Bystrice pod Hostynem

Hostyn Hill, photo:

In today's Spotlight we visit the Moravian town of Bystrice pod Hostynem, close to the city of Zlin. Lying beneath the Hostyn Hill, which is a place of pilgrimage but also offers ideal hiking routes and skiing conditions, the town attracts thousands of visitors every year.

I'm standing on Hostyn Hill in Central Moravia, some 718 metres above sea level. In 200 BC, the Celts settled here and built a defensive wall. At one point, it was 9 metres high, 23 metres wide and 1.8 kilometres long. But Hostyn Hill today is a place of pilgrimage. Pavel Malenek explains why:

"In the 13th century, and this is a historical fact, the Tartars launched an attack on Moravia. The townspeople took to the hills, to the site of an ancient Celtic settlement mainly because it had defences and a water supply. Besieged by the Tartars, the inhabitants prayed to the Virgin Mary. Their prayers were answered. A storm broke out and lighting struck the tent of the Tartar leader, killing him instantly. The invading army decided to no longer pursue the inhabitants and fled."

Towards the end of the sixteenth century, a church was built on the very top of the hill and consecrated in honour of the inhabitants' saviour. The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was originally constructed in wood and later rebuilt in stone, completed in the mid eighteenth century. The numerous steps that lead up to the stately building measure 242 metres in length. The church itself is oval with twin towers at the front and a 26 square metre mosaic above the main portal. Inside the church you find a 1935 altar, behind which rises a relief depicting the defeat of the Tartars.

There are twenty-one pilgrimages to this sacred place attracting tens of thousands of believers every year. Hostyn Hill also has two Stations of the Cross - one of stone; the other in an early twentieth century rural architectural style.

Nestling at the foot of the Hostyn Hills is the town of Bystrice pod Hostynem. The town has a population of 8,760 and is the administrative centre for fifteen neighbouring villages.

As I mentioned earlier, the first people to settle in the area were the Celts around 200BC. However, the town originates from several centuries later when it began to develop on the intersection of two trade routes. The oldest written account of Bystrice pod Hostynem dates from January 8, 1368.

The town came under the ownership of aristocrat Olivier of Loudon in 1827, by which time the town was flourishing. Loudon was very fond of trees and flowers and had many interesting examples cultivated in the town. He was responsible for the 150-year old tree lined avenue, which at the time was the only one of its kind in Europe.

In 1861, the German industrialists, the Thonet family, changed the face of the town forever. They established the largest factory in Europe for curved wooden furniture. As Barbora Janeckova tells us, it soon transformed the town into an industrial centre of great importance as numerous people came to live and work here:

"The arrival of Thonet naturally completely changed the rhythmic pulse of the town - both in the positive and the negative sense. It brought in many work possibilities, international fame, and until today Thonet remains the biggest employer here. If it closed down it would be a catastrophe for the entire region."

The Bystrice Spa has its origins in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was particularly popular with those suffering from respiratory illnesses. The spa treatment mainly consisted of lots of fresh air, sheep's milk, and whey.

"Judging from the photographs of the time, when sheep would graze on the hillside and people did not hurry anywhere, it was a quiet little spa town with sunshades and spa cafes and restaurants. People got treated here by the fresh air, peaceful atmosphere, and whey made from sheep's milk. The town had its own magical atmosphere. It was a time when it also enjoyed a rich cultural life. So one can say that it was experiencing its best years, not just in the industrial sense."

One of the most dominant buildings of Bystrice pod Hostynem is its chateau. Renaissance, baroque, and classic architecture have all had an effect on this historic building over the centuries. It passed through the hands of various aristocratic owners up to the Second World War. When the last owners, the Loudon family, fled to Vienna the chateau was sold to the Czechoslovak government. The Ministry of Defence used it as a warehouse for the Army Health Service until 1990, after which the chateau - but without its park - finally became the property of the town. It is now undergoing rebuilding work and houses a number of town council offices. But it has also become a house of culture. Events such as theatre performances, exhibitions, and chamber music concerts are staged here, says tour guide Dana Vaculikova:

"We are now in the round hall which the owner in 1805 wanted decorated in an unusual Egyptian style. But the painter, Jan Svitak Bystricky had never been to Egypt so he only painted what he thought Egypt was like. So what we see here now - hieroglyphs and episodes of mythology were all thought up. But we hold various cultural events and even weddings here and it all looks very nice on photographs. You really get the impression that there are Egyptian columns with views of the countryside."

Every two years, numerous fans of folk music flock to the town for the international folk music festival called "On Bystrice Square". In the cold winter months, the Hostyn Hills also attract downhill and cross-country skiers. When it's warm, mountain bikers and hikers come here from all over the region. All these visitors and pilgrims journey here to revel in the town's peaceful ambience and surrounding countryside.