Tue, Mar 12, 2019 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Slovakia’s ice church draws visitors


A woman visits a Tatra Ice Temple at Hrebienok, Slovakia, on Feb. 27.

Photo: AFP

A young nun breathed deeply as she peered up at a statue of an angel bathed in softly colored light streaming through a church, and as she exhaled, you could see her breath.

Instead of wood or bricks and mortar, the chilly house of worship perched among the snowy peaks of Slovakia’s High Tatra Mountains has been built from massive crystal-clear blocks of ice.

At 1,285m above sea level, the ice replica of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome is higher than any of Slovakia’s 4,158 churches, more than half of them Roman Catholic.

Although it has not been consecrated, another visitor, Zlatica Janakova from southern Slovakia, said it feels like a real church.

“It’s so good for your soul; it provides you with tranquility,” she said. “All of nature is inside and around this temple,” she added, gazing at the surrounding alpine vistas.

Englishman Martin, who declined to give his surname, described it as a “beautiful, religious place, so peaceful and calm.”

Since 2013, ice sculptors have flocked to the Slovak Tatra mountain hamlet of Hrebienok every winter to build a Tatra Ice Temple, or scaled-down replica of a famous church using only crystal-clear ice blocks.

This year, it is an 11m tall version of the 16th-century Vatican basilica, complete with the imposing two half-circle wings of Bernini’s colonnade.

A quarter of a million tourists last year took the short funicular ride up the mountain to see the ice replica of Barcelona’s soaring and intricate Sagrada Familia.

A team of 16 sculptors from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Wales and the US worked 12 hours a day for a month to create this year’s ice temple.

On Sundays, the venue vibrates with the sounds of sacred music concerts.

“I’m glad to see people crossing themselves and praying inside,” Slovak chief sculptor Adam Bakos said.

The interior boasts sculptures modeled on the works of Italian masters side by side with those of chamois, marmots and other wildlife native to the High Tatras.

“I gave them a free hand with the decoration, so each artist added their signature style to the sculptures,” Bakos said.

Slovak-Greek artist Achilleas Sdoukos designed and produced stained-glass decorations incorporated into the temple’s icy walls.

The building material, namely 1,880 ice blocks weighing a total of 225 tonnes, was imported from Poland.

“We tried different suppliers, from the Netherlands, England, Norway and Hungary, but Polish ice seemed to have the highest quality, it really looks like glass if kept cold enough,” said Rastislav Kromka, technical director of the Tatra Ice Temple.

With an unusually warm winter threatening to melt details on their sculpture, Bakos and his team covered it with a geodesic dome, measuring 25m in diameter.

They also installed refrigeration units to ensure a bone-chilling minus-10°C to keep the ice solid.

“Cold wind was blowing in our faces from the AC all day long. It was like a chopper ride in January. Once we were done, I didn’t even want to open the freezer at home anymore,” Bakos joked.

More than 15 carpenters helped sculptors with the demanding task of stacking the ice blocks, each weighing 125kg.

“It took us more time to stack the blocks than to carve them,” Bakos said. “Ice is also an extremely fragile material, you must be very gentle with it or details tend to fall off. We used only water to glue the pieces together,” he said.

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