Uherské Hradiště, an ancient fortress in the heart of Europe

Walls of Uherské Hradiště. Photo: Celia Pérez


Uherské Hradiště is located in the southeast of the Czech Republic, in the historical region of Moravia, close to the Slovak and Austrian borders. This town is the cultural heart of the Slovácko region, which can be translated as Slovak Moravia. Its name is due to its geographical, cultural and linguistic proximity to Slovakia.

The town was very important during the Great Moravian Empire. It was passed by the Morava River, which made it the economic nucleus of the kingdom because of its importance for agriculture and fishing. Moreover, it was the place chosen by Methodius to teach the Slavic liturgy.

The Middle Ages left a huge cultural mark on Europe. They were the basis of the current states of this continent and of our beliefs. Castles are one of the legacies of this period of history, but several fortifications were also built to protect against enemy kingdoms. In the heart of Europe there is a town that still retains the name of its ancient fortress: Uherské Hradiště.

Resistance against the Hungarians

In 1002, the Czech Duchy (known as the Duchy of Bohemia in Western Europe) was incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire. Later, in 1212, the empire formally elevated the Czech Duchy to the Czech Kingdom (known as the Kingdom of Bohemia in Western Europe).

Both the Duchy and the Czech Kingdom were Imperial States. This meant that they administered their territory independently and had representation and voting rights in the assembly of the Holy Roman Empire.

At the same time, the neighbouring Kingdom of Hungary was struggling to expand its territory. This is why the Czechs and the Hungarians fought several battles, many of them in the vicinity of the Morava River.

Pavel Portl, historian at Slovácké Muzeum, explains that the Hungary of that time tried to conquer Uherské Hradiště several times, but did not succeed. For example, Portl says that “in 1470 there were long-lasting rains that flooded the Morava River so much that Matthias Corvinus (then king of Hungary) interrupted the siege”. According to him, the Hungarian king conceded defeat in 1474 and never again tried to take the town.

However, in 1478 the Czech (of Polish origin) King Vladislav II of the Jagellonský dynasty and Matthias Corvinus signed the Treaty of Buda (nowadays Budapest), which was ratified in 1479 by the Treaty of Peace of Olomouc (the present Czech Republic). This treaty established peace between Matthias Corvinus and Vladislav II, agreeing that the Czech king would rule in Bohemia and the Hungarian king in Moravia.

In this way, Matthias Corvinus managed to enter the southernmost town of Moravia in 1479. “As an expression of admiration for the courage of the inhabitants and loyalty to their king, he enhanced the town’s coat of arms”, Portl says.

The coat of arms, which remains unmodified today, was enhanced with a knight holding a sword in his right hand and a blue shield in his left. In addition, Portl stresses that the open door of the shield was also Matthias Corvinus’ idea. The Hungarian was making it clear that in the end Uherské Hradiště had to open the door for him.

The town’s coat of arms. Photo: Celia Pérez

Origin of Uherské Hradiště

Portl explains that Uherské Hradiště was founded after a battle in Moravia between the Hungarian Cumans and the Czechs in led by the Přemyslid dynasty in 1253. He notes that the first name the town received (which there is evidence for) was Nový Velehrad (New Velehrad), since a nearby town was called Velehrad (large castle). However, he points out that it was not until 1257, under the reign of Otakar II, when the town first appeared in written documents.

The battle that founded the current Uherské Hradiště was one of many. Between 1252 and 1304 there were several wars between the Přemyslid and the Hungarian kings. The Czech Kingdom reached its maximum expansion under the reign of Otakar II. This king got parts of contemporary Austria and Slovenia and northern Italy.

The Czech Kingdom in 1272 under the reign of Otakar II. Source: Wikipedia

According to Portl, in 1294 the town began to be called Hradiště. “The Přemyslid built several fortifications to protect the territory from enemy attacks”, Portl argues. For this reason, there were many towns called “Hradiště” (fortress), the word being derived from “hrad”, which means castle in Czech.

Concurrently, more towns were founded with the same goal of stopping the Hungarian troops. For this reason, we find the towns of Uherský Brod, Uherský Ostroh or Strážnice.

Centuries went by until Uherské was added to Hradiště. Portl highlights that in 1587, already under the Habsburg Monarchy, it is documented that the town was called Uherské Hradiště. “Uherské” means “Hungarian”, which can mean “fortress near Hungary”, due to its proximity to the Hungarian border.

Portl indicates that the town’s fortification improved over the years. At first, the fortress was made of clay and then of wood. Later, in the second half of the 14th century, a stone fortification was built, measuring four meters in height. It had seven towers and two gates.

A strategic island

The Morava, like many rivers, has evolved over time. In fact, the town was surrounded by the river for centuries. This made the old fortress a strategic point, as it was more difficult to be attacked and besieged by enemies. For example, as already mentioned, the heavy rains that caused flooding of the Morava in 1470 put an end to the Hungarian occupation.

Mockup of the town in 1670. Photo: Celia Pérez

The island was called St. George, since there was a church dedicated to this saint in one of the town’s squares. Today, this church is not preserved. The old island of St. George was in the centre of the town. This includes the two squares and the nearby streets.

One town, two peoples

As well as being founded as a fortress against the Hungarians, it is very interesting to know who inhabited ancient Uherské Hradiště and why they chose it. In Portl’s opinion, there is no known town in the Czech Republic that has been settled in this way.

This town has two main squares. One is Masaryk Square and the other is the Virgin Mary Square. Each square was settled by a different people. The inhabitants of Kunovice settled on the then Masaryk Square (where St. George’s Church was), whereas the inhabitants of Staré Město settled on the current Virgin Mary Square.

Portl maintains that the island of St. George belonged to the monastery of Velehrad. Therefore, when King Otakar II founded the town, he sent people from Kunovice to protect the fortress. Simultaneously, the abbot of the monastery ordered the inhabitants of Staré Město to march into the new town. Thus, in the squares they established their markets.

Tower of the old town hall in Prostřední Street. Photo: Celia Pérez

There were no disputes between the two peoples. From the first moment the town was governed by the same mayor, who, as Portl says, was elected by the monastery. Both markets were connected by the street Prostřední (the middle street). Right in the middle of this street the town hall was built, which is still preserved today as a historical building.

Today, there are very few remains of the old fortress and you do not have to cross the river to enter the town. However, it hides impressive memories and curiosities from various periods of history, which you will discover walking around its streets or in its surroundings.

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