Written by fizzytom on 19 Jan, 2013
The Czech city of Brno has some 400,000 residents (its metropolitan area has around twice that) and it is the capital of the province of Moravia. It is home to the largest exhibition centre in Europe and to the country's Constitutional and Supreme Courts, the…Read More
The Czech city of Brno has some 400,000 residents (its metropolitan area has around twice that) and it is the capital of the province of Moravia. It is home to the largest exhibition centre in Europe and to the country's Constitutional and Supreme Courts, the Supreme Administrative Court and the office of the national Ombudsman. Brno hosts a number of highly regarded international festivals each year and in total its many higher education faculties have more than 90,000 students. So why is it that so many people have never heard of the Czech Republic's second city? Given that Brno is just a couple of hours by train from Prague, and even less from Vienna and Bratislava it's maybe surprising that Brno has held onto its budget route to and from the UK with Wizz Air though it's possible that the flight has been maintained because it's useful for exhibition delegates. We've passed through Brno's main train station on numerous occasions over the last ten years but never stopped until recently when we broke up a train journey from Prague to Maribor (Slovenia). Depending on which train you take the journey to/from Prague takes about three hours and is, for the most part, incredibly scenic. The area immediately around the train station is shabby and you'll probably see a few drinkers hang around; we didn't feel threatened at all but it's not the best of arrivals. The historic core of the city is compact and walkable; attractions such as Villa Tugendhat - a modernist house built in 1929-30 and the only building in the Czech Republic to have UNESCO World Heritage Site status - are just a short tram ride from the centre. The key sights can be seen in a day, even a few hours if you are inclined to jump off the train and pound the pavements. Over a long weekend you can pack in a few museums or galleries and enjoy Brno's charms at a more leisurely pace. I have to confess 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 able to wander around the historic heart of the city and see many of its architectural monuments. Namesti Svobody (Freedom Square) is the symbolic centre of the historic centre; it's more triangular than square, to be pedantic, and is dotted with fountains and sculptures rather than having one grand focal point. Like the other tourists in town we made a half hearted attempt to work out the rather unusual clock (referred to somewhat indecently as the 'cock clock' by some) which symbolizes the 1645 Battle of Brno, then turned our attention instead to the building just behind which is designed so that the façade is held up by four magnificent caryatids (a caryatid being a human figure in place of a more conventional pillar). I loved this building, but my travelling companion thought it too over the top. In Brno you need to look up; the city is packed with wonderful buildings so that it resembles a giant open air museum of architecture. There are splendid gilded arcades with twinkling chandeliers that give a magical effect, intricately tiled facades and cute little finials that are reminiscent of Russian architecture. If you like to shop you can combine consumerism with architectural appreciation as the main shopping area is made up of streets of these fine buildings. I was surprised how many smart, upmarket stores there were, including quite a few international designers; there are also lots of little independent shops selling quality items, especially confectionery. The old town hall- the Stara Radnice - houses the tourist information office (as well as the Brno wheel and the Brno dragon, symbols of two famous legends surrounding the city); the staff are friendly but not very helpful or proactive. We asked about visiting Villa Tugendhat but we were told that it was by advance reservation only for guided tours; tours are usually full for the forthcoming six weeks. I really wanted to visit and asked if a staff member could phone and enquire about cancellations; I was told there wouldn't be any and so nobody phoned. I mentioned that we were looking for something a bit different to do and that I was recovering from foot surgery and didn't really want to do something that involved lots of walking. One staff member suggested sky diving (I'm not joking) but added it was only possible in summer. Another suggested going to a water-park; she stared at me blankly when I pointed out I had no swimming gear and it wasn't really an activity that was special to Brno (maybe she thought it would be therapeutic). One good thing about the TIC is that there are loads and loads of leaflets and several different 'What's on' publications so if you turn up with a guidebook or you've not done any research, you can easily find out where there is to see and do. Among the ones we picked was one that described a walk around a residential area of the city in which there are a number of interesting architect designed houses, something we'd have enjoyed had I been more mobile. Perhaps because it was approaching the end of autumn Namesti Svobody was rather quiet with people passing through rather than stopping at one of the cafes. I got the impression that this is the place to stop for a coffee or beer in summer, but in the winter only a few hardy people sit outside with a coffee and a cigarette. Zeleny Trh (the Cabbage Market) was much livelier; a fresh produce market where the stalls are clustered around a slightly grotesque baroque fountain. From here it's a short walk to the cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul; with its gothic revival twin towers it is perhaps the most recognisable visual symbol of Brno. The cathedral is a mishmash of styles with bits added here and there over the centuries according to the prevailing fashions, or practical necessity. The tower can be climbed for a small charge and no doubt a trip to the top is rewarded with fantastic views; we contented ourselves with a look around the main body of the church, discreetly tagging on to the tail end of a guided tour to learn more. I'd have easily spent a few days in Brno given the chance but we had plans and couldn't stay. It's a lively and youthful city where there appears to be plenty going on. Ice hockey is a massive spectator sport; we stayed over on a Friday night and the bars were full of people watching a televised game. I get the impression that people in Brno like to make the most of what's available to them; through the window of a small basement bar near our hotel we could see that the place was packed with people watching a guitar duo playing. There are posters all over town for concerts, lessons and sports clubs; it seemed to me a city where people really live life. I found Brno surprisingly cosmopolitan, but with a distinctly Czech attitude. No doubt being the seat of several important national institutions, as well as a major venue for international exhibitions and conferences, contributes to this. Restaurants cover the range of price brackets and international cuisines; there are cosy traditional pubs and sleek modern boutique bars. Hotels, too, cover a range of pricing options and there are plenty of good independent hotels that don't fall under a generic, faceless international branding. Service tends to be efficient but not very friendly; we found that the more downmarket we went, the more friendly the staff became. Wizz Air flies to Brno from Luton Airport; flying in to Prague, Bratislava or Vienna are all viable options as Brno can be reached easily by train from those cities. People rave about Prague; it's a very beautiful city but it's too large to comfortably explore in a weekend. Try Brno, I dare you; it's visually quite stunning, it's lively and there's a heck of a lot going on. Close
Written by marif on 21 Dec, 2004
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…Read More
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
Written by Empress Kikettmo on 10 Apr, 2002
This article appeared as a feature in the Prague Post (29.09.01) titled 'Moravian Renaissance'.
