Spilberk Castle casemates
The old prison parts of Brno
’s premier landmark, the castle/fortress atop the hill it takes its name from. The prison section inside the casemates has long been closed but is now part of the city museum and has been refurbished and embellished with dummies in period clothing and a reconstructed torture chamber.
More background info: Špilberk Castle goes back to the 13th century and was the seat of the Moravian rulers for centuries. It was gradually fortified and became more of a fortress than a royal castle over time. It also housed an infamous prison, one of the most feared places of incarceration far and wide.
The role of the castle as a prison eventually even eclipsed its military function as a garrison. Inmates included political prisoners, such as French revolutionaries and Italian resistance fighters such as Silvio Pellico.
In 1855, then Austrian
emperor Franz Joseph I closed the prison and the castle/fortress became a military barracks again.
It reassumed its role as prison again during World War One
, when objectors to the Austrian-Hungarian rule were held here, and yet again early during the occupation of the Czech
lands by Germany
. The Nazis
incarcerated thousands here, though most were soon sent on to other prisons and concentration camps
. From 1941 the castle was reconstructed and turned into a model military barracks.
After WWII the Czechoslovakian army moved in, but the castle’s military history ended in 1959/1960, when the army left the premises and the complex was handed over to the City Museum.
Between 1987 and 1992, the casemates were refurbished and the prison tracts reconstructed to look like they did in the late 18th century (though the addition of electric lights is a liberty taken by the museum curators for the comfort of visitors today).
What there is to see: After you’ve paid your admission fee a museum employee first gives you directions how to get to the casemates. For that you have to enter the fortress’s former moat and walk all the way to the far end. Here you can peek into the lower level of the casemates, which here formed part of the sewage drains.
You then take the stairs to the upper level. Here you find reconstructed guardrooms, large prison cells for more than two dozen prisoners each, and even a torture chamber. As the leaflet you are given with your ticket frankly admits, though, this torture chamber merely illustrates made-up stories from the 19th century. In reality there was no such Mediaeval torture here as the reconstructions depict.
There follow more prisoner cells, empty vaulted halls and long dark corridors before you get to the Northern Casemates with yet more former cells, a reconstructed prison kitchen and communal cells with simple wooden bunks on to which dummy inmates are shackled.
You eventually re-emerge in the moat – where there is a reconstructed gallows – and go down to the lower storey. Here wooden isolation cells have been reconstructed, a couple have dummy shackled prisoners wasting away inside them.
It’s also in this final part that some of the changes undertaken during the Nazi
occupation can be seen, such as brick shelters, and fragments of the switchboard from a telephone exchange. There’s also a “Wehrmacht” sign complete with an eagle symbol clutching a swastika in its talons.
All in all, the inside of the casemates is suitably gloomy and atmospheric, but the reconstructions, as the site even admits, are a bit off-topic – and in some cases, frankly, a little cheesy. But it’s quite photogenic, especially if you’re lucky, like I was, and hardly any other visitors are there to get into the frames.
nside, or rather below, Špilberk Castle, which sits atop Špilberk Hill just west of the Old Town of Brno
Access and costs: up a hill but the walk isn’t too steep; reasonably priced.
Details: You have to walk – I know of no public transport to the castle, and driving the road up requires a special permit. There are various paths and steps zigzagging up to the top of Špilberk Hill so there are several alternate approach routes, best starting from Husova Street. You ultimately want to get to the north-eastern corner of the fortress, where the main gate is. Once inside turn right and then left to get to the ticket office.
Opening times: April to September daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Mondays during the rest of the year.
Admission: 120 CZK (ca. 5 euros), students, teachers, seniors, journalists only 70 CZK.
There are also combination tickets that allow reduced-price access to other parts of Špilberk Castle.
Time required: roughly one hour
Combinations with other dark destinations:
At the eastern foot of Špilberk Hill on Husova Street is the 10-Z bunker
, whose ventilation shaft’s top you pass when walking down from the castle. The other underground dark attractions of Brno, the Capuchin Crypt
and the St James Ossuary
, are also within easy reach on foot.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Špilberk Castle is one of the top mainstream visitor attractions and apart from the casemates also includes various exhibitions and a viewing tower. The views from the publicly accessible parts of Špilberk Hill are also an attraction in themselves, as are the park-like hillsides. The Old Town of Brno
lies just to the east of the hill so most tourist attractions are within easy reach.
- Spilberk Castle 01 - outer wall and approach stairs
- Spilberk Castle 02 - main entrance
- Spilberk Castle 03 - moat
- Spilberk Castle 04 - a glimpse inside
- Spilberk Castle 05 - guard room
- Spilberk Castle 06 - guard dummy
- Spilberk Castle 07 - corridor
- Spilberk Castle 08 - torture
- Spilberk Castle 09 - more torture
- Spilberk Castle 10 - torture book-keeping
- Spilberk Castle 11 - pillory
- Spilberk Castle 12 - moat with gallows
- Spilberk Castle 13 - another guard room
- Spilberk Castle 14 - another corridor
- Spilberk Castle 15 - dummy prisoners
- Spilberk Castle 16 - barred door to spiral staircase
- Spilberk Castle 17 - kitchen
- Spilberk Castle 18 - another dummy guard
- Spilberk Castle 19 - no way out
- Spilberk Castle 20 - late-added brick cells
- Spilberk Castle 21 - shackled prisoner dummy
- Spilberk Castle 22 - sign from the Nazi era
- Spilberk Castle 23 - vestiges of Nazi-era electronics