Beyond Prague – The Czech Republic, outside of the capital
The purpose of this blog is to show a wider picture of the Czech Republic than just the capital city. Prague is a lovely city that I encourage people to visit, but there is just so much more this small country has on offer to the visitor and expat alike that it would be a shame if you didn't venture past the confines of Prague itself.
Single and two seat versions of Zlín’s long lived and legendary Tréner family of training and sport aircraft.
Established in 1934 by Jan Antonín Bat’a (1898-1965) in the eastern Czech town of Otrokovice, the Zlín aircraft company began life as a division of the world famous shoe business founded by his half brother, Tomáš (1876-1932) in 1894.
One might well wonder what the logic of a well established shoe company expanding into aviation might be, especially in light of the fact that Jan Antonín inherited the company after Tomáš had died in a plane crash while on company business. In fact, it made sense to do so on a few levels:
Firstly, the Bat’a shoe company is noted as being one of the world’s first, perhaps the world’s first, business concern to regularly use aircraft to conduct business. As such, aircraft were part of the Bat’a business model even before Jan Antonín took over the running of the company.
Secondly, the First World War completely changed public perception of the aircraft and its practicality. Prior to the conflict, most people viewed airplanes as curious toys for wealthy eccentrics and dreamers; through the course of the war, aircraft had proven their worth in a variety of applications to the point that they were seen as a technology well worth developing. A number of competent aircraft companies were established in the former Czechoslovakia from shortly after the end of the war. The young country certainly had the talent pool early on to make aircraft that were competitive on the world stage.
Thirdly, Jan Antonín Bat’a had grand plans for the company his half brother had founded. Under Jan Antonin’s leadership, the company expanded at a rapid pace from a shoe company into a business empire with arms in a variety of other business sectors.
A consumate industrialist, Jan Antonín was noted as a very competitive and visionary person. He saw the value of aircraft and the bugeoning domestic aviation industry growing right in front of him; it made sense for him to try to compete in it.
Throught its history, the company has built it’s reputation primarlity on sport and training aircraft.
At that, let’s take a look at Zlín and their place in Czech history:
Zlín’s first big success, the Z-XII, first flew in 1935.
While the company was established in 1934, the seeds for what would become Zlín Aviation had already been sown in the mid 1920s with the creation of the Bat’a company’s own flying school and air park at Otrokovice. A strong proponent of aviation, Jan Antonin Bat’a used the flying school as the foundation for creating the aircraft company.
Initially, the company only produced gliders. However, this changed when Jaroslav Lonek (1904-1945) served as the company’s chief designer between 1935 and 1938. During Lonek’s tenure, the company would move from gliders to powered aircraft designs and see their first great success, the Z-XII sport and touring aircraft.
The Z-XII first flew in 1935 and was used by military and civilian operators in no fewer than 15 countries. This was a great moment not only for the company, but also for the country as the Z-XII was the first Czech designed and built aircraft to see significant export success. The aircraft was praised widely and a total of between 250 and 260 were built.
The Z-XIII – A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Another significant aircraft design produced during Lonek’s time at the company was the Z-XIII. While only one was ever made, it stands as testament to the level of patriotism Jan Antonín Bat’a possessed alongside his business accumen.
Bat’a had given much support to the creation of a strong national military through the interwar period. This included the purchase of aircraft and other equipment as well as the provision of training facilities for pilots and mechanics.
Bat’a, along with many others in Czechoslovakia, rightly saw Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1934 as reason to ensure that the nation had a military strong enough to defend itself. To this end, he gave Lonek the task of designing a high performance aircraft.
When the Z-XIII first flew in 1937, it was officially said to be intended as a high speed courier aircraft for company business. However, with the aircraft’s very smooth and refined finish, blistering speed of around 350 kilometres per hour and ease with which it could be switched from a two seat to single seat arrangement; it was not at all hard to see the fighter that Bat’a had envisioned it to become lurking just under the surface.
The company offered the aircraft to the Czechoslovak military as a potential fighter in 1938, but it was already too late. The Munich Agreement of 1938 allowed the country to be occupied by German forces soon after.
Bat’a and his family fled the country shortly before the start of the war and spent a brief time in America before settling in Brazil.
Jaroslav Lonek also fled the country prior to the war, but only briefly. He travelled to the Soviet Union and became a secret service operative before returning and setting up an anti-German espionage ring. He was discovered and arrested in 1941, sentenced to death in 1943 and executed in Dresden, Germany in early 1945.
For his work against the Germans, Lonek was posthumously awarded the Czechoslovak War Cross of 1939 medal for his heroism and sacrifice.
Weathering the Storm and Picking up the Pieces
The Klemm Kl-25, a German training aircraft produced by Zlín during WWII.
With flight training and aircraft production facilities well established at the site, it was logical that the German occupational forces would use Otrokovice as a training base and the Zlín factory facilities to make the training aircraft.
While Zlín employees were busy being put to work building German trainer planes, some also busied themselves in efforts to protect the Z-XIII from German attention.
The Z-XIII had remained at Otrokovice and many attempts were made to hide it from German eyes. A plan was made to fly the aircraft out of the country to safety, but it was discovered before it could be put into action. The Z-XIII was then disguised as a derelict in the factory and German interest in it eventually subsided.
The Z-XIII survived the war and was put in the collection of the National Technical Museum after the conflict.
At the end of the war, with a great deal of German material present in Czech factories and a skilled workforce at the ready, several Czech companies were nationalised and able to resume busines almost as soon as the war had ended. Zlín was no exception.
The Z-126 – an early member of the Tréner family of aircraft.
Initially, Zlín restarted business after the war by developing German designs they had built during the war. However, before the 1940s were out, they had introduced some new glider types and a aircraft of their own design that became the progenitor of a family of aircraft that would make the Zlín name legendary in top level international aerobatics competition for decades to come – the Z-26 Tréner.
For all the international acclaim the Tréner family would go on to receive, its beginings were really quite modest in that the original Z-26 began simply as the company’s response to an early post war tender for a new basic training aircraft for the Czechoslovak air force.
As the design was being developed further in the mid 1950s, its aerobatic abilities were discovered and subsequent versions focused on honing those aerobatic qualities.
The Moravan Era
The Z-226, which debuted in 1956, was the first of the Tréner family with aerobatics as the focus.
The 1950s brought change for the company in that it was renamed Moravan, a name it would keep from 1953 to 2010. By the time the name change came around, the Zlín name was so well established that most people kept using the Zlín name when talking about the company’s aircraft.
The 1950s could be seen as the beginning of the company’s “Golden Age”. It was in that decade that they began to build their worldwide reputation for training and sport aircraft. Before the 1950s were out, the Z-226 version of the Tréner was already winning international aerobatics competitions. By 1959, the Z-326 version had debuted and the company was set to be a dominant force in competition through the 1960s to the mid 1980s.
The Z-37 Čmelák agricultural plane, a joint project with the Let company.
When not developing the Tréner further, the company often was subcontracted to produce components for other companies or was involved in joint projects.
One such joint project was the Z-37 Čmelák (Bumblebee) agricultural aircraft which first flew in 1963. Teaming up with the Let aircraft company, based in nearby Kunovice, Zlín had a hand in creating the first purpose designed Czech agricultural plane.
Being in an area of the country with a great deal of farming activity, the two companies were well placed to gather information directly from end users of the aircraft about exactly what qualities it should have to be effective in the job. The resulting aircraft was a rugged and reliable performer that was exported to no fewer than a dozen countries. A total of around 700 Z-37s were made.
The ultimate aerobatic version of the Tréner, the Z-526.
1965 saw the company awarded with a “Diplome D’Honneur” by the International Air Federation (FAI) in recognition of their contributions to the development of sport and training aircraft.
The company introduced the Z-526, the ultimate aerobatic version of the Tréner, in 1966. As with the Z-226 and Z-326 versions before it, the Z-526 came in two seat trainer versions and single seat competition optimised versions.
By the late 1960s, the company had begun work on a new and versatile family of training aircraft known as the Series 40. Prototypes for the Z-42 two seat version and four seat Z-43 version first flew in 1967 and 1968 respectively. Both types were in full production by the very early 1970s. The aircraft of this family, like the Tréner line before them, have been developed and advanced through the years and have earned international respect and export success for the company. Descendants of the Z-42 and Z-43 are still in production as of 2018.
The Z-50, heir to the Tréner’s aerobatic legacy, first flew in 1975.
During 1974 and 1975, the last Tréner aircraft were produced and its aerobatic successor flew for the first time.
After a production run of nearly 30 years with over 1,500 made, the Tréner had more than proven itself on the world stage and Zlín was hungry to keep their place of prominence in aerobatics. The Z-50 was designed to carry that legacy forward.
The Z-50 holds the distinction of being the world’s first purpose designed aerobatics machine. Computers figured prominently in the design process and the result was a very clean design that kept the Zlín name dominant in world class competition into the mid 1980s.
Looking over the town centre from Kozí hrádek view point.
Nestled in the South Moravian wine country, you’ll find the border town of Mikulov.
Mikulov shares its name with the wine growing microregion it sits at the heart of and is famous for its annual wine festival which takes place in September. During this festival, the town swarms with visitors looking to sample the produce of the many local vintners.
Beyond the town’s viticultural allure, Mikulov has deep historical connections to religious development in the Czech lands and is the symbolic gate to the Pálava protected natural area and the recreational delights to be found there. Mikulov is also considered the beginning of the Moravian karst region.
History, nature, spirituality and wine come together to make Mikulov and its environs a unique and memorable experience.
Let’s take a look:
On History’s Highway
An aerial view of Mikulov’s chateau and town centre.
In the present day, Mikulov sits on the highway that connects Brno to Vienna. Just as a lot of motor traffic goes past the town today, much historical traffic has touched the city since it was first mentioned in historical records in the late 1100s.
In its earliest recorded history, the town was overseen by the Czech noble house of Přemysl. From 1249 to 1560, it was part of the territory of the powerful Austrian noble house of Liechtenstein.
At the time of the transfer to Liechtenstein hands, the original castle which occupied the place where the modern town’s chateau now sits was still under construction.
Under Liechtenstein rule, development of the town began in ernest. As the family took Mikulov as their primary place of residence, they completed construction of the castle. However, the castle underwent many changes under their watch to accomodate their changing tastes and requirements.
During the Liechtenstein era, the town played host to some significant events in the religious history of the Czech lands. In the early 1420s, the town saw a major influx of Jews and the establishment of a Jewish ghetto in the wake of the expulsion of Jews from Vienna and Lower Austria. The town’s Jewish population expanded again in the 1450s when Jews were expelled from Moravian royal municipalities. By the first half of the 16th century, Mikulov had become the cutural heart of Jewish activity in Moravia.
The Jews were not the only religious group that found safe haven in the town during the Liechtenstein years. 1526 saw the arrival of Baptists who had been driven out of Switzerland and other western European lands by Catholic powers.
1560 saw the end of Liechtenstein ownership of the town. The lavish lifestyle of aristocrats and poor economic conditions of the time forced the noble family to sell the entire Mikulov estate.
The facade of the Dietrichstein family crypt, which sits on the main square.
The last noble lords of the town were another powerful Austrian dynasty, the Dietrichsteins. Taking ownership of the estate in 1572 and holding it until 1945, the Dietrichsteins ushered in a high period for the town and its residents.
The protection that the town’s Baptist and Jewish communities enjoyed under the Liechtensteins continued under the Dietrichtseins and the town prospered for both religious groups being part of it.
One of the most significant members of the Dietrichstein dynasty, in the context of the town’s history, was Cardinal Franz von Dietrichstein (1570-1636). Under his watch, the town saw many reforms to its appearance, economy and culture that resulted in it becoming the most important town in Moravia for a time
The town’s fortunes changed sharply during the Thirty Years’ War when it was captured by Swedish forces in 1645. Further misfortunes would come in the form of very destructive fires in 1663, 1719 and 1784. The decline of Mikulov’s importance continued into the 19th century when Jews were allowed to return to Vienna and other parts of Austria in 1848; by the turn of the 20th century, most of Mikulov’s Jews had moved to Austria leaving the town with a remaining Jewish population that was a very small fraction of what it had been at its height. The Second World War put an end to what little Jewish activity remained in the town.
While the Jewish ghetto was never restored after the war, there are some protected remnants of it available to visit today.
Mikulov was geographically part of the Sudetenland up until the end of World War II. As such, a majority of its citizenry at the time were of Germanic ethnic origins and counted German as their mother tongue. As with a majority of Germanic descended residents of the Sudetenland, those of Mikulov were forcibly and brutally expelled from the Czech lands in the wake of Germany being on the losing end of the conflict.
A Chateau with a Story
Looking at the chateau facade from the chateau gardens.
Today, the massive chateau that sits in the heart of Mikulov is the seat of the regional museum. This belies a building with a history as eventful and turbulent as that of the town.
Starting life in the early 1200s as a castle commissioned by the Přemysl noble house, it was handed over the Liechtensteins in an incomplete state. The Liechtensteins took Mikulov as their primary place of residence and had the building completed as a chateau that properly reflected their noble status.
As it was in the time of Liechtenstein rule, the chateau saw several stylistic reconstructions during the tenure of the Dietrichsteins.
Major reconstruction was undertaken on the building following the Thirty Years’ War. During that conflict, the chateau had been occupied twice with significant damge being done to it and its equipment. Extensive reconstruction of the chateau was coming to a conclusion in the early 18th century when a fire in 1719 caused tremendous damage to both the chateau and town. The chateau had to be rebuilt nearly from the ground up.
In 1805 and 1809, the Napoleonic battles of Austerlitz and Znojmo were fought not far from Mikulov. The chateau served as the venue for preliminary talks of peace between France and Austria at the end of the Battle of Austerlitz ahead of a formal treaty being signed in what is now Bratislava, Slovakia.
Looking across the chateau gardens to the St. Sebastian pilgrimage chapel on Svatý kopeček (Holy Hill).
Fire touched the chateau again in 1945 during the retreat of the German military from the town. The 1945 fire burned the chateau down to its foundations; some sources state the causes of the fire to be unclear while others put the blame squarely on an act of arson by the retreating Germans. Whatever the cause, the building sat for three years in a state of ruin before rebuilding began.
Rebuilding of the chateau was completed in the early 1960s.
Today, it is owned by the Mikulov Regional Museum. It is possible to take tours of the building. Aside of the museum exhibitions, the visitor can also view elements of the chateau that were rescued from the 1945 fire such as the chateau library and a gigantic wine barrel dating to the Dietrichstein period that was designed to hold 101,400 litres of wine.
Getting Above Things
St. Sebastian pilgrimage chapel.
If one wishes to get a view of Mikulov’s historic centre from a bit above, two good opportunities are available close at hand.
Svatý kopeček (Holy Hill) runs along the eastern side of the town while Kozí hrádek (Goat Tower) sits just to the north of the centre.
Kozí hrádek is a relatively easy walk uphill through some residential areas from the centre of the town. A remnant of a 15th century watchtower, Kozí hrádek gives a good all around view of the town and surroundings as well as a good opportunity for unobstructed photography of the chateau.
Svatý kopeček is a massive hill of Jurassic period limestone that is home to both a nature preserve and a Way of the Cross pilgrimage route ending with the St. Sebastian pilgrimage chapel at the summit of the hill.
Dating to the mid 1600s, the Way of the Cross on Svatý kopeček is one of the oldest pilgrimage routes not only in South Moravia but in the Czech lands as a whole.
At Play in Pálava
Děvín Mountain, the highest point in the Pálava region. (photo: L. Holubová)
It would not be fair to talk about Mikulov without making mention of the Pálava Hills protected biosphere region which the town is part of.
Pálava is an area of 83 square kilometres which has been a UNESCO listed biosphere preserve since 1986 as it is home to a number of rare plant and animal species.
Beyond being a nature preserve, Pálava is also a very valuable region in the contexts of archaeology, tourism and viticulture.
From an archaeological standpoint, artifacts dating back to the late Paleolithic period have been uncovered near the town of Dolní Věstonice in the northern part of the regions. Most famously, a ceramic figurine known as the Venus of Dolní Věstonice was discovered there in 1925. The figurine has been dated to 29,000–25,000 BC and is, along with figurines of animals found at the same site, the oldest known ceramic work in the world.
Pálava is quite popular as a local recreational area owing to its close proximity to the city of Brno; it’s quite an easy trip to get out of the city. As it is bordered by the world renowned UNESCO listed Lednice-Valtice area to the east and Austria to the south, Pálava can also be easily accessed by more than just local visitors.
The Nové Mlýny Reservoirs which sit at the north edge of Pálava.
Filled with netwroks of cycling, riding, trekking and walking trails; Pálava is easy to explore in a clean and sustainable way. Many of the trails are of an educational nature and contain signage bringing special features to the attention of visitors.
At the northern edge of Pálava, the Nové Mlýny Reservoirs offer great opportunities for a variety of water sports.
As the land in Pálava is divided between nature preserves and prime wine growing areas, a number of the trails in the region are set up with the wine lover in mind. Several of the walking and cycling trails are designed to easily guide the visitor from one local wine cellar to another to sample the wares on offer at each.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
The remarkable sgraffito facade of the Knights’ house on the main square.
Mikulov is relatively easy to get to from Brno and other points in the vicinity. As it has both a train station and bus stops, it can be accessed without a car.
Owing to the popularity of its annual wine festival, it’s location in Pálava and proximity to the adjacent Lednice-Valtice area, Mikulov is well prepared for visitors with a respectable selection of accomodation options to cater to a variety of tastes. It should be noted that if you wish to attend the wine festival and have accomodation directly within Mikulov, you should arrange your accomodation well in advance of the event.
The town has a good sized tourist information office located on the main square that has a wealth of brochures and maps for self guided tours around the town as well as into the Pálava Hills beyond.
The following link will take you to the tourism section of the Mikulov city website:
Group Captain Vítězslav Josef Rosík was born 23 December 1895 in Bzová, Czechoslovakia. His schooling commenced with two years at Uherske Hradiste, then at High School at Uherský Brod and then onto the Technical College at Brno where he studied engineering. In March 1915 he enlisted in the 3rd Infantry Regiment of the Austro-Hungarian army […]
One of my goals for Beyond Prague in 2018 was to trim the menu content a bit to make the addition of new content to the main menu a bit faster and less cumbersome.
You’ll notice that there are no longer menus for “Castles and Fortresses” and “Chateaus”. All of the pages in those sections are still available for viewing, they are simply in the region sections relevant to their locations in the country. This action was taken to reduce redundant pages in the menus.
I also removed a few things from the Brno menu owing to low traffic.
These are probably not the first adjustments I’ll be making during 2018, I am on the lookout for a new theme page as well.
Whatever changes I make, I will keep you apprised of them and make sure they cause minimal interference in your continued enjoyment of the blog.
This is just a short post to bring your attention to a news article that recently appeared in the English language section of the Radio Prague news website.
The article contains an interview with Tom Doležal, the founder of the Free Czechoslovak Air Force website and expert on matters of Czech and Slovak participation in the Royal Air Force during WWII.
In the interview, Mr. Doležal recounts how his father and a number of other former Czechoslovak RAF pilots carried out the world’s first triple hijacking in order to defect from post 1948 Communist Czechoslovakia.
The Communist government was very fearful of the former RAF men, as they had been exposed to western influences, and went to great lengths to marginalize them from society and erase them from the history books:
If you want to know more about activities of Czechs ans Slovaks in the RAF in the Second World War, I can’t recommend the Free Czechoslovak Ar Force website enough for the wealth of information it provides on the subject:
The front facade of St. Barbara’s church in Kutná Hora.
Five centuries in the making, the late Gothic style Church of St. Barbara is the de facto trade mark and centrepiece of the Central Bohemian city of Kutná Hora.
The structure’s distinctive three spired tented roofline is used in stylized form on many of the city’s plentiful souvenir items. Inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites with the rest of the city’s preserved centre in 1995, St. Barbara’s is the country’s second most visited church.
Started in 1388 and not fully completed until the early 20th century, St. Barbara’s stands as testament to the city’s former wealth in silver and the grand and lofty visions the local burghers had for the city during its heyday and status as a royal city.
The burghers of Kutná Hora commissioned the church to be built in cathedral style in the hopes of having a diocese established in the city to compete with those of nearby Sedlec and Prague.
Ultimately, the city’s silver mines were exhausted before the church could be completed and the much desired diocese was never established. As a result, despite its grand facades, St. Barabara’s has only ever been a church.
In spite of much contemporary toursit information referring to the structure as a cathedral, it most certainly is not one.
Built on Grand Visions
The church from the side, showing the distinctive roofline.
The silver heyday of Kutná Hora lasted from the 13th to the end of the 16th century.
The city’s mines were rich with the metal and Kutná Hora was given the status of a royal city and made the seat of the royal mint of the Bohemian lands. Such things put the city in status of importance after only Prague itself.
Through the silver, the city attracted a strong upper class with great ideas for the city’s future and the money to make many of their visions for it into reality. Their visions included a bishopric and cathedral of their own.
The first architect responsible for the church was Jan Parléř (1359-1406). A member of the famous Parléř family of architects, Jan was the son of Petr Parléř (1330-1399) who had been responsible for St. Vitus Cathedral and Charles Bridge in Prague.
Using nearby quarried sandstone, work on the church carried on until it was interupted by the Hussite Wars that raged through the early to mid 1400s.
The curch interior seen from the second level.
Work resumed on the structure in the late 1400s and continued to the late 1500s when the city’s silver mines had been depleted.
The distinctive roof was put on the church and it has stood, at only half its intended size, to the present.
Shortly after the second period of construction was concluded, the church saw a number of renovations under the watch of the Jesuit order that brought Baroque styling to it.
The final stages of construction, carried out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the restoration of much of the church’s original Gothic look.
While the church did not achieve the grand status of a cathedral, it most certainly has achieved a level of greatness through its inclusion on the UNESCO list. A placement it earned through its authenticity, tangible connection to the city’s history and it’s influence on the architecture of subsequent structures around Europe.
The Right Saint for the Job
Sculpture of a silver miner.
Owing to the very risky nature of their work, miners have always been an understandably very religious group of people.
In light of this fact, consecrating this church to St. Barbara could be seen as a very obvious choice. Barbara is the patron saint of miners and anyone who works around explosives and thus faces the risk of a very sudden and violent death on a regular basis.
Historically, it was typical to install a small shrine to the saint at the entry or junctions of mineshafts and near military gunpowder storage facilities.
Many organisations, both civilian and military, continue to honour St. Barbara to the present. December 4 is the traditional day of the saint.
When depicted in art, St. Barbara is typically recognised by her attribute of a tower with three windows. Other attributes associated with her are a chalice, palm leaf and lightning.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
The church’s vault.
Being highly visible and on Kutná Hora’s main tourist route, St. Barbara’s is not at all difficult to find or visit when in the city.
While it is open daily, it should be kept in mind that it is still a functioning church and that respect should be exercised by visitors towards those worshipping there.
Litomyšl’s main attraction: the stunning UNESCO listed Renaissance chateau.
Tucked into the far reaches of Eastern Bohemia, in the Bohemia-Moravia borderlands, is the historic city of Litomyšl.
Owing to the fact that it is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the birthplace of famed composer Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), Litomyšl is one of the country’s better known tourist destinations and many visitors have read about it before they arrive in the country.
Officially gaining status as a city in the 13th century, Litomyšl has its origins in 11th and 12th century settlement in the area. In its history, the city has served as the seat of nobility and bishops as well as an important centre of education and culture.
Because of Litomyšl’s importance as a centre of education through the 19th century, many notable names in the Czech arts and culture scene were attracted to living there during that period. The influence of many of those people can still be seen and felt in the city today.
The modern city is very aware and in touch with its past and uses it to good advantage in guiding the tourist.
At that, let’s spend some time in Litomyšl:
Show Yourself Around
Smetana Square, one of the largest public squares in the country.
Perhaps befitting a place with education and enlightenment playing a major role in its history, Litomyšl invites and encourages visitors to show themselves around and learn about the city via a well prepared self-guided tour map available in city tourism offices or online at the city website. The map covers almost 20 points of interest in the very walkable centre of the city.
The recommended start and finish point for the self-guided tour is the 500 metre long Smetana Square. One of the largest public squares in the Czech lands, it is lined with arcaded facades in Baroque, Classicist and Renaissance styles. Also on the square is the Gothic styled town hall tower.
Leaving the square from the north end will take you past the statue of Bedřich Smetana and put you in the vicinity of the Neo-Renaissance style Smetana Hall and the Pedagogical High School with its sgraffito decorated exteriors.
Front of the Church of the Discovery of the Holy Cross.
Further along the route, you will find a monument to writer and educator Alois Jirásek (1851-1930). Jirásek spent several years in Litomyšl as a high school history teacher and is considered to be one of the most important Czech authors of his time.
In the same area, you will find the Baroque style Church of the Discovery of the Holy Cross. This church belonged to the Piarist order who were invited to Litomyšl in 1640. Dedicated to education, the Piarists played a major role in the city’s reputation as a learning centre for centuries. The order left the city in 1948, leaving the church behind.
It is worth travelling up the towers of the church as a great view of the chateau can be enjoyed from the balcony between the towers.
Between the Piarist church and the city’s other major holy building, the Presbytery Church of the Raising of the Holy Cross, you’ll find the monastery gardens. For many years after the Piarists left, this area was left untended and blocked off to the public. In the late 1990s, work took place to restore and refresh the gardens to the beautiful and relaxing park that it is today bracketed by the two churches.
Monastery gardens with the Piarist church in the background.
Contained in the park is a fountain that features a group of statues by contemporary Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek (1926-2017).
Leaving the park will take you past the Gothic style Presbytery Church of the Raising of the Holy Cross. This church originally belonged to the Augustinian order which had a monastery in the city from 1356 to 1428.
From the Augustinian church, you can go in two directions:
A short walk east of the church will take you to the Portmoneum, a museum dedicated to Josef Váchal (1884-1969). Váchal was a writer, illustrator and printmaker who was a unique character with a rather enigmatic art style. Admittedly, his own connection to Litomyšl is somewhat tenuous as he was there relatively briefly at the invitation of a local art collector and fan of his work, Josef Portman. Portman contracted Váchal to paint two rooms in his house, the resulting work was a sweepingly complex collection of imagery that is very difficult to interpret.
The art in Portmoneum certainly is not everyone’s cup of tea and it is a lot to absorb at once. However, if your tastes include Avant-garde, you may want to pay it a visit.
If you follow the street directly outside the church entrance, you will find the oldest church in the city as well as Váchal street.
Váchal street is a short lane leading back to Smetana Square. It is notable for the arches over it and the walls of the buildings on either side of it covered in sgrafitto images from one of Váchal’s books.
The impossing and spectacular chateau.
Near the Piarist church, you will find the star attraction of Litomyšl: the Renaissance style UNESCO listed chateau.
The chateau was commissioned by the powerful Pernštejn family and built between the 1560s and 1580s. When finished, it was a rare example of an Italian Renaissance arcaded palace outside of Italy.
In 1649, the chateau and city came into possession of the Trautmannsdorf family and shifted to the Valdštejn-Vartenberk family in 1758. Under Valdštejn-Vartenberk ownership, the chateau underwent extensive alterations that added a number of Baroque features to the structure.
It was during the Valdštejn-Vartenberk ownership period that Bedřich Smetana, son of the chateau brewery’s brewmaster, was born in 1824. It is possible to visit the apartment where the composer was born when you visit the chateau.
The chateau and city would switch hands again in 1855 to the German noble house of Thurn und Taxis. This house would be the last noble owners of the chateau. They held it until the end of the Second World War when all Germanic families were expelled from the Czech lands and their properties seized by the state.
Looking into the chateau’s arcaded courtyard structures.
The chateau has remained under state ownership since the end of World War II and it was declared a national cultural monument in 1962.
In the 1970s restoration work on the chateau’s extensively sgraffito covered exterior began with the work being overseen by Olbram Zoubek.
In 1999, the chateau and its grounds were inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. The chateau is considered a textbook example of an Italian Renaissance style arcaded castle unique in both the level of preservation and its location outside of Italy.
Honouring the Past
The statue of Bedřich Smetana on the square that bears his name.
As mentioned earlier in the article, Litomyšl is a city very much aware and in touch with its past.
Since 1946, the city has hosted an annual classical music and opera festival called “Smetana’s Litomyšl”. It is one of the oldest and biggest music festivals of its sort in the country.
There is also a youth version of the music festival that has been held annually since the early 1970s.
Another historical resident of the city has been commemorated through having a festival bear their name. Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová (1785-1845), wrote what was for many years the only cookbook available in the Czech language. Entitled “A Household Cookery Book or A Treatise on Meat and Fasting Dishes for Bohemian and Moravian Lasses”, the book was first published in 1826 and was a bestseller through much of the 19th century. The book has been republished countless times and modern printings of it can still be found regularly in Czech bookshops.
The city’s annual gastronomy festival, held since 2012, is named after Rettigová.
Paying a visit and Learning More
The sgraffito walls of Váchal street.
Outside of the centre, Litomyšl is a quite normal town with no touristy feeling. as such, it can be done as a day trip from several other places. However, it is not the most direct of places to access if you are travelling by bus or rail.
If you are travelling by train, it’s best to plan Česká Třebová as your end stop and take a bus from there to Litomyšl as there is regular bus service between the two cities. The bus platforms in Česká Třebová are directly outside the train station entrance.