Brno is blossoming and shedding its image as a backwater town
The Czech Republic's second city is casting aside its sleepy, provincial ways.
Brno, the Moravian capital, has long had a reputation of…Read More
This article appeared as a feature in the Prague Post (29.09.01) titled 'Moravian Renaissance'.
Brno is blossoming and shedding its image as a backwater town
The Czech Republic's second city is casting aside its sleepy, provincial ways.
Brno, the Moravian capital, has long had a reputation of lagging behind Prague and Vienna in culture and commerce. But now, the streets bustle with people, even on weekends, and local shops and restaurants are welcoming them. The city is busy renovating its run-down buildings and rediscovering its once-thriving arts scene. Visitors will find it easy to navigate Brno's compact, traffic-free Old Town, enclosed by a ring road fashioned after Vienna's Ringstrasse. And the city is, unlike the Bohemian capital, almost entirely free of tourists.
A couple of hundred yards north of the main train station, just off Masarykova, which cuts through the heart of the Old Town, is the sinister Kapucinsky klaster (Capuchin Monastery). In the crypt of this 17th-century church are 100 or so perfectly preserved mummies of members and benefactors of the Capuchin cloister. The church is open daily and entry costs 40 Kc (about $1).
Just north of the monastery is Zelny trh (Cabbage market). This busy open-air fruit and vegetable market on a sloping, cobbled square is at its most vibrant now, displaying the labors of the summer season. At its center is the Parnassus fountain, built in 1695, from whose waters vendors used to hawk carp.
The square is also the site of the Moravian Museum, which details the history of Moravia and the Great Moravian Empire. (Open Tues.-Sun., 40 Kc).
Continuing north on Radnicka from the market, you find Brno's 13th-century Stara radnice (Old Town Hall). The Gothic portal fronting the town hall, which was built by Anton Pilgram, later responsible for St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, is the building's best feature and noteworthy for its bent turret above the statue of Justice. Legend has it that Pilgram bent it himself after the town council refused to pay him in full.
Hanging just inside the entrance is the Brnensky drak (Brno Dragon), also steeped in legend. It is said that a marauding dragon was fooled into eating the carcass of an ox stuffed with limes - having dined, it drank so much from the river Svratka that it burst. In reality, the fabled dragon is a stuffed crocodile. The fine view of Old Town from the hall's lookout tower is well worth the 10 Kc.
Two hills dominate the city's skyline. On the highest stands Spilberk Castle. Founded in the 13th century as an administrative center, it was converted into a fortress and prison by the Habsburgs. Later, the Nazis used it as a concentration camp during World War II. Daily tours can be taken round the garrison for 40 Kc.
The Nick of Time
Although Spilberk was the main point of defense against the Swedish siege of the town during the Thirty Years' War, it was actually the Katedrala sv. Petra a Pavla (St. Peter and Paul Cathedral) on Petrov, the smaller of Brno's hills, that saved the city from defeat.
In 1645, after months of siege, the Swedes gave themselves until noon to take Brno or leave. At 11 a.m., with the city on the brink of defeat, the cathedral bell ringer suddenly rang noon and the Swedes broke off their attack; to this day the cathedral bells ring noon at 11 a.m.
Brno is very much a university town and the large student population returns every October to breathe life back into the city, making autumn the perfect time to visit.
The hometown of composer Leos Janacek also offers an autumnal arts program, the highlight of which is the 36th International Music Festival, Moravsky podzim.
This year's festival, Of Love and Death, is devoted to the operas of Giuseppe Verdi. Verdi lovers can catch performances of Don Carlos on Oct. 3 and a festival performance of his Requiem on Oct. 6. Both performances take place at Janackovo divadlo and tickets range from between 120 Kc and 400 Kc. Other performances of note include a piano recital of Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Beethoven by Janis Vakarelis on Oct. 4 and Bruch's Odysseus performed by the Prague Philharmonic Choir, supported by the Beethoven Orchestra from Bonn, on Sept. 29.
