Slavonice: a South Bohemian renaissance town off the beaten track

Slavonice, photo: CzechTourism

It is a very crisp autumn day here in South Bohemia. And I’m slowly trundling towards Slavonice, which is in the very far south of this country, right on the Austrian border. I’m in a modern-looking, but as you can probably hear, rather shuddery sort of train. And I’m heading towards this stunningly pretty Czech town, which I hear, in recent years, has become something of an artists’ colony. So, I’m off to find out more about that in this week’s Spotlight.

Slavonice,  photo: CzechTourism
After my rickety train ride, which was half of the fun of the visit, the first stop in Slavonice was the tourist office - situated right on the small town’s main square. The office is housed in one of Slavonice’s most historic buildings, which is in itself definitely worth a look. On the roof of the bureau are some colourfully restored renaissance murals, depicting scenes from the New Testament – more specifically, pictures of the marriage in Canaan. But, as Slavonice is perhaps best known for its buildings’ elaborate facades, it seems only appropriate that my tour started in the blustery open space in front of the office. I’ll let my guide introduce herself:

“My name is Květa Štepánková.”

Slavonice,  photo: Archive of Radio Prague
And, Květa, where are we standing right now?

“Just now we are standing on the square in the town of Slavonice. This is a Renaissance town, which was founded sometimes around the 12th century. The town’s great economic boom came in the 16th century, when the leader of the town was Zacharias of Hradec. He invited many famous builders and builder masters here, and the most famous of them was Leopold Osterreich.”

And today it’s a town which attracts a lot of tourists, am I right?

“Yes it is, the majority of them come in summer.”

Slavonice,  photo: CzechTourism
And where are the majority of them from, you are right on the Austrian border, so are a lot of them from Austria?

“We get some British people, but the majority of people coming here are Austrian, and then this summer we have had a lot of Japanese visitors here too.”

Crikey, that’s unexpected!

“I know, but it’s because we are right beside the famous town of Telč, and there are lots of tours going there, and then coming here too.”

Slavonice,  photo: CzechTourism
So why do people come to Slavonice, I mean I can see it right now, and I can maybe see why – it is very, very pretty – but what are its main tourist attractions?

“The biggest attraction for tourists is the town’s architecture. We have two squares – we are standing right now on the bigger of the two, and then there is a small square, which is very nice, which has both famous and very nice buildings.”

You said that a lot of people come here on a visit to Telč – but does Slavonice have something that Telč doesn’t? Is it better than Telč, do you think?

Slavonice,  photo: CzechTourism
“I think that Slavonice is better! But Telč is famous because is a UNESCO town, while Slavonice isn’t. So that is what makes Telč famous in other countries.”

Slavonice has a plethora of little galleries, and works by Josef Čapek, and even Marc Chagall, hang in various places around this small town. But as well as being a good place to go and see other people’s masterpieces, Slavonice is a town in which you can create your own - among other locations, in the Maříž ceramics workshop in the centre of the municipality. Marta Tůmová, a painter at Keramika Maříž, outlines the studio’s history:

“Maříž is actually a long-forgotten ghost town which is in between Slavonice and the Austrian border. It was virtually cut off under the communist regime. But after the fall of communism, our founder Kryštof Trubáček bought some of the deserted buildings and started making ceramics there, which was his life-long dream.”

Keramika Maříž,  photo: official website of Keramika Maříž
There are lots of places where you can try your hand at Maříž in Slavonice today, which leads me to ask Marta Tůmová what Maříž actually is…

“Maříž ceramics are handmade bits of pottery, they are made first on a pottery wheel and then painted specially. Every piece is specially painted and no two objects are the same. And each piece is an original, which you couldn’t find anywhere else. So that’s what is interesting about it. Maříž ceramics are generally very colourful, there are lots of animals painted on our goods. And so those are its characteristics.”

Marta shows me how one of the workshop’s signature mugs is born – it grows out of a little lump of clay spinning round and round on a pottery wheel. Afterwards, she tells me about what unifies the various products she makes:

Keramika Maříž,  photo: official website of Keramika Maříž
“What is most important to us is that we make things that people like to look at. We make our mugs for example so that our customers every morning when they make themselves a cup of tea are in a good mood when they look at the cup they are drinking out of. So we use lots of animals, flowers and nature in our designs. But of course, customers can come along and design and make a mug for themselves. They can buy a plain white mug and use our paints, get instructions from us about how to do it, and paint their own original.”

Slavonice is pretty difficult to get to if you don’t have a car, but making your way there by tiny little trains is quite an adventure. As is painting your own mug. And the whole experience is thoroughly aesthetically pleasing, even on a grey October day!

The episode featured today was first broadcast on October 29, 2008.