Jihlava got balls

This was a dangerous place and the proof was right in front of me. Five rounded protrusions lodged in the eight foot stone wall were cannonballs....



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...fired three hundred years ago. The remnants from the first half of the 17th century were left by invading Swedes during the devastating thirty year war. This time the Swede came in peace.

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The cannonballs may have overshot the nearby Church of St. James the Greater (Kostel sv. Jakuba) as the taller North tower doubled as a lookout tower of the town. The South tower had been cut down to size as it began to lean suspiciously in the 16th century.  


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The Swedes must have scaled the fortifications encompassing the medieval town or entered through some of the five gates. Today the park on top of the bulwark invite to a walk around town and a teenage hangout. Two girls place tea lights on the ground and streamers in a tree. A bottle of bubbly sticks out of a bag. Someone is being celebrated tonight. A gate lead through the inner wall into a park and onwards by a church and back onto the cobble stoned streets. 


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Towering to the left at the end of Matky Bozi Street, the only remaining city gate, the Gate of the Holy Mother. Stairs lead to the top and on the way a journey through the town’s history. Up there a view of the city and surroundings awaits. In the midst of the farmed fields outside town a hill adorned with a cross, once the execution hill.


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A block away from what once the Southern gate is the childhood home of Jihlava’s most famous son. Gustav Mahler grew up above his father’s inn which is today a small interactive museum. Mahler a “wunderkind” played concerts as early as at ten and even today occasional piano recitals are played in the house. After being sent off to Vienna for further music studies in his teens he never resettled in Jihlava. His name lives on in a former convent converted into a hotel.

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If “time heal all wounds” there is more needed to heal what grew out of Soviet hegemony in Jihlava. A brutalist monstrosity in the midst of the town square somewhat blocks the view of the candy colored City Hall. The City’s coat of arms show traces of the German name Iglau. It was derived from the word for hedgehog (Igel) and still adorns the city coat of arms as well as make up the logo of the local Pivovar (brewery) Jezek. 


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Poseidon adorns a classic fountain and victims of a 15th century plague outbreak are remembered with an obelisk amongst trees. Among other houses some dating to the 13th century the massive Baroque façade of the church dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola reaches for the heaven. A narrow alley next to it leads down under.


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The legend of human inhabitants seeking riches around Jihlava dates to around 800 when silver was found making it the oldest mining town in the country. This began the hollowing out of the underground under the city leaving a 25 km network of tunnels. Guided tours take visitors into a mere 250 meter of the tunnels. It gets a bit creepy going down the stairs into the underground as few can stand straight in the low tunnels. What started as mines for riches also yielded lots of stone, much hoisted up through shafts, to become building material for the growing city on the surface. Empty tunnels were repurposed into food and wine storage with a temperature of 8-12 degrees C. 


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The triple layered tunnel system also doubled as shelters during sieges and wars. At the lowest level the guide stops and tells us to look at the tunnel walls as he switches off the light. It takes a while to adjust to the near complete darkness but as we do a faint greenish light emanates from the rock walls. Is the glow the result of phosphorous leaching from the bones of monks buried in a former monastery cemetery above? Or is it remnants of a fluorescent paint test by the Nazis to mark exits from underground WW II bomb shelters when electricity was knocked out by bombing raids? Or is it a door to an unknown supernatural dimension? Is the light a ghost who revealed himself to a TV reporter who stayed in the tunnel for three nights?


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As the guide flick on the light and lead us towards the tunnel entrance we pass by an out-of-focus black and white photograph of the Ghost.


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