Silver and the Surreal
Today Kutna Hora is a quiet, provincial town, home to 21,000 people, but almost a thousand years ago, it was one of the best-known cities in Europe, and one of the wealthiest as well. Its seemingly endless supply of silver did much to bring attention and wealth to the city and the Bohemian kings who lived there. Renowned for both its silver-mining past and the surreal bone ossuary that is one of its greatest tourist attractions, Kutna Hora is a perfect getaway from Prague anytime of the year.
There are several must-sees in Kutna Hora. The Sedlec Ossuary, often reverently referred to as the "bone church", houses the remains of 40,000 people, many of whom died in the Plague during the 14th century. The bones are sculpted into unique forms of art which decorate the building. Another must is the Italian Court, it was a busy place, as coin-making workshop, the Central Mint, and the royal residence of kings such as Wenceslas IV; who professed his love of Kutna Hora and chose to make it his main residence. And it's not hard to see why, standing on the terrace by the Italian Court and gazing over the valley at the gothic spires of St. Barbora's Cathedral. The cathedral, the country's second largest, was constructed for the local miners, and conveniently located just next door to the entrance to the mines and what is now a mining museum, in Hradek chapel. With the exception of the silver mines all of the town's attractions are open through the winter months and although the city is walkable in one day, it's easy to get sidetracked down a winding alley or into a warm, beckoning pub.
Stepping into the chapel's interior, it's impossible not to lose your breath for a moment as you are confronted by the four pyramids of countless bones, or to experience a shiver as mortality stares at you in the guise of an intricately beautiful chandelier containing every bone of the human body. Upon buying a 30 CZK entrance ticket, you are also given two glossy booklets chock-full of history and photos, one about the ossuary itself and the other about the city of Kutna Hora, which is particularly helpful and details the major sights of the city.
Hora city center
Silver was first discovered on the grounds surrounding
the Sedlec monastery in about 1260 and a visitor's walk (or bus ride)
from Sedlec into Kutna Hora's center is in many ways a figurative journey
through the silver-rush years of the 13th century. If time allows, put
your map aside once you get to Palackého námestí, the main square, and
enjoy the pleasant surprises offered by wandering the narrow alleyways
which open up to give glimpses across the valley, down to the woodsy,
nestled amphitheater below. The amphitheater is often the site of summer
concerts, which are frequently part of music festivals hosted by the city.
Silver was first discovered on the grounds surrounding the Sedlec monastery in about 1260 and a visitor's walk (or bus ride) from Sedlec into Kutna Hora's center is in many ways a figurative journey through the silver-rush years of the 13th century. If time allows, put your map aside once you get to Palackého námestí, the main square, and enjoy the pleasant surprises offered by wandering the narrow alleyways which open up to give glimpses across the valley, down to the woodsy, nestled amphitheater below. The amphitheater is often the site of summer concerts, which are frequently part of music festivals hosted by the city.
Perched overlooking the valley and just a few minutes' walk from Palackého square, is the Italian Court, which served as both the royal residence of King Wenceslas IV and the mint that was, from its first, hand-minted coin of 1283 to its closure in 1727 (the practices were transferred to Prague), both the hub of European currency and the source of Bohemia's wealth and power. The fact that the U.S. dollar is named after Kutna Hora´s silver "tolar" is just one example of the town´s far-reaching influence.
The Court is conveniently located close to the entrance to the Osel mines - which in summer provide a not to be missed opportunity to don a miner's cloak and hardhat, complete with flashlight, and descend to the depths of the mines, so narrow and low-ceilinged at points that one must duck down or turn sideways to pass. In the 16th century the mines reached 500 meters deep and were the deepest in Europe. They were so deep, in fact, that part of the miner's standard uniform was a leather apron that was used to sit on and slide down to the bottom of the mine. This could be done in a relatively short amount of time, but it must have been pretty uncomfortable.
The Italian Court offers English-language tours every half hour, for a price of 70 CZK. The trip takes you through several museum-like rooms that document the history of the Czech mint and how the first Central European Currency came into being here. Coins from the reign of each king and each major historical period are on display. The tour also takes in the private chambers of King Wenceslas IV himself, as well as the Royal Audience Hall, something of a small parliament in the 14th century. Among the many rooms of the Court are those that now house Kutna Hora's city hall, and facilities for occasions such as weddings, baptisms and municipal meetings. The royal chapel is especially worth seeing and the Art Nouveau paintings on the walls depict a panorama of Kutna Hora and various kings and saints, including St. Barbora, patron saint of miners.
St. Barbora's Cathedral is the most noticeable feature of the Kutna Hora landscape and a scenic stroll away from the Italian Court past the Hradek chapel, and it is worth taking the time to walk around both the perimeter and to visit the interior. Of note are the impressive, 3.5-meter statues that ring the upper level representing the four Christian values: justice, bravery, caution and temperance, as well as the statue of the miner inside the cathedral.
After such a tour through the centuries, you will no doubt want to spend a few silver coins of your own on a well-earned meal and a tankard of pivo. Highly recommended is the Dacicky Pivnice located at Rakova 8. A sprawling beer hall perfectly suited for any time of year, this pub brews its own beer, Dacicky, and at 16 CZK a half-liter, it's well worth it. The pub offers a spacious, tree-canopied garden in summer with an outdoor grill and plenty of seating, and in winter a strong fire blazes in the fireplace inside to warm your bones from your trekking. Dacicky Pivnice also offers a lengthy menu of hearty Czech fare, much of which follows the pub's medieval theme, and provides the perfect space and opportunity to sit and reflect on your visit to Kutna Hora, or to just toast a na zdravi to your friends.
Tourist Information Center