Brno, the capital of South Moravia and a large city of 400 thousand inhabitants is a major industrial and business centre. Its international trade fair grounds, west of the city centre are world-class displays of technology, automobiles, machinery and equipment for the construction industry, health care products and pharmaceuticals, gardening and agricultural products, paper and printing equipment and more. Known as the Manchester of the Czech Republic because of its industrialised outskirts, Brno has manufacturing establishments that produce high-class textiles, metals and machinery. The world famous Bren gun for example was first produced inside one of Brno's factories. This cannot be otherwise since scientists or engineers like V. Kaplan, inventor of the water turbine and J. Mendel, founder of modern genetics were either born or exercised their activities here. For more information about Brno's industries, read Herman Freudenberger's excellent book The Industrialisation of a Central European City: Brno and the Fine Woollen Industry in the 18th-century.
Don't be put off however by Brno's industrial and business image. Neither should you be put off by the sight of blocks of apartments apparent when you are driving towards the city along the E50, the motorway which connects Prague with Brno. The commercial aspect of the city which is the prime source of income for the population has been merged fully with the cultural and historical aspect which is of course the top reason why tourists come here.
During the last decade, tourism has become economically important, hotels and restaurants in the town centre are reaping good fruit from their investment and theatres and museums are seeing crowds for the first time. In fact Brno has succeeded in holding to its export manufacturing industry but at the same time investing heavily in the restoration of historic buildings, art galleries and cultural activity.
Well worth a visit is the restored medieval Spilberg Castle, Brno's landmark. The castle founded in 1270 was converted into a Baroque fortress in the 17th-century and used as a prison in the 19th-century during the Habsburg occupation. Also recently restored are the Old and New Town Halls. The Old Town Hall's interior includes the Crystal Hall, the Fresco Hall and the Treasury, all meticulously restored and worth seeing. The New Town Hall on the west side of Dominikanske namesti has a splendid courtyard redecorated with an astronomical clock and numerous paintings. It is presently being used for cultural activities or open-air concerts. The Church of St. John rebuilt in 1733 looks wonderful now that its interior works of art (organ, altarpieces and paintings) have been restored to their original beauty. More churches and buildings were being given a facelift when I visited. Worthy of mention are the splendid facades which adorn numerous buildings along Ceska, an atmospheric walkway of tiny shops, pubs and restaurants.
The restoration of historic buildings was only one of the initiatives aimed to attract more tourists. Another successful initiative was the reorganising of museums and art galleries. The City Art Gallery housed inside the Mahenovo Theatre on Malinovskeho namesti has excellent temporary exhibitions of contemporary paintings and sculptures while the Moravian Art Gallery inside the Prazakuv Palace at Husova 18 is dedicated to 20th-century paintings by Czech artists. Don't miss the unusual science museum known as the Mendelianum on Mendlovo namesti. This interesting museum houses original exhibits related to the scientific discoveries of Mendel who in the mid-19th-century discovered the laws of heredity. Out of the centre but close enough to be reached on foot, Vila Tugendhat designed by Mies van der Rohe in the 1920s is a monument of modern architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002.
Brno is a paradise for lovers of operas, operettas, drama, ballet and music. The large Janackovo Divadlo (Janacek Theatre) east of Moravske namesti has regular performances of operas, operettas and ballet while the Mahenovo Divadlo (Mahenovo Theatre), a beautiful Baroque structure designed by Fellner and Hellmer presents classical drama and more operettas. For the best musical concerts, head to the State Philharmonic Brno on Komenskeho namesti where performances are held regularly. If you are a lover of music, travel to Brno in June for the Janacek Music Festival or in September for the International Music Festival (Moravsky Podzim), both held in the Janacek Theatre. The Kulturn a Informacni, Radnicka 4 can help with information about theatrical performances, timetables and concert tickets. Call 542211090 or visit