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Sites of Great Moravia: Slavonic Fortified Settlement at Mikulcice - Church of St.Margaret at Kopčani

Date of Submission: 06/07/2001
Criteria: (iii)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture, Prague
Coordinates: 48°48'17" N ; 17°05'17" E
Ref.: 1559

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The Great Moravian fortified seulement at Mikulêice is the best preserved archaeological evidence documenting the existence of the West-Slavonic state of the early Middle Ages, situated in the Central European area and called Great Moravia.

It was the first known West-Slavonic state stretching in the gth century over the territory of central and south Moravia and southwest Slovakia. In the period of its greatest expansion it included the territory of the present day Czech and Slovak Republics, south Lusatia (now part of Germany), the adjacent southern territories of the present day Poland (the upper part of the Odra Basin and the Vistula Basin) and Pannonia up to the Balaton which today lies on Hungarian territory. The empire of Great Moravia was one of the European great powers of the time, comparable to the East-Franconian Empire. At the height of its development it was already a consolidated protofeudal state with its own ruling dynasty, a complex of castles, an independently organized Church and a developed economy. The Great Moravian Empire was an important state entity of the Christianization period in Central Europe, with cultural ties to the Byzantian Empire; moreover, its culture laid the foundations of Slavonic literature and material heritage of the West-Slavonic peoples.

The Great Moravian fortified seulement at Mikulêice is the best preserved monument documenting the existence of this important state which had a lasting influence on the cultural history of the Slavonic peoples (and thus also on the cultural history of Central and Eastern Europe) and which likewise gained a permanent place in Europe's political history, particularly in the Central European contexte

As a représentative and centre of the Great Moravian Slavonic culture, Mikuléice cannot be matched by any other monument on the Worid Heritage List.

The Mikulêice fortified site lies near the town of Hodonin, three kilomètres southeast of the village of Mikulêice, in the alluvial floodforests land stretchîng along the today's border between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The seulement is situated on several sand dunes rising slightly above the surrounding landscape of the Morava River floodplains. Around these pieces of elevated land there used to flow the branching river, and because of the abundant water supply, good communication potentiel and strategic advantages the place had been settled from the Mesolitic Age up to the end of the Early Middle Ages. Already in the period preceding that of the Great Moravian Empire the seulement in the locality described above became the regional centre of the local Slavonic population.

In the 9th century, the older Mikulêice seulement was radicaly rebuilt, already as a part of the Great Moravian residential agglomération whose total area, according to estimations, ranged between 30-50 ha. The fortified core of the agglomération with the area of about 10ha consisted of an acropolis and a preurbium. The seulement was enclosed by a massive fortification, part wooden, part earthen, with a front stone wall in which three gates were broken. The fort-like character of this site was underlined also by the already mentioned river branches which flowed round the acropolis with its preurbium and separated them from the surrounding seulement situated below. The individuel parts of the agglomération were connected by wooden bridges whose remains were revealed by the archaeologists in the riverbeds of the branching Morava.

In the course of the 9th century, stone churches were being founded inside the acropolis, in its elevated nothern end, and around the churches there grew large burial grounds. The archaeologists uncovered the foundations of four churches, another three are supposed to have existed according to preserved destruction fragments and the presence of burial grounds. At the highest point of the acropolis there were two buildings most significantly representing the Great Moravian princely court at Mikulêice - a basilica and the prince's palace. The three-aisle basilica is so far the largest uncovered Great Moravian ecclesiastical building. What is usually interpreted as a palace is a large stone house with a compact daubed floor, the only structure lacking the attributes of an ecclesiastical building. The rest of the buildings inside the acropolis area could be reconstructed only with great difficulté. The relics of above-ground houses, mostly with blockhouse structure, had been severely damaged by a later seulement from the end of the hillfort age, and at present it is impossible to determine from the findings in the surveyed areas the original layout of the seulement. Judging from the fragments of moats, palisades and fences we may suppose that the acropolis area was divided into several parts probably designated by the church burial grounds as sacred precincts; the division lines could also have separated the iridividual residential complexes belonging to the prince and the magnates. The situation is better at the fortified preurbium, with a number of well-preserved house floors. These make up a dense and regular building network which is often referred to as one of the signs of an urban character of the Mikulêice seulement.

In the large settied area around the core of the site, which has not been studied as intensively as the acropolis itself with its surroundings there lived not just peasants and craftsmen, but also members of the ruling aristocracy who built wooden palaces and homesteads there. The homesteads enclosures often included churches of which five have been uncovered so far in this area. Even after the fall of the Great Moravian Empire in the early 10th century a reduced seulement still existed at Mikulëice, between the mid-eleventh and mid-thirteenth centuries it had already a distinctly rural character. In the course of the 13th century, climatic and hydrological changes brought about long-term extensive inondations which turned the meadow lands in the river basîn into an uninhabitable area. The last episode of a longer lasting seulement is connected with the rebuilding of the remains of one church from the Great Moravian period into a smaller fort which was used in the 14th and the first half of the 15th century. This fortified site probably formed part of a system of sentry posts, built along a supposed communication route which used one, of the Morava fords located directly @ in the former fortified Great Moravian centre at Mikulêice territory.

The Mikulêice fortified seulement was discovered already in the late 19th century and between the years 1954 and 1990 the Archaeological Institute of the Czech Academy of Science in Brno conducted systematic archaeological research there whose results are gradually being processed and evaluated. From the beginning of this period till the present, the acropolis and its surroundings have been subject to both preliminary surveys and salvage archaeology. In the course of systematic excavations, exceptionally demanding in respect of technology, finance and expert capacity, a major part of the acropolis and some parts of the fortified and unfortified forecourts have been surveyed in detail, and the extent of the actual site area has been established with certainty by archaeological probing.

An important réminiscence of the original Great Moravian residential agglomération îs the above-ground relic of a massive vallum, severai metres high, preserved in its entire length and delimitating the elevated site of the acropolis. The branches of the Morava are today diverted away from the former seulement area and the only traces left by the river are the occasional dried out dépressions. With minor exceptions, the area of the site has been restored to the appearance it had prior to the beginning of archaeological research; it is now overgrown with grass and regularly maintained. The smaller, wooded part of the location is being treated with the use of common forestry methods. The foundations of the first church are preserved in situ and above them the hall building was erected. The layouts of other buildings are indicated on the present surface level by stones laid in a sand bed. The locality is open to the public, and along the visitor's route, at the individuel presented objects, there are information boards. The movable heritage found in the locality and the history of the seulement is presented to the visitors in the area of preurbium, in an, exhibition of the Museum of T.G. Masaryk in Hodonin - the institution responsable for the maintenance of the whole site. Directly in the acropolis area there is a detached workplace of the Archaeological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Brno, which houses the depositories and in which the scientific significance of the outcomes of archaelogical research is evaluated.