With the motto “For the defence of the country and for the honour of my mother”, Emperor Joseph II instigated the construction of two walled towns in the Czech Republic. The town of Josefov recalls its actual founder in its name while Terezín bears the name of his mother, Empress Maria Theresa. Join us on our journey exploring fortresses in Bohemia and Moravia, and learn a thing or two about military history and top-class civil engineering.
Terezín and JosefovSharing not only the same founder, both of the fortresses have another thing in common - neither of them were ever besieged. From a military point of view, the erected structures were little more than money down the drain, but as far as tourism is concerned they are of great importance. Up to this day Terezín and Josefov feature not only several preserved objects and unbroken fortification segments, but also attractive underground corridors.
In the course of its history Terezín in North Bohemia became a symbol of suffering and oppression, as it was chosen by the Nazis as the site of a Jewish ghetto and Gestapo prison. Today the fortress is a monument and place of reverence. The times, when Terezín (Theresienstadt) was merely a stop-over on Jews’ journey to death camps, are recalled by the Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord in the town centre and the Terezín Memorial with its individual parts, such as the Ghetto Museum in the former Terezín school, Magdeburg Barracks, Jewish Cemetery with a crematorium and The Small Fortress, used as a prison by the Prague Gestapo.
The fate of Josefov in East Bohemia was very different. The fortress was in active military service much longer and soldiers did not leave it until after 1989. In the present day it is the venue of an annual music festival, which is quite hard to imagine within the walls of the Baroque fortress, but that is what makes it all the more interesting. Each year, the sounds of heavy metal music from the Brutal Assault Festival boom through the corridors of the Josefov Fortress. The festival attracts more and more people, who come here to enjoy their favourite music and soak up the unique atmosphere, praised by festival visitors and performers alike.
Vyšehrad in Prague, Špilberk in Brno, Casemates in ChebOne Czech mythical place shrouded in legends was turned into an important fortress, when it received Baroque fortifications and a garrison in the 17th century. Apart from a few details, Vyšehrad has remained the same as when it was left by the soldiers in 1911.Tours of this place can be taken all year round exploring casemates, hidden in the massive walls made of red un-plastered brick, the underground Gorlice Hall, Church of Sts. Peter and Paul as well as the Vyšehrad Cemetery, where nearly 600 famous Czech personalities from various walks of life found their last resting place.
If you wish to see austere military Baroque, then set off for Špilberk in Brno and explore its famous casemates! Built by Colonel Rochepinin 1742, they were used as a prison for almost a hundred years and welcomed their first sightseeing visitors in 1880. The casemates are open all year round.
More Baroque casemates can be found at the castle in Cheb. Following the decision of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, the town was slowly turned into a border fortress in 1652, when at that time it was only Prague that held the statute of a fortress town throughout the whole of the Kingdom of Bohemia. The original medieval castle was transformed into a Baroque citadel with typical red brickwork, used for the construction of casemates as well as the outer shell of the castle. Open all year round, the western casemates house an exposition focusing on techniques of torture and execution along with a castle armoury exhibiting a unique collection of cold weapons and firearms.
Olomouc and its fortification systemWhile very little is left of the medieval fortifications of the city of Olomouc (such as one of the gateways to the town, referred to as the Jewish Gate - located in Bezruč Park), the Baroque defence system is an entirely different story. After the Thirty Years' War, Olomouc was declared a fortress town and in the mid-18th century it was encircled with a collar of so-called Theresian Walls. On your sightseeing tour of the city you will be able to cast your eye over the Crown Fort with a Baroque gunpowder magazine, the monumental Theresian Armoury and the unique Theresian Gate, featuring elements of an ancient Roman triumphal arch. It is the only preserved fortress gate still standing on its original location. Some hundred years later the bastion fortress was extended with a defensive ring of advanced forts. For lovers of military architecture Olomouc is a unique example of a star-fort defence system; enabling them to visit some of its structures, such as Radíkov Fort, Fort No. XIII in Nová Street and Fort No. XVII in Křelov.
And if after touring the fortresses you suddenly feel you are in need of some classical Baroque splendour full of ornate detail and emotion, head for Olomouc’s Baroque Plague Column, which has made it onto the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.