The town of Mikulov
The town of Mikulov is surrounded by the three southernmost hills of Pálava - The Holly Hill, the Turold Quarry and the Chateau Hill, which also determine its ground plan. The valley in the south of Pálava has been a settlement since paleolithic times. It was also an important place located at the Amber Road, a trading road connecting Europe with Asia. At the end of the 11th century, the area was joined to Moravia. The first written mention of Mikulov dates back to 1249, when Henry of Liechtestein was given the estate. He held it until 1560.
The first settlement was probably located near St. Wenceslas church and around Česká (Czech) street. The town was formed around the main square, that originally was a market place. In 1279, Mikulov was allowed to organise a weekly market. The town was an important junction that profitted from its favorable location on trade routes.
In the first half of the 15th century, the population of the town was about 2,500. At that time, the town was not protected with walls. There only was a protective moat. The stone walls were build at the end of the 16th century. Two gates where the main access points into the town. The Upper (Brno) Gate was located on the Kostelní (Church) square. The Lower (Vienna) Gate was placed at the southern end of the town. Both gates were demolished in 1836 and 1837, together with a substantial part of the town walls. In the 16th century, an artillery tower was built on the top of the Kozí (Goat) Hill as part of the fortification system that protected the town and the chateau from the North.
The church of St. Wenceslas was founded in the 13th century and its dedication indicates that it was founded by the Czechs. The Romanesque predecessor of the today's church was burnt down by the Hussites in 1426. The presbytery of the church, the oldest preserved part, dates back to the first quarter of the 15th century. The appearance, as we know it today, was created during the first part of the 17th century when Cardinal Franz of Dietrichstein initiated the reconstruction of the church. The three church bodies were covered with a cross vault decorated with rich stuccos. Small construction works were carried out in the following centuries as well. The church has a Renaissance four-storey tower with arcades.
One of the most interesting buildings is the Renaissance house "U rytířů" (Upon the knights), which you can find in the main square. It was built after a devastating fire in 1561 as a reconstruction of several Gothic houses. Its walls are covered in superior sgraffito decorations with biblical (the Flood, the Baptism of Jesus Christ, etc.) as well as secular motifs (hunting scenes, musicians, dancers, etc.).
In 1575, the Dietrischteins acquired the town and started to alter its appearance. Cardinal Franz Dietrichstein, especially, had a significant influence on Mikulov. He turned it into a blooming city with rich political and cultural life, supported by the chateau and by the newly founded institutions, both religious and educational. He invited the Capuchins in 1611, who built a monastery near the town wall. Next to the monastery, the Cardinal ordered to build a Loreto Chapel, a copy of the Italian Santa Casa in Loreto. 30 years later, a church was built above the chapel. It was dedicated to St. Anne. In the second half of the 17th century, a vault and a vestry (the Stucco Hall today) were added to it. At the beginning of the 18th century, the original front side with one tower was replaced with another one with two towers, according to a design by Johann Bernard Fischer of Erlach. The facade was richly decorated with sculptures in the late Baroque style. In 1784, however, the whole place burnt down. The building continued to fall apart until the 1st half of the 19th centrury, when it was changed into a burial church with a crypt for the Dietrichstein family.
Cardinal Dietrichstein ordered to build the Chapel of St. Sebestian on the top of Svatý kopeček (Holy Hill). Not far from it, a campanile (a detached bell tower) was built. The path to this sanctuary is lined with fourteen stations of the cross, decorated with sculptures. They date back to 1700. Other important historical buildings are the so called Canonical houses, that were built in late Renaissance style after 1625 for the priests of St. Wenceslas canonry. Later, some Baroque adjustments were made.
To invite the Piarist Order to Mikulov, was another successfull accomplishment of Franz of Dietrichstein. He presented the Order with an old. medieval, hospital with the Church of St. John the Baptist. Immediately, the Piarists started an extensive reconstruction and built a dormitory and a college. They also reconnstructed the church and decorated the interriors with paintings by Franz Anton Maulbertsch, the biggest of Viennese painters from the 18th century. The Piaristic grammar school played an important role in lives of many of the region's people. The school used to have teachers and students whose fame and importance exceeded the region. Nicholas Adauct Voight, the founder of Czech numismatics, and Gelasius Dobner, the founder of modern Czech historiography, used to teach here. One of the famous students was Johann Evangelist Purkyně. The Piarists stayed and worked in Mikulov until 1950.
The Pomona Fountain and the Monumental Column of the Holy Trinity in the square, which were built during the first half of the 18th century, belong to the most beatiful creations that you can see in Mikulov. Ignatius Lengelacher also contributed to the sculpture decoration of the column.
Another interesting chapter in the history of Mikulov are the anabaptists. Members of this religious sect were great craftspeople, winegrowers, and builders. They excelled in medicine and barbery and were therefore tolerated by the Catholic government. It was them who made South Moravia to become the "garden of Central Europe". With their leader Balthasar Hubmaier, who was later burnt at the stake in Vienna, they came to Mikulov in 1526. Thanks to political turbulences in 1620s, an imperial directive was issued, that banished the anabaptists from Moravia. They are still remembered for beuatiful faience pottery, that used to be exported around the world. There are several well preserved pieces that commemorate their stay in Mikulov.
The Jews also played an important role of the Mikulov history. A fully constituted community existed here since the middle of the 15th century. The local authorities were very much aware of the big benefitial potential of the Jewish community. Therefore, for more than 300 years (from the 1550s to 1850s), Mikulov became the centre of Moravian Jewishdom and the seat of the country's rabbinate. Among the rabbis serving here, there were a lot of educated men. The most known is probably Jehuda Löw ben Becalel, who was also known under the name Rabbi Löw.
The 3,500 Jewish inhabitants who lived in Mikulov were the most numerous Jewish community in Moravia for a long time. Of the original Jewish ghetto, only 90 houses have survived up to present. Many still have a Renaissance core, a Baroque vault, an Imperial or an Art Nouveau façade. In the first halt of the 19th century, at least 12 synagogues and prayer halls operated in Mikulov. The most important was the Old Synagogue, originating from 1550, which is the only one surviving until today. Its architectural concept is a result of the Baroque reconstruction. The most precious reminder of the ghetto is the Jewish cemetery. With the area of 19,180 square metres, it belongs to the largest and most important cemeteries in the Czech Republic. There are about 4,000 tombstones, the oldest dating back to 1605.
Despite the devastating consequences of the Second World War and the Communist regime, the city retained its historical character. In 1952, Mikulov was granted the status of an urban conservation area. After 1989, the town council have gradually renewed all the important historical monuments and sculptures to preserve the work of old architects for the future. The beauty and history of Mikulov make it a cultural and historical town of European importance.