Slovakia woos with 'love bank' for Valentine's Day

BBC News
AFP The love bank's tiny drawers store romantic keepsakes

A picturesque old town in Slovakia is running a "love bank" where couples can go on Valentine's Day to deposit small, cherished tokens of their love.

The lovers' vault, containing 100,000 tiny drawers, is in Banska Stiavnica's House of Marina, a museum celebrating the world's longest love poem.

Marina, published in 1846, is a 2,910-line poem by Andrej Sladkovic. He loved Maria Pischlova, but her parents made her marry a gingerbread maker.

The poem is studied in Slovak schools.

Andrej and Maria fell in love in Banska Stiavnica when they were just 14.

He was a poor student who tutored her at her parents' comfortable home. She became his muse but, sadly for him, her parents preferred the wealthy gingerbread maker.

Andrej later became a priest and married the daughter of a clerk, two years after Marina's wedding.

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The medieval town is a protected Unesco World Heritage Site and the poem Marina is regarded as a Slovak national treasure.

The House of Marina is where Maria Pischlova spent most of her life.

In the "love bank" couples can "preserve their love for ever, leaving photos or love letters, rings or cinema tickets from their first date", the exhibition's spokeswoman Katarina Javorska told the BBC.

"It's really safe, protected with a special seal. Only they can see what's inside," she explained.

Among the other exhibits at the museum is a "love-o-meter", purporting to measure the strength of a couple's love.

Ms Javorska called the love-o-meter's technology "a big secret". Lovers get their own verse from Marina when they use the machine.

"They hold hands or kiss, and with their other hand they hold a special handle - it measures the electricity in their bodies. Then the verse they get shows the strength of their love."

Ms Javorska said "our goal is to create the next Verona". "That is based on fiction - Romeo and Juliet - but our Sladkovic-Marina story is a real one."

Slovak children memorise verses from Marina, and Slovakia has named streets, and even a town, after Sladkovic.

Among the many lines in Sladkovic's poem are these:

"I can abandon your lips,

I can abandon the chance to marry you

I can kill myself:

But I can't stop loving you!"