Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia's oldest mining town, owes its glittering history to the ancient volcanoes in its surrounds. Now robed in forest, the Štiavnické Vrchy mountains are what remains of a gigantic caldera. Gold, silver and around 140 different minerals in the volcanic soil brought enormous wealth to the town, particularly during its 16th-century heyday. Wonderfully intact Gothic and Renaissance buildings date to this period, though miners are thought to have toiled here for centuries before.
By the 18th century, Banská Štiavnica had grown into the third-largest town in the Hungarian Kingdom. But 100 years later, minerals were depleted, mines closed and townspeople began to leave. Today, Banská Štiavnica's frozen-in-time ambience is part of its allure. Medieval castles, burghers' houses and sacred sights all contributed to the historic centre's Unesco listing in 1993.