The history of tourism
More than 100 years ago Austrian and later Czech tourists discovered this “Sleeping Beauty” – a picturesque landscape lying in the south-western corner of Moravia in the form of a narrow strip of the border region along the meandering flow of the Dyje river. Until this time the deep, forested river valley was unknown to all except the millers and the inhabitants of surrounding villages, who drove their carts full of grain down the twisting trails to the mills. The magical Dyje river, which was named by the Celtic Illyrian tribe – the first nation known to have lived on this territory, became the link between two varying ethnic groups – the Czechs and the Germans. The origins of tourism can be dated to the mid 19th century when the lords of Vranov began building romantic structures in the surroundings of their castle, which served as places of rest and relaxation on the walks and rides of the nobles, but also the first enthusiastic admirers of Podyjí.
These romantic structures include:
The obelisk which was built in around 1860 by the “Beautifying Society of Nature Lovers” in Vranov in honour of Countess Helena of Mniszek as a symbol of their appreciation that she had opened Ledové sluje (The Ice Caves) to the public.The Mniszek Cross, which was erected by Helena of Mniszek after 1846.
The Clary Cross, which was erected after 1830 by Stanislav of Mniszek.
Lusthaus – the hunting lodge in the Braitava forest, which was built in the late 18th century.
A number of clubs and societies were set up at the end of the 19th century and which were involved in a wide range of activities to promote and provide access to the territory of Podyjí for tourism. The “Afforestation and Beautification Society” was set up in 1878 and was especially active in Znojmo and its surroundings. The Znojmo section of the “Austrian Tourist Club” was established in 1883. Its members marked out the first tourist trails in the areas around Znojmo and Vranov. For example, they marked out the trails from Nový Hrádek castle to Retz, from Čížov to Ledové sluje (The Ice Caves) and they built a trail from Popice to Sealsfield Rocks.
The first tourist guidebooks were published as early as 1900: “Znojmo – Vranov – Bítov” by Mr. Pětník and “Führer von Znaim, Retz und Umgebung” by Mr. Herbst.
After 1918 Podyjí was divided by the state border into two newly-formed, independent states. However, both banks of the Dyje river remained in close contact and the continuity of their joint development was not disturbed. This period was characterised by the increased interest of the general public in tourism in Podyjí. The rise of the “tramping” movement, which was a specific and characteristic Czech way of spending free time in the wild nature, led to the establishment of several “tramps” camps in the Dyje river valley.
The Znojmo branch of the Czechoslovak Tourist Club was founded in 1919 with the aim of “directing a flow of tourists to Podyjí, so that this region and its national identity could be raised by tourism”. The tourist club set up tourist hostels in Znojmo and at Nový Hrádek castle. The members also marked out the long-distance hiking trail from Znojmo to Jihlava (this route passed through Nový Hrádek, Hardegg and Vranov). The tourists club also published guidebooks as well as articles in newspapers and magazines. Two swimming pools were built on the river above Znojmo. The civilian pool was on the left bank of the river and the military pool was on the opposite bank. They served the general public until 1966, when the Znojmo reservoir was filled with water.
The development of tourism in Podyjí continued until 1948, after which Podyjí was gradually closed to the public as a result of the unfortunate political changes. Soon Podyjí became an unknown and inaccessible region. The river Dyje no longer linked it together, but divided the valley between two worlds. The “Iron Curtain” prevented the neighbours from the left and right banks of the Dyje from meeting and living normally for many decades. People forgot about the Dyje river valley between Znojmo and Vranov. All of the mill buildings on the Dyje river were demolished. Only the walls and foundations of several buildings survived. This rape of the countryside was completed by the establishment and operation of the Mašovice Military Shooting Range. Artillery shells fired from here even endangered the lives of tourists on the distant right bank of the river around Sealsfield Rocks.
The trails became overgrown and memories disappeared along with their carriers. By the end of the 1980s there were few people left alive who could remember visiting the pubs in Hardegg (Austria) or the tourist hostel at Nový Hrádek castle. Terra incognita – an unknown land which had been erased form the tourist maps and guidebooks.
Only a small part of Podyjí to the west of Znojmo remained open to the public during communist times and one circular tourist route survived on each side of the river, allowing visits to two traditional vantage points above the Dyje valley – Králův stolec (The King’s Seat) and the Sealsfieldův kámen Rocks.
The year 1989 brought the fall of the “Iron Curtain” and saw the end of all the previous restrictive measures. The territory of Podyjí was opened up for thousands of visitors. The Podyjí National Park Administration has built or renewed a large number of historical, technical and natural landscapes – forming structures, which serve tourists and visitors – bridges, footbridges, shelters and vantage points. The reconstructed trail through the Šobes vineyard connected the tourist trails on the left and right banks of the Dyje river. The ruins of the Starý Hrádek and Nový Hrádek castles were opened to the public in co-operation with the Institute for Historical Monuments in Brno. The opening of the border crossing at Hardegg was of exceptional significance. The result of excellent co-operation with the Czech Tourist Club is a well marked network of tourist trails for hikers and cyclists, which provide access to most of Podyjí and help to educate and inform visitors and satisfy their ethical and aesthetic needs too.