Today was the first truly nice day in Brno since Autumn arrived. Up until now, the skies have been as grey as concrete and the air has been cold and wet. This afternoon, the sun… More
In the Heart of the Heart of Europe
Located 96 kilometres east of Prague and 66 kilometres north east of the geographic centre of the Czech lands, Pardubice is a city of both historical and modern importance in the country. A city of nobility in the past and a city of industry and commerce in the modern era, Pardubice has much to offer year round to visitors with both historical and contemporary tastes. Whether you like sightseeing, taking in festivals or active holidays; there is something for you here.
Mentioned by name as early as the 1290s, Pardubice received official status as a town in 1340. It became a city of nobility in 1491 when it was purchased by Vilém II of Pernštejn, the most powerful Czech nobleman of the period. Under his ownership, the city flourished and was given a grand appearance reflecting his own high status. The legacy of Pernštejn family influence can be seen in the present day in the city’s preserved centre, which has been listed as a protected urban conservation area since the mid 1960s, and the adjoining chateau.
The city’s fortunes and status stayed strong and were further enhanced by the arrival of the first train in 1845. It was the beginning of Pardubice’s rise as an important transportation hub in the country, a status it still holds to the present day as a key stop on many passenger and freight train lines running across the country. Consequently, it is a very accessible city for visitors travelling by rail.
Pardubice is well prepared for visitors and a visit to the tourist information office in the centre will provide you with an array of maps and brochures detailing self-guided historical walking tours among other activities to indulge in during your stay.
If you’re drawn to architecture, Pardubice will certainly not dissapoint you. There is a range of buildings on view representing several styles from the medieval to the modern. You’ll see Gothic and Baroque intermingling seemlessly with Art Nouveau and Functionalist styles among others. If you arrive by rail, you’ll be immersed in the architecture immediately as the city’s main rail station is listed on the country’s register of protected historic sites and is considered a masterpiece of Modernist architecture.
Other architectural high points of the city include the landmark Renaissance style Green Gate tower which serves as the main point of entry to Pernstynske Square where a mix of well preserved Baroque, Classicist and Renaissance facades await you. Directly north of the square, you can find the city’s Renaissance style chateau.
Adjacent to Pernstynske Square, you’ll find Republic Square and the 20th century architecture it showcases. Here, the Art Nouveau style of the East bohemian Theatre sits in the company of the Functionalist facades of the Grand Shopping Centre and Food Technical School among others.
A particularly good way to see the architecture of the centre is via a pair of self guided walking tours the city has designed and provides maps to at the tourist information office.
The first of these trails is the “Vilém of Pernštéjn Trail” which guides you though the city’s Old Town district and shows you the pre 20th century architecture.
The second trail is called “Pardubice in the Footsteps of Silver A” and guides you through the 2oth century architecture of the centre with special emphasis on the events leading up to and following Operation Anthropoid in which Reinhard Heydrich, the high ranking Nazi overseer of German operations in the Czech lands during the early part of the Second World War, was attacked and mortally wounded by the Czechoslovak resistance cell “Silver A” in 1942.
Horsing Around in the Heartland
If you’re at all a lover of horses, Pardubice should certainly go on your itinerary when you visit the Czech Republic. The horse which graces the city’s coat of arms is more than a historical relic, it has kept a place of prominence for the city into the modern era.
On the south west corner of the city, a large purpose made arena plays host to a number of international horse related events and exhibitions through spring, summer and autumn. These events culminate in the Velká Pardubická, one of Europe’s most prestigious and demanding steeplechases. Pardubice has been host to this event since 1874.
The horse is such a large part of the city’s history that Pardubice is a member of Euro Equus, a network of five European cities with similarly deep historical and modern ties to horses.
A short distance from Pardubice, you will find Kladruby nad Labem and Slatiňany. Both localities are breeding centres for the Old Kladruby horse, a protected Czech breed of coach horse.
A Feel for the Place
There’s more to Pardubice than Architecture and horses. It has been a university city since just after the Second World War and is very active in the chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering industries.
The city also offers a number of ways to spend free time including a network of cycling and in-line skating trails, a variety of sports facilities, a respectable range of dining and drinking establishments as well as theatre, cinema and other cultural pursuits.
Pardubice brands itself as a city of festivals and a quick look at the calendar of events on the city’s tourism website presents an array of events to satisfy a range of tastes. A number of festivals spotlighting theatre, music and visual arts take place throughout the year. Other festivals highlight food and drink, folklore, wine and games of skill.
Two larger events on the calendar are the city’s Christmas market in december and a well organized annual air show in early summer.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
Pardubice boasts accomodation options to suit a range of tastes and price ranges, so you should have no problem finding good lodgings if you visit.
The city itself will certainly keep you busy for a long weekend trip. If you factor in trips into the surrounding area, which Pardubice has good transport connections to much of, you could easily extend your visit to a full week.
The following links will provide you with more information about the city and events happening there to help you plan and time your visit to this city.
