Lurking beneath the picturesque streets of the Czech Republic’s second city is the Brno Ossuary, a creepy yet utterly fascinating sight that’s not to be missed when visiting Brno. With more than 50,000 people thought to have been buried there, the ossuary is the second largest in Europe – sitting behind only the Catacombs in Paris – and a visit provides the chance to see hundreds of skulls up close, many of which remain in the exact position in which they were discovered.
The history of the Brno Ossuary
Sitting beneath the magnificent Church of St James, the Brno Ossuary was originally used to store the remnants of bodies that needed to be removed from the cemetery due to insufficient capacity. Like many historic churchyards, the church and its cemetery sat within the city walls, and as a result, there was only enough space for a select number of graves – a number that didn’t meet the requirements of the increasing death toll caused by frequent wars, plagues and cholera epidemics. This led to a new system that only allowed bodies to occupy a grave for a period of 10 to 12 years before then being moved to make room for another. The rapidly increasing death toll led to the expansion of the ossuary in 1741 before it eventually closed in 1784 following Joseph II’s ban on church graveyards due to hygiene concerns.
The area surrounding the church was then paved over, meaning the ossuary sat long forgotten until 2001 when a land survey led to the unearthing of thousands of skeletons piled from floor-to-ceiling. After being cleared, analysed and re-ordered, the ossuary opened to the public just over a decade later in 2013.
Today, the ossuary is an eerie tourist attraction with several low-lit crypts and corridors filled with thousands of skulls and skeletons that have been tastefully displayed alongside complementary art pieces and music that’s been composed specifically for the venue. Most of the remains have been reordered in an artistic manner but there is one area where the skeletons have been left exactly how they were found, providing an unnerving insight into the venue’s grim origins and a reminder of how the remains were left untouched beneath the city for hundreds of years.
What you need to know when visiting the Brno Ossuary
The ossuary sits under the Church of St James and is accessed by an outdoor staircase located to the right of the church entrance – look for a stone plaque marked with several engravings. The church can be found just down the road from Brno’s main square, Náměstí Svobody.
Tuesday to Sunday: 9.30 am – 6 pm
Adult: CZK 140
Students and seniors: CZK 70
Children under 15: CZK 70
Children under 6: Free
Family (two adults, two children): CZK 380