The Battle of Austerlitz – 1805
Slightly east of Brno, you will find the town of Slavkov u Brna. Today, the town serves as a bedroom community to Brno with many of its residents commuting to and from work in the South Moravian capital city. However, in the days of the Habsburg Empire it was known by its Germanic name of Austerlitz.
For anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Napoleonic period, the name Austerlitz is synonymous with what is considered to be one of Napoleon’s greatest victories. It was here, in the South Moravian countryside on a cold December morning in 1805, that Napoleon’s outnumbered army clashed with and claimed a decisive victory over the combined Austrian and Russian armies. Historically, the Battle of Austerlitz is also referred to as the Battle of the Three Emperors.
The most immediate effect of the outcome of the battle was a large scale change in Austria’s status as an empire. Conditions of the armistice imposed by Napoleon saw large sections of the Austrian Empire annexed and Austria’s power in European affairs accordingly diminished. Austria also agreed to never take up arms against France again. The treaty conditions also effectively spelled the end of the Holy Roman Empire, which was formally dissolved in 1806.
The Making of a Monument
In the late 1800s, a Brno priest took the initiative to spearhead the conception and construction of a monument to the battle. The location of Prace Hill for the monument was an easy decision; it was from there that the three emperors oversaw the battle, conferred with their generals and made their critical battle decisions.
The design of the monument was more complicated, not only architecturally but also symbolically. The monument would have a sacral aspect to it as the structure would incorporate a chapel and crypt. It would also not be a war monument in the typical sense of glorifying the victor and their exploits in battle, but rather a sombre testament to the price of war for the victor, vanquished and local population alike.
In 1906, a design proposed by noted Czech architect Josef Fanta was chosen. The design was in the popular Art Nouveau style of the period and contained a great deal of symbolism. Construction began in 1910 with the intent to open the cairn to the public in 1914; however, the First World War delayed those plans and the consecration of the cairn’s chapel until 1923. Sometime later, a museum dedicated to the battle was built adjacent to the cairn.
Mohyla Míru Today
The cairn itself is quite imposing and covered with symbolism both subtle and obvious inside and out; all of that symbolism highlights the high human cost of battle.
Some of the more obvious symbolism includes four shield bearers, one at each corner of the cairn, which represent not only the three combatant nations but also the local Moravian population who had the misfortune of having the battle take place on their farms and homesteads.
Flanking the doors to the chapel are allegorical figures of Grief and Woe which take the form of a mother in mourning and a wife or sweetheart waiting for her man to return.
Directly beside the cairn is a multimedia museum and interpretive centre which presents the lead up, progress and outcome of the battle in a walk through format. There are three main rooms to walk through with audio visual presentations available in Czech, English, French, German and Russian. There is a fourth hall with displays of artifacts and historical photographs; the text in the display cases is all in Czech, but texts in the other four languages are available upon request. The complete presentation takes about 45 minutes to see.
Mohyla Míru is more than just a war memorial, it is also a grave site. In the floor of the chapel there is a crypt where human remains that are found by archaeological digs in the area of the battle field are periodically interred. The battle covered a sizable area and to this day not all of the hastily dug mass grave sites have been reliably located.
Visiting Mohyla Míru
Mohyla Míru can be accessed by car, bicycle or Brno public transport. If you choose the Brno public transport option, be aware that the two bus routes that get you into the area of the monument will both leave you with some walking to do. The road you’ll be walking on is not set up well for pedestrian traffic so you’ll need to be a bit watchful as you make your way along it.
It should be noted that on December 2 of every year, the Battle of Austerlitz is reenacted on the historic battlefield near the monument. If you enjoy historical reenactments, its definitely something for you to consider if you’re in the area at the time.
An overview of the monument, its hours of operation and admission prices can be found at the Museum of Brno website.
For those with a deeper interest in the Napoleonic era and the Battle of Austerlitz, the austerlitz.org website will certainly be useful for you.