The Moravian Gallery is also hosting a rich and varied program of art exhibitions. In the Mistodrzitelsky palac on Moravske namesti is a massive presentation called European Art of the Sixth Century, which includes an exhibition of northern Italian paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. Running in conjunction with this is a showing of works by Milan Pitlach, Photography from an English diary 1969-1970. The Moravian gallery devotes its space to Czech artists of the 20th century. The photography of Josef Sudek, paintings by Frantisek Foltyn and a general exhibit of Czech modern art are on display for the next couple of months.
For many, though, one of the biggest draws of the city in autumn is burcak. If the sweet, young wine is not to your taste, you can also try a glass or three of fruity whites from previous years' harvests.
Scattered here and there amidst lush countryside or perched on the banks of the Morava, Svitava or Svratka rivers, the numerous tiny villages or small towns of South Moravia have their own history and natural attractions. There's so much to see that it is necessary…Read More
Scattered here and there amidst lush countryside or perched on the banks of the Morava, Svitava or Svratka rivers, the numerous tiny villages or small towns of South Moravia have their own history and natural attractions. There's so much to see that it is necessary to make a short list of the most unusual and most splendid sights before trying to discover this region, an area usually overlooked by tourists who prefer to visit the more advertised Bohemia. Medieval castles, untouched palaces, unrestored churches, tiny chapels, citadels protected by worn out defensive walls and folklore museums are still awaiting discovery.
About 50kms northwest of Brno, Perstejn Castle for example abounds in history; likewise the unrestored palace of Moravsky Krumlov, 30kms southwest of Brno is a simple historic structure constructed within an area of unparalleled natural beauty renowned for its lush vineyards and wine production. The skansen and folklore museum of Roznov pod Radhostem, about 100kms northeast of Brno looks deeply into the traditional crafts of days past and houses numerous preserved old structures collected from villages around Moravia.
All these interesting places are definitely worth a visit but if your time is limited, it's better to stick to one or more of the following, considered by many to be the highlights of South Moravia.
1. The small charming town of Telc, 100kms west of Brno has never been touched since it was rebuilt in the mid-16th- century by Lord Zacharias, Governor of Moravia. All buildings you see today are authentic originals. For this reason, the historic centre was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1992.There are at least two buses daily between Brno and Telc. These continue further west to Ceske Budejovice. The convenient morning bus leaves from Brno's bus station outside the city centre at 9:30am and covers the 100kms distance to Telc in two hours.
Huge artificial duck ponds that were originally constructed to provide security and an ample supply of fish enclose the wonderful city centre. The northwest tip of this historic centre is occupied by namesti Zachariase z Hradce, the Old Town square, which is lined with a splendid array of 16th-century Renaissance buildings. Stroll along the whole length of the square until you reach the Baroque Church of the Name of Jesus and the entrance to the castle complex. The highlight here is without doubt the Renaissance Water Chateau, which you can visit on guided tour only. Both the adjoining Museum of History and the Art Gallery Jana Zrzaveho are worth a visit. If you still have time, wander around the English-style park that adjoins the Gothic Church of St.James. From here, you can enjoy excellent views of the castle's medieval towers.
2. A unique natural beauty 20kms north of Brno and 8kms south of Blansko is the Moravsky Kras, a labyrinthine network of caves formed by erosion caused by the water of the underground Punkva River. It's difficult to reach the caves if you don't have private transport. The best way is however to take one of the frequent buses from Brno to Blansko and then walk along the remaining 8kms signposted route. Alternatively, you can hitch a ride along the way, which shouldn't be difficult. The route leads to Skalni Mlyn from where you can take the frequent 'Eko-expres' train to the caves. The information office at Skalni Mlyn provides information about attractions in the area and sells tickets for the caves.
There are 4 networks of caves you can visit. The 75 minute splendid tour along the Punkevni Caves is the most rewarding. You walk through a long stretch of deep caves amidst columns of stalagmites and stalactites until you reach the foot of the deep Macocha Abyss. A short boat ride down the Punkva River leads you out of the caves. Business hours in summer are 8:20am to 3:50pm and in winter 9am to 2pm. The nearby Katerinska, Balcarka and Sloupsko-Sosuvske Caves can also be visited.
3. Some 20kms east of Brno at Slavkov u Brna, you shouldn't miss a wonderful palace whose interior boasts splendid works of art and historical exhibits. This Baroque edifice built in 1705 has a splendid facade and numerous majestic rooms adorned with elaborate stucco work and artistic paintings. The highlight of the palace is a permanent exhibition that features with remarkable clarity the most controversial periods in the life of Napoleon who defeated Austria and Russia in 1805 at Pracky kopec, west of Slavkov u Brna. Stroll along the surrounding fertile countryside, and if you're fit enough, continue west towards Pracky kopec. From the nearby village of Prace, there are a few daily buses which travel back to Brno.