Newest Review: ... that when we visited we knew we wouldn't see a great deal of Brno: it was cold and I was recovering from surgery on my foot but we were a... more
The Moravian City on a Hill
Brno (Czech Republic)
Author Name: Praskipark
Brno (Czech Republic)
Advantages: An alternative to the Bustling City of Prague
Disadvantages: The Outskits of the City could Put You Off
To give all dooyoo readers a break from my Madeiran reviews I am going back to the trip I took in the Czech Republic in 2006. Please check out my Prague and Moravian Mountain reviews as this review of Brno is part of the same trip. We actually visited Brno by bus rather than taking the car and caught the bus which was on time from Prague's central station. I always think that when visiting a city it is best to use public transport mainly because it is cheap in Central Europe and it saves worrying about parking. On this particular journey we had no set plans, well, we never have any set plans, but we knew we wanted to see Bratislava , Brno and Vienna. When we arrived at Brno station I didn't like the look of the place and made a quick decision to get the next bus to Bratislava. Why I did this, I don't know. It isn't usually like me - I take the rough with the smooth. I must have been in a bad mood that day because I didn't want to stay in Brno. The funny thing is, that once I'd seen Bratislava, Brno didn't look too bad so on the way back to Prague we stopped off at Brno and stayed overnight and I have to say that I am glad I did.
Here is my review..........
Brno - The Austrians call it Brunn, and it is little more than a suburb of Vienna. For the citizens of Prague, Brno is merely a large village. Only for its own inhabitants is it a capital city; they call it the Paris of Moravia. An exaggeration perhaps, but the place is a refuge for music and art lovers and a city of churches and monasteries. Leos Janacek (1854-1928) worked here as conductor of the Brno Philarmonic Society and the Reduta Theatre is the oldest theatre in central Europe. Capuchin, Dominican, Augustinian and Jesuit monks all settled here.
The Moravian capital is also a major industrial city and hosts important trade fairs. The first railway line in the country, from Brno to Breclav and then on to Vienna, was opened here in 1839. Its favourable position on the trading routes, halfway between Prague and Bratislava, led to the creation of an exhibition centre in 1926 and the site expanded during the Communist years.
But the transition to a market economy has apparently made little difference. The plaster continues to crumble from the once splendid 19th century houses as Brno missed out on the renovation work that Prague and Bratislava enjoyed during the 90's. Brno's lowly staus is not a new phenomenon. The town of Olomouc to the north was Moravia's capital until the mid 17th century and in the 9th century, during the era of the Great Moravian Empire, the Slav's main castles were situated further south. And yet the city's history dates back further than Prague's. About 400BC the Celts founded a settlement at the foot of the Bohemian-Moravian Mountains and called it Bryn. Like the Slav word 'brdo', it means 'hill' and refers to Mount Petrov, where the oldest of the town's fortresses was built. But Brno only remained as a purely Slavic settlement for a few centuries. In the 12th century, westerners, mainly from Germany, moved into the town and, until the 19th century, the majority of its citizens were German.
In contrast to most Bohemian towns, Brno's inhabitants remained faithful to the emperor and the Catholic church. The Hussites beseiged in 1428 and 1430 but without success. The Swedes also failed in 1645. By 1809 Napoleon had recognised its strategic importance and he had raised it to the ground. The city walls were not removed until 1860 and now the ring road, lined by gardens, follows their course. Only the eastern Menin Gate has survived.
So that's that's a little history now let me tell you what wonderful sights/attractions you will see in this lowly city in the Czech Republic.......
Namesti Svobody or Freedom Square is a large triangular concourse, formerly known, as the Lower Market, lies at the heart of the city. Until 1870 the late 13th century St Nicholas' Church stood where the tram station is now in the middle of the square. One thing I love about this part of the world is the abundance of Art Nouveau buildings scattered here and there. The Moravian Bank in the square dates from the 1930's which is a later era but the Hotel Europa was built in the Nouvea style and is admirable. In the inter-war years, architects dismissed the Historicist House of the Four Caryatids as typical 19th century poor taste but, for the inhabitants, the oversized statues on the facade were very popular. Similar decorative elements can be seen on many of Brno's town houses. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the oversized figures. They are far too large and make the building look as though it is about to fall on your head.
An enclave of Baroque buildings can be seen near Koblizna Street in the northeastern corner of the square which are very colourful and there are one or two attractive street cafes located near the Column of St Mary which was built in the same style.
Old Town Hall
Concerts and theatre performances are held in the early 12th century Old Town Hall in Radnicka. The loggia in the inner courtyard and the Town Hall tower make this a splendid sight and a little unusual. The Gothic portal was created in 1510 by an architect called Anton Pilgram who went on to build greater things like St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. Aparantely Mr. Pilgram wasn't very happy about the fee the city fathers were prepared to pay him and so he left the central turret above the Statue of Righteousness slightly crooked. I think I would have done the same.
You know how I like to tell a tale or two well here are two tales regarding the Town Hall.......
Tales are told about the two attractions in the passageway through to the courtyard: the Brno Wheel and the Brno Dragon. The latter is said to have made his home here and then caused terror among the inhabitants. A bricklayer's apprentice rescued the townsfolk by tempting the beast with a bag of quicklime in the stomach of a recently slaughtered goat. The dragon ate the goat then quenched his thirst with water, whereupon his stomach burst. In fact the dragon is an alligator, which a troupe of Venetian actors gave to Archduke Matthias in the 17th century. The wheel is not so old. In 1636, for a bet, a cabinet maker in the town of Lednice made the wheel and rolled it to Brno, a distance of 40 kilometres, all in one day.
