Traces of former mill races in Krnov: Possibilities of revitalization and interpretation

Juraj Illéš, Viera Joklová, Agnieszka Jaszczak

Cite this article
Illéš, J., Joklová, V., Jaszczak, A. (2023) ‘Traces of former mill races in Krnov: Possibilities of revitalization and interpretation’, Architecture Papers of the Faculty of Architecture and Design STU, 28(1), pp. 36-46.



The presence of water in various forms ever was and still is a prerequisite for the birth and existence of human settlements. The multifaceted aspects of the communities’ relationship to water were dynamically reflected in the characteristics behind the formation of the urban structure in different historical periods and represent specific values for towns and cities. Mill races were an integral part of many towns in the past. But when they lost their economic importance, they were mostly filled and buried underground. Although we can now find them in their original form in a few cases only, their spatial corridors have often been preserved in the urban structure. The research aims to detect the historical trace of the former mill races in Krnov, a small town in the district of Bruntál in the Moravian-Silesian region of the Czech Republic, and investigate the possibilities of their interpretation and revitalization.

Krnov lies in the Moravian-Silesian Region, where the Czech Re-public borders Poland. The town lies between the rivers Opava and Opavica, which flow through the Krnov and merge into one stream, the Opava River, continuing towards the Opava town. The town has a rich history associated with textile production. The cloth workers guild founded in 1570 was one of the oldest in Krnov. At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, woven woollen cloth-making was one of the most important crafts in the location. And it was the mill races that were an important source of energy and water for manufactories, water-powered fulling mills, spinning, and dyeing, and for driving machines connected with the fabric production. The Krnov textile mills, their buildings, and their premises, even in the poor condition in which they have been preserved to this day, stand as unique testimonies to the history of Krnov. They shape the town’s genius loci, its specific local identity. The mill races were also integral to this identity.

The research focuses on the identification of the remnants and traces of the former mill races using historical maps, literary and visual sources, and subsequently on the investigation of the state of their current existence in the urban structure, according to current orthophoto maps, real estate cadastre records, and field research. In the first stage, the research focused on identifying the routes of the mill races using historical maps, and historical literary and visual sources. The maps of the first, second, and third military mapping were used. Subsequently, in the second stage, we conducted a survey of the current existence of mill races in the urban structure of Krnov from an urban planning point of view, according to the current orthophoto maps, current records of the real estate cadastre, and our own survey in the field. In the third stage, the results of the research were evaluated from the landscape-architectural and urban planning points of view. Various potential possibilities for the revitalization and use of the spatial corridors of the former mill races to interpret the preserved tangible, as well as intangible and extinct cultural heritage values, were analysed.

The routes of the mill races during the development of the urban structure of Krnov are documented in various historical map sources. Four mill races can be seen on the map of the Imperial Obligatory Imprints of the Stable Cadastre from 1826-1843; these formed a system of mill races in the town and its surroundings in the past. At present, the bed of the Opava River in Krnov is directionally maintained in a constant route by modifications made before 1945. The largest adjustment dates back to 1919, followed by a modification beyond the confluence with the Opavica River from 1988-1989. Of the original four mill races, only two have been preserved to this day, the other two were filled up. Research shows, however, that the footprint of their corridors is legible in the urban structure even today, and its presentation in new forms could significantly contribute to regenerate the urban fabric and revitalize public spaces.

The case study of mill races in Krnov shows the importance of this specific phenomenon in the past and also its importance today. The extinction of the mill race channels from the urban structure of towns translates as the loss of cultural identity, and in the context of current threats of climate change, also as the loss of environmental benefits provided by the blue infrastructure. The Krnov example shows that the municipality of Krnov and its citizens actively initiate activities trying to revitalize and interpret the unused heritage of the mill race system. The mill races represent a historical and cultural heritage, and the presentation and interpretation of their values, even those that have disappeared, can greatly contribute to increasing the quality and attractiveness of urban public spaces for residents and tourists.

Keywords: industrial heritage, urban revitalization