A Gothic Gem Perched above the Sázava river, which runs through Central Bohemia, Český Šternberk castle is an imposing presence overlooking the surrounding market town with which it shares the name. Built in the mid… More
A Biblical Bookcase
Located a short distance from the South Moravian capital, Brno, is the small town of Rajhrad. Here, you will find a Benedictine abbey which dates to the mid 11th century and holds the distinction of being the oldest monastery in Moravia.
While it is unclear whether the abbey began life as a monastery or some other category of church building; it acted in the capacity of a monastery until 1813, when it was promoted to an abbey.
As one would expect with a structure of this age, history has been both cruel and kind to it in turns. It survived, though extensively damaged, a series of attacks and invasions through the 1200s. By contrast, the bulk of the 1700s and 1800s saw extensive redesign and renovation of the structure; some of this redesign occured under the supervision of famed Czech architect, Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel.
Santini-Aichel’s mark is still seen in the abbey to this day through the visible mix of Baroque and Gothic styles, a hallmark of the famed architect.
The abbey’s monastery was abolished in 1950 and the building given to the Czechoslovak army for a period of time while other parts of the structure were put to use for crop storage.
The Benedictine order returned to the abbey in the 1990s, following the fall of Socialism. Since then, constant repairs and restorations have been performed on the structures.
The Museum of Literature, an arm of the Brno Regional Museum, has kept its seat at the abbey since 2005. This collection comprises significant Moravian literary works spanning the 9th to the 20th centuries.
Prayer and Print
Keeping in the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict, which states that monks in monasteries should spend significant time reading and studying, a well stocked library has been part of the abbey from the very start. The monastery’s collection had grown to appreciable size by the time the first official librarian and archivist were appointed in 1709.
The library grew steadily until the end of the 19th century, when the abbey was forced to sell some of the collection due to financial difficulties.
Upon the abolition of the monastery in 1950, the library and archives came under the care of the State Research Library, later to become the Moravian Library. In the early 1970s, due to structural problems in the building, the library had to be temporarily removed from the abbey premises.
In the early 1990s, the library was returned to the care of the abbey and by 2004, after extensive structural stabilisation and restoration work to the library rooms, the books were returned to their places in the abbey.
Since 2005, the library has been in the care of the Brno Regional Museum and has been open to the public via guided tours.
Unfortunately, though understandably, photography of the restored library areas is forbidden. However, there is an atmosphere to be experienced there which can’t be conveyed by mere photographs.
Beyond the incunabula, manuscripts and books which make up the library, the abbey also holds an extensive collection of printed graphic work as well as a collection of maps and atlases in its museum. The abbey museum also contains an array of artifacts from the Benedictines’ activities in the area over the centuries.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
There is a great deal more to the abbey and its history than I’ve written here. If you’re the least bit a fan of old books and libraries, you should most certainly put the abbey on your travel itinerary if you’re passing through the South Moravian region.
Happily, Rajhrad is easily reachable from Brno by rail and the abbey is neither a far nor strenuous walk from the town’s rail station. Alternately, there is a once an hour bus which runs from Rajhrad’s rail station directly to the abbey.
Tours of the abbey are in Czech, though text transcriptions are available in other languages.
Also on the abbey property is a restaurant where you can refresh yourself after touring the attraction.
The following links will provide you with further information about the abbey, it’s history and collections as well as opening hours, tour prices and transportation information:
I recently took time to do a regular cleaning of the blog, including moving old posts to the menus at the top of the page.
You will find a new item at the top of the page titled “Love Locks”. This is a slightly edited version of a piece I wrote in November of 2015 about the popular but destructive trend of couples placing locks on bridges and other locations around cities worldwide to symbolize their love for each other.
While the trend is not as big an issue in the Czech Republic as it is in many other places, there’s no need for it to become any more popular.
I’ve also edited information and photos in the entry about Czech Easter:
I’ve added fresh pictures to the entry on Czech wine:
Additionally, I have updated my book review page on “The Czechs in a Nutshell”:
Berlin in a Blink
We recently took a couple of days in the German capital, outside of the transportation days, we had about 48 hours to poke around and explore. It was my first time to Berlin and I was pleasantly surprised by how much ground one can cover there in two days.
Before I get into the meat of this entry, some more seasoned visitors of Berlin might well ask what I think I can accomplish writing a piece on the city based on only 48 hours there. It’s a fair question to be sure.
Quite simply, I’m writing this piece to reflect an example of what can be done in one of the world’s great cities within a limited time frame. No more and no less.
