News from the regions

The replica of the church in Habura, photo: CT24

In this week’s Panorama: a dispute over a Carpathian wooden church ends in a surprising manner, home-made folk music instruments and an almond orchard in Moravia.

The replica of the church in Habura,  photo: CT24
Carpathian wooden churches in Europe are valued architectural monuments that are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between the 16th and 18th centuries without any metal parts such as nails they are testimony to the ingeniousness of our predecessors. Not only are they in good condition, but some of them have proved to be highly mobile. One such three-part house of prayer was built by the Ruthenian community in the Slovak town of Habura back in 1500. It served several generations, but in 1740 a stone church was built in the village and the wooden house of prayer was sold to the town of Malá Polana where in time it suffered the same fate. In 1935 the mayor of Hradec Kralové in north Bohemia recognized its value and bought the church. With its rare wall paintings and wood carvings it attracted believers and visitors from near and far. The town of Habura later realized its mistake in selling such a treasure and tried to get it back, but Hradec was not prepared to give it up. The lengthy dispute has now been resolved in an unexpected manner – since it couldn’t retrieve the original Habura decided to build a perfect replica of its old wooden church, which Hradec was happy to assist with. After acquiring detailed measurements and studying the building technology Slovak carpenters produced an identical copy. Except for the marks of time on the original –the two buildings are indistinguishable. The copy was built thanks to two influential citizens – a successful financier and a former Czechoslovak government minister. The latter says he was glad he could contribute to the endeavor.

“It really was very fulfilling and a joy to be able to help because when you think about it how many churches does one help to build in a lifetime?”

Original church in Hradec Králové,  photo: archive of the town of Hradec Králové
Although inside the church is still fairly bare the town’s Orthodox believers are already flocking to it. The local Orthodox priest Milan Augustin says the church has already proved to be a big gift in bringing the religious community together.

“It is truly admirable that local carpenters were able to produce a perfect copy of the old church. I am confident that this one is here to stay and it may be that the construction of a replica will be of use to Hradec in maintaining the original.”

The Carpathian wooden church in Habura is not the only one that travelled far from its original site – in all six such churches were moved from Slovakia to the Czech Republic in the years before WWII.

The sound of a bagpipe is typical for south Bohemia where it has been at home for over six centuries. The south Bohemian town of Strakonice has hosted international bagpipe festivals since 1967 and around the region there are many folk artists who make not just bagpipes but other traditional folk instruments. Miloslav Stechner is a music teacher from Ceske Budejovice who learned the art of making folk music instruments from an old master.

“When I started teaching many folk music instruments were simply not available on the market – not just the kind of bagpipe I wanted but historical instruments that were no longer used of which there were only a few pieces left gathering dust in people’s attics. So I found this old man who made musical instruments – a Mr. Janeček - and I visited him regularly for two years until he’d taught me all he knew.”

Today Miloslav Stechner has a workshop in his attic where he makes bagpipes and instruments which most people have never heard of. The work involves woodcarving, work with metal, leather and other materials such as horsetails. Mr. Stechner proudly displays a vozembouch of his own making – a long-forgotten folk instrument the name of which literally translates as “bang-it-on-the-floor”.

“This here instrument is made from whatever you find at home. The idea is for it to make a lot of different noises –so I used an old tin baking form, a home-made drum and cymbals you can make yourself from a metal plate.”

The vozembouch is not for sweet music – it was used by pub musicians as an accompaniment to the harmonica or during processions to make a lot of noise. Another folk music instrument in Mr. Stechner’s collection is the so-called fanfrnoch – an untranslatable, funny-sounding name for an instrument made from an old jug, a bit of leather to cover the opening and a horsetail which is tied and inserted through a hole in the leather to create an unmistakable sound. The fanfrnoch was an instrument used by carolers but Miloslav Stechner has tried it in classical music. He has played his bagpipe both with a classic music ensemble and at a rock concert. But his biggest audience is always at the Strakonice bagpipe music festival where he is a regular performer.

Photo: the official web of the town of Hustopeče
The town of Hustopeče in Moravia prides itself on something unique in the central European region – an almond orchard. It was established in 1949 by the firm Zora Olomouc –a chocolate and candy company – which gradually expanded it in the 50s and 60s. At one time it boasted 35,000 almond trees and the entire harvest was used for the firms production. However in the 90s the firm Nestle took over and started importing almonds from abroad. The orchard remained in its ownership but was no longer properly maintained. Seeing it deteriorate the town hall decided to buy it and develop it into a tourist attraction. After five years of negotiations a deal was finally signed and Hustopeče mayor Lubos Kuchynka says he has big plans for the orchard.

“We are planning to have an almond festival here next year at which we want to give people a taste of our almonds, as well as products made from them. The orchard will only have around 800 trees but it is still an unusual and impressive sight in this part of the world and we want the public to see almonds ripening in central Europe. Of course the orchard will remain open to the public all year round and people will be free to wander around, pick some almonds and enjoy the place.”

The town of Hustopeče is planning to make almonds its trademark and is striving for an EU grant which would turn the orchid into a recreational park – with an almond tree path and a lookout tower over the premises and nearby town.