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Mikulov – town in the landscape

Mikulov, located among the limestone hills of southern foot of the Pavlov Hills, represents a kind of historical urban area technically known as the “city in the landscape.” As such it is a unique example of late Renaissance and early Baroque urban planning whose principle was to design the urban area as a whole. Its building blocks – the castle and its terraced garden, town and aesthetically beautified surrounding landscape with the Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill and garden preserves with Summer Manors in the valley of the Včelínek creek – were in their reconstruction aesthetically unified into one indivisible representative urban unit connected by countless viewing links.

genius loci Mikulov

It is a little wonder that this piece of work, built many centuries ago for the beautiful views, has been preserved in its entirety and historic authenticity to the present. We don’t fully realize (unfortunately neither do the town representatives) that our admiration isn’t in fact only of the buildings’ architecture of the historical core of Mikulov but especially of their deliberate visual linking with the beauty of the surrounding nature and the ancient agricultural cultural landscape. Destruction or damaging of these visual links of the inner town with its exotically impressive backdrop may terminate even this primary and most extraordinary remarkableness of Mikulov – the pride and extremely valuable assets for future prudent development of the town and developing tourism.

One of the many singularities of Mikulov is also its “Italian” appearance. It has been predetermined for Mikulov by the nature and the landscape in which the town lies as if it were a cradle. The white coral limestone of Pavlov Hills with specific flora and fauna as well as exceptionally warm and sunny climate seem to have created a distinctive enclave of landscape of Southern Europe – Balkans, Tuscany or northern Italy. This natural quintessence was made good use of by Cardinal František Dietrichstein (1570 – 1636) in the early 17th century during the reconstruction of medieval Mikulov, destroyed by wars and fires, into an urban area of the Lordship residential town and aesthetically shaped so called composed landscape in its vicinity which is, despite the partial periodical reconstructions, preserved in its entirety to the present.

At that time, in the town there was built, according to designs of the late Italian Renaissance, Mannerism and the emerging Baroque, the Capuchin monastery with the church of St. Lawrence, pilgrimage Loreto chapel (a replica of the famous Santa Casa in the Italian town Loreto) with the church of St. Anne (nowadays the Dietrichstein sepulcher), pilgrimage church of St. Sebastian with the chapels of the Stations of the Cross on the Saint Hill and also the Piarist monastery with the church of St. John the Baptist and the Secondary Grammar School; the reconstruction of the castle into a chateau residence with terraced gardens, onto which followed on the southern and eastern outskirts of the town preserves with Summer Manors and flower gardens nestled in agriculturally used land and connected with the chateau by alleys, was completed. Then Mikulov acquired its typical panorama with many Italianizing elements that merged with native specifics to its unique form and atmosphere. Since then, Mikulov belonged to the most important Lordship residential towns of the modern era in our country – Český Krumlov, Jindřichův Hradec, Litomyšl, Moravská Třebová and Kroměříž.

The striking characteristic of the typical Italian theme, given by a perfect exploitation of the uneven terrain of Mikulov, are the vistas through the narrow ancient streets of the town into the perspective of the continuing countryside. And open agricultural landscape. With these suggestive vistas we acquire the illusion that the remote nature is closer to us than it actually is. Especially in the historical town centre and chateau gardens, there are countless similar fluencies.

Mikulov chateau and its terraced gardens

zámek mikulovThe original medieval aristocratic castle in Mikulov was built atop a 278 m high rocky limestone hill. It lacked flat surfaces and the steep slopes around the castle were, therefore, expanded by clay backfill into differently wide terraces. On the largest of them under the southern and eastern façade of the castle there was, at the altitude of 244-255 meters, built an ornamental garden (11 752 sq.m). Together with the other terraced gardens, laid at various levels around the chateau, it gave rise to one of the largest chateau gardens of the castle kind in our country (13 237 sq.m). Its uniqueness is not subject to size but the very idiosyncrasy of the place. The chateau does not stand on top of the highest hill in the area but in the middle, on a slope rising to the north of the spacious valley, protected on three sides by hills of the southern foothills of the Pavlov Hills. At the bottom and on the slopes of the valley, there grew the town over the centuries that sealed the chateau in its midst. The chateau has the character of a magnificent viewpoint which looks over the landscape rising from the Včelínek valley further to the southern horizon toward the castle of Falkenstein. As into a mirror, they look at each other the landscapes of Falkenstein and Mikulov, across the Včelínek valley creek. The Austrian village Klein Schweinbart and the town Mikulov act as if they were mirror reflections of each other. The binding of the chateau residence and the terraced gardens on the town and the surrounding countryside is implicit. Therefore the town and its surrounding countryside are the most distinctive elements and the base of the composition of the terraced gardens of the Mikulov chateau. From here, there are stunning views toward Valtice and the Carpathian massif behind, Falkenstein, the hills of Dunajovice, the Saint Hill and the main crest of the Pavlov Hills. By extent, not so large terraced gardens merge with images of the surrounding landscape and create a unique illusion of infinite space. It is these attributes of the place, the town and the landscape that make the chateau grounds in Mikulov unique and remarkable.