I’ll be dispensing with the usual historical notes I make about places I write about and get right to the business of seeing the place.
So, let’s go!
Out and About, Bright and Early
Our explorations began at 09:00 on a Monday morning with a trip to the Berliner Fernsehturm, the city’s landmark television tower. From here, one can get a good view around Berlin’s landscape from above. We bought our tickets to this attraction online before our trip and I would recommend that anyone planning to visit it do the same. The queue built quickly and security was tight. Preference is given to advance ticket holders.
After the tower, we took an hour long guided sightseeing cruise on the Spree river, which runs through the centre of the city. The cruise gave us some unique perspectives on historical sights that line the river and saved our legs for the self guided walking tour of the centre to follow in the afternoon.
We started out walking tour in the Lustgarten park on Museum Island, where many of the city’s most famous museums are located. From there, we eventually found ourselves on the Gendarmenmarkt, a square dating to the 18th century with some lovely architecture to take in.
From Gendarmenmarkt, we made our way to Pariser Platz and the iconic Brandenburg Gate which stands there.
Right in the same area as the gate, you’ll find the Reichstag; the German parliament building with its distinctive glass dome on the roof.
While in the area of the Reichstag, we took the opportunity to walk to the bank of the Spree river and take a look at some of the sights we saw from the boat cruise in the morning.
From there, we worked our way back past the gate and in the direction of the Holocaust memorial, occaisionally looking down to see sections of a line of bricks embedded in the road to mark the former course of the Berlin Wall. This line of bricks exists where sections of the wall were pulled down to preserve continuity with those sections that were preserved.
Our afternoon walking tour ended at Checkpoint Charlie, the famous spot along the Berlin Wall where all things moving east to west and vice versa passed through for approval.
I have to admit that I was not all that impressed with Checkpoint Charlie. There’s no historical context given for it at the site and it’s attended by actors doing a less than convincing job of playing soldiers. For two Euros, one can have their picture taken with the “soldiers”.
It sits on a small island in the middle of a busy street and you have to keep an eye out for cars moving in both directions when you stand on that island.
Going Off Centre
On the second day of our visit, I had Berlin to myself as my girlfriend rested at the hotel saving up energy for a concert she was attending in the evening.
My own personal itinerary included a visit to German military’s aviation museum at the former Berlin-Gatow airfield in the city’s Kladow district.
For the aviation enthusiast, or those with a general interest in military history, this museum is a very worthwhile trip out of the centre. It gives a very full picture of German military aviation history from the First World War up to the present. Beyond the many aircraft on display, there are exhibits on uniform developments, organisational comparisions between the Former East and West Germany as well as partnership between Germany and America for training German fighter pilots in America through the Cold War and beyond.
The Berlin public transportation system really impressed me on my trip out to the museum. The trip took about an hour, but there was very little waiting between connections. Everything was very smooth and efficient.
After spending a few hours at the aviation museum, I returned to the centre for lunch and a short rest. Our hotel was walking distance from the Mauermuseum, a museum dedicated to the Berlin Wall and located close to Checkpoint Charlie.
The Mauermuseum is a quite interesting place despite the fact that it is in rather cramped quarters.
Mixed with many photos, text and audio-visual presentations detailing the people and political moves that led to both the rise and fall of the wall, there are exhibits showing the many imaginitive and resourceful devices created by people trying to escape from east to west.
Homebuilt flying machines and modified automobiles share space with artwork inspired by various eras of the wall’s existence.
I’ll Be Returning
Just as I decided to forgo my usual historical notations in this entry, I will also forgo my usual links for further reading. There’s no shortage of information out there on Berlin and with as cosmopolitan is the city is, it’s best that you seek out information about it specialised to your own tastes.
For myself, I will definitely make return trips to Berlin to see other areas of the city.
This is just a quick note for those of the readership who would like to follow Beyond Prague on Facebook or Twitter.
In the sidebar, you can now find a widget for social media applications with icons for both my Facebook and Twitter presences.
While I had a Twitter widget for sometime and my Twitter account hasn’t changed; I’ve revived the connection to Facebook after a long while of dormancy while I figured out how I best wanted to use that function in connection to my blogs.
I’ve cleaned my Facebook pages for my blogs down to pretty much “clean slate” level, so there isn’t much there at the moment. However, please check in there regularly as I will most likely be making use of them for one off pictures, short notes and extend photo galleries of subjects already covered in the blogs.
This weekend, April 23 and 24, the Brno Technical Museum opened its annex of vintage vehicles for the public to peruse. While small, it was a very well rounded event showcasing private automobiles, public transportation, military vehicles, emergency services and more.
