Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic after Prague, is a charming and bizarre city with two town halls, a triangular-shaped square, a legendary dragon and a clock that strikes noon at eleven o’clock.
This modern metropolis is known for its strong industrial tradition, but boasts a rich cultural and artistic life. A very young Wolfang Amadeus Mozart, still a child, played in one of its theatres and the International Folklore Festival is held here every year. The city’s main tourist attraction, however, is a masterpiece of modern architecture, Villa Tugendhat.
Brno is truly a place where past and present coexist, creating a magical and unforgettable atmosphere.
Your visit to the city of Brno must begin at the central Freedom Square, from which the three main streets that criss-cross the city radiate outwards. Constantly animated by cultural events, markets and food festivals, the square is the true nerve centre of city life and is crowded with people all year round.
It is surrounded by elegant historical palaces and modern buildings, but what strikes visitors are two oddities that testify to the cheerful and irreverent spirit of the people of Bruneck. The first is the deliberately crooked spire of the Gothic portal of the old town hall, which was apparently built that way out of revenge on the architect, who had not been paid. The second oddity of Freedom Square is the modern clock with its ambiguous shape (for some it is a bullet, for others a phallus), which, to commemorate the victorious defence of the city from the siege of the Swedish army, chimes noon at eleven o’clock, like the bells of Petrov’s cathedral. At this hour, a glass marble is released from the clock: if you are lucky enough to catch it, you can take a very original souvenir home with you.
The second most famous and popular square in Brno is called Zelný trh, or Sauerkraut Market. A lively fruit and vegetable market is held here every morning.
One of the oldest and best known buildings in Brno is the Old Town Hall, where you can find out why the dragon and chariot wheel are the symbols of the city, visit the historical rooms and art gallery and climb the 63m-high tower. Not far away is the New Town Hall, a former monastery later used for civic purposes. Renovated in the 16th century by two Italian architects, it now houses the town hall as well as exhibitions and cultural events. You can visit the lovely outer courtyard, where you can photograph the statue of the legendary Brno dragon.
The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul dominates the city from Petrov Hill. Originally built as a small church in the Romanesque style, it was rebuilt and converted to the Gothic style in the 14th century. The two 81 m high bell towers, however, are much more recent: they date back to the early 20th century and are considered the masterpiece of neo-Gothic in the Czech Republic. You can climb to the top of either tower and from there enjoy a breathtaking view of the city.
If you like walking, you can take a nice stroll along the ramparts or if you prefer something more special, visit the city’s underground passages, recently reopened to the public. But the most pleasant walk is definitely the one through the old town: explore it at your leisure, letting yourself be enchanted by the colourful little houses.
The architectural jewel of Brno, not to be missed, is Villa Tugendhat, the residence of the Jewish couple Greta Löw and Beer-Fritz Tugendhat, wealthy textile industrialists.
Designed by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in the late 1920s, it is the only work of modern architecture in the Czech Republic to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the four most famous villas in the world. To realise the villa, the architect Van der Rohe ignored all trends in architecture and interior design of the time, resulting in a very elegant and modern building.
There are numerous oddities that strike the visitor: for example, when looking at the villa from the street, it appears to consist of only one floor, whereas in reality it has three floors. One of the walls dividing the interior spaces is made of onyx and changes colour depending on the angle of the sun’s rays.
To learn more about the details of this revolutionary design and the tragic fate of its patrons, you can take a guided tour, available in a standard and a longer version. Those with limited time can visit the villa’s garden. The villa is visited by thousands of visitors every year and this number is constantly growing, so it is strongly recommended to book your visit well in advance.
History buffs visiting Brno must include in their itinerary a small diversions to Austerlitz to visit the places where Napoleon’s historic victory over Austria and Russia took place. A detailed itinerary traces the events and significant places in 29 stages, pointing out the battlefields, villages, mass graves, burial mounds and memorials with commemorative panels, but you will only need half a day to visit the most important ones. Conclude your historically themed itinerary at Slavkov Castle, where the armistice that sealed Napoleon’s victory was signed.
You may not have chosen the Czech Republic as your holiday destination for the seaside, but if you just can’t do without a dip during the summer, you can do as many Czechs do: cool off in the waters of Lake Brno. The ‘sea’ of the Czechs in winter turns into a huge natural ice rink. You can skate in total safety because the thickness of the ice is constantly monitored: only when it reaches thirty centimetres does the local police, so to speak, start the dancing.
Approximately 14 km from Brno, on the other hand, is the Masaryk circuit (named after the first Czechoslovak president), the historicalhome of the Czech Republic’s motorbike Grand Prix.
If the roar of the engines isn’t your thing and you’re looking for a bit of peace and quiet, you only need to leave the city to find yourself surrounded by the vineyards of Moravia.
Brno is about 200 km from Prague and is well connected by several direct trains. The train journey takes about two and a half hours. Another option is to rent a car and reach Brno in about two hours.
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