Trebic - a recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List

Today I'm in Trebic, a town in south-west Moravia with a very rich history. Recently Trebic has been in the headlines, because its former Jewish quarter and St Procopius basilica were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. But before we visit those places, let's hear a bit about the history of Trebic from Town Hall spokesman Ivan Pribik, whose family have lived here for seven generations.

"In the Middle Ages, because the whole region was covered with a deep forest, the Trebec forest, that's probably the origin of the name of the town."

Located on the banks of the Jihlava River, Trebic was founded at the beginning of the 12th century with the building of a Benedictine Monastery which was one of the richest during the reign of the Premysl dynasty

"The monastery is still standing, but it is practically no longer a monastery because it was damaged in the 16th century and now the monastery building houses a museum."

I read that Trebic suffered in the wars of the 15th century involving George of Podebrady: is that the case?

"Yes, that's right. Trebic was completely destroyed and didn't exist for many years, 30 or 40 years, there were pretty bad times and it was quite bad."

Could you tell me something about the coat of arms of Trebic? There are three shields on it.

"Yes, it's very interesting. These three shields represent the three hoods, which mean the hooded cloaks of the old monks."

The former Jewish quarter of Trebic, known as Zamosti, is the only independent Jewish monument outside Israel to have been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. As in many towns in the region, Jews had a long history in Trebic, with the oldest headstone in the Jewish cemetery dating from the early 1600s. How many Jews were living in the town before the Second World War?

"It was many hundreds but I'm sorry to say that now there are no more Jews, because of World War II. Before World War II there were hundreds."

Was there any time when there were maybe thousands of Jews, was the Jewish community at some time bigger?

"In the 16th or 17th century there was a great boom of Jews in Trebic, and the most dense population was from the 15th to the 17th century."

There are two synagogues in the old Jewish quarter, the Front Synagogue and the Rear Synagogue. Ivan Pribik and I first visited the former, located close to the main road into the town.

"This synagogue is in possession of the Hussite church. It's called the Front Synagogue. It's one of two synagogues and is used regularly for religious services of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church."

Is that a big church in this country? I hadn't heard the name before.

"It's not a very big church, but it's a historical, traditional church. It doesn't have many members."

It's Protestant?

"It's Protestant, of course, yes."

As we continued our tour of the narrow, quiet streets of Zamosti, I was struck by the amount of building work going on and curious if many of the quarter's 112 houses were currently occupied.

"Yes, of course, there are many people living here. Some of them moved here after the Velvet Revolution, some of them are old settlers. And many of them started new businesses, like restaurants and shops."

It looks like there's a lot of building work going on around here.

"Yes, there is a lot of building and a lot of work, people are reconstructing their houses. There is still a lot of work to do. The whole of the town will be reconstructed in the next few years, but most of the work already has been done."

It's very green here. It's almost like being in the country.

"Yeah, it's green. That's a characteristic of this part of the town because on one side there's the river Jihlava and on the other side there's a hill called Hradek. So the position was quite typical for the part of the town and the small area made this typical Jewish town, with small and narrow lanes and streets."

This is the Rear Synagogue, as it's called.

"Yes, this is the Rear Synagogue, newly rebuilt. Under the Communists it was used as a store of potatoes and vegetables. They were terrible, terrible times and now we're lucky after the Velvet Revolution to have completes changes. It was pretty terrible. There were plans to completely abolish this part of the town. Maybe if the Velvet Revolution hadn't come it would be probably in a few years completely destroyed."

Why did the Communists want to destroy this part of the town?

"I think the main reason was the lack of financing. So in the Communist era there was no interest to rebuild old towns and old parts of the town, because of the lack of money. They were very keen on building new houses and new places but it was also a regime which didn't support very much the Jewish community and Jewish culture."

Inside the Rear Synagogue there's a lot of writing on the walls in Hebrew, but some of it has faded a lot. Are there any plans to somehow revive the Hebrew writing on the walls?

"At this time we have to revive or to make some new inscriptions, but it is preserved in the condition it was in in the last century."

I see at the end of the hall here there's a monument to local victims of the Holocaust.

"Yes, there are written all victims from Trebic who were killed in the Holocaust."

But the former Jewish town isn't the only sight in Trebic to have been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List: that distinction is shared by the mid-13th century St Prokop's Basilica, which is located on a hill not far from the Zamosti district. It was the most intricately constructed building in the whole of the Benedictine Monastery. Ivan Pribik told me more about it.

"The basilica is connected quite closely with the foundation of the monastery so formerly it was the monastery basilica. In the beginning maybe it was wooden and later it was rebuilt in stone. And practically it was the first building in this region, together with the monastery. It is connected with the town and the town was constructed near the basilica with a settlement of Jews, Christians and local businessmen."

Nowadays what is St Prokop's Basilica used for?

"It is used for regular religious services and of course it a tourist sight and many tourists come to see this sight."

By the way, part of the much-admired film Marketa Lazarova, was filmed in the basilica's crypt.

Trebic's traditional leather and shoe-making industries (Tomas Bata opened a factory in the town in the mid 1930s) have all but died out, and now the local authorities are hoping Trebic's recent inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List will benefit tourism in the area and help create jobs. Several cultural and sporting events already attract thousands of visitors every year, including one unusual festival connected with the dominant crop in the district.

"Bramborobrani is a festival connected with potatoes, because potatoes are the main crop planted in local agriculture. And the festival Bramborabrani is connected with the local music."

Do people have potato fights?

"No, we haven't started potato fights but it's quite a good idea."