If you go through the town hall passage it opens out o to the Zelny trh or Herb Market. Basically, it is a weekly vegetable and meat market and has been held on this space for centuries. In the centre stands the elaborate Fountain of Parnassus. It is a Baroque fantasy of mythical figures created by the Viennese artist, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. There is a romantic feel to the collection of figures: the wild rocks are overrun with various beasts, while Hercules fights Cerberus, the dog that guards the entrance to the underworld.
Now for the spooky bit. In the main burial room lies 16 monks, without coffins and with just two bricks under their heads, as the rules of the monastic order state. despite their great age, the bodies have not become skeletons, but have mummified. The ventilation system in the crypt simply dries them out. One of the bodies in the crypt belongs to Baron Trenck (1711-49). This officer, who led a unit of 1,000 prisoners of war in the Austrian army, was sentenced to a lifetime in prison in Brno's Spilberk castle for 'transgressing the regulations.' But the conditions were so harsh in the jail that he soon became ill and was released after two years. He died soon after.
Museum of Moravia
In this Moravian museum lies a truly fantastic attraction that I recommend everyone should see. It is the Venus of Vestonice and was created over 25,000 years ago. The statue is fashioned from fired clay and is reckoned to be the oldest Stone Age clay figure in the world.
Church of St Peter and St Paul
According to my travel notes, a lane leads from the vegetable market to Mount Petorv and the Church of St Peter and St Paul. A fortress once occupied this site, followed in the 11th century by a Romanesque basilica which was then converted into a Gothic structure in the 15th century. The present building is is a beauty to look at with its neo -Gothic spires and face which were introduced between 1904 and 1911. Apart from Art Nouveau there is another reason why I love this part of the world so much - Gothic and neo- Gothic towers. I think I was born in the wrong era. I am always overcome with excitement when I can see those black pointed towers rising high in the skyline. This is a reconstruction of a cathedral that was destroyed by the Swedes during the Thirty Years' War. There is an external pulpit on the north wall and inside there are perfectly carved statues of St Barbara and John the Baptist which I believe was the work of an Austrian Baroque artist called Martin Johann Schmidt. In an adjoining chapel stands a statue which represents the Madonna.
To the west of the city centre stands Brno's second fortified hill, the 56 metre Spillberk. King Pfemysl Otakar 11 had a Gothic castle built here in the 13th century and that was converted into a Baroque fortress during the 17th century. The castle's casemates which are open to the public were used between 1621 and 1855 as a prison by the Habsburg monarchs and, in World War 11, resistance fighters and other 'enemies of the state' were incarcarated here by the Gestapo.
Many horrific tales have been told about life in the dank and gloomy cells, but none can be historically proven. One story tells how adulterous women were placed on rock pedestals and then showered with water.
Just south of the Spillberk which can be found by walking in a southerly direction out of the Old Town, you will come to a Gothic brick building. It was in this Augustinian monastery during the mid nineteenth century, that a certain monk, called Gregor Johann Mendel carried out his first experiments on peas and beans, thereby laying down the principles of genetics.
Brno Trade Fair Exhibition Hall
This wonderful and fascinating building lies on a bend in the Syratka river and is about a hundred yards further on than the monastery. The building is surrounded by 76 hectares of land and consists of 100,000 square metres of exhibition space. The functional pavillions and the 45 metre glass tower were built for the 'First Exhibition of Contemporary Czech Art' which commemorated the 10th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslavakia. Since then, the most important annual event has been the Mechanical Engineering Trade Fair in the autumn but there are other exhibitions such as the Food Exhibition and the Motor Show. A velodrome is also situated within the grounds. I absolutely love the Pavillion with its white arches and blue tiled floors. It's like walking throuh an enormous elongated greenhouse.
About 9 miles outside of the city lies The Masaryk Ring which is a motor-cycle and motor racing ring. Events have been taking palce here since the 1920's, but in recent years the track has been modernised and shortened.
Fairy Tale Castle
A well used cliche I know but it is the only way to describe Pernstejn, a 16th century castle that was once the home of a highly influential aristocratic family. This virtually impregnable fortification was never destroyed, and many national and foreign television companies use the castle as a backdrop for filming fairy tales. The interior has hardly changed throughout its history and it is open to the public.
Quite a few to choose from like Holiday Inn which is near the Trade Fair building and the International which is between the Old Town and Spillberk. Also Pegas which is a small 2 star hotel with a pleasant beer and wine bar is suitable for an over night stop.
Reduta - which serves very good Znojmo wine and serves South Moravian cuisine ( review possibly coming up shortly).
Modre Hvezdy - situalted in the vaults of an old brewery.
Stopkova Pivnice - Simple but serves cheap and tasty Czech food.
Museums and Galleries
Open every day except Monday - 10am - 5pm
Brno isn't Prague but it isn't as bad as I thought it was originally. In fact it is a very interesting town/city and has some unusual buildings.
The outskirts are are rather run down and if you are approaching from the direction of Prague then it could put you off but don't let it or you would never go anywhere.
I thoroughly recommend a visit to this city for one day or even two or even three.
Summary: A taste of old Moravia.