surrounding villages in the upper basin of the river Ondava as well as the existence of the Medieval hillfort and castle on a nearby hill Kaštielik (328m / 1 076.12ft above the see level) mean that the process of permanent settlement of the region and the town of Svidník itself has already began before the 13th century.
The wider territory around the present-day district town of Svidník belonged to the feudal family of Aba even before the first half of the 13th century. In 1269, the son of Stefan, Comes Simon bought the land of Smilno for the 30 marks from the Comes (nobleman) Pudo, the son of Artolf from the Aba family. The land boundaries were extended to the river of Chotčianka to the east. At that time the territory of Stročín felt under the boundaries of Smilno. In 1317 the Stročín is mentioned to be a developing village where the tolls were collected. In the same year of 1317 the Hungarian King Karl Robert confiscated the property of feudal lord Peter Peten who possessed the land of Stročín and then gave it to the Master Mick, the son of Michael, Comes and castellan at the Šariš castle. Then the Stročín was an extensive bounds land and it also included the land of the later settlement of Svidník as well as other settlements.
In 1341 the Comes Mišk gave Hanigovsky Castle with all the accessories to his son Lórand. At that time it already included the Stročín estates.
The last decades of the 13th century and the first half of the 14th century were very eventful in regard to property rights of the territory later on the town of Svidník. The first written record directly concerning the town of Svidník is mentioned in the document of Jagerska Chapterhouse from June 28, 1355 where the town of Svidník is recorded under the name of “Scyuidnyk”. This written record about the town of Svidník is considered to be the first one without any doubt also by the historians P. Fatkoš, B. Varsik and J. Beňko.
The Professor F. Uličný considers it very likely that the records about the Svidník were mentioned for the first time already in 1334 in inventory of papal tithes as “(villa) Sudnici”. J. Beňko excludes this option. The published records list the “(villa) Lodovici” not “Sudnici”.
Accepting the opinion of the historian and keeper of records J. Beňko the town of Svidník emerged as a new village under the German village law about 10-20 years before 1355 on the territory of Stročín estates (before that the Stročín belonged to Smilno estates). Svidnik is not mentioned in documents from 1269 nor 1317. Therefore the oldest – and thus the first written record about Svidník dates back to June 28, 1355.
Svidník is also mentioned in 1357. At that time during the disputes of Nicholas, the son of Lórand, other medieval villages are mentioned in the bounds of widespread Stročín estates – Svidník, Orlík, Dubová and another village settled by the Rusyn population, named Rusinec (Oroszfalu) which served as surface site for archeological research located in the bounds of the village Jurkova Voľa. Svidník in 1370 one of the Stročín estates devolved to Peter Cudar which was confirmed also by the King Louis I. in 1379. Later on Svidník was attached to Makovicky castle estates by the Cudar family. Since then up until the times when feudalism expired in the middle of the 19th century the Svidník belonged to the Makovica estates with the seat at Zborovsky Castle.
An eye-catching hill “Kaštielik” (altitude 328) is perking in the south of Svidník on the right bank of the river Ondava. It is likely that Master Mičk or his son Lórand built a castle there — noble strong-hold in the mid - 14th century. According to experimental archeological probes the existence of the castle can be also dated to the 15th century. Such findings as fraction of chamber tile from the 15th century and brick material, castle ditch and ground mound show evidence of the fact that in 14th – 15th century there was a noble splendid castle near Svidník. It was probably destroyed by the invasion of Polish troops in the late 15th century. In-depth complex archeological research has to be done in the castle “Kašttielik” but before that it is also important to do pyrotechnic research because in autumn 1944 there was fighting at the castle “Kaštielik” during the Carpatho-Dukla Operation and there are traces of trenches of World War I. Nowadays there is open woodland of oak-beech vegetation. Not far from the castle even in the 15th century the Svidník was a place of vibrant life. Indeed, there was a provincial road passing by and Makovica owners who resided around the Zborov and in Kaštielik Castle had a benefit of it.
