Monday, 29 November 2010

A visit to Trocnov

I was taking the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society on their tour around the historic sites of South Bohemia, when we drove past the turning to Trocnov in the coach. I informed the coach that Trocnov was the birthplace of the one-eyed (and later blind) general of the Hussites - Jan Zizka. I happened to mention in passing that we could have visited the site and the small museum there. I added that I could have taken the group on a dedicated Hussite tour. This caused a ripple of excitement on the coach and sure enough a note was passed to me expressing interest in such a tour. I am going to be leading a tour for the Hussites for the Society and I have another tour set up for the general public next September.

The Museum at Trocnov is a very Czech affair. When I arrived the Museum was closed, but a note said I could get the key from the cafe/pub. I walked past a couple drinking beer at a trestle table and up to the counter. A nice young lady, who seemed to double as barmaid and museum caretaker, picked up the key and opened the door for me. The museum was divided into three rooms - one about Zizka's family and family home, the second about Zizka's campaigns and the third about the cult of Zizka. Unfortunately for British visitors the bulk of the exhibition text is in Czech, but it still is interesting to see just how small Zizka's familial home was - a simple tower house, but nevertheless made of stone, which probably made it stand out among the wooden structures that surrounded it. Zizka's father is described as a member of the gentry, but it clearly a not very wealthy one. 

I found room 3 particularly interesting, showing as it did the role of Zizka as a hero first of Czech nationalism and then of communism. The displays are full of posters and prints of Zizka. I was joined in the museum by a woman and her young daughter. Every few minutes the child would let out a cry "Zizka, Zizka!" when she saw yet another picture of the man. Zizka, it would appear, still has a strong hold on Czech imagination! 

I left the museum and walked around the site. The archaeological remains were disappointing, a few low walls revealed a remarkably small footprint. I walked along a path and into a small wood. Several groups of Czechs were walking there in the afternoon sunshine, carrying baskets and collecting mushrooms. At the end of an avenue in a grove I found the stone memorial to the site of Zizka's birth. The feature that dominates the site is a giant sculpture of Zizka. A young couple were photographing each other in front of the great man's feet. Seeing me they invited me to take over and so I did. Then they left and I was alone looking up at the craggy stone features. Was this what Zizka looked like? Probably not, the look was a creation of the cult of Zizka. But as a historian I have always been interested both in getting to the historical truth and in how history is used through the ages, which is of course also true.


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