Javornik Ghost Town - Czech Republic
Javornik lies in the foothills of Rychlebske Hory and first appeared as a settlement surrounding a medieval fortress from which it got its name; Jauernig. Over the centuries it has had more than its share of misfortune and its population has risen and fallen dramatically many times. It could have been labelled a ghost town for much of its history but is today enjoying a period of renaissance.
After auspicious beginnings watched over by the fortress, the town fell victim to the destruction of the Hussite Wars. For four years from 1428 until 1432 it was under siege by the Hussites who, upon finally gaining victory, left the village and its fortress in ruins. Thus it stayed for a century with only the odd villager eking out an existence between the rubble of the settlement. Then in the 16th century, Jan Thurzo, the Prince-Bishop of Breslau built a magnificent castle called Johannesberg and the village sprang to life again. During his tenure, the village grew to prominence after silver and iron deposits were discovered in the area. In the middle of the century it gained town status and a school was built for its younger inhabitants.
Luck was not on its side though for 25 years on, a huge fire ravaged the town and for years it remained a broken reminder of the good times that had been. Gradually it was rebuilt on the fortunes of the mining industry until the advent of the Thirty Years War. In 1646 the war arrived on Javornik’s doorstep and it was virtually erased from the map. This time it took eight years and the passing of the war to see the town rise again. It became yet more prosperous and gained a church, school, town hall and brewery.
Better times followed for the town, even though it found itself on the side of the losers in the First Silesian War. Whilst most of Silesia was ceded to Prussia, Javornik and Bohemian Silesia stayed part of the Habsburg Empire.
In the mid 18th century the town became the diocesan seat for Breslau and the centre of local government for the principality of Neisse-Grottkau. The Prince-Bishop of Breslau moved his court to Johannesberg Castle and the town became the cultural capital of Upper Silesia.
At the start of the 19th century, Javornik was the biggest urban settlement in the region and very prosperous. Gentry from Silesia chose the town for their homes to be close to the cultural centre of the Silesian universe.
True to form, the golden age did not last and again it was fire that put paid to the town’s ambitions. In 1825 a devastating fire ravaged the town, destroying over a hundred of its buildings including the town hall, church and most of Javornik’s industry. This time the town had the wealth to rebuild itself more quickly but something of the spirit and joie-de-vivre of the town died in the fire. Although the town was rebuilt, it never regained its status. Most of the industries that brought its wealth never fully recovered and the town became once again dependent on forestry and mining even following the extension of the railway system that linked it to the rest of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1880 the population had dropped to 3,362 citizens, all of whom were German speaking. The decline continued in the early part of the 20th century until in 1910 the population stood at a little over 2,000.
After 1945, under the terms of the Beneš decrees, the German townsfolk were forced to leave what was now Czechoslovakia. The effect was that most of the inhabitants were forced to leave, being sent to interment camps. Others were beaten and killed by militias and paramilitary groups bent on revenge or the communist party members loyal to the Red Army. As with the persecution of the Jews by Hitler, a guardian angel sprung up in the form of Cardinal Adolf Bertram and the Wittelsbachs, a noble German family with influence in the area. Working secretly, they helped many ethnic German families to escape persecution and death by smuggling them to Austria, Switzerland and the UK. By 1947 the whole of the German population of Javornik had left the town and their property was given or sold to Czech and Slovak citizens under the new government’s population programs.
Further hardship was endured by the townspeople following the Communist coup in 1948, privately owned land was confiscated and industry collapsed, being moved to the cities by the authorities. Despite state intervention, times remained hard for the inhabitants and by the time of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the only industry in the town had closed. As capitalism grew in the liberated country, tourism became the growth industry playing on Javornik’s pretty charm. Now it is thriving and developing into the regional force it had been in centuries past.