If you’re visiting South Moravia, there is no way you wouldn’t eventually visit the town of Znojmo. I mean, how could you not? It’s historically and culturally one of the most important places in South Moravia and for a good reason! Znojmo is famous for its wine, pickles, history and beautiful architecture. You could say there is something interesting for everyone.
Znojmo’s Days of Glory… And Bad Luck
Znojmo has a long and fascinating history. One could even say that in the past it used to be more relevant than Brno (the current capital of Moravia) – as it used to be the first royal town of South Moravia. As a very important town, Znojmo was thriving, especially between the 13th and 14th centuries. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever, which is especially true if we talk about towns and cities located near a border. This is the case of Znojmo too – in 1404 it was sieged for two months straight and then in 1645 (during the Thirty Years War) it was invaded by Lennart Torstenson’s army just after three days of siege. And if the invasion wasn’t enough of “bad luck” for one century, then being stricken with a severe plague epidemic definitely was. After that, one rather peaceful century followed until the Napoleonic wars when two armies – first the Russian one and then the French one – marched through the town. But why stop there? Later in 1809, the French and Austrian armies clashed near Znojmo – once again because of Napoleon.
The 20th century was no more merciful; Znojmo got the shorter end of the stick again – first Znojmo had to deal with clashes between Czechs and Germans only to be later annexed by Germany just as other towns and cities in the region. Znojmo’s Czech population was expelled from the town only to return after the end of WWII, following the expulsion of ethnic Germans.
Some of these scars are still visible but not everything that happened to Znojmo was that tragic.
Follow History’s Footsteps
History may not have been particularly favourable to Znojmo, but despite all the tragic events the town is well preserved. In fact, there are more historical monuments than in many similarly-sized towns that don’t share the same unfortunate fate. For example, my former hometown’s history, Břeclav, is not that different from the history of Znojmo. Břeclav only had the chance to recover better, except its history is also one of the reasons why there is nothing interesting to see there.
Now, if you asked me about the most impressive place in Znojmo, I’d probably have a hard time picking just one, but if I really had to choose, it would be the remnants of the town’s fortification system. Being situated at the Austrian border, Znojmo was the best-fortified town between Vienna and Prague. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the medieval walls were no longer sufficient as the style of warfare had evolved beyond its defensive capabilities, and after the Napoleonic Wars, the town leadership gradually proceeded to demolish the gates.
Speaking of fortifications, we must also mention Znojmo’s castle. It was likely built in the 11th century, later rebuilt by Moravian princes from the Premyslid dynasty, and then rebuilt once again in the 18th century. Now it’s used by the South Moravian Museum in Znojmo for exhibitions.
But perhaps you are not that interested in exploring the castle and fortifications. In that case, you should definitely visit the town hall Tower which is Znojmo’s major sight and one of the most important medieval buildings in the Czech Republic. The tower stands at 66.58 meters tall and on its top, you can find the observation deck which is accessible throughout the year. If the weather is good, you might be able to see not only the town but also the foothills of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands in the northwest and Pálava Hills in the southeast. With particularly favorable visibility, you could even see the very distant peaks of the Austrian Alps. So if you’re looking for the perfect spot with a picturesque view of the entire town, make sure to visit this tower too. And once you’re visiting the tower, don’t forget to take a stroll around the whole city centre because it is full of beautiful historical buildings.
Not all interesting things are, however, to be seen at first glance and so if you’re up for some adventure, you might appreciate the town’s underground. The Znojmo Underground is the largest system of underground corridors and cellars in the Czech Republic, and it is almost 27 km long and up to 4 levels deep. Besides the underground being very extensive, it is also quite old – the beginning of the construction of corridors dates back to the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries. And yes, it is open to the public.
One of the most important historical monuments is the Romanesque Rotunda of St. Catherine. It may seem quite inconspicuous on the outside, but the real treasure lies within – the well-preserved fresco-secco murals from 1134. These fascinating murals were apparently inspired by the art of the Byzantine Empire. They depict religious scenes as well as members of the Premyslid dynasty and other important figures of the era. There are also some bold theories about the rotunda’s actual origin. According to one historian, it was built after priests Constantin and Methodius came to Znojmo, and its murals depict Samo or rulers from the times of the Moravian Empire rather than the members of the Premyslid dynasty. Even though it sounds very interesting, it is important to mention that this is just a baseless theory.
If the rotunda doesn’t sound that interesting to you but you still want to see some religious sites, there are a lot more places you can visit in Znojmo such as the Church of St. Nicholas. This impressive (mostly) medieval church was originally supposed to be a basilica that would replace a Romanesque church which had burned down to ashes. Near this church, there is also the two-storey Chapel of St. Wenceslas, which was built in the 16th century. Its upper part is dedicated to St. Anne and St. Catherine, while the lower part is dedicated to St. Martin. Surprisingly enough, in the 20th century, it was used by the Orthodox Church even though it’s originally a Catholic chapel. Nowadays, it’s frequently used for exhibitions and concerts, so if you’re lucky, you might visit it just in time for a nice cultural event.
Then you can also visit the local Minorite Monastery. Well, it originally was a monastery for members of the Minorite Order but later it was used by Franciscans, and then it served as a prison. Since 1945 it has served as one of the buildings of the South Moravian Museum in Znojmo.
Now, if your plan is to visit the local religious sites, you shouldn’t forget about the St. Michael’s Church – the second most important church in the town after the Church of St. Nicholas. It was built in the 12th century and some experts think it’s situated in the place of a pagan sanctuary because of its location and dedication to St. Michael. Once you’re in Znojmo, remember to also visit the Baroque St. Hippolyte’s Church, which was built on the foundations of a rotunda from, probably, the 9th century, when the place was one of the important centres of the Moravian Empire.
You might also pay a visit to the Dominican Church of St. Crisis, Premonstrative Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Wenceslas and the Premonstrative Monastery. And before you ask: Yes, Znojmo seems to be a lot into religion.
Wine Festival and Pickles
Wine and pickles are a deadly combination, however, both have one thing in common. The thing is, of course, Znojmo. If you visit the town between September 11th and 12th, you’ll be just in time to attend the local Wine Harvest Festival which annually attracts about 80 000 visitors. Unless the coronavirus strikes again, of course. You might think that this is nothing for abstinence but it’s actually for everyone and I promise you that nobody will force you to drink anything. Instead, you can pay attention to its rich cultural program and the procession of the king John of Bohemia that takes place on the first day of the festival.
There is one more thing Znojmo is known for, which is pickles. In fact, a pickle is the town’s mascot, so if you happen to visit Znojmo, make sure to order some tasty meal that includes them. You can’t possibly miss such an opportunity, right?
Znojmo is full of interesting places to visit – so many that they can’t all be described in one article, so if you’re curious, I recommend you to visit the town and see it for yourself! Trust me, you will not regret it!
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Source of the photos: Pexels.com