Exhibitions at the event went much further than the museum’s own collection. A variety of other museums and historical associations from around the country also brought something to show.
Here’s a sampling of what was on view:
Welcome to Beyond Prague’s New Look!
Some long term followers of Beyond Prague may remember a less than successful attempt on my part to give the blog a new look around this same time last year. The result was a lot of lost information and a quick retreat to the old “Chateau” theme while I waited for some new themes to come available.
Today, I’ve tried it again and it looks much more promising than the previous attempt. All the old information travelled to the new theme effortlessly and without loss.
I changed it mostly for a fresh look as I felt the old theme was looking, well, old. Additionally, I found the previous “Chateau” theme seemed to be having problems in adapting to some of the newer posting and editing functions that WordPress has introduced over the past year or so. I felt it best, in light of that, to find a more recently developed theme page design that might work better with those recent WordPress developments.
Happily, I’ve found a theme in “Toujours” that not only gives a fresh look but also keeps a few aspects of the old look intact:
The main drop down menus are right near the top where they’ve always been. While the sidebar has moved from the left to the right side of the screen, everything is exactly as it was there before.
The colour combination of the new theme page stays close to that of the old one.
On the new side, the three newest posts are featured prominently near the top of the page for easy access to all three without scrolling to them.
I’m quite happy with the new look “Toujours” gives and I hope you will be too.
All comments on the change are quite welcome.
A Bit of Baroque in the Karst
Best known for its cave systems, the Moravian Karst region of South Moravia has more than just underground attractions to offer.
One such site is the Baroque chateau of Rájec nad Svitavou which is located in the small town of Rájec-Jestřebí; approximately seven kilometres to the north of the region’s main municipality, the small city of Blansko.
The chateau, as it currently stands, is relatively young compared to many others you may visit in the Czech lands. While the land the building sits on passed through many aristocratic hands between the 1400s and the 1700s; the present chateau dates to the time of the last noble family to own it, the Counts of Salm-Reifferscheid, who took possession of the land in 1763.
Construction on the current chateau and its surrounding English style garden began shortly after the Salm family bought the land. It was built to replace a Renaissance style home of the previous owners that had been destroyed by fire in the 1740s.
During the expullsion of Germanic citizens from Czechoslovakia immediately following the Second World War, the chateau was siezed from the Salm family and taken under state control. It remains under state care today.
While the chateau building itself is relatively modest in size, it really is secondary to the valuable collections of art and period furnishings on display inside. Additionally, the surounding gardens play a main role in a visit here.
A Look Inside
Tours of the chateau include the ground floor, upper floor and the chapel; these tours can be done individually or as a complete package depending on your interests and time.
The ground floor contains larger rooms for receiving and entertaining guests as well as the chateau library.
The upper floor contains the Salm family private suites, guest rooms and treasury.
At 60,000 volumes, the chateau’s library is one of the most extensive in Moravia and a very valuable collection.
The library contains a wide range of materials from 14th century manuscripts to works of the early 20th century. Additionally, the library also contains a display of the Salm family tree.
Worthy of note is the library’s stylistic departure from the Baroque style seen through most of the rest of the building.
Take a Step Outside
The chateau is surrounded on three sides by a 13 hectare landscaped park that dates to the early 1770s. It was designed not only to entertain guests, but also to educate them about nature.
A particularly dark spot in the chateau garden history occured during the Second World War, when a prison camp was established there and did tremendous damage to the grounds.
Through the 1950s to the 1980s, the park was completely restored and renovated.
The chateau gardens also contain a greenhouse dedicated to the growing of a variety of plants, most significantly camellia plants. The growing and breeding of camellias as been a major activity at the chateau since the early 1970s and a big part of the chateau’s appeal to visitors.
It is also a very appropriate activity as the collecting and breeding of camellias enjoyed a period of popularity with with the aristocracy during the 19th century and many noble homes had greenhouses build specifically to house the plants.
The chateau is well known for its early spring exhibition of camellia flowers as well as other floral displays through the year.
Rájec-Jestřebí can be accessed by rail and the chateau is not a far walk through the town from the train station.
Visiting hours are variable depending on time of year and the chateau is closed to the public from the end of October to the beginning of April.
Unfortunatley, there doesn’t seem to be much dedicated information about the chateau available at the moment in any language other than Czech.
While the chateau’s official website is only available in Czech, I have found it can be made somewhat workable in English through online translator functions:
This is an English summary of the chateau from the South Moravia tourism website. It also contains a map showing the building location in the town: