Mnisek pod Brdy
Hello and welcome to another edition of Spotlight; today we visit the sleepy town of Mnisek pod Brdy, south of Prague...the first recorded mention of Mnisek dates back to 1352. Lying on an important trade route, merchants used it as a stopover on their way further south. Today this charming little town attracts numerous visitors from all over the country and abroad, drawn by the thick forests that surround it and the Brdy Hills which rise up just behind the town.
With me now is Mrs. Jarmila Balkova, the head of the culture centre here in Mnisek.
"Hello and welcome to Mnisek pod Brdy."
Can you tell us a little bit about the town?
"Mnisek pod Brdy is a small town with about 4,000 inhabitants; 30 km from Prague. The large forests near Mnisek are full of mushrooms in the summer, and are good for skiing in the winter time. It is very easy to reach by car, by bus, or by train. Buses from Prague go every hour; the train station is about 3 km from the town."
What are the main tourist attractions or sights of Mnisek?
"The main sights of Mnisek are the St. Wenceslas baroque church and the renaissance castle. The castle and its garden are now being renovated and are closed to the public. After the Second World War, the castle was used to house some of the state archives. In 2000, the archives were moved and the castle came into the hands of the ministry of culture. Since then the National Heritage Institute has been responsible for its administration."
As you just heard, the stately renaissance castle, which was built in the years from 1656-1672, is not open to visitors. But if you're really curious to see its interior - the numerous frescoes and its chapel, the couple looking after the castle will happily show you around if you call and set up a meeting beforehand. But even the view from outside is definitely worth it. If you look carefully, you will notice that the castle has four corners but only three towers. A mystery that has yet to be solved.
Alexandra Merunkova is the mayor of Mnisek:
"Mnisek is 700 years old and it's been attracting tourists because it is surrounded by forests and the Brdy range of hills that are 600-700 metres high. There are three ponds where locals swim during the summer and ice skate in winter. On the other side of the motorway that leads into the town from Prague, you find a steelworks, which used to harm the town and cause many problems for its inhabitants because of all the waste and pollution. But production has been discontinued and we now have some of the cleanest air around - that's why the region is called the 'Lung of Bohemia'."
One of the biggest attractions of Mnisek is an area called Skalka, which rises high above the town; housing buildings by the great Baroque architect Krystof Dienzenhofer. Jarmila Balkova:
"There is a beautiful view of the countryside at the top of Skalka. In June 2000 a tourist path was opened here, with eight tables with information on various interesting sites along the path, which starts off in the centre of the town and continues all the way to the Skalka area."
The first building to be erected on Skalka was the Church of St. Mary Magdalene built from 1692-1693. In 1694, the monastery and a hermitage were completed; both built to serve Benedictine monks. Half a century later, in the years 1755-1762, a path lined by the Stations of the Cross was made to connect the monastery to the hermitage. Today, the hermitage often serves as a summer retreat for Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk. But restoration work here is still under way; started in the mid nineties, it has been continuing sporadically to this day.
"We organize art exhibitions and concerts in the church and monastery. The whole area was beautifully renovated after the Second World War. But in the forty years of Communist rule, was given little attention and completely wrecked. The little church of St. Mary Magdalene, which visitors can find here, suffered so much from nearby mining that it split into two and had to undergo a major renovation at the end of the eighties."
"Unfortunately, Mnisek does not have the means to accommodate the large number of tourists. But since we are close to Prague or the town of Dobris, it is no problem to enjoy a day here and sleep in these towns. So, come to Mnisek pod Brdy. You´ll be given a warm welcome!"
On my way back to Prague, I decided to stop in the thick forests around to find out whether it really is true that they are a haven for mushroom pickers. The result - one basket full in less than an hour! So, if you should happen to be in Czech Republic some time in the next month, you simply must visit this place and join the locals as they go about their national sport - mushroom picking.