The Moravian sea


The boat with the two noble young men is tossed about on a stormy sea. They are chased by the galley of the pagan Indians, with a bloodthirsty vulture head on its prow, and all around so many other beasts that look out for the pious traveler: in the ship’s wake a whale with terrible teeth in its open mouth, on the shore a male and a female lion, on the other shore an indeterminable black beast, a bear or a panther, which is struck dumb from seeing the beast which is more evil than any other, the human being, of which two particularly vicious specimens are just beating to death a poor wanderer in the foreground. The two noble young men, however, do not have to be concerned about all this, because their boat is guided by an angel to a safe haven, where a magnificent castle is waiting for them on the top of the rock, with the moral lesson beneath: Vor allem Orth beglückter Porth! – “Of all places is happier the harbor”, that is, “good to travel, but best to arrive”, or, “everywhere is good, but no place like home”.


But, then, where is this happy harbor? We will immediately see how much it must be understood in a moral sense, as we begin to compare it with contemporary engravings. Because the magnificent castle exists indeed, this is how it has been standing since 1719, when the Dietrichstein princes rebuilt it after a fire. However, not on the shore, but in the Moravian hills, on today’s Czech-Austrian border. In Nikolsburg, that is, Mikulov.

The castle of Nikolsburg in an early 19th-c. colored lithography, seen from the Goat Hill (in the foreground, the roofs of the famous Jewish quarter of Nikolsburg)

According to the date of 1725 in the foreground of the seascape, this view must have been quite a novelty at that time, and perhaps this is why it was included in the painting. Which was perhaps ordered precisely for the inauguration festivities by the Nikolsburg Rifle Club, which used it as a festive target.

The rifle club was spontaneously formed in April 1645 by ninety burghers in arms, who joined the Dietrichstein Guard to protect the castle from the siege of the Swedish army. They were unable to resist the siege, but in 1656 they received for their courage a flag, and in 1709 their own shooting range from the Prince. In 1828 their wooden range was replaced by a stone building, whose attractiveness was also increased by its own pub.

Nikolsburg on an 1826 map. In the middle, in red, the castle, to the east the Heiliger Berg (the Calvary hill), to the north the Goat Hill. No traces of any sea.

We have already seen, and we will also see later, how emphatically the idea of the “a sea of their own” is present in the thought of landlocked Bohemia. A nice early example of it is this target. Even its inscription seems to echo the expression of Shakespeare, the creator of the “Bohemian sea” in his Winter’s Tale, where the Sicilian sailors driven by the storm can finally moor on the Bohemian beach: “Blessed shores…”

View from the Calvary Hill to the south, where the sea should be. Below: The castle and the town square on postcards from the first half of the 20th century.

nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725 nikolsburg1725

And this montage postcard from 1910 has the sea again!