Cultural and historical characteristics
Villages and small towns help to form the cultural landscape surrounding the wild natural scenery of rock towers, cliffs, deep ravines and forests. Most of the villages and small towns in the area were founded by colonists as strip villages in the forests, and they have a common form of long, narrow settlements along streams and roads or only a row of houses set back from the road. At the expense of forests, limited strips of agricultural land were cleared on either side of the central roadway.
Most of the traditional houses found here are typical for North Bohemian folk architecture, indicating the strength of tradition and people’s links to the land and region. The local folk architecture typically used local, natural materials such as wood, sandstone and a combination of timber, log cabin and timber-framed house styles, and two-storeyed rural houses appeared here from the 16th century onwards. A stone pedestal to spread the weight of the walls and roof is typical of the local housing construction. The houses reflect the employment, wealth and social position of the inhabitants. Differences in styles of housing can tell us if we are looking at a former gamekeeper’s cottage, forester’s house, mill, sawmill, farm or school.
On the houses we can admire the craftsmanship. Decorated gables, balconies, pedestals, windows and doors come from the architectural styles popular at the time of construction, and identify certain houses with particular sub-regions e.g. Krásná Lípa or Jetřichovice.
For their exceptional architectural, urbanist and landscape value the settlements of Kamenická Stráň and Vysoká Lípa were declared Village Historical Reserves in 1995 by the Czech Ministry of Culture.
As well as human activity that we can see at first glance, man has also left many small monuments, such as crosses, chapels, memorials in the landscape. It’s impossible to find two small monuments which are identical as they vary so much from village to village and they show us how skilful the local craftsmen were. As the basic building material of the area is sandstone, it’s logical that many of these small monuments were built from this available and easily-workable material. We can find such structures by roads and paths, at crossroads, in the centre of villages or even placed on buildings. We can also find monuments scattered across the agricultural landscape or even in the forests, where they could remind us of some forestry accident or of the hunting of an unusual or exceptional game animal. There are legends and superstitions connected to some of these small monuments and they give names to the locations where they stand or serve as orientation points in the countryside. Some of these small monuments, such as the stone Kuntzův kříž (cross) from 1456 A.D., found to the north of Vysoký Sněžník are hundreds of years old. This cross was built as a cross of conciliation in the system of medieval morality and law, so different from the present day. On the basis of Christian views on forgiveness, this meant that a murderer could be forgiven by his victim’s family, under certain conditions such as erecting a cross. The legal right to sign a conciliation treaty was abolished in the 16th century, but the tradition of building stone crosses continued for much longer.
By the road from Růžová to Srbská Kamenice we can find the Riedelův Kříž. It is a roughly-hewn conciliation cross engraved with a sword and the year 1792, but the cross is probably older. The Merchant Riedel was murdered and according to the legend, two crows, who witnessed the murder, helped to prove the murderer’s guilt.
Nature protection in the Labské pískovce region can be traced to the first half of the 18th century when Count Jan Josef Thun introduced new rules on his Děčín estates, such as control over forest management, a ban on grazing in his forests and a ban on logging for part of the year, so the deer had peace and quiet to help their reproduction. Later, other estates in the area adopted similar practices. Even if these rules were made to improve the hunting, they also had a positive effect on nature protection in the area.
From the beginning of the 20th century, efforts to protect the territory were motivated by a desire to protect the nature and landscape of the region. The notes of the conservationist Rudolf Maximovič from 1923 write of the interest of the Ministry to conserve the territory and to carry out scientific research as “the area undoubtedly has the character of a nature monument, suitable for declaring it a reservation”.
Three protected areas have existed in the Czech part of Labské pískovce since 1933. These were Edmundova soutěska (cancelled 1965), Pravčická brána and Tiské stěny (also cancelled in 1965).
The first suggestion for complex protection of the area in the form of a large-scale Specially Protected Area, Labské pískovce or České Švýcarsko can be found in the diploma thesis by Dr. Jan Čeřovský in 1953 entitled “Proposal to create a state protected natural area Děčínské stěny (cliffs)”. In 1963, the German publicist Reimar Gilsenbach made a notable proposal to establish a natural park in the Labe cliffs area. In his book “Sächsische Schweiz”, he first suggested a bilateral park in the Labe sandstone rocks region.
Labské pískovce PLA was first declared in 1972 on an area of 324 km². In 1985 Dr. Čeřovský suggested declaring Czech – Saxon Switzerland a bilateral Biosphere Reserve, which unfortunately still hasn’t been realised. After lengthy negotiations a law establishing České Švýcarsko as a National Park on an area of 79 km² was passed in 1999.
Since 1993, preparations are being made to declare a Biosphere Reserve on the Czech territory. Efforts to include the Labe river canyon together with part of České Švýcarsko NP and part of the German territory in the UNESCO List of World Natural Heritage Sites are also under way.
In 2005 as part of the Natura 2000 system, Labské pískovce SPA – Bird Area was established and several proposed Sites of Community Importance were authorized.