Urban historical reservation Mikulov


Mikulov and its surroundings are characterized by a picturesque hilly region of Mikulov with rocky Pavlov Hills and wooded Milovice forest – the geomorphologic part of the South Moravian Carpathians. The main ridge stretches from Pavlov to Mikulov to a distance of twenty kilometres and astonishes by the whiteness of the limestone and by the quantity and forms of karsts phenomena and the diversity of plants and animals. Mikulov is spread on the southern edge of the Pavlov Hills in a wide valley, rising to the north, between the Turold hills and the Saint Hill. Inside the valley, other two rocky hills stand out, the Chateau Hill and the Goat Hill, that were over the centuries structurally taken over together with the Saint Hill. These morphological foundations of Mikulov with the three hills may be seen on all historical vistas. They create the main attraction of Mikulov from the natural and artistic point of view. From the former urban development, there have been preserved many architecturally rare town-houses, religious and secular buildings and ancient romantic streets in the inner town. They are the testimony of a century long development of the town, originally Gothic but most of all Renaissance and Baroque that obtained, after many fires, its present appearance.

The most precious part of the town urban complex was soon after the World War II (1951) declared an urban historical reservation and reaffirmed in 1982. On the southern edge of Mikulov the Mikulov Upland is linked to Valtice Upland and the limestone mass of Falkenstein in Austria by the wide valley of the Včelínek creek. Mikulov and the landscape in its surroundings thus have a direct link to the rare Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape, the National Park Leiser Berge and Gesunde Land um Laa in Lower Austria that represent the Austrian part of the Pavlov Hills.

Pilgrimage church of St.Sebastian, Holy Sepulchre, the Belfry and Chapels of the Stations of the Cross on the Saint Hill

The majority of the architectural elements which create the character and magic of Mikulov today were carried out by architects evidently under the direct order of Cardinal Dietrichstein (1570 – 1636). As an expression of an extraordinary piety and due to his task to return Moravia to Catholic faith. He equipped his residential town with the element of a pilgrimage Loreto chapel (after a fire rebuilt into the sepulchral chapel of the Dietrichsteins) and a pilgrimage holy mountain as representative places of talks between man and God. The complex of Christian buildings on the Saint Hill in Mikulov is a culturally historic relic of European importance. It is the first ecclesiastic building of this kind on the territories of former Czech Crown Lands. In the wider area north of the Alps there is only one a little older (1609 – 1617) Kalwaria Zebrzydowicka in Poland. As an inspiration and a possible precedent of the Stations of the Cross on the Saint Hill, holy hills in north Italian towns of Orta, Varese and Varallo are reported in the technical literature – the oldest and in the early 16th century the most popular pilgrimage towns in Italy, connected with the worship of the Virgin Mary but primarily with the European recatholisation. Here they found the full development only in the later Baroque period – the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th centuries. The value of the Mikulov complex is elevated by the fact that it was founded as a part of the urban area of the lordship residential town and surrounding large aesthetically shaped so called composed landscape with Summer Manors and flower gardens in preserves. From the landscaping point of view the complex of Christian buildings on the Saint Hill represented an entirely new type of mythological sites interconnecting the countryside among human settlements and at the same time a wholly new landscaping element that, like the ornamental preserves, connected the chateau residence and the town with the natural scenery. The nature and even the deliberately beautified landscape and garden constituted in the eyes of the Church officials natural temples, places of talks with God and a materialization of an ancient human dream of paradise. This idea was in the period of Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque exceptionally powerful. With the thought of earthly paradise – the garden of Eden – was apparently founded even Mikulov by Cardinal Dietrichstein – a town with monasteries, churches, pilgrimage Loreto chapel, pilgrimage holy hill and aesthetically formed preserves with Summer Manors and flower gardens.

The complex of intentionally beautified, so called composed, landscape from the first third of the 17th century

On the eastern and southern edges of Mikulov, in the area of the former border zone, there has been preserved a complex of intentionally aesthetically formed landscapes, similar to the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape. As a part of the urban reconstruction of Mikulov it was founded by Cardinal Dietrichstein between 1611 – 1636. It constitutes the historic core of composed modifications of the southern Břeclav region. As a result of disintegrated archive documents, and an extremely long historical adversity of events, it had escaped the attention of the experts until recently. Composed landscapes from that period of time are a singularity that is significant in the global context.

The originality of composed landscaping near Mikulov consists in connecting two ostensibly different purposes – aesthetical and economic. Already in the first decades of the 17th century the Cardinal put (composed) into an economically intensively used agricultural land of noble estate elements to deliberately embellish the landscape (horticultural embellishment of preserves with villas and flower gardens and pilgrimage holy hill). This landscape unit, with the economical and representative purpose semantically connected to the chateau residence by alleys, was the portent for the large aristocratic country estates of the modern times, labelled as an ornamental farm (ferme ornée). Today, this originality of solving the landscaping modifications of the southern Břeclav region is generally presented as an idea brought here by the Liechtensteins. However, Cardinal Dietrichstein aesthetically shaped and used the agricultural land in the surroundings of his town in the early 17th century. Modifications of the agricultural land of Mikulov and the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape into the appearance of ornamental farms were based on the same principles – natural opportunities of local landscape types with ponds, fields, gardens, vineyards, pastures, agricultural farms, farming estates and buildings developed. The connection of the residence, chateau garden, the town and the composed landscape thematically linked by avenues is a testimony of the strength which was and still is given to an agricultural economic enterprise here. Embellished elements of the composed landscapes of Mikulov and the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape conformed to fashion of the times during which they were created. While those of Mikulov were based on the examples of the later Italian Renaissance, Mannerism and the emerging Baroque of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Lednice-Valtice one was inspired mainly by the English samplers of the 18th century. They represent two developmental forms of ornamental country estates of high-ranking nobles, bound to sovereign residential city. It is a little wonder that both of the landscaping creations survived over the centuries next to each other in their original form.

The Summer Manor in the flower garden on the Tichý Island of the Nový pond

Among the most original foundation of the Cardinal’s garden of Eden is the Summer Manor in the flower garden on the Tichý Island of the Nový pond. The island grounds, at the end of the 19th century still called a landscaped jewel of enchanting beauty, is connected to the town residence by a brick bridge and a two and a half kilometres long avenue. They are well-preserved but damaged due to the old age and failure to maintain. The recovery of the island premises has already begun thanks to the project Interreg – Landscape of our ancestors, totalling to 3 million CZK, under the patronage and financial support of the Mikulov Town Hall, European Union and other partners. The neighbouring Austrian village Drasenhofen has become the foreign partner on whose titles the composed landscape near Mikulov significantly exceeds. The outcome of this international project will also be a documentary film, a book and a convention that will introduce for the first time the Landscape Composition of Mikulov to the experts as well as the general public. Special attention should be reserved to the landscaping plan of Mikulov, elaborated by the experts of the Horticultural Faculty in Lednice in co-operation with researchers of the first post-war complex land consolidation of the title of Mikulov on request of the Town Hall. It proposes a protection and a way of sympathetic use of this precious landscape area in the vicinity of the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape in the future. It becomes a unique model and an example for dealing with the development of similar sites throughout the Czech Republic. Other restorative projects in the area of the Landscape Composition near Mikulov are being prepared.

Historic cultural landscape on the borders of the South Moravia and Weinviertel

The rarities of this area are not only the towns and the landscaping creations of the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape or Mikulov but also the existence of a vast historic cultural landscape on the border of the former Iron Curtain. Its uniqueness consists in a centuries-long joint development with a distinctive bond to the cultural background of Vienna. The character of the landscape on the Moravian – Austrian frontier was significantly influenced not only by the dynasties of the Liechtensteins and the Dietrichsteins but also the Fünfkirchens, the Sinzendorfs, the Harrachs, the Teuffenbachs, the Althan and others. They belonged to the rich and the richest ones in the country. The majority of them were mutually related and owned land on both sides of the Moravian – Austrian frontier. This fact, together with the effect of positive rivalry, reflected without any doubts even into the similar patterns of the landscape. The extraordinary concentration of mansions, palaces and manor houses brought an unprecedented expansion of the gardening and landscaping works whose character corresponded to the architects’ and artists’ bond to the Imperial Court of Vienna. On both sides of the Moravian – Austrian frontier there are still a significant number of former aristocratic units with gardens and landscaping works. Some of them disappeared, others are damaged through historic adversity like Mikulov, and others are being restored or await a restoration. A distinct trail in the landscape was also left by ordinary inhabitants. The necessity to survive long periods of isolation taught them to manage prudently and efficiently the wealth of “the landscape on the border”. Sustainable farming is natural here. The phenomenon of viticulture lanes and wine-cellar villages with rows of vineyards on the slopes of the limestone hills of Mikulov and Weinviertel is one of many examples. The specific equipment of the rural agricultural land on the Moravian – Austrian frontier has today, without exaggeration, the value of the Crown jewels of South Moravia and Weinviertel. Thereto belong an unusual quantity of castle ruins, recalling the uncertain times of the 11th and 12th centuries full of invasions and battles among Czechs, Hungarians and Austrians. Only in the vicinity of Mikulov were there built defending castles in Valtice, Dolní Věstonice, Kletnice, Pavlov, Falkenstein, Staatz, Laa an der Thaya. Some of the castles were rebuilt to chateau residences similar to Mikulov; others change throughout the centuries into picturesque ruins and contribute to the specific charm of the landscape on the Moravian – Austrian frontier. The uniqueness of the whole territory is enhanced by the phenomenon of the “Moravian and Austrian Pálava”. The main ridge of the Pavlov Hills crosses the Moravian border near Mikulov and verges to agricultural viticulture land of finely wavy hills of Weinviertel. Especially some sections of the Mikulov and the Falkenstein regions are very much alike. The origins of this peculiarity lie not only in the similarity of the nature itself but also in the feudal ways of farming the agricultural land. The character of the intentionally aesthetic cultivation of the landscape is no exception.

