Legendary Czech entry Guardian of the Flooded Village wins European Tree of the Year

A devil sat beneath the tree to play his eerie violin at night before the village was covered by dam water

Legends surround a 350-year-old Scots pine called the Guardian of the Flooded Village. It sits alone on a spit of land in the middle of a reservoir in the Czech Highlands (Vysočina), watching over the empty landscape.

The pine recently won the annual European Tree of the Year contest, the first Czech tree ever to do so.

The tree used to be the spirit protector of the village of Chudobín, which sat below in the Svratka river valley — now completely covered in water. The valiant tree still protects the memory of the village, as it bears its name — “the Chudobín pine” even has an entry on the Czech version of Wikipedia.

“According to a legend narrated by locals, a devil sat under the pine in the night and played the violin. However it is much more likely that they were hearing the strong winds blowing over the valley,” Milan Peňáz, whose family comes from the extinct village, said. He was one of the backers of the tree’s nomination for the European prize.

Even if it is just the wind, the story shows a connection to the ancient notion of forest spirits and sacred groves, which goes back the earliest roots of Slavic history.

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The Guardian of the Flooded Village in the center. Photo by Milan Peňáz CC BY-SA 4.0

The centuries-old tree is also a testament to perseverance. “This pine tree is not only an important landmark but also an impressive testimony to its high resistance to climate change and human impact,” Peňáz added.

As the lone pine grew larger over the centuries, the villagers considered it to be their protector, the Guardian of Chudobín.

The guardian has stood on a ridge above the now-vanished village since the times of Empress Maria Theresa, who ruled over the area at the time. She is remembered, among other things, for putting an end to the vampire panic in Bohemia and Moravia. She was also the mother of Emperor Joseph II, who features in the film Amadeus and whose religious reforms closed down many urban churches, leading to many legends of displaced spirits and other tales.

The annual European Tree of the Year contest has been held since 2011 by the Environmental Partnership Association (EPA), an organization supported by the European Land Owners Association and the European Commission, and is meant to bring awareness to the importance of nature.

guardian tree

The Guardian of the Flooded Village. Photo By Milan Peňáz CC BY-SA 4.0

This year, the award ceremony was held online due to restrictions on the free movement of people. Sixteen European trees competed, and voting was done online by the public. A short video on the tree can be seen here. 

The Guardian of the Flooded Village captured the public’s imagination, garnering 47,226 votes. Several Czech celebrities promoted the tree on social media. Second went to a ginkgo tree in Croatia, with 28,060 votes.

Managers of the ecosystem that includes the Guardian of the Flooded Village promised to plant one tree for each of the votes, so the tree will again be protecting the local environment by causing the forest to be renewed.

The Scots pine is on the rocky headland of the dam called Vír, which translates to something like Maelstrom or Vortex. Photos of the location, however, aren’t so ominous, showing a serene forest and calm blue waters. When the water level is high, the tree seems to sit magically on a single rock in the middle of the artificial lake. When its a bit lower, more of the ridge is visible. Vír is the name of the surviving village just in front of the dam.

Chudobín

Chudobín in 1930. Public Domain

The flooded village of Chudobín u Dalečína ceased to exist due to the construction of the dam between 1947 and 1957. In 1950, it had 143 inhabitants and was 3 kilometers from the village of Dalečín, which still exists. Both are near Žďár nad Sázavou, which has the Church of St. John of Nepomuk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Now, the 76.5-meter-high Vír dam and its reservoir are one of two main water sources for Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic.

The first mention of Chudobín is in 1384, and the name is related to the Czech word for poverty, but it is also a personal first name, Chudoba. The town officially ceased to exist in 1955, though two cottages survived until 1993. The poet Václav Svoboda Plumlovský mentions the village in his 1931 collection Poems, stories, travels (Básně, povídky, cesty).

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