Czech Republic – Brno – a rather odd place

While I was in Vienna in September 2018, I nipped over to Brno for the weekend, the Czech Republic’s second city. I came to visit my pops who was working there as a visiting lecturer in archaeology at Masarykova Univerzita. He’d been a few times before so he was able to show me around.

There’s a fair amount to see, some of quite quirky, as you’ll see in this post. The next two posts are dedicated to the Architecture, some of it very lovely, and the Food, which is good hearty fare. You’ll find everywhere I mention in the three posts on my Google map.

A little out of the centre is the Mendel Museum, located in the grounds of St Thomas’s Abbey where the famous geneticist Gregor Mendel was once the abbot. Between 1856 and 1863, Mendel conducted pea plant experiments in the gardens here, which layed the foundations for modern genetics.

The museum experience is a bit like going back to school (science was not one of my strengths) but interesting nonetheless when you consider the revolution the experiments launched.

The Starobrno brewery is right next door, more of which in a later post.

In the centre of town is the market square, Zelný trh. There’s not much to the market, a few mildly interesting stalls, but there’s a good restaurant and a cafe here (see next post).

On one side of the square is the Kapucínský Kostel (Capuchin church) where you can see the mummified bodies of local monks in the crypt. We didn’t go though as my dad had already been, and I had my own gruesome ideas, more of which later…

On the opposite side of the square is the Old City Hall.

Which has an ornate, if slightly wonky entrance.

Hanging from the ceiling of the gateway is a stuffed ‘dragon’ that once terrorised the city, according to local legend.

You’ll find the Tourist Information office here as well.

There is street art everywhere you go in Brno.

Some of it quite unusual.

My favourite is the Equestrian Statue of Margrave Jobst of Moravia, a former ruler of the region, known for his courage.

Another intriguing piece of street art is the Astronomical Clock in Svobody nám (Liberty Square). Every day at 11am, the clock emits a glass marble that can be caught from one of the four openings and kept as a keepsake. Locals joke that the only thing astronomical about it is that it cost 450,000 euros to construct.

The cathedral clock also chimes at 11am rather than midday. The story goes that the city was once under attack from the Swedish army but the fighting had reached a stalemate and the Swedish general said his troops would depart the field if they had not won by midday. The crafty locals moved the clock ahead by an hour, resulting in the early departure of the attackers.

Just down the road is a famous church called Svaty Jakoba (St Jacobs).

The exterior of the church is completely plain and virtually free of ornamentation, which makes this two headed figure baring its backside to the people below seem rather conspicuous.

Legends abound about this strange adornment, mostly related to the church’s competition with the cathedral (towards which the bare buttocks face) as it was constructed around the same time by competing builders.

Next to the church are some stairs going down under the square leading to the ticket office for St. James’ Ossuary. An ossuary is a place for depositing bones when space in the graveyard becomes scarce, as was the case for this urban parish as it expanded its graveyard in the 16th and 17th centuries. This ossuary became the second largest in Europe (after the Paris catacombs) and contained the skeletal remains of some 50,000 victims of medieval plague and cholera epidemics, as well as various battles and the Swedish siege. Although a rather macabre experience it’s quite stunning to see so many skulls and long bones in one place.

These were some of the more unusual things you can see in Brno. More standard sights and architecture are in my next post…

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