4 of 8 UNESCO sights reached within a day from Brno are of Baroque origin.
The national tourist board Czechtourism has proclaimed the Baroque to be the central theme of tourism in the year of 2017. I must confess that the Baroque period was not of my favourite.
I often found it very ostentatiously ornamented and some could think even kitschy. I think it was mostly caused by the fact they I have not dedicated much attention to this period. But when I started to discover the legacy of the Baroque era in the view of tourism I was surprised of how big impact the Baroque has had on nowaday appearance of every city, town, village and the landscape.
So what Baroque is about?
Briefly said it is a period of artistic style dominated European continent from 1600 to 1725. The home of Baroque is unsurprisingly Italy, although the origin of the word is from Spanish “barrueco” and it refers to a rough pearl of an irregular shape. The word was firstly used in 1733 and it had a negative derogatory meaning. You could notice that the name was first used when the Baroque era was officially over.
The typical feature which characterise the Baroque is the grandiosity in all aspects of the art such as sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, theatre, and music. The baroque expanded over the Europe and ruled it more than 100 years. You may find its imprints in American continent too but let’s focus on what Baroque treasures are found in the scale of Brno Day Trips.
Theatre performances evolved in the Baroque era and gained on popularity among nobility. Aristocrats offered premises of their residencies to theatre performances which were later rebuilt into modern theatre stages. First baroque theatres appeared. The repertoire mostly consisted of operas, but tragedies, comedies and ballet were performed too. Comparing to nowadays the performances in Baroque lasted several hours (6-8 hrs) and aristocrats attended only the most interesting parts. The performance was usually followed with the grandiose dinner or ball. The great contribution of baroque theatre are seen in today’s theatre stages. Many machineries invented for special effects such as rain, thunder, lighting and wind and for changing scenes very quickly became base for modern theatres.
The best example of such theatre can be seen in the Litomyšl chateau which is inscribed on the UNESCO heritage list. The theatre was built in 1796 and it is second best preserved theatre after Český Krumlov. For another example, we do not have to travel far. Liechtenstein princely house had a theatre built in Lednice chateau but this was demolished during the Neo-gothic rebuilding. Another theatre was built in Valtice chateau in 1790 and in the same year visited by the Emperor Leopold II. This theatre still existed in quite good condition until the end WWII when it was badly damaged. Fortunately, it was completely renovated by the end of the 2015 and its premises can be visited during the tour or, on the occasion of a performance. Both theatres, Litomyšl and Valtice, were built several decades after Baroque era officially ended. However, their interiors bear typical baroque features. When talking about stage-craft, we cannot miss Reduta, found on Zelni trh square in Brno, which is considered to be the oldest theatre stage in Central Europe. Obviously, travelling theatre troupes performed there from the early of the 17th century.
Baroque era was marked with a building boom. There were built grandiose palaces, manorial houses, pleasure places and castles. To entertain their owners and guests and to instigate their imagination, the interiors were lavishly decorated with opulent use of colour and ornaments, large-scale ceiling frescoes and with paintings. Exteriors were characterized by a dramatic central projection too. The most common material was marble or artificial marble, plaster or stucco, faux finishing (decorative paint finishes that replicate the appearance of materials such as marble, wood or stone) and all decorations were mostly gilded. Wealthy aristocrats could not afford not to follow current fashion and they invited famous architects mainly from Italy to rebuild their obsolescent residences. This happened to Valtice chateau, Lednice chateau (only riding halls preserved from baroque rebuilding), Kroměříř palace, Slavkov u Brna chateau , Vranov nad Dyji castle or Náměšt nad Oslavou. These residences are the greatest example of Baroque secular architecture in Morava.
Baroque palace without a baroque garden is uncomplete. The fashion in Baroque gardens was dictated from Versailles in France but only Luis XIV could afford such expensive project. How aristocrats coped with this issue? They had gardens built of smaller scale in the close vicinity of their residences. These gardens are based on symmetry using straight planted trees, parterres, fountains, grottos, ponds etc.. In Moravia, it is Kroměříž Flower garden, the most preserved representative of the Baroque garden. It is detached garden and represents a transition between late Renaissance Italian gardens and classical Baroque gardens of the French type, such as the one in Versailles. The garden is inscribed on the UNESCO heritage list.
Baroque era is often linked to the Counter-Reformation, a movement within the Catholic Church to reform itself in response to the Protestant Reformation. New religion orders were founded to reinforce Catholic faith among people. The most influential were Jesuits who built spectacular Churches with adjacent college buildings to provide education to youth and to spread Catholic faith. One of these large Jesuit complex is preserved in Olomouc. Today buildings serve to students of Palackého University.
One of the greatest architect of the Baroque era in Czech Lands was Jan Santini Aichel. Major of his work is a mix of Baroque and Gothic style. He is author of the UNESCO listed Pilgrimage church of St John of Nepomuk at Zelená Hora in Žďár nad Sázavou found near the historical border between Moravia and Bohemia. Most of his masterworks are concentrated in Bohemia territory, however in Moravia they are Křtiny u Brna, Rajhrad and Zbraslav of his design.
Another famous representative of Baroque architecture is Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach who greatly contributed on building of Schonbrunn palace in Vienna. Brno can boast with the fountain Parnas, placed on Zelní trh square, designed by Fischer.
Europe, during its turbulent history, was several times struck by a plague epidemy. In Baroque, to express gratitude for passing the epidemy were built Marian columns, while Holy Trinity Columns were erected to celebrate the Catholic church and faith. It is quite rare to find a town without a column standing on the square in Central Europe in countries belonged to Habsburg monarchy. But above all stands one column inscribed on the UNESCO list and it is the Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc, the largest group of Baroque statues within a single sculptural monument in Central Europe from the workshop of Rendel.
Another way to show gratitude for passing the epidemy chose Cardinal Franz Dietrichstein who that time chose Mikulov town to be his main residence. On the hill, the dominant of Mikulov, he decided to build the Chapel of St Sebastian– patron of the sick and dying. Soon after the way leading to the chapel was lined with 7 shrines representing the Stations of the Cross. A new pilgrimage site was founded.
There are many things to write about Baroque and many places to name to get you to know this era in Moravian history but rather than reading is to come and see it on your own eyes.