Šumava National Park

Cultural and historical characteristics

The landscape of the Šumava mountains and the Pošumaví foothills can be divided into individual zones of historic settlement. These zones are represented by differing traditions of archaeological and settlement history and illustrate different types of human involvement in the development of the region’s environment. The formation of the cultural landscape in Šumava can be divided into several long-term phases.

Šumava was left unaffected by Prehistoric and Early Medieval deforestation. The first man-made forest-free areas date from the 12th and 13th centuries, at the height of the Medieval colonisation period. Before 1200 A.D., the Pošumaví foothills were only colonised in the valleys of larger rivers. The settlements had a radial character and were located at elevations of less than 700 metres. Such settlements lay on or close to the trading paths leading through Šumava. Only the area around today’s Sušice on the Otava river was more densely settled. The trading routes through Šumava connected Zwiesel with Plzeň, Strážný and Vimperk and also Zwiesel with Sušice. The Šumava mountains themselves were of little interest to these Medieval colonists.

By 1500 A.D., the settlement network in the region around Šumava had become denser and had become stabilised. The character of the colonisation involved building strong integrated settlements, a gradual increase in the intensity of economic activity and then a spread in the settlement burden evenly over the territory. Ore mining and glassmaking began to move into the margins of the Královský hvozd border forests, but still didn’t affect the landscape character of higher elevations in the mountains.

By 1700 A.D., several localities in the interior of Šumava had been settled, especially along the former trading paths, but the core areas of the Královský hvozd border forest remained untouched. The colonisation of the central part of the Šumava mountains began relatively late and these core areas of the mountain range were first settled in the middle of the 18th century during the last wave of colonisation, in connection with the development of glassmaking and increased felling of the forests for timber. The secondary forest-free areas first date from this period. Many of the forests were so devastated that planned renewal and regeneration of Šumava’s forests had to be begun in the 19th century. As a result of grazing in the forests and the glassmaking industries’ preference for hardwood timber, the forests’ tree-species composition was dramatically changed, especially at the expense of beech.

During the mid and late 19th century, a significant depopulation of the higher areas of Šumava took place. Nevertheless a closely-connected network of villages and isolated settlements remained at the beginning of the 20th century. The local inhabitants made their living from forestry, agriculture, the declining glass industry and trade.

The depopulation of Šumava was hastened greatly by the movement of nations during the Second World War period. Czechs were forced out of the predominantly German-speaking region before the war and the Germans were evicted after the war. During the Cold War period, large parts of Šumava lay in the forbidden border zone and were under military control. The existing settlement structure in these areas was almost entirely liquidated. All settlements were removed in a belt stretching 8–10 km from the state border, returning the settlement pattern to that of the 15th –16th centuries. All of these dramatic changes significantly altered the settlement structure and other connected human activities, but also greatly influenced the environment.