The confluence of two rivers, the mouth of Ladomírka flowing to the river of Ondava gave geographical and hydrological conditions to the existence of the two already mentioned municipalities – Nižný (Lower) Svidník and Vyšný (Upper) Svidník that formed the original town of Svidník. Two Soltys men brought here the first original but then the new inhabitants of the two municipalities who possessed acquiring rights. At the beginning of the 15th century there were already two residential districts. In 1414 and 1416 they are referred to as "Possessiones ... Zuydnegh et alteram Zuydnegh". The new population was in overwhelming majority of Rusyn ethnic group and of Eastern Rite Chruch. There was the parish already. The first written record about the rectory with its priest, appears to be inheritable post, is in the State District Archive in Bardejov, in the funds of Bardejov Town Municipal Authorities, sign. 2039. There the pastor is referred to as Bagyko de Svidník and bagko (thus altered as Batushko, Batko – it is how people used to call East Orthodox priests and pastors – pops and still do. The entry is from the 1478. If there was a rectory already at that time (possibly in Nižný (Lower) Svidník) it means that the Rusyn population settled here permanently and perhaps we can point out to the fact that it was original, indigenous and the initial population in both municipalities of Svidník although we can not eliminate the option of gradual settlement of this border land by people from other ethnic groups (Slovaks and Polish).
There is a court record (guarantor liability) in Bardejov Municipal Court Official Book whose Latin name is Iudicium Bannitum from 1416 – 1443 that gives evidence of the Rusyn settlement in Nižný (Lower) and Vyšný (Upper) Svidník as well as of the existence of two independent municipalities since the beginning. The entry is on page (pagina) 19 and it can be found in already mentioned State District Archives in Bardejov. It was drawn up in the town office in the free royal town of Bardejov in October 27, 1434. So far it is the oldest known written indication about the Rusyns in Svidník and its surroundings. It immediately refutes the implications of the arrival of Old Rusyns into both Svidník’s municipalities in late 15th century and even later which has been claimed by renowned Slovak historians Peter Ratkoš and Branislav Varsik, who are already dead.
In particular, Prof. Dr. Br. Varsik, DrSc. in his extensive monograph called The Settling of the Košice Basin, especially in the third volume states that the Rusyn population did not come to Svidník until the 15th – 16th century. On page 343 there is written: "The original municipalities of Svidník, Orlík and Dubová came into existence as Slovak villages in the vast territory of the former property land of Stročín (Stračina) …”. Historian Ján Beňko in his monoghraph called The Settling of the Northern Slovakia. Košice: 1985, pg. 232 mentions those Šoltýs men – Neyncz and Šimon in Svidník but also only within the context of Walachian additional settlement of Svidník (to be more precise both municipalities). Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Uličný, DrSc. in his work The History of Settling the Šariš; Košice 1990 does not mention this fact from 1934!
In the following years Nižný (Lower) Svidník undergone more favorable changes and in the beginning of the 17th century there are church and the rectory house, the house of Šoltýs, 9 villeins houses and farmstead consisting of the manor house, mill, sawmill, garden yard and other constructions for farm animals. The first official census in 1787 showed that population reached 299 inhabitants living in 43 houses. The development during the 18th century was more dynamic for the Vyšný (Upper) Svidník.
In the mid-18th century the importance of Svidník is increasing since it becomes the seat of the third district of Makovica estates. Its assets were owned by the Erdődy and Szirmai families. Later on the Svidník was a seat of the Sluznov district.
Geographical location of the town of Svidník and its environs situated in the borderline zones was the reason why its people often found themselves caught in the swirl of the turning-point events. Otherwise peaceful Dukla Mountain Pass serving as a trade passage showed sometimes in a history its darker side. Army troops with its carriages and weapons were passing by on these passages. In spring 1799 the Russian troops led by the General G. L. Rebinder were crossing the town of Svidník on their way to the northern Italy. In March 1800 there were Cossack army troops of Suvorov in Svidník, the evidence of which is the memorial tablet on a building nowadays the seat of the state government offices. The army troops of the General Kutuzov stayed in the town in 1806.