Landmarks of the Jewish Quarter – Husova Street and the Jewish cemetery

Mikulov was for three centuries (16th – 19th) a political, cultural and spiritual centre of Moravian Jews and the residence of the head rabbi. A fully constituted Jewish community was established after the Jews were expelled in 1421 from Lower Austria and Vienna. In the middle of the 19th century, during the greatest expansion of the Jewish Quarter, there lived 3 500 Jews in Mikulov. The demise of the community was caused by the Nazi racial persecution during World War II. Backbone of the Jewish Quarter, situated on the western slopes of the chateau Hill, was formed by the Main street (today Husova) to which other residential blocks and streets added gradually. From the original 317 houses, spread on the area of 13 ½ hectares, only 90 remained to this day. Half of them are preserved as cultural landmarks. From the original 12 synagogues and prayer halls was preserved the most important one – so called Upper or Old synagogue, located just below the Chateau Hill.

On the northwest edge of the Jewish Quarter premises, right in the inner town on the western foot of the Goat Hill, there is located the world famous Jewish cemetery. It was founded in the middle of the 15th century shortly after the constitution of the Jewish community. The Jewish cemetery, with an area of more than 19 180 sq.metres, had been expanded in several stages. The most valuable part is the rabbinical top where the steps of Jews from our country and abroad lead to bow to the memory of learned rabbis, to pray Kaddish and to put on tombstones a stone or a piece of paper with written prayer in Hebrew. The Jewish Quarter with the cemetery is nowadays equipped with information boards in three languages and belongs to the neatest and the most sought after parts of the historic core of Mikulov by tourists and also the locals.

Nature preservation – PLA – Pálava, Natura 2000, the Biosphere Reserve Lower Moravia MaB.

víno The most valuable complexes of nature of Mikulov and its surroundings have been immediately after the war (1946) protected by declaration of ten nature preservations in the territory of Mikulov Upland. Other appraisals followed and were dedicated not only to purely nature preservation but also to natural landscape values. Mikulov Upland was declared a Protected Landscape Area Pálava (PLA) in 1976, a total of 83 sq.km. It includes an extensive unit of thermophilic Upland of the Milovice forest and the central ridge of the Pavlov Hills with a necklace of villages in their circumference with folklore buildings and rows of vineyards above the wine-cellars. Ten years later was the PLA-Pálava included in the framework of the project of UNESCO the Man and the Biosphere (MaB) on the prestigious list of biosphere reserves as the world reserve of unique landscapes and the base of rational sustainable use of natural resources. This territory was, in 2003, enlarged to the area of the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape and the complex of floodplain forests at the confluence of the Morava and Dyje into one, 330 sq.km large, biosphere reserve Lower Moravia.

By joining the European Union, the Czech Republic agreed to respect the laws regarding the preservation of nature and landscapes in the framework of the European Premises. The integration of the most valuable areas of nature and landscapes of the Czech Republic to the European Natural Heritage is carried out through the national lists NATURA 2000. Protection of natural habitats of wild fauna and flora were named in 2005 in the national list of Sites of Community Importance (SCI). After the comments on the European Commission (within three years) will emerge the European list SCI which will be the final international agreement about the obligation of the Czech Republic to protect these territories. The protection of wild birds is ensured by newly established bird sanctuaries that have been, after the proposal, discussed with owners and property-users of lands and, without creating a national list, declared under the amended Act on Nature and Landscape. In the territory of the Biosphere Reserve Lower Moravia there are 17 SCI and 3 bird sanctuaries in the national list of which in the area of Mikulov and its surroundings there are 11 SCI and 2 bird sanctuaries.

Author: Mgr. Milada Rigasová & pictures: Z. Moravec