Slovakia is a mid-sized country in Central Europe. It covers 18,900 square miles (49,000 sq. km), making it roughly twice the size of New Hampshire. It shares borders with Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and the Ukraine.
People first began living in Slovakia some 250,000 years ago, with large permanent settlements springing up around 2000 BCE. For the next few centuries the land passed from the Lusatians to the Calenderbergs to Thracian tribes. Eventually Celtic tribes moved into the area, displacing most of the populations that had come before them.
In the 1st century the Romans arrived, as did the Germanic tribes, and the two groups conquered most of the region by the end of the 2nd century. The Huns the moved in and settled the area during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, remaining until the middle of the 5th century. It is widely thought that at some point in the 6th century Slavic groups began to move into the region, settling widely, although there is some evidence to suggest they were already present.
The Slavic people unified in the early 7th century, forming an Empire under Samo, and consolidating their power over much of what is now Slovakia for the first time. In the early 9th century Charlemagne joined with the Slavs and conquered the rest of what would become Slovakia. A few decades later a Slavic prince unified the entire region, creating the Empire of Great Moravia. Over the next two centuries the Slavs would have Christianity widely introduced, and would battle the Franks, at times losing control over portions of Slovakia.
In the early 10th century the Magyars conquered much of the Slavic lands, ultimately forming the Kingdom of Hungary. The Hungarians held on the Slovakia against invasions by the Tartars and internal fighting for the next few centuries, until the Ottoman Empire effectively destroyed the Kingdom. The region of Slovakia managed to ward off Ottoman rule, however, and went directly under the rule of the Habsburgs as Royal Hungary. Parts of Slovakia were captured by the Turks in the 16th century, but the region largely remained under Habsburg Austria, and were the main location of fighting between the two powers.
Slovak nationalism grew during the 18th and 19th centuries, with the Slovaks receiving aid from the Czechs in their struggles. In the early 20th century the Slovak people began to get power in the political process, resulting in a reaction from the government suppressing many aspects of Slovak culture.
When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed at the end of World War I, a joint republic was formed in 1918. Czechoslovakia, as the name suggests, grouped the Czechs and Slovaks together but it also included the Ruthenians in the East. The new country also included sizable minorities of Germans and Hungarians. For the next twenty years Czechoslovakia remained free and democratic, alone among its neighbors.
Following World War II, Czechoslovakia became a satellite of the Soviet Union. The country was fully under Communist rule from 1948 onwards, with a brief break in 1968 for a more liberal socialist state, which was crushed within a year by neighboring Communist nations. In 1989 the Velvet Revolution began, leading to the fall of the Communist regime.
In 1993 Czechoslovakia separated into two constituent nations, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. From then on Slovakia continued to implement democratic and economic reforms. Although the country has been having more problems building its economy than the neighboring Czech Republic, it is steadily integrating into the world economy as an important player.
Many people enjoy visiting Slovakia primarily because it is less developed than its nearest neighbors. Slovakia is often seen as less spoiled than its neighbors, with more open tracts of land, and many more rural regions still living a traditional lifestyle. Many of the major attractions in Slovakia are castles and fortresses from the past millennium of various rule, including Cachtice Castle, Spis Castle, and Devin Castle, belonging to various Hungarian royalty and Habsburgs.
Flights arrive daily in Bratislava from every major European hub. Buses and trains also connect Slovakia to the rest of Eastern Europe, and many tourists enjoy physically walking from neighboring Hungary.