Matej Bel

Lutheran pastor and polymath Matej Bel (Hungarian Bél Mátyás) was born 22 March 1684 in Očová and died on 29 August 1749 in Pressburg (Bratislava) where he is buried. He described himself as 'by language a Slav, by nation a Hungarian, by erudition a German'.

Bel was an outstanding scholar, active in the fields of pedagogy, philosophy, philology, history, and theoretical theology; he was the founder of Hungarian geographic science and a pioneer in the fields of descriptive ethnography and economy.

His most valuable work was the Notitia Hungariae Novae Historico Geographiaca (1735-1742), the first five volumes of which were published in Vienna; the sixth was published after his death in 1792, and other volumes remained in manuscript form. The work incorporates the first guide to Slovakia, describing Bratislava and numerous other districts in some detail. In one of the volumes Bel describes in detail the Tatras, Low Tatras, Kozie chrbty mountain, the Chocske hills and other interesting areas. The work is particularly noteworthy for its maps, created by well-known Slovak cartographer Samuel Mikovíni.

Following an early stint as Rector of a school at Klosterbergen near Magdeburg, Bel became Pro Rector and subsequently Rector of the Lyceum in Banská Bystrica, where he also worked as an evangelical pastor. Then in 1714 he became Rector of the Lyceum in Pressburg (Bratislava) and from 1719 pastor of the Lutheran church there.

One of the most famous and reputable Slovak historians and scientist of his day, Matej Bel was often known for his high education as Magnum decus Hungariae ('large decoration of Hungary'). The University in Banska Bystrica is named after him.