The city’s return to the river

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee


Water means life. In this case, the life of the city. Water in Košice, like in many other cities, has been an important element in economic and energy development. The Hornád River is still overlooked and invisible in the lee of the wider city centre, but its urban inflows and artificial branches have served the inhabitants of Košice for several centuries.


The Hornád River flows through the town from north to south. The originally rugged river with its many tributaries, islands and meanders have been employed in the past in many production facilities. In the second half of the twentieth century, the regulation of the winding Hornád riverbed began.

According to old maps from 1717, the Hornád was a natural meandering river, supplemented by (then lively) tributaries, marshland and wetlands. Already during the Middle Ages there were mills, grinding mills, tanneries, retting ponds, washboard stations, bleachers, slaughterhouses and other workshops and factories in these areas, for which the proximity to a water source was a necessity and which provided services essential to the life of the town. This area, between the city walls and the Hornád River, was referred to on maps as the Inundations Terrain.

As late as the eighteenth century, the city walls were surrounded by a moat, which drew water mainly from the Črmeľ stream, the tributaries of the Hornád and the streams on the west side of the city. At that time, the Hornád flowed closer to the centre, through the place we know today as Komenského Street and the Črmeľ stream flowed through the centre of the town.


In the second half of the nineteenth century, the town began to open up from the confined space of the walls, gradually the fortifications were demolished and the moats dried up. At this time, most of the tributaries of the Hornád River also disappeared (or were drained). Its channel became more stabilised against floods and a large part of the floodplain began to take on the shape and qualities of what we now call Anička. A distinctive rest area was the Gajda’s baths, which today remains in the form of a park adjacent to the mineral spring.

The stabilisation, regulation and especially the removal of the river continued further with the development of the railway and industry. In the second half of the twentieth century, the construction of housing estates and the massive growth of the city added to the strong denial of the river. Despite the fact that the regulation of the Hornád took place along its entire length within the city, a few small fragments of the tributaries have nevertheless survived in an altered form – Lake Ryba, Lake Nad Jezerom, Lake Vranie near Vyšné Opátske, the Krásna gravel pit, the wetland area in Bernátovce.

A significant remnant of the original meander of the Hornád (with its own history) is the Mill Embankment (Mlynský náhon), the oldest engineering work in the town. It was built in the fifteenth century as a modified route of the Hornád. Mills on the Mill Embankment were built as early as the mid-fourteenth century. In 1862, the Artificial Mill was built on the Mill Embankment. It served until 1876, when it was destroyed by fire. Today, a concrete bunker from the Second World War stands on the site. The old water mill was rented by the Hungária Company in 1896. In 1910 a fire broke out in the mill and the remains of the non-functioning structure were removed in 1913. The power plant with the Francis water turbine was built in 1910 on the site of the former Hungária mill. In 1937, another turbine and generator were added. It operated until the second half of the 1960s. In 1968, the conversion of the Mill Embankment to a four-lane road began.

Legacy from the past

The heritage of the river for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, which we have inherited for current use, is a fraction of the original diversity and richness of the Hornád. A straight axis hidden behind dysfunctional factories and plants, bridged by level crossings, has only one task: to flow through the city as quickly as possible so as not to be a nuisance. The source of the city’s former wealth and the literal engine of many of the period’s economic industries is now a tolerated line entangled between other lines of rails and four-lane roads.

River accessibility is excellent on both the southern and northern peripheries of the city. From the old Ťahanovský tunnel, over the bridge in Ťahanovce to the Ryba dam, you have the river at your fingertips and you can rest by it, hear it and feel it.

However, the huge central part adjacent to the city, starting in Džungľa and ending at the multi-way bridge by the former customs house (or behind Palackého Street, by the railway station, at the beginning of Vyšné Opátske, in the site of the old IC – there can always be many descriptions referring to one place) offers the opposite quality, i.e. a complete lack of quality access to the river – there is no connection, no regular banks, no access from either side.

The part from the bridges at Palackého Street to Tepláreň can be deceptive – it is easy to cycle along the bank and embankment, and not so long ago sheep regularly grazed the whole area. But this particular stretch perfectly demonstrates the river’s relegation to the level of a sewer, which is worth even less than a four-lane bypass of the city and a multi-track railway siding rushing out of the depot.

The subsequent, frenetically used and popular lake section of the Hornád from the housing estate to Krásná shows the possibilities of the city and its people coexisting with the river.


The road bridge in Ťahanovce, the footbridge at Anička, the crumbling footbridge over the canal, the wide road bridge on Hlinkova Street, the railway double bridge with three tracks (locally also described as Brooklyn Bridge), the road bridge at Rampová Street, the triple multi-way bridge at Palackého, the road bridge at Tepláreň, the dam at Vyšné Opátske, the footbridge in Krásná, the road bridge in Krásná and the railway bridge behind Krásná. In addition, there are 5 technical works for the routing of utility lines, which, with the proper skills, can be considered as connecting banks.

Are there not enough of them, or are there plenty? Most of these connections have the same relationship to the river, the banks of which they connect, as to the whole city has to the Hornád – to pass this stretch as quickly as possible. They do not invite us to get closer to the river, and lack the proper infrastructure to allow people access to the river.

Watercourses have been displaced from the city in the past, primarily because of real threats of flooding and later also because of urbanisation, construction of sewage infrastructure and industrial development. During these periods of marginalisation of the river from the life of the city, there have always been efforts to preserve bodies of water (with mixed results, of which we are the collective heirs today). The real threat of climate change, particularly the increasingly frequent dry and hot spells in summer, create a much more urgent requirement to bring more water and green space back into the city, and the availability of water spaces for residents and visitors to the city, taking into account the ever-looming threat of flooding.

In recent years, the number of interventions and activities confronting the approach of institutions managing the Hornád river basin along its entire length including the territory of the city of Košice, has been increasing. The most tangible outcome of these efforts so far are the results of the international urban planning and architectural competition Košice-Hornád – New City Centre.

A legacy for the future

Restoring the value of the river in the city, reviving its original function, is not an impossible goal. The globally renowned address – the Guggenheim Museum in the Basque city of Bilbao – is nothing less than the culmination of a long-term revitalisation of the Nervión River.

In 1992, the City of Bilbao established the Bilbao Ría 2000 (BR2000) Company to manage the regeneration of areas affected by the deindustrialisation of Bilbao’s estuary. Structured as a public company, it brought together representatives of the Ministry of Transport and Public Works (national government), the Basque Government (regional level), the Bizkaia Provincial Council (sub-regional level) and Bilbao City Council (local government). Since its creation, it has been responsible for finding sources and mechanisms of funding outside traditional public budgets, including land donations from the national government.

On the one hand, it sounds like a bureaucratic bore; on the other hand, it is not only the futurist creation of Frank Gehry that has redefined the city’s identity, but also the tram line, the parks, and the new bridges that stand out. It is essential to constantly remind ourselves of the role and value of the river in the city, and learn from the examples of the revitalisation of rivers and their embankments from Bilbao in the Basque Country, Utrecht in the Netherlands, Warsaw in Poland, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Prague in the Czech Republic.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” – Bruce Lee

Invisible Mag is supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council. The Slovak Arts Council is the main partner of the project.

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