The City of Brno
Brno is the former capital city of Moravia and the political and cultural hub of the South Moravian Region. The city has over 400,000 residents. Its urban agglomeration has about 450,000 residents. Its larger urban zone had a population of about 730,000 in 2004 while its greater metropolitan area is home to more than 800,000 people. The estimated population of the South Moravian Region is 1.2 million. According to the Eurostat population estimate Brno had 367,729 inhabitants, which ranks it among the 100 largest cities of the EU. Brno is situated at the crossroads of ancient trade routes which have joined northern and southern European civilizations for centuries, and is part of the Danube basin region. The city is historically connected with Vienna, which lies a mere 110 km (68 mi) to the south.
Brno is the seat of judicial authority of the Czech Republic – it is the seat of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, and the Supreme Public Prosecutor's Office. The city is also a significant administrative center. It is the seat of a number of state authorities, including the Ombudsman, and the Office for the Protection of Competition. Brno is also an important center of higher education, with 33 faculties belonging to 13 institutes of higher learning and about 89,000 students.
Brno Exhibition Centre ranks among the largest exhibition centers in Europe (23rd in the world). The complex opened in 1928 and established the tradition of large exhibitions and trade fairs held in Brno. Brno hosts motorbike and other races on the Masaryk Circuit, a tradition established in 1930, in which the Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix is one of the most prestigious races. Another cultural tradition is an international fireworks competition, Ignis Brunensis, that usually attracts tens of thousands of daily visitors.
The most visited sights of the city include the Špilberk castle and fortress and the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul on Petrov hill, two medieval buildings that dominate the cityscape and are often depicted as its traditional symbols. The other large preserved castle near the city is Veveří Castle by Brno Reservoir. This castle is the site of a number of legends, as are many other places in Brno. Another architectural monument of Brno is the functionalist Villa Tugendhat which has been included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. One of the natural sights nearby is the Moravian Karst.
The Brno basin has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but the town's direct predecessor was a fortified settlement of the Great Moravia Empire known as Staré Zámky which was inhabited from the Neolithic Age to the early 11th century.
In the early 11th century Brno was established as a castle of a non-ruling prince from the House of Přemyslid, and Brno became one of the centers of Moravia along with Olomouc and Znojmo. Brno was first mentioned in Cosmas' Chronica Boëmorum dated to year 1091, when Bohemian king Vratislav II besieged his brother Conrad at Brno castle.
In the mid 11th century, Moravia was divided into three separate territories; each one of them had its own ruler, coming from the Přemyslids dynasty, but independent of the other two, and subordinated only to the Bohemian ruler in Prague. Seats of these rulers and thus "capitals" of these territories were castles and towns of Brno, Olomouc, and Znojmo. In the late 12th century, Moravia began to reunify, forming the Margraviate of Moravia. Since then, until the mid of the 17th century, it was not clear which town should be the capital of Moravia. Political power was therefore "evenly" divided between Brno and Olomouc, but Znojmo also played an important role. The Moravian Diet (cz: Moravský Zemský sněm), the Moravian Land Tables (cz: Moravské Zemské desky), and the Moravian Land Court (cz: Moravský Zemský soud) were all seated in both cities at once. However, Brno was the official seat of the Moravian Margraves (rulers of Moravia), and later its geographical position closer to Vienna also became important. Otherwise, until 1642 Olomouc was larger than Brno by population, and it was the seat of the only Roman Catholic diocese in Moravia.
In 1243 Brno was granted the large and small city privileges by the King, and thus it was recognized as a royal city. In 1324 Queen Elisabeth Richeza of Poland founded the current Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady which is now her final resting place. In the 14th century, Brno became one of the centers for the Moravian regional assemblies, whose meetings alternated between Brno and Olomouc. These assemblies made political, legal, and financial decisions. Brno and Olomouc were also the seats of the Land Court and the Land Tables, thus they were the two most important cities in Moravia. From the mid 14th century to the early 15th century the Špilberk Castle had served as the permanent seat of the Margraves of Moravia (Moravian rulers); one of them was elected the King of the Romans. In the 15th century Brno was besieged in 1428 and again in 1430 by the Hussites during the Hussite Wars. Both attempts to conquer the city failed.
In 1641, in the midst of the Thirty Years' War, the Holy Roman Emperor and Margrave of Moravia Ferdinand III commanded permanent relocation of the diet, court, and the land tables from Olomouc to Brno, as Olomouc's Collegium Nordicum made it one of the primary targets of Swedish armies. In 1642 Olomouc surrendered to the Swedish army which then stayed there for 8 years. Meanwhile, Brno, as the only Moravian city which under the leadership of Jean-Louis Raduit de Souches managed to defend itself from the Swedes under General Lennart Torstenson, served as the sole capital of the state (Margraviate of Moravia). After the end of the Thirty Years' War (1648), Brno retained its status as the sole capital. This was later confirmed by the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II in 1782, and again in 1849 by the Moravian constitution. Today, the Moravian Land Tables are stored in the Moravian Regional Archive, and they are included among the national cultural sights of the Czech Republic.
During the 17th century Špilberk Castle was rebuilt as a huge baroque citadel. In the 18th century Brno was besieged by Prussians in 1742 under the leadership of Frederick the Great, the siege was ultimately unsuccessful. In 1777 the bishopric of Brno was established; Mathias Franz Graf von Chorinsky Freiherr von Ledske was the first Bishop.