Monday, 23 November 2009

Jan Žižka from Trocnov

Just outside Trocnov in South Bohemia, an unpaved but smooth trail leads through thick forest to a gently sloping clearing about the size and shape of three football fields. Near the upper end stands a colossal broad shouldered statue of Czech history's most colossal warrior, Jan Žižka.

Jan Žižka was born at Trocnov around 1360 and despite the youthful loss of his left eye, went on to become the most feared and respected military leader and tactician in Czech history. Žižka's guerrilla-like military skills emerged from his struggles as a small landowner against the powerful South Bohemian aristocracy of the Rožmberk dynasty and developed further while fighting on the side of the Polish King at the battle of Grunwald in 1410.

While serving at the king's court in Prague from 1411-12, Žižka became a follower of the reformist preacher Jan Hus who was lured to Constance, betrayed and executed by a religious council in 1415. Jan Žižka was a committed follower of Hus' teachings and became a prominent leader within the Hussite movement, becoming governor of Tábor in 1423.

Open conflict between the Hussites and Catholic forces had broken out in 1418 and Žižka's inspired and innovative use of limited resources against well equipped opponents won the Hussites repeated victories including the improbable defense of Prague by 9000 men against Pope Martin V's 30,000 crusaders under the command of Sigismund of Hapsburg. Despite losing his remaining eye in the siege of Rábí castle, Žižka led Hussite forces until his death in 1424.

Prague tour guides are fond of pointing out that the 9 metre high, 16 tonne horseback statue of the Hussite leader on Prague's Vítkov hill is one of the largest equestrian statues in the world (the largest are the Genghis Khan statue at Zonjin Boldog in Mongolia and the Minas statue in Uruguay). But Josef Malejovský's 1958 statue of Žižka near the old family farm outside Trocnov reaches 12 metres in height and dominates its surroundings.

Half a mile away near the bottom of the clearing is a small meadow where low stone walls mark the size and layout of the two roomed house in which Jan, son of Gregory and Johanna Žižka, spent his childhood. The description is only in Czech but explains that the lowest part of the meadow was once a pond and that the area between it and the house was a paved courtyard. Nearby a more recent farmhouse serves as a museum and sells refreshments.

As a fighter against catholicism, Žižka was a popular figure even during the communist years. He is remembered by statues and places names across Bohemia including the Prague suburb of Žižkov, Tábor's Žižkovo namesti, and Žižkovo Pole-the field near Přibyslav where he met his death in 1424.

Bus and train connections to Trocnov
České Budějovice accommodation