Brno city guide

You’d think that Brno is some fancy abbreviation, like for “Best Refrigerated Nut Oatmeal”. Sounds delicious, but it’s not an abbreviation. That tongue-twisting name belongs to Prague’s main rival, although not a real competitor for the crown of Czechia’s main tourism destination. Some people say that Brno is boring. I think it just caters to a different audience. I’d say it’s more of a school trip city. A compact area you can explore in a day of intense sightseeing. Everyone says that Villa Tugendhat is something everyone should see. This place is where the break-up of Czechoslovakia was finalized. The villa is nice, the garden is blissful, but it’s still just a house. Doesn’t strike me as Brno’s top landmark that it’s being advertised as. I’m sure it holds a special place in Czech peoples’ hearts, though. Špilberk Castle (unrelated to the famous director) might be a better pick for foreigners. It’s one of 2000 castles located in the Czech Republic. That is a lot of castles and three of them are in Brno. It has served the rulers of Moravia for centuries. Not only that, Špilberk played an important role during the Thirty Years’ War against the Swedes. It functioned as a fortress with a prison and an elaborate torture “studio”. Nowadays, the castle is more a venue for artistic events with a great view of the Old Town. That’s usually where all the cool stuff is.

Freedom Square (Namesti Svobodi) in Brno

Freedom Square in Brno (Namesti Svobody) is the largest in the city; formed due to the intersection of trade routes, the square has the shape of a triangle

The Town Hall, not far from the picturesque Freedom Square (Namesti Svobody) is a good place to start exploring Brno. It’s that eerily illuminated building that stands out when it gets dark. A large taxidermied crocodile is hanging from the ceiling right at the entrance. Why? It passed as the Dragon of Brno for centuries. Brno, like any other respectable medieval city, needed a dragon. Not having a dragon was a faux pas back then. Someone came up with a story. It’s the usual fairy tale about a dragon living in a cave near the river. One day someone just arrived with this ridiculous crocodile corpse. He/she told everyone it’s a dragon and collected the bounty. People didn’t know any better; no one has seen a crocodile in these parts. It’s uncertain who even delivered the carcass. Some say it was the Templars. My first thought was one of those sewer alligator urban legends but then I realized we’re talking about Central Europe. There’s also a watchtower you can climb and look down towards the Old Town. This is also a great place to sit in one of the restaurants. Czech cuisine and Moravian wines are to-die-for.

The Cabbage Market is the name of the square next to the Town Hall. Farmers sold cabbage there, among other vegetables, and that’s where the name came from. All that food had to be stored somewhere and they didn’t have fridges in the middle ages. Tunnels below the square were built and expanded throughout the historic Brno. It’s like a giant cellar, where beer was brewed, barrels of wine aged, and people were tortured. The tunnels were reinforced in 2011 and are now open for exploration. The Cabbage market isn’t the only landmark with a cellar here. The Capuchin Monastery is a regular place of worship, with a library and the frescos and all the sacrum you’d expect. Walk down the stairs and you’ll see a bunch of mummified monks lying on the floor. I have mixed feelings about this kind of stuff. Should it be open for tourism? I don’t think I’d like that if it was me being a mummy down there.

Brno Observatory and Planetarium on Kraví hora during sunset

This complex looks more like a station for earthlings who landed on another planet than a city building; among the trees of the park in the center of Brno rise the domes of the planetarium and observatory, which GEO magazine included in the ten most beautiful in Europe

The macabre doesn’t end there. Take a walk north to St. Jacob’s Square; it’s not far. Archaeologists uncovered an ossuary below it some 400 years ago. It’s like the Paris Catacombs: entire walls of stacked human skeletons. Yes, it’s also open to the public. Don’t worry; there are less morbid sites to visit in Brno. The park on Kraví hora (Cow’s Hill) is such a pleasant spot, popular with locals for granting plenty of leisure time opportunities and splendid views over the city. There is a large sports complex with indoor and outdoor pools, volleyball courts, and dozens of playgrounds. People have picnics and barbeques on the slope during summer and use it for sledging in wintertime. Since 1954 the Brno Observatory and Planetarium stands out on the very top of the hill. Despite its age it is very modern and offers an interactive and entertaining science experience for the young and old. The venue includes an astronomical observation point, a planetarium, several telescopes and much more. Also from architectural perspective it is an interesting place. The functionalist building, reconstructed in 2010 and 2011, has a unique surface adorned with more than 8 million small holes. The design by architect Martin Rudiš, received a nomination for the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award in 2013 and won a year before the Czech Construction Award.

One could think that astronomy is a typical feature of the city since the peculiarly shaped Astronomical Clock can be found downtown Brno on the Freedom Square. It has become a bit of a meme among the locals, as no one knows what it’s supposed to be about. There’s always a bunch of people sticking their hands inside it. It somehow measures time and spits out desirable balls at certain intervals. The best thing about it is the puns when you remove the “L”. The Brno Astronomical C(l)ock. The Big Black C(l)ock.

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