SIROCCO 2004 will take place in the Smolenice Castle in Slovakia located about 35km from Bratislava. The castle, surrounded by a beautiful park, is towering above the village of Smolenice in the eastern foothills of Male Karpaty (Small Carpatians). Destroyed in the late 18th century and rebuilt in the Romantic style, the castle now offers accomodation in a tranquil and romantic atmosphere.

Situated on eastern foothills of Male Karpaty (Small Carpatians) mountains where the widely spreading ridge of the mountains begins to take up altitude with its highest peaks, the region of today's willage Smolenice has been permanently settled since the Stone Age. History and modern archeological finds give evidence of the fact that the nearby mountain pass used to serve one of major roads connecting the north of Europe with the south - a branch of the Amber Road leading from the Baltic down to the Mediterranean region. In Middle Ages when the boundary between the kingdoms of Hungary and of Bohemia was constituted first by the ridge of Low Carpathians and later by the river Morava, the commercial and military Bohemian Road led through the pass.

Perhaps the most valuable archaeological discovery made in the Low Carpathians is that of an ancient settlement at Molpir, dating from the younger Hallstatt era (second half of the 7th century B. C.). The fortified settlement covers the surface of almost 12 to 14 hectares. Its mission was to demonstrate the power of the chieftain and of the nobility and, in times of danger, to protect the neighbouring population and its possessions from enemies. The settlement was abandoned in the middle of the sixth century B. C.

Nature endowed this region with countless riches. Apart from pictoresque hills flanked with rich vineyards and orchards, colorful cereal fields and deep forests, it is here where the unique Smolenice Karst is located. The Smolenice Karst, formed by relatively pure Jurassic Limestones, differs from the other Slovak karst regions mainly to be found in Triassic Limestones. The only Slovak cave originated as a result of cleavage - Driny Cave is also located here.

The Driny Cave is a fissure cave formed by the dissolving and erosive action of rainwater that had penetrated into the underground system of cracks and fissures, whilst in the other Slovak caves the subterranean passages were carved out by underground rivers. Its passages are not very extensive but they are just as interesting as they are filled with the most beautiful speleothems imaginable. The dripstone formation covers a whole range of colours from yellow to dark brown and takes the form of hanging draperies with a characteristic indented lining. Of no less interest are the frozen waterfalls and botryoidal decorations preserved at the bottom of former subterranean lakes. The entrance lies at an altitude of 393 m and was discovered in 1929 by local villagers, the Weisabl and Valovec brothers and J Vanic. They were assisted by S Vanic who, co-incidentally, invented a parachute.

First written records about the densely populated settlement of Smolenice date back to the 13th century as suggested by the charter issued by Bela IV in 1256. It mentions, for the first time, Smolenice under the name of "villa solmus" in connection with the frontier guards on the Bohemian Road. According to a mention in the 1336 king's charter, the nearby Bukova was a custom-station on this road. Hungarian kings from the House of Arpad already in the 12 th century appointed military garrisons to guard both sides of the range and built a network of strong fortified castles for their protection of which the closest to Smolenice are Ostry Kamen, Korlatko and Plavecky Castle.

The Smolenice castle was one of the youngest guarding and protecting castles in the Low Carpathian Mountains. At the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, Smolenice was granted the status of a town. Unfortunately, the town often suffered from adversities of wars. Prokop the Great with his militant Hussites passed through it in 1428. Nor did the Turkish raids and Hungarian uprisings spare the town of Smolenice from suffering and damages, even though the town and the late Renaissance church from 1642 were protected during the attacks of the Turks by solid fortified walls. And thus, in 1632, Smolenice suffered the fate of many other towns and was raided by fierce Turkish troops. The inexorable history records that the castle was conquered by the Kurutzes in 1705. Two years later, however, these were chased away by the imperor's army.

The present Smolenice Castle is standing on the site of a former Gothic fortified castle from the 15th century. In the past, the castle was adapted in accordance with the needs and preferences of its individual owners. In the 15th century, it was in the possession of the Hungarian king Sigismund of Luxembourg and played the role of a guarding castle. Later, in the early 16th century, it was owned by the House of Orszagh, toward the end of the 16th century it got into the hands of Erdody and Palffy families. Like other castles, the Castle of Smolenice also suffered many turns of fate. It is well known that in the beginning of the 18th century it became the scene of fights between the Kurutz rebels and emperor's army. During the Erdody rule, the castle declined and its next owners, the House of Palffy, abandoned the castle to its gloomy destiny. The last blow was dealt by the Napoleonic wars when the castle burned down and fell into ruins.

The construction of the present Smolenice Castle was undertaken on the ruins of the ancient castle in 1854 and the actual construction of the main castle building started as late as in 1911 by Jozef Palffy Jr., the landlord of Smolenice and Dobrá Voda estates. Under the influence of romanticist ideas the builder drew inspiration from the architecture of the castles of Central France. They did not hesitate to pull down completely the original historical building from which they preserved only the peripheral bastions. Although the owner longed to see the construction completed, his financial means were not ample enough to materialize his idea in its completeness. The crude and only partially inhabited building stood almost lifeless still after the World War. It is probably only due to a coincidence of propitious circumstances that this unfinished structure, lacking in unity of style but nonetheless interesting survived up to the aftermath of World War II.

A thorough reconstruction of the castle was undertaken by the Slovak Academy of Sciences in 1955. The accommodation capacity has been set to 100 beds, so as to take full advantage of the castle premises without disturbing its external appearance and environment. The Smolenice Castle has not been granted the status of a cultural monument and is not open to public visitors and sightseers. It serves exclusively the Slovak Academy of Sciences as its residential and working establishment.

Apart from its attractive interior, the guests apreciate green lawns of the courtyards animated by flowerbeds and castle surroundings featuring a well-kept English park, small lake and amphitheatre.