The first two links are the city’s tourism and city websites respectively:
This is a link to the Euro Equus website which contains calendars of events for all five cities in that network:
This is the website for the city’s annual air show, it contains a running newsfeed on scheduled performers to the show as they are confirmed and photogalleries of shows past:
Věra Čáslavská, the most decorated Czech athlete in history and outspoken opponent of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, has passed away.
In the context of sporting achievements, her medal count is truly astounding:
Through the European Championships of 1959, 1961, 1965 and 1967; Čáslavská won 11 golds, 1 silver and 1 bronze.
At the World Championships in 1958, 1962 and 1966; she took 4 golds, 5 silvers and 1 bronze.
Across three Olympic Games in 1960, 1964 and 1968; she won 7 golds and 4 silvers.
Unfortunately, 1968 was a tumultuous year for Czechoslovakia and for Čáslavská’s sports career. Owing to her opposition of communism and the Soviet occupation of her homeland.
Prior to the 1968 Olympics, she was one of many high profile personalities in Czechoslovakia who had signed a manifesto written by Ludvík Vaculík entitled “The Two Thousand Words”, which promoted democracy. For that act, she was initially forbidden from international travel and permission for her to go the Mexico City for the 1968 Olympics was granted only at the last minute.
At the 1968 Olympics, Čáslavská risked disqualification from the competition when she protested matters at home on the international stage.
She had won the floor exercise outright. However, a controversial post competition adjustment of scores which elevated the silver medalist from the Soviet team to an equal position to Čáslavská on the podium meant that the national anthems of both countries would be played.
In an understated though visible act of protest, she averted her gaze slightly down and away as the Soviet anthem was played.
That protest in conjunction with her refusal to remove her name from Vaculík’s manifesto was enough for the state to effectively force her into retirement by disallowing her to represent the country at any level.
Until the fall of socialism in 1989, she lived a quiet and reclusive life of very little opportunity.
She returned to public life after 1989 and acted as advisor on matters of sports and social issues to Václav Havel during his presidency.
She was offered but declined prestigious positions such as the mayor of Prague and the Czech ambassador to Japan, a country in which she gained great popularity during the 1964 Olympics and stayed popular for many years after.
In June of 2016, she was presented with a Gratias Agit award. This prize is given by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs to both Czechs and non-Czechs who have represented the Czech Republic and Czech culture in a positive and lasting way internationally.
Věra Čáslavská passed away on August, 30, 2016 after being taken to hospital in Prague due to increasing complications with pancreatic cancer.
On behalf of myself and the readership of Beyond Prague, I extend heartfelt condolences to the Czech people and nation at this time of loss.
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 13th century, the castle is considered to be one of the Czech Republic’s best preserved examples of early Gothic architecture. While the interiors were converted to more comfortable living quarters through the late 1600s, after the castle’s defensive purposes had diminished, and remodeled to reflect Baroque tastes; the exteriors remained in Gothic style.
Unlike many castles and chateaus that one can visit in the Czech lands, Český Šternberk is not a state run facility; it remains in the hands of the original owners, the Sternberg family. It is one of two historic properties still owned by the Sternbergs in the region; the other being Jemniště chateau, a short distance to the south-west.
In the context of Czech nobility, the Sternbergs are a truly ancient line. As they are still a living family and actively use Český Šternberk, one can’t get a full picture of this castle without a look at the family that has made it what it is.
The Sternberg name came into use in the mid 1200s when Zdeslav of Divišov, the builder of the castle, changed his surname to Sternberg to reflect the eight point star featured in his family coat of arms.
Historic Sternberg ownership of the castle lasted from the mid 1200s to 1712, when the branch of the family which owned it died out. In this period, the family briefly lost possession of the castle through a seige in the late 1400s. The castle was returned to the family in a ruined state; by the early 16th century, they had rebuilt and improved the castle as well as expanded it.
The second era of Sternberg ownership began when the surviving branch of the family purchased it in 1841. It remained in their hands until 1949, when it was seized by the Communist government and nationalised.
It is in this period that a very important chapter of the castle’s life took place. The owner of the castle, Jiří Sternberg, agreed to work as a steward to the building. He carefully inventoried the castle and acted as a guide to visitors. His act of creating an inventory of the castle property would ensure that when the family reclaimed the castle after the fall of Socialism, any missing items could be reliable located and recovered by the family.
Jiří died in 1965 and the Sternberk family left the Czech lands in 1968; first to Germany and then to Austria. The family returned in 1992 and reclaimed their historic properties under a set of laws put in place to return historic homes to their rightful owners when posible.
Ownership of the castle is currently in the hands of Zdeněk Sternberg, Jiří’s son.
A Living Castle
The continuing relationship between the Sternbergs and this castle give it a unique quality and feel that many other castles and chateaus lack; that of having continuity.
While there is much history in the walls of this place, it does not carry the feel of a place that has been restored and approximated. Rather, it feels much more maintained and intact; more a time capsule than a museum.