19th century was quite cruel towards the local population. After the years of crop failure there was a cholera outbreak. In the last decades of the 19th century the unfavorable economic conditions and poverty were the main reasons of the massive emigration to the Lower Lands (historically Lower Hungary) and overseas.
The situation got even worse during the WWI when troops of the Imperial-Royal Army were retreating and on their way they burnt down the town of Svidník.
After WWI the town of Svidník and other neighboring villages were among the poorest in the state. Basket-making, house-to-house sale and other small business activities were not sufficient for their living. Svidník and its surroundings were affected by and swept away by another wave of emigration fever.
For many years national revivalist A. I. Pavlovič worked here. Concerning the ethnicity majority of the population reported themselves to be of Rusyn (Russian) nationality even during the times of tough Hungarisation policies. In 1930 it was 61% of population that reported to be of Rusyn nationality in Vyšný (Upper) Svidník and in Nižný (Lower) Svidník it was 85%. At least, the conditions of social and cultural development have partly improved. In 1932 there was Burghar’s School established in Vyšný (Upper) Svidník. Activities were performed by and accomplished by A. Duchnovič Association.
The typical hardship, underdevelopment and poverty followed people of this region up until the end of the WWII. Not every village or town suffered so many dreadful horrors during both World Wars just like Sidník did. Dukla and the small town of Svidník itself indefinitely became the symbols of victims of World War II.
To commemorate and remind us of historical battles from the end of the World War II there are the Soviet Army Memorial and the Military Historical Museum in Svidník with its extensive open-air natural complex with the Dukla Czech-Slovak Army Memorial which is the national cultural monument.
Since 1956 the Festival of Rusyn-Ukrainian Culture of Slovakia is annually held at the local open-air amphitheatre. There is the seat of the SNM – Museum of Ukrainian Culture in the town. It includes the Open-air Museum (Skanzen) and Dezider Milly Gallery. Part of the unique collection of wooden churches (Tserkvi) in Eastern Slovakia there are 12 of them situated around the town of Svidník and all of them being the national cultural monuments. The oldest sacral monument in town is the Orthodox Catholic Church from the second half of the 18th century. In 1994 there was built a new Eastern Orthodox Church and in 1996 the building of the Roman Catholic Church was finished.
The post-war period is characterized by the intensive development of the entire Svidník region. Many civic amenities were provided for the civic life as well as many houses and apartments were built and also major industrial plants were established. For the people industrializations meant the fact that working in fields and forests is no longer their life-long fate. Building-up of the textile and clothing factory, engineering plants of food industry, number of other companies of local importance and providing other service facilities have accelerated the growth of the small town. There were built new schools and a modern hospital bearing the name of the honorary citizen of Svidník – Army General Ludvík Svoboda.
While in 1948 the merged town of Svidník had a population of 1 037 inhabitants, in 1991 it was already 11 520 inhabitants. Today the town of Svidník is administrative, cultural, recreational and sports center in the district.
Once the self-government was constituted in 1990 the town succeeded in making and fulfilling a number of remarkable projects. They finally and definitely managed to remove the shift-like school time by putting the 4th Primary School into service and use. In Dukla Housing Estate there was completed building of 48 apartments and other 33 rental apartments were built by renovating the former dormitories in Soviet Heroes Street. Providing the services of supply chains networks for IBV (Individual home building-up) above the SPP it created the conditions for building-up of 25 family houses. There are new shopping facilities of BILLA and TESCO provided for the people. The pedestrian zone has undergone the reconstruction in the city center. In 2009 the important road construction was handed into the service – Remaking I/74 – city bypass road. Sports fans can enjoy new tennis courts, totally reconstructed summer swimming pool area and indoor swimming pool opened to public. In addition to investment constructions and development program the cultural and spiritual life and development of sports is not being ignored.
Magistrate’s Office and municipal authorities also have other bold plans to be fulfilled which will improve the peoples’ lives and make it more comfortable to live in Svidník.