The Ancient Bohemian Forest, not to be confused with Český les, is locally known as Šumava or the Black Forest. It is a gentle rolling woodland that is actually a low mountain range in the Czech Republic which delights with nature’s elegant artistry.
Most of the Šumava Range was declared a protected area on December 27, 1963. In 1990 it has been a protected biosphere reserve of UNESCO. The protected area includes Šumava National Park, Šumava Protected Landscape Area and 89 nature reserves and monuments within 645 square mile area. Flowering and acidiphilous beech forests, mountain spruce forests cover 83.8 % of the area. There are extensive plains at the approx. altitude of 3,200 feet above sea level in the Šumava Mountains. Large open areas are used as meadows or pastures and peat-bogs are another important natural element.
Believed to be older than 300 million years, the ancient hills of the Bohemian Forest are even older than the Alps or the Himalayas. The Bohemian Forest is also in the most extensive continuous forest of Central Europe. Geographically, the mountains create a natural border between the Czech Republic on one side and Germany and Austria on the other. On the German side, they are known as the Bavarian Forest.
The watersheds of the North Sea and the The Black Sea spring from the Bohemian Forest via the Otava, Úhlava and Vltava rivers. There is also an abundance of snow and heavy precipitation which fill the peat bogs and the Lipno Dam, making the the Šumava region an important water reservoir for all of Central Europe.
The Schwarzenberg Shipping Canal was built in the watershed of the rivers Vltava and Danube as an important transport route for timber from the Šumava forests. The construction was initiated on April 29, 1789 by Josef Rosenauer (1735-1804), a native of Chvalšiny, from the district of Český Krumlov. The first voyage took place on April 12, 1791.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the canal was extended to a length of 52 km (of which 37 km ran through Czech territory, including the 429 m long tunnel near Jelení Vrchy). The shipping canal (or flume as it is sometimes called) was fed with water from 27 streams, Plešné Lake and from the three man-made reservoirs, the (Rosenauer, Jelení and Říjiště reservoirs).
The Danube shipping route (from the canal to the River Gr. Mühl to the Danube and then on to Vienna) lasted about 100 years and during that time, almost 8 million cubic meters of wood was floated before it all ended in 1892. At the time, the undertaking was grander than the building of the Panama Canal.
Shipping on the canal towards Bohemia lasted until 1961. The canal was of great importance for the development of the territory and many new villages were founded, including Nová Pec, Huťský Dvůr, Jelení Vrchy, Stožec, Nové Údolí and others.
Several lakes of glacial origin are also in the region with their fathomless depths, glittering surfaces, and divine quiet, they are truly jewels of the area’s countryside. The biggest and the most popular Šumava’s lakes are the Black and Devil’s Lake (Černé a Čertovo jezero). The Black Lake is the largest lake in Šumava and indeed the entire Czech Republic. Its name comes from the lake’s black colour, which is caused by the reflection of the surrounding dark forest.
The origin of the current name, Bohemian Forest, goes back to approx. 400 BC. when the Boii people were spreading across Europe. Boii is the Roman name of three ancient Celtic tribes, which were living in Transalpine Gaul (modern France), Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy), and Bohemia, Moravia and western Slovakia.
I would begin by saying that the Celts were in the Bohemian lands long before they were in Britain, in England!
Dr. Vladimir Ctverak, Director of the Central Bohemian Institute for the Preservation of Archaeological Landmarks and an authority on Celtic settlements.
The European region of Bohemia owes its name to the Boii people. The Romans called it Boiohaemum, which is Latin translated as “the home of the Boii”. Celtic tribes settled in Central European centuries before the Slavic peoples arrived.
Celts or Giants – Obří hrad (aka Giant Castle)
There is only one castle located inside the Šumava borders and it is said to be the sacred remains of a Celtic settlement. The people who built it and lived there did not leave behind many clues. We do know that there are almost no archaeological findings in the area, only amazingly preserved stone ramparts of a prehistoric fort.
This settlement is surrounded by a series of mysteries and secrets. At 3,215 feet altitude, it is the highest situated fort settlement in Bohemia, yet its mission is still not clear. In many ways it remains shrouded in mystery. All we have remaining is a massive amount of crumbled stones.
But why here? Why put so much effort into a fort when there is nothing far and wide. There seems to be no strategic reason for the location, though we do think the view is stunning.