Another aspect of contemporary Sternberg influence is the presence of a display of live birds of prey in the courtyard of the castle. The birds are from a nearby wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre; for a donation which goes to pay for the feeding and care of the birds, visitors can photograph them. The presence of this display at the castle has roots in Zdeněk Sternberg’s own interest in birds of prey prior to the family leaving in 1968.
Visiting the Castle
Getting to Český Šternberk is not particularly difficult as the townsite is easily accessible by bus, car or train. There are also nature trails in the area that will take you to the castle if you’re the trekking type.
There are several pubs and restaurants in the town, so refreshment after a tour of the castle is close at hand.
Český Šternberk is open year round for visitors though the hours are variable depending on time of year. From October to March, for example, one can only visit by prior arrangement.
This link to the castle website will give you more information about open hours and so forth:
This article, while a bit dated in places, is an interesting account of a journalist’s visit to the castle. It’s particularly interesting for exerpts from an interview with Zdeněk Sternberg that give first hand insight into what growing up around the castle was like:
A Small Town Saint
Saint John of Nepomuk, or John Nepomucene as he is sometimes called, is one of the best known patron saints of the Czech lands. There is no shortage of statues and other artwork featuring him on display both within Czech borders and further afield. A visitor to the Czech Republic would have to go to great effort to not encounter a statue or other likeness of this saint while here.
Jan Velflín was born in the 1340s in the small town of Pomuk, later renamed Nepomuk, in the Pilsen region of Bohemia. Little is known of his childhood or adolesence; in the 1380s, he studied canon law in both the Universities of Prague and Padua. He was made a doctor of canon law in 1387.
He was appointed Vicar General of the Prague Archdiocese by Jan of Jenštejn, Archbishop of Prague from 1379 to 1396, in 1393. In the same year, Velflín met his death at the orders of King Wenceslas IV.
He was beatified in 1721 and canonized in 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII.
On the Wrong Side of the King
Velflín had the misfortune of serving the church at the time of the Papal Schism which lasted from 1378 to 1417. This event saw two distinct lines, Rome and Avignon, vying for papal legitimacy in the church. European rulers, nobility and clerics were forced to back one or the other line.
Velflín and the Archbishop of Prague were loyal to Rome while Wenceslas IV was a supporter of Avignon. This was only the beginning of friction between the king and the archdiocese.
Another point of conflict with the king was centred on the holdings of the very wealthy and influential Benedictine abbey at Kladruby in the Pilsen region. The king wished to possess the abbey’s wealth and land and intended to have the abbey recategorised as a cathedral upon the death of the abbot. To this end, he ordered that no new abbot be nominated when the one in place died.
Against the king’s orders, the archbishop and Velflín convinced the abbey monks to nominate a new abbot. The chosen candidate was confirmed by Velflín. This move angered the king to the point that he had Velflín imprisoned, tortured and eventually killed by drowning.
A Tale of Two Deaths
The above account of Velflín‘s death is supported by documents of the period which include a formal accusation against the king made by the archbishop of Prague and the new abbot of Kladruby directly to Pope Boniface IX in Rome shortly after Velflín was killed.
Of the two popular accounts of the saint’s death, it is the one taken as factual and closest to the truth.
A more romanticised account dates to 1670 and casts Velflín as the confessor to the king’s second wife, Sofia of Bavaria, and was put to death by the king for refusing to divulge the queen’s confessions to him. This tale casts the king as a very jealous man who suspects his wife of having an affair.
The fact that the second account was published nearly 280 years after Velflín’s death and contained little to substatntiate itself factually, there really is not much at all to lend credence to it.
Both popular accounts do share a common feature in that shortly after Velflín was drowned in the Vltava river, a group of bright lights was seen to float above the spot where his body entered the water.
Owing to this shared aspect of both accounts, the saint’s best known attribute is his halo of stars which symbolise the lights said to have appeared above the Vltava after his death.
Other attributes attached to the saint are the clothing of a priest, a crucifix and sometimes a palm leaf.
In accordance with the 1670 account, some depictions of the saint include an angel with a finger to their lips to represent the sanctity of the confessional.
Legacy and Monuments
St. John of Nepomuk is generally taken to be the patron saint of discretion and against slander. His death by drowning has also seen him taken as a saint of water and protector against floods
The first church dedicated to the saint was established in Hradec Králové in 1708. A much more famous pilgrimage church was established in his name at Zelená hora in 1719. the latter of these two churches was inscribed un the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1994 due to its very unique architecture.
The saint’s tomb can be visited at Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral.
Outside of the Czech lands, statues and other monuments to the saint can be found in Austria, Germany, Italy, Poland and Lithuania.
He is also the patron saint of three municipalities and one province in the Philippines.
A good source for further reading on the saint can be found through this link:
On July 21 of 2016, one of the last surviving Czech pilots who served in the ranks of the Royal Air Force during World War II took to the air in a legendary Spitfire fighter for the first time on over 70 years.
Born on February, 25 of 1923 in Brno, General Emil Boček took off on a 25 minute flight from Great Britain´s famous Biggin Hill airfield in a Spitfire fitted with a second seat.
This is video footage of the event from Czech Television:
An English language report can be found here:
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”: