What You Need To Know
Ostrava is a city in the north-east of the Czech Republic and is the capital of the Moravian-Silesian Region. It is 15 km from the border with Poland, at the meeting point of four rivers: the Odra, Opava, Ostravice and Lučina. In terms of both population and area Ostrava is the third largest city in the Czech Republic, the second largest city in Moravia, and the largest city in Czech Silesia; it straddles the border of the two historic provinces of Moravia and Silesia. The population was around 300,000 in 2013. The wider conurbation – which also includes the towns of Bohumín, Doubrava, Havířov, Karviná, Orlová, Petřvald and Rychvald – is home to around 500,000 people, making it the largest urban area in the Czech Republic apart from the capital, Prague. Ostrava grew to prominence thanks to its position at the heart of a major coalfield, becoming an important industrial centre. It used to be nicknamed the country’s “steel heart” thanks to its status as a coal-mining and metallurgical centre, but since the Velvet Revolution (the fall of communism in 1989) it has undergone radical and far-reaching changes to its economic base. Industries have been thoroughly restructured, and the last coal was mined in the city in 1994. However, the city’s industrial past lives on in the Lower Vítkovice area, a former coal-mining, coke production and ironworks complex in the city centre boasting a unique collection of historic industrial architecture. Lower Vítkovice has applied for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Since the 1990’s Ostrava has been transformed into a modern cultural city, with numerous theatres, galleries and other cultural facilities. It hosts a wide range of cultural and sporting events throughout the year. Among the best known are the Colours of Ostrava multi-genre music festival, the Janáček May classical music festival, the Summer Shakespeare Festival and NATO Days. Ostrava is home to two public universities: the VŠB-Technical University and the University of Ostrava. In 2014 Ostrava was a European City of Sport. The city co-hosted (with Prague) the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in 2004 and 2015.
Population: Estimate 365,000
Area: 214 km²
Coat of arms
The city’s coat of arms features a blue shield with a rearing silver horse standing on a green lawn. The horse wears a golden saddle and a red coverlet. At the top right of the shield there is a golden rose with green leaves and a red core. The horse in the coat-of-arms wears no bridle. The oldest known depiction of this coat-of-arms is on a seal dating from 1426; the first coloured version dates from 1728. The horse is often interpreted as a symbol of Ostrava’s position on a major trade route, or as a figure taken from the coat-of-arms of Ostrava’s first vogt (reeve), while the golden rose probably comes from the family coat-of-arms of the bishop of Olomouc Stanislav Thurzo. This explanation is supported by most modern literature. Another (somewhat more fanciful) theory states that the Bishop granted Ostrava the right to use the horse in its coat-of-arms out of gratitude for the assistance that the town provided to the people of the Bishop’s estate in Hukvaldy when the estate was being looted and pillaged; the help apparently came so quickly that the pillagers did not have time to attach bridles to their horses before making their escape. There is also a legend which tells of a siege of Ostrava during which the besieged townspeople released unbridled horses to run in circles around the town; this is said to have confused the attacking armies so much that they fled.
Culture and art
Ostrava has four permanent theatres. The National Moravian-Silesian Theatre has two venues (the Antonín Dvořák Theatre and the Jiří Myron Theatre). There is also the Petr Bezruč Theatre, the Aréna Chamber Theatre and the Ostrava Puppet Theatre – which hosts the international Spectaculo Interesse festival every odd-numbered year and the Theatre Without Barriers festival every even-numbered year. Ostrava has a rich musical life, featuring the internationally renowned Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra. The city hosts a number of international annual or biennial classical music festivals, including Janáček May, the St Wenceslas Music Festival and the Ostrava Days new music festival. Since 2002 Ostrava has been the venue for the annual multi-genre music festival Colours of Ostrava, which brings globally renowned performers to the city along with tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world. Other major international events in Ostrava’s cultural calendar include the film and theatre festivals One World, Ostrava Camera Eye (Ostrava Kamera Oko), the International Outdoor Films Festival, and the Summer Shakespeare Festival (held on an outdoor stage at the Silesian Ostrava Castle). Folklore festivals include the ‘Harmony’ (Souznění) international festival of Advent and Christmas traditions and crafts, Folklore Without Borders, and the Irish Cultural Festival. Ostrava also has a plethora of museums and galleries. The Ostrava City Museum, located in the beautiful 16th-century old city hall building on the main central square, offers permanent exhibitions on the city’s history, landscape and people. The Ostrava Science and Technology Centre is a fun and interactive attraction where visitors can lean all about the fascinating world of technology. Highlights include simulators where visitors can drive a train, fly a plane, or try their hand at being a steelworker, an astronaut, or even Captain Nemo – helping people of all ages understand the complex principles of science in an entertaining and accessible way. The Science and Technology Centre is divided into two parts: the Small World of Technology, and the Large World of Technology (14,000 m2), where visitors can explore four different “worlds” in one building. Ostrava’s Toy Museum offers rare exhibits from over 60 countries, including some toys dating back to the mid-19th century.
The official language of the Czech Republic and Ostrava is Czech, which is spoken by over 96 of its inhabitants. But don’t worry, nowadays you should have no problems communicating in English in most towns, and to a lesser extent in German. Older people often speak Russian and German.
Ostrava is the natural transport and logistics hub of the north-eastern part of the Czech Republic. 25 km south of the city centre is an international airport – Leoš Janáček Airport Ostrava – which links the city with several European destinations (IATA code: OSR; ICAO code: LKMT). It is the first airport in the Czech Republic to have its own rail link. It handles scheduled flights several times a week to Prague, Paris, London and Düsseldorf. In the summer season there are also numerous charter flights, mainly to destinations in the Mediterranean region. The road infrastructure of the region is centred on the D1 motorway, which runs from Prague via Brno and Ostrava into Poland. Ostrava is 360 km from Prague by motorway, 170 km from Brno, 90 km from the Polish city of Katowice, and 310 km from Vienna. Other major roads are Class I roads 11, 56, 58, and 59, as well as the E75 and E462 trans-European routes. Ostrava is also a major railway hub, situated on Railway Corridors II and III and functioning as an important centre for cargo and passenger transport between the Czech Republic and Poland/Slovakia. The city’s largest railway stations are the main station (Ostrava-hlavní nádraží) and Ostrava-Svinov. These stations are important railway junctions. All trains of all three railway companies (Czech railways, RegioJet and LEO Express) call at Ostava on trains to Olomouc, Pardubice and Prague. The city also has a dense public transport network consisting of trams, buses and trolleybuses. Trams were first introduced in 1894; initially they were powered by steam engines. The network was rapidly expanded, and in 1901 it was electrified. New tram lines were built mainly to the south and east of the city centre, where they would not have to cross the narrow-gauge rail lines connecting Ostrava with Karviná and Bohumín. In 1934 the railway line in Vítkovice (operated by the Vítkovice Ironworks company) was also electrified. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the various companies providing tram services in Ostrava were merged to create the Ostrava City Public Transport Corporation (Dopravní podnik města Ostravy). During the communist era new tram lines were built to link the central parts of the city with the new satellite estates (Poruba) and factories (Nová Huť). After the Velvet Revolution in 1989 most tram-building projects were stopped, though a new section running along Místecká Road was opened in the late 1990s. Currently Ostrava’s trams rank among the best-equipped and most modern in the Czech Republic. Trolleybuses were first introduced in 1952 (as in other Czech towns and cities after the Second World War). Initially there was one trolleybus route which encircled the city centre, but the network was gradually expanded in the 1950s and 60s, replacing the narrow-gauge railways. A route to the Fifejdy housing estate was built in the late 1970s. The last expansion of the trolleybus network came in the mid-1990s, when a route was built out to the suburb of Koblov. There are 17 tram lines currently operating in Ostrava. There are 52 bus lines and 14 trolleybus lines. There are plans to link the Odra River in Ostrava up to the proposed canal connecting the Danube with the Odra (Oder) and Labe (Elbe).
Tourists come to Ostrava mainly to enjoy the city’s unique industrial atmosphere and heritage or to experience one of the many festivals held here; particularly popular attractions include the Lower Vítkovice area, the Michal Colliery (now a museum where visitors can experience the authentic environment of a beautifully preserved coal mine) and the Mining Museum at Landek Park (set in an area of outstanding natural interest). The city has also developed a new mobile app called The Salomon Code, an adventurous way to learn about Ostrava’s rich history based around the story of Baron Rothschild; visitors discover numerous fascinating and unique locations throughout the city in a quest to find a magic amulet. Ostrava has also become a popular destination for film-makers, attracted to the city by its striking industrial vistas and powerful genius loci.