The Tatra Mountains, is a mountain range that forms a natural border between Slovakia and Poland. They are the highest mountain range in the Carpathian Mountains. The Tatras are distinct from the Low Tatras, a separate Slovak mountain range further south.The Tatra Mountains occupy an area of 785 square kilometres (303 sq mi), of which about 610 square kilometres (236 sq mi) (77.7%) lie within Slovakia and about 175 square kilometres (68 sq mi) (22.3%) within Poland. The highest peak, called Gerlach, at 2,655 m (8710 ft), is located north of Poprad, entirely in Slovakia. The highest point in Poland, Rysy, at 2,499 m (8200 ft), is located south of Zakopane, on the border with Slovakia.The Tatras’ length, measured from the eastern foothills of the Kobylí vrch (1109 m) to the southwestern foot of Ostrý vrch (1128 m), in a straight line, is 57 km (35 mi) (or 53 km (33 mi) according to some), and strictly along the main ridge, 80 km (50 mi). The range is only 19 km (12 mi) wide. The main ridge of the Tatras runs from the village of Huty at the western end to the village of Ždiar at the eastern end.The Tatras are protected by law by the establishment of the Tatra National Park, Slovakia and the Tatra National Park, Poland, which are jointly entered in UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves. In 1992, UNESCO jointly designated the Polish and Slovak parks a transboundary biosphere reserve in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, under its Man and the Biosphere Programme.
The first written record of the name is from 999, when the Bohemian Duke Boleslaus II, on his deathbed, recalled when the Duchy of Bohemia extended to the Tritri montes. Another mention is in the 1086 document from Henry IV, wherein he referred to the Diocese of Prague with Tritri mountains. Still another is in 1125, where the Kosmas chronicles (Chronica Boemorum) mention the name Tatri.Machek in 1931 favored the theory of the Polish linguist Rozwadowski with a syllabic r like in the words chrt (Czech hound), smrt (Czech death). In Czech this syllabic is sometimes with vowels i, e or u for example črný – černý, so the Czech reconstruction from Tritri/Tritry would be Trtry. In Polish, the term Tatry is firstly mentioned in 1255. Syllabic r often has vowels on both sides in Polish, so in case of Tarty we can reconstruct the name to Tartry, where the vowel a originated before the syllabic r which dissimilated. This theory is supported by Hungarian forms of term Turtur, Turtul, Tortol from 12th to 14th centuries. It is unknown how the Slovak term looked like until the 17th century when the form Tatry is firstly mentioned and was probably taken from Polish and later found its way into Czech and Hungarian. The term Tatra also appears as a general term in Slovak for barren or stony land, and also in Little Russia for rocks and little stones in a river. Machek stresses that the name has no Slavic origin and mentions Rozwadowski’s theory of an Illyrian origin because of a connection with a Herzegovian highland called Tatra, thus taken from local inhabitants.The name is also close to the Ukrainian word for gravel, toltry.
By the end of the First Polish Republic, the border with the Kingdom of Hungary in the Tatras was not exactly defined. The Tatras became an unoccupied borderland. On 20 November 1770, under the guise of protection against the epidemic of plague in the Podolia, an Austrian army entered into Polish land and formed a cordon sanitaire, seizing Sądecczyzna, Spiš and Podhale. Two years later, the First Partition of Poland allocated the lands to Austria. In 1824, Zakopane region and area around Morskie Oko were purchased from the authorities of the Austrian Empire by a Hungarian Emanuel Homolacs. When Austria-Hungary was formed in 1867, the Tatra Mountains have become a natural border between the two states of the dual monarchy, but the border itself still has not been exactly determined. In 1889, a Polish Count Władysław Zamoyski purchased at auction the Zakopane region along with the area around Morskie Oko. Due to numerous disputes over land ownership in the late 19th century, attempts were made at the delimitation of the border. They were fruitless until 1897, and the case went to an international court which determined on 13 September 1902 the exact course of the Austro-Hungarian border in the disputed area.A new round of border disputes between Poland and Czechoslovakia started immediately after the end of the First World War, when these two countries were established. Among other claims, Poland claimed ownership of a large part of the Spiš region. This claim also included additional parts of the Tatra Mountains. After several years of border conflicts, the first treaty (facilitated by the League of Nations) was signed in 1925, with Poland receiving a small northernmost part of the Spiš region, immediately outside (to the north-east of) the Tatra Mountains, thus not changing the border in the mountains themselves. During the Second World War there were multiple attempts by both sides of the conflict to occupy more land, but the final treaty signed in 1958 (valid until present day) preserved the border line agreed in 1925.
With the collapse of the Austrian Empire in 1918 and the creation of Poland and Czechoslovakia, the Tatra Mountains started to be divided by international border. This brought considerable difficulties to hikers, as it was illegal to cross the border without passing through an official border checkpoint, and for many decades there were no checkpoints for hikers anywhere on the border ridge. The nearest road border crossings were Tatranská Javorina – Łysa Polana and Podspády – Jurgów in the east, and Suchá Hora – Chocholów in the west. Indeed, those who did cross elsewhere were frequently fined or even detained by border police of both countries. On the other hand, the permeable border in the Tatra Mountains was also heavily used for cross-border smuggling of goods such as alcohol, tobacco, coffee, etc. between Poland and Czechoslovakia. Only in 1999, more than 80 years after the dissolution of the Austrian Empire, the governments of Poland and Slovakia signed an agreement designating several unstaffed border crossings (with only irregular spot checks by border police) for hikers and cyclists on the 444 km-long Slovak-Polish border. One of these border crossings was created in the Tatra Mountains themselves, on the summit of the Rysy peak. However, there were still many other peaks and passes where hiking trails ran across the border, but where crossing remained illegal. This situation finally improved in 2007, with both countries accessing the Schengen Area. Since then, it is legal to cross the border at any point (i.e. no further official checkpoints were designated). Of course, rules of the national parks on both sides of the border still apply and they restrict movement to official hiking trails and (especially on the Slovak side) mandate extensive seasonal closures in order to protect wildlife.