On the Well Worn Path
Kutná Hora is well known outside of the Czech Republic and one of the country’s main tourist draws outside of Prague. As such, it can get quite crowded in the high season. In spite of that, it’s a very worthwhile place to visit as either a day trip from the capital or as a weekend destination on its own merits.
Kutná Hora’s greatest claim to fame by far is the bone chapel in the suburb of Sedlec. A collection of human bones decoratively arranged in a macabre yet attractive manner.
However, there is much more to this former royal city. For those who like to theme their travels according to UNESCO sites, Kutná Hora is an absolute must as it’s home to two UNESCO listed buildings.
In its heyday, between the 13th to the early 17th centuries, Kutná Hora was a wealthy and prestigious city. In fact, the richness of the city’s silver mines was what saw it declared a royal city and made the seat of the Bohemian Royal Mint. In that period, Kutná Hora was second in importance only to Prague in the Bohemian kingdom.
In the modern era, many of the city’s ties to its illustrious history have remained intact and have formed the basis for its modern wealth in tourism.
Built on Silver
Knowledge of silver deposits in the area around Kutná Hora existed well before the town itself was formally established, there is archaeological evidence that surface silver deposits in the area had been exploited as early as the 10th century.
It was not until 1300 that Kutná Hora was truly put on history’s map, it was that year that the town began its ascent to becoming the second most important city in Bohemia after Prague itself. The silver wealth of Kutná Hora saw it declared a royal city and the seat of the central mint of the Czech lands.
Kutná Hora’s wealth and prominence grew steadily from the 13th through to the end of the 16th century. The Beginning of the 17th century brought with it the 30 Years’ War and a change in the city’s fortunes. At the end of hostilities, the city attempted to recapture its status but ultimately failed as the silver deposits had largely been depleted by that point in time.
With the silver gone, the mint was closed in the late 1720s and the city entered a period of decline until the Czech National Revival movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought new life to it.
Were it not for the national revival movement, buildings like the landmark St. Barbara’s church and the Italian Court would likely have been lost to history as they had been allowed to fall into extreme states of dilapidation through much of the 18th century.
Today, it is possible for visitors to take special tours of the old silver mines and observe historical methods for taking raw ore to refined metal. A visit to the Italian Court will give you insights into old methods of minting coins.
Starting in Sedlec
Kutná Hora has two tourist areas: Sedlec and the city centre. If you arrive to the city by train, Sedlec will be the closer of the two to your point of arrival.
The Sedlec suburb is a little less than a kilometre and a half walk from the city’s main train station. If you don’t feel like walking, there are public transport buses or a small local train that will get you closer to the ossuary and other attractions in its vicinity. If you take the local train, Sedlec is the first stop after you leave the main station and it is a request stop.
The ossuary is certainly the best known attraction in Sedlec. Its current look dates to 1870, though it was established in the late 1400s and early 1500s.
The popularity of the ossuary ensures that you likely will be waiting in a queue for a while to get in. It’s unique among European ossuaries for the artistically arranged bones of the estimated remains of 40,000 people. While it is spectacular to take in, you will be in there with quite a few other visitors so getting good pictures will take patience and you shouldn’t go in expecting a spiritual or meditative experience.
Nearby the ossuary, you will find the UNESCO listed Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady and St. John the Baptist. This is the oldest cathedral in Central Europe. In the same area you will also find the former Cistercian monastery which was once responsible for the Sedlec cemetery and ossuary.
Strolling in the Centre
From Sedlec, one can walk to the centre of Kutná Hora or take the aforementioned public transport busses or local train. The centre is a bit over three and a half kilometres from the main train station. Busses will get you right to the edge of the centre and the station for the local train is the one directly after the Sedlec station.
The entire centre is very walkable and full of history. The real focal point of the centre is the spectacular Saint Barbara’s church, this massive building has been listed by UNESCO for being an excellent example of Late Gothic architecture. Construction of the church began in 1388 but, due to a variety of interuptions, was not completed until 1905.
Very close to the church, you will find the Baroque style Jesuit College. Running in front of the college is Barborská street, a statue lined promenade which will give you a great view towards the Italian Court and the adjacent Saint James church which dates to 1333.
Other historical sites in the centre include the old city well, or stone fountain, on Rejsek square. The well operated as the city’s reservoir from the late 1400s until 1890 due to silver mining interfering with underground water supplies. Water was supplied to the well from a spring some distance away via a system of wooden pipes.
As one might expect, the city has museums dedicated to silver mining and historic coin minting.
The Czech Museum of Silver is spread across three separate locations in the centre and the Italian Court has a very insightful museum and interpretive centre dedicated to historic coin minting techniques.
Through the 20th century to today, Kutná Hora has been a city primarily of monuments and tourism. It’s monuments were inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1995.
Visiting and Learning More
There is much more to Kutná Hora than the historic sites and the city is well set up to welcome visitors.
The main train station, Sedlec, Palacký square and Saint Barