Why Visit Brno in the Czech Republic – and not Prague?
3. Astronomical Clock
4. Town Hall
5. Market Square
6. Monuments & Statues
If you have already been to Prague and look for a different experience in the Czech Republic, you may consider paying a visit to Brno. Brno has a population of 380,000 inhabitants, making it the second-largest city in Czechia. Although much smaller than Prague, Brno also has a lot to offer – both in terms of sights, culture, and history.
Brno is small-scale Prague, but still with a gorgeous cathedral, a splendid castle, a spectacular town hall, an astronomical clock, as well as delightful squares and several intriguing monuments scattered across the Old Town centre. In some way you could say that you get Prague in miniature – yet with interesting differences.
EFI SPA Hotel Superior & Pivovar (mid-range) in the heart of the city with a bar, restaurant, private parking, spa and wellness centre including sauna. The hotel has a brewery on site.
Barceló Brno Palace (top) 5-star hotel in historical building with excellent location close to the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul. There is free access to a sauna, relax zone and a modern fitness centre.
One of the pros of choosing Brno rather than Prague is that Brno is much less touristy than its big brother. Another clear advantage for Brno is the price level – Brno is definitely more budget-friendly than Prague, so this can also be a relevant factor to consider.
Both Prague and Brno have a magnificent cathedral that rises on the city skyline. They have several things in common, including that they are both built in a Gothic architectural style.
In Prague, St Vitus Cathedral, initiated in the 14th century, is famous for having tombs of Bohemian kings and Roman emperors – and, moreover, it is a former coronation site.
In Brno, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul sits on the Petrov hill. The first construction onsite was a Romanesque chapel, erected in the 12th century, but in the 1230s a Romanesque basilica dedicated to St Peter, and with a Gothic exterior, replaced the original structure. Later, probably in the 1300s, the basilica was also dedicated to St Paul. During the 1700s the architect Mořic Grimm provided the cathedral with a baroque interior.
Some of the highlights of Brno Cathedral are the Romanesque-Gothic crypt and the tower views. Most strikingly, the bell rings at 11 o’clock – a reminiscence from the Swedish siege during the Thirty Years’ War and the resulting legend according to which the citizens decided that the church bell would toll one hour earlier at noon – resulting in the city’s victory.
Just like Prague, Brno has its own imposing castle, although not as immense as Prague Castle that sits majestically atop the castle hillside on Prague’s left riverbank.
Brno’s Špilberk Castle was founded in the 13th century and has during the last 700 years served various purposes. First, it was used as a royal castle and the residence of Moravian margraves. Over the years it expanded to a huge military fortress that could protect the city of Brno, before it towards the end of the 1700s was converted into a jail for the heaviest category of prisoners, as well as political prisoners in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In the last century during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, thousands of Czechs were taken prisoners here at Špilberk Castle – maybe before facing an even worse fate in a concentration camp. In 1960 Špilberk became the seat of Brno City Museum.
Prague and Brno have each their ingeniously constructed astronomical clock.
The world-famous Prague Astronomical Clock dates back to 1410 and is among the oldest still operating astronomical clocks in the world. It displays all kinds of calendar, astronomical and zodiacal information, as well as parading figures.
Maybe surprisingly, Brno also has an astronomical clock, the Chronometer, a black obelisk in the Liberty Square. However, this clock is of more recent date – and is not as complex as Prague’s Astronomical Clock – since it ‘only’ indicates the time, although in its own sophisticated way. The time can be told from the position of the rotating uppermost glass prisms and stone pieces.
The Chronometer has been erected to commemorate the victory in 1645 (in the Thirty Years’ War) when the city was under attack by the Swedish army led by General Torstenson who was considered to be immortal. According to the legend, the only way to kill him would be with a glass ball at midnight in a magical ritual. At some point during the siege, the Swedish commanders decided that the Swedes would only give up if they hadn’t conquered the city before noon. The citizens of Brno then changed the time of the church bell noon ringing one hour – making it ring at 11 o’clock instead of noon.