Another mystery of this location is that it’s been recorded that strange things have been found between its crumbled walls. Local people have a legend that says that a 10 foot long bone was seen, blinking in the darkness. Luminescent or glowing bones are possible as fluorescence come from a family of bacteria from the genus Pseudomonas, Aeromonas and others. Believe it or not, this is a fairly common phenomenon. What is strange is that the legend says the entire bone glowed and bacteria cover does not appear that way.
According to another legend, the bone was used to build a bridge over a nearby river. It’s no longer there because giant bones being used as foot bridges don’t last forever, especially in a harsh climate so it is believed they eventually disintegrated. But considering the bone itself is a mystery as well because the largest European dinosaur had a femur of only 5 ½ feet. So where did a 10 foot bone come from?
The Celts mentioned from the area are not regular celts but apparently a cult, and among them, giants. Another legend tells us that Obří hrad (Giant Castle) was the seat of nine mighty giants at one time. One day, a poor grief-stricken tailor came to the giants with a plea for help because he was not able to support his ten children. Instead of helping him, the giants threw him down a steep slope and cast a rock at him. The tailor survived and when he regained consciousness, he realized the rock was actually a giant piece of gold and as such, he never had to work for the rest of his life.
Whispering In The Wind
The origin of the name Šumava is not clear. Folk etymology connects it with Czech words šum, šumění, šumět all of which denote a noise of trees almost whispering in the wind. The most accepted opinion among linguists derives Šumava from a theorized Proto-Slavic word šuma which simple means dense forest.
Three principal zonal vegetation units can be distinguished: belts of species-rich beech forests, acidic montane beech forests, and climax spruce forests. Forests, meadows and pastures as well as bogs are characteristic of Šumava. Such ancient forests are also home to various species of animals and fauna.
Making a Comeback
Between 1830-1890 in Bohemia, the Eurasian Lynx was exterminated, and in Moravia probably at the turn of the 20th century. After 1945, migration from Slovakia created a small and unstable population in Moravia. Then, in the 1980s, almost 20 specimens were imported from Slovakia and reintroduced in the The Bohemian Forest, also known as the Šumava area. In early 2006, the population of lynx in the Czech Republic was estimated at between 80-120 individuals. Hunting is strictly prohibited, but the lynx is still threatened by poachers.
The legendary wolf has been thought to be extinct for over a century, but game cameras have been capturing them and their numbers are once again growing. The last wolf in Šumava (poslední vlk na Šumavě) was gunned down on December 2, 1874 in the forest district Lipka u Vimperka. This is according to the book Dějiny lovu a lovectví (History of the Hunt and Hunting) by Jan Evangelista Chadt-Ševětínský published in 1909 in Louny. Jan was a Czech forester, historian and author of articles and books on forestry and hunting. These beautiful creatures are finding their way back into this ancient forest, where they belong.
At the end of autumn, when the vast plains of the Šumava Mountains become blanketed with snow, the whole area starts to change into a winter wonderland. It is an ideal holiday destination for anyone who loves skiing, ice skating, active relaxation and good food. Šumava is a peaceful corner of the Czech Republic with a long tradition of winter sport – as much a part of the region as its mysterious moors, beautiful glacial lakes, deep forests and distant views, which gave it the nickname the “green roof of Europe”.
No One’s Lords and No One’s Servants
Independance and self-sufficiency have a long standing tradition in the Bohemian forest. When the first farmers took up struggle in the forest, the Bohemian King granted them their own jurisdiction, the right to hunt and fish and to make plum brandy or Slivovice.
Many people in the area live the way they have for generations as the video below will demonstrate. Certain things have changed, while others have remained the way they have for centuries. So we invite you…
Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, set aside all distractions and spend the next 50 minutes watching this beautiful video about the Bohemian Forest.
- The “elk” he identifies in the video is more recognizable to us as a moose and they are being seen more and more all over Czech Republic. We posted about it back in September of 2015. You can read about the Czech Moose here.
- We also learn as we do the research for each post. Not a day passes that we are not taken aback in complete awe of our beautiful country. There is another 50 minute video, Bohemia – A Year in the Wetlands, which you can view here.
- I have a short clip from 1957 where my mother, Anna Hilmar, is frolicking in the landscape at Červená na Šumavě at the summer house of Czech actor František Hanus. It’s only a little over a minute, but I treasure it dearly. Since it takes place in Šumava, I’m sharing it here.
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