Spotlight this week comes from Uherske Hradiste, a charming picturesque town in south-east Moravia. Like so many places in this part of the world, Uherske Hradiste has a rich and complex history. As tour guide Lenka Kornelova explains, the town was established nearly eight centuries ago in reaction to the turbulent events of that time and the city actually gets its name - meaning "Hungarian Fortress" - from this period.
"The name Uherske Hradiste is very unusual, because in the primary foundation charter from the year 1257, this town was without a name. The name Hradiste [meaning fortress] is from the year 1258, which was established by Premysl Otakar II. The attribute "Uherske" [meaning Hungarian] arose in 1578, because the city was built to protect the country's south-eastern border during raids by Hungarians and other people from the east."
The fact that the Bohemian king Premysl Otakar II founded Uherske Hradiste as a fortress to protect against marauding Hungarian hordes is responsible for the town's unusual layout in that it has not one but two main squares. Lenka Kornelova says that this came about because of rivalries among the local population drafted in to establish the city.
"I think that the most important thing is that the town has two main squares. There's a long history behind it. It all started because Premysl Otakar II wanted people from the village of Velehrad (now Stare Mesto) on one side of the town and the people of Kunovice on the other side to move into the middle and to create one city. But these people didn't want to cooperate, so the people from Velehrad built Marian Square, which is the second main square, and the people of Kunovice built Masaryk Square, where we are standing now."
The famous baroque fountain on Masaryk Square was designed by sculptor Vaclav Render who is perhaps best known for designing the Plague Column in Olomouc. It is just one of the many architectural delights that Uherske Hradiste has to offer. Lenka Kornelova says many of the town's major monuments date as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries when Uherske Hradiste was a major religious and economic centre:
"The dominant feature of this Masaryk Square is the complex of Jesuit buildings, which was built during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The church of St. Francis Xaverius is very interesting. This was actually built on a wooden frame because the whole town centre is standing on sand. I think only this church had a frame put under it, because all the other buildings in the centre have problems with statics."
It is perhaps appropriate that so many of Uherske Hradiste's old buildings seem to be built on shaky foundations, as a lot of the town's original structures are unfortunately no longer standing today. Many were destroyed in a cataclysmic fire in 1681 while others were swept away by the turbulent tide of history.
Uherske Hradiste's strategic Central European location meant it frequently suffered from raids at the hands of various foreign armies such as the Turks and the Prussians. It remained a fortress until as late as 1782, and it was the site of numerous military clashes, which all took their toll on the town.
Even today, Uherske Hradiste is still no stranger to the occasional catastrophe. Uherske Hradiste was one of the places hardest hit by the devastating Moravian floods of 1997. The deluge caused millions of crowns of damage, and Lenka Kornelova says the town has yet to fully recover to this day:
"The biggest shock for the inhabitants in the recent past was the year 1997, when we had the catastrophic thousand-year flood. In the place where we are standing now there was more than a metre and a half of water. So in the near future, I think we plan to reconstruct this place and this square."
Despite the need for further reconstruction, Uherske Hradiste has come on in leaps and bounds since the dark days of 1997. Many of the town's important monuments such as the Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and the Franciscan Monastery have been restored and are once again open to the public.
In any event, Lenka Kornelova is quick to point out that there's a lot more to Uherske Hradiste than its architecture:
"It's the natural metropolis of Moravian Slovakia, which is known for it's famous folklore, good wine, "cimbal" (dulcimer) music, good wine and lovely historical costumes. The best way to see all of this is to go to our Moravian Slovakian museum here in Uherske Hradiste."
Moravian Slovakia or Slovacko as it's known in Czech is indeed a centre of indigenous culture. It is home to one of the longest preserved folk costumes in the country, and people there can still be seen wearing a simplified version of it today. It's also a stronghold of traditional Moravian music, which is inspired by the violin and "cimbal" or dulcimer, as it's called in English.
Being situated in the heart of Slovacko, it's not surprising that Uherske Hradiste is itself something of a hub for local folk culture. It regularly hosts important folklore festivals and its Moravian Slovakian Museum has a number of important ethnographic expositions.
Besides nurturing local traditions, Uherske Hradiste is also closely associated with a more modern form of cultural expression. The Uherske Hradiste Summer Film School, which takes place on an annual basis is one of the biggest film events in this country. The film school attracts thousands of visitors every year and shows dozens of films in 11 venues. The increasingly important nature of the school is reflected in the fact that top international directors such as Terry Gilliam and Peter Greenaway have attended the event in recent years.
Although Uherske Hradiste is a four-hour drive from Prague, visitors to the Czech Republic who make the effort to go there will not be disappointed. Its charming cobbled squares and streets prove that it's not just the Czech capital that has a monopoly on attractive sights for tourists. The town's vibrant cultural scene and the fact that it is just a stone's throw away from attractions like Buchlov Castle and the Bata Canal definitely make it a place worth visiting.
Finally, apart from checking out all the cultural and architectural pleasures that Uherske Hradiste has to offer, anyone who tries out the excellent local Moravian wines is unlikely to be disillusioned. Lenka Kornelova suggests that, before leaving, visitors might also like to sample something else that the town and its environs are associated with, namely a famous type of plum brandy.
"It's well known for the Slivovitz. This is not the Czech national
drink, but it's very famous here and it's made mainly in this area."
Photo: Stepanka Budkova
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