The Chronometer has today become the symbol of Brno’s victory. Every day at 11 o’clock it releases a glass marble from one of the four openings in the monument, which a lucky spectator can grab and take home as a souvenir. The glass marble refers to the war legend. It is not known beforehand which of the openings will release the marble, so you might wait completely in vain at your chosen location.
As nearly any other city or town, both Prague and Brno of course have a centuries-old town hall. In both cases the town hall is a historical building with their own stories to tell.
Prague’s Old Town Hall is known for featuring the tower of the Astronomical Clock. Most visitors to Prague will at some time during their visit come to the Old Town Hall tower to watch the hourly parade of the twelve Apostles.
Brno’s Old Town Hall with a Gothic turret ceased to serve its original purpose as a town hall in 1935 – and was converted into a gallery. When entering the arched passage, you will notice elements from a couple of famous Brno legends: a crocodile dragon and a wheel. The town hall courtyard is a lovely arcaded Italian Renaissance courtyard with later baroque renovations.
Quite naturally both Brno and Prague have for centuries had a marketplace with a fruit and vegetable market on a central square in the city.
In Prague the Havelská street market dates from the 13th century and was the site where local craftsmen had their little shops. Much later, in the 18th century, the market was divided between the Coal Market and the Green Market. Today, the Havelská marketplace with its colourful stalls is both a fruit and souvenir market.
Brno has a beautiful historical square, Zelný trh, which has been the location of the vegetable trade for centuries. This is still where the locals come to buy their fruits, flowers, and vegetables. From the square you can descend into mysterious underground passages dating back to the Middle Ages.
The market square features an impressive fountain, the Parnas Fountain by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach.
Both Brno and Prague feature numerous fascinating monuments, sculptures and statues scattered across the city centre.
Some of the most famous Prague statues are the 30 baroque statues and monuments on Charles Bridge. Another very different and modern statue is the sculpture of Kafka’s Rotating Head outside the Quadrio shopping centre, created by David Černý.
Brno has several interesting monuments and statues as well. The statue Justice, or Spravedlnost, at the Moravian Square has its own message to the people. The man lifting and balancing a heavy block, created by Marius Kotrba, symbolises that justice is a heavy, but fragile concept. It caused some controversy when being installed here.
Another eye-catching monument in the same square is the Equestrian Statue of Margrave Jobst of Luxembourg (1354 – 1411). He was Duke of Luxembourg and Elector of Brandenburg, as well as elected King of Germany. The 8-metre-high bronze sculpture was created by Jaroslav Róna in 2015 and is now the centrepiece in the square.
Also the Plague Column from 1689 in the triangular Liberty Square is noteworthy. It reminds the citizens and visitors of former plague outbreaks in Brno.
Architectural styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, baroque, and rococo dominate the old towns in both Brno and Prague. Throughout the cities you will often find a blend of styles, sometimes even used for the same construction due to renovations carried out in different time periods.
Also, the elegant Czech art nouveau style from around 1900 adorns the house façades in both cities. Characteristic for this style are the floral motifs.
Brno is also characterised by its functionalism and modernist architecture. Many buildings around the city are designed in this style. One example is for instance the renowned Villa Tugendhat which is an architectural gem. Likewise, Prague also features a wealth of buildings designed in these styles. In this way both Brno and Prague are exceptional and rich cities when it comes to studying architectural styles.
Although Brno is the little brother, it has something that Prague doesn’t have – a famous ossuary, an underground site for the remains of bones and skulls.
In fact, the city of Prague doesn’t have any ossuary…… you will instead need to go a bit outside the Czech capital to visit Sedlec Ossuary. However, Brno Ossuary is with its 50,000 thousand skeletons the largest in the Czech Republic, and the second largest in Europe after the Paris Catacombs.
The ossuary at the Church of St James in Brno was initiated in the 17th century, and further expanded in the 18th century. Due to lack of space in the graveyard, the graves were opened again some years after the funeral, and the remnants were removed to the established ossuary to give room for new bodies in the graves. Also, frequent plague and cholera epidemics reinforced the need to expand the ossuary.
Joseph II closed St James Churchyard down in 1784, and little by little the city forgot about the ossuary. Strikingly, it was not rediscovered until 2001!
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Why Visit Brno in the Czech Republic – and not Prague
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