When you travel through modern Europe, you hardly notice the borders. There are no checkpoints between the countries of the Schengen zone, and the borders are marked purely symbolically. If you need to go outside the Schengen area – for example, to Croatia – there will still be a document check, but it will be quick and simple. But this is not always the case. Not only that, very recently, European countries carefully fenced off their borders. This is also not unreasonable. Grabbing a piece of land from a neighbor was a favorite pastime of European sovereigns for many centuries.
But there is a city in Europe that belonged to itself for eight centuries. Countries and rulers changed around him. But the free city of Brno itself decided who to swear allegiance to. How did he do it?
It all started in the 11th century, when the Czech kings from the Prezhmyslovych dynasty built a fortress here, on a hill above the river. The place was chosen successfully, people began to settle around the fortress, and an ordinary settlement began to develop into a rich city and became the capital of all Moravia. In the thirteenth century, Brno received the status of a free city and permission to hold fairs. Money received from trade duties was invested by the local authorities in the fortress walls.
Thanks to its powerful walls, the city survived the attacks of the Hussites during the Hussite wars, and two sieges by the Swedes. And then the Moravian rulers simply swore allegiance to the emperor of Austria-Hungary and remained part of the empire until its disintegration. However, the fortress did fall – during the Napoleonic wars. The vengeful Napoleon ordered the walls to be demolished. Now Brno has only one city gate left out of seven.
Then Moravia became part of Czechoslovakia, and now Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic. It’s no wonder that Brno (yes, the name leans) and the Czech capital, Prague, have a rivalry in everything. And we, as guests of the Czech Republic, can only rejoice at the opportunity to visit not one, but two wonderful cities.
What is interesting about Brno and why should you go there?
First of all, it’s beer. There is a large brewery that produces StaroBrno beer, and a restaurant attached to it. But every self-respecting pub and restaurant offers its own signature beer. This is the Czech Republic. Excellent snacks are served with the beer. There are delicious salty pretzels, and vegetable dishes, and how they cook pork here! The famous pork knee and ribs in sauce are even better here than in restaurants in Prague.
After two or three mugs of beer and a plate of delicious food, it’s worth a walk. Of course, you have to bypass the central part of the city. Among the sights, pay attention to the cathedrals, the Ossuary and the clock on the main square. The two main cathedrals of Brno are the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, or simply Petrov, and the Cathedral of St. Jacob.
Both are very old. Peter’s Cathedral was built in the 11th century, Jacob’s in the 13th. Both are active, but both can be visited simply for inspection. Of course, not during mass. Peter’s Cathedral has a Romanesque crypt of the 12th century, which exudes antiquity. And at St. Jacob’s Cathedral, don’t miss the funny little man nicknamed Neganba. A naked man hugs the gutter. This is how it was customary for European masons to take revenge on customers for low fees.
The entrance to the Ossuary is near the St. Jacob’s Cathedral. For many centuries, the city cemetery was located near the cathedral. While there were not many townspeople, it was enough. Later, a cave was dug under the cemetery in the porous tuff of the hill, where the remains were stored. Underground passages went wide and deep, especially expanding after wars and epidemics. According to estimates, the remains of more than 40,000 people rest in the Brno Ossuary. And nowadays, the dungeons have been illuminated, decorated with statues and turned into a tourist attraction. Entrance costs 100 kroner, which is a little less than 4 euros.
Be sure to turn into the narrow passage leading to the city hall. A stuffed crocodile hangs there – a gift from the Turkish sultan and an unofficial symbol of the city.
But you will have to climb up a rather steep path to the Spilberk Castle – the same ancient fortress, because the castle is on a hill. The castle houses a museum, in its gallery in 2018 exhibitions related to important events in the history of the city were held. The organizers of the exhibition did not ignore the Prague Spring of 1968, when unruly Czechoslovakia was ironed by Soviet tanks. Some of the expositions are open for free visits, but you will have to pay for a walk around the castle and a visit to the internal museums.
A fair is waiting for you at the Cabbage Market – not as luxurious as in the past, but here you can buy souvenirs and drink mulled wine.
And there is a unique clock on the central square. It is almost impossible to guess the time by them, but at eleven in the morning they shoot a glass ball. This should remind of the events of ancient times, when the Swedes lifted the siege of the city at exactly eleven in the morning. Those who want to pick up a ball as a souvenir gather in the square in advance, and enterprising merchants in the nearest shops sell the same balls for a couple of euros. Local residents make obscene jokes about the monument, but are still very proud of it.