Saturday, February 27, 2010

Špilberk Castle - Feb 21, 2010

Špilberk Castle is one of the most significant landmarks in Brno and is located only 3 mins from our apartment. Špilberk is standing on top of the hill and overlooking the city center of Brno. The hillside is a wide park with a pedestrian road filled with cobblestones going up and down. The day we went up there was such a beautiful day, and many people were just enjoying the nice walk in the park.

When I hear the word "castle," I tend to imagine the Gothic or Renaissance type of buildings with lots of decoratives, but Špilberk is a bit differet. It has a very plain look. It was built around the mid 13th centry as a Gothis style castle and was converted into a massive Baroque style fortress in the 17th and 18th centries. It is famous as the "prison of nations," and was used as a dungeon from 1621, first for prisoners of war and from 1673 for criminals as well. Later it was used for the worst criminals such as murderers, robbers, arsonists, counterfeiters, or forgers of official documents, and later used for political prisoners. The prison was closed down in 1855 but even after that, it was occasionally used as a prison. In 1939 to 1941, the Nazi reconstructed the castle in the spirit of Pangermanism.

You can still see the trace of prisons in a part of casemates. The casemates were to serve as a shelter for a garrison of 1,200 men and to store military equipment. But later, by the order of emperor, the upper floor of the norther casemates was turned into a prison, and first prisoners were placed there in 1784. Then six months later, another imperial order was given to turn the lower level ("the deepest and worst casemates") into a prison - this time to house felons sentenced to life. 29 cells were created with thick planks and beams to which prisoners were shackled in perpetuity. We went through the upper floor seeing the different sizes of cells, and the example tools for interrogation and torture. As we went into the lower level cells, somehow the air got very dense around me, and the darkness just crept into me. I had to turn around and went back outside at half way through.

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