Sunday, 20 June 2010

The marvels of Mikulov

Visitors interested in architecture and history will find few Czech towns with as much to offer as Mikulov in South Moravia. One of Moravia's four old Jewish towns, Mikulov is built on a limestone outcrop above the main road from Brno to Vienna just a couple of miles inside the Austrian border. For anyone who likes a drop or two of red to help their history and architecture go down, Mikulov is surrounded by one of Europe's most up and coming wine regions.

Headstone detail from the Mikulov Jewish cemeteryAt almost 2 hectares, Mikulov's Jewish cemetery is one of the largest in the country. The centuries of ivy-tangled gravestones include the final resting places of prominent Rabbis Menachem Mendel Krochmal, Shemuel Šmelke Horowitz, and Mordecai Benet. The cemetery's burial hall has emerged from long term reconstruction as an exhibition space and back in the Jewish quarter proper, the restored synagogue functions as a museum of Jewish history and culture from May through September.

Mikulov chateauBehind the synagogue, a long staircase leads up to the hilltop perch of the four-winged chateau that greets visitors to Mikulov approaching along the north and south roads or the rail line from the east. The chateau is open to the public and displays the living quarters and other trappings of aristocratic life enjoyed by Mikulov's nobles, the Liechtenstein and then the Dietrichsteins.

There's also an exhibit concerning Napoleon's 1805 stay in the chateau while he negotiated peace with the Austrians and the winemaking cellars hold lots of interesting historic equipment including an enormous wine barrel made in 1643 and with a capacity of 1010 hectalitres (that's enough for you and ninety-nine of your closest facebook friends to have a glass of wine with dinner every night for the next 13 years). The Mikulov chateau is a very impressive piece of architecture and I think most people would never guess it was rebuilt after being razed by the retreating German Army in 1945.

Main square of Mikulov in South MoraviaOn the opposite side of the chateau peak from the synagogue is the pretty town square. Tourist information and several wine bars are located on the square, as are at least three more of the town's valuable historic sites. The intricately decorated sgraffito house on the corner can be admired from the outside at any time of day or night, but the other two need to be visited to be properly appreciated.

Mikulov Bone crypt in the Church of St WenceslasThe belltower of the St. Wenceslas church is a dramatic addition to the Mikulov skyline, but for full effect it really needs to be climbed. The interior is also worth visiting but perhaps the most interesting corner of this church is tucked away behind a small iron door in the front facade. The crypt contains the bones of around 2000 people including members of the Dietrichstein and Lobkovice noble families.

Dietrichstein coffinsMost of the Dietrichsteins rest in the impressive building at the opposite side of the square. The former church of st Anne was rebuilt in 1844 to serve as a tomb for generations of the aristocratic Dietrichsteins. In the reconstruction, the fire damaged church was left roofless and the main nave became a courtyard for the new tomb. The side chapels were bricked in to form corridors and house 23 grand Dietrichstein coffins. The former choir of the church is now a rooftop terrace and is included in the guided tour of the tomb.

View from the rooftop of the Dietrichstein tombFrom the terrace there are views across the pretty main square to the chateau and the church and on a hilltop across to the right are the ruins of the Goats' Castle (Kozi hradek). The Czech word Hradek indicates that it was only a very small castle, but the ruins are interesting to clamber around and the views back across town are ample reward for the uphill slog through the streets and lanes near the Jewish cemetery. If a little liquid reward is also necessary there's a good summer refreshment stand in a clearing at the top.

Mikulov Holy Hill chapelsThe other rewarding Mikulov hill climb is up behind the Dietrichstein tomb. The blue-marked path up the side of Svatý Kopeček (Holy Hill) is lined with small chapels that represent the 12 stations of the cross and at the peak is the pilgrimage chapel of St. Sebastian. The wide views across Mikulov and the surrounding hills and plains extend into Austria and the hilltop castles that guarded that side of the border.

With so much to see and do, and Mikulov's 8000 or so inhabitants typically blessed with the sunny South Moravian disposition, it's a place that deserves consideration for all but the skimpiest of Czech Republic itineraries.

Related posts:
Daytrips from Brno
Bone churches of Bohemia and Moravia

Mikulov hotels
Mikulov hostels

Bus and Train connections to Mikulov

1 comment:

Jameson said...

Thanks for the great article. I have been meaning to go to Mikulov for three years, but something always comes up. So, this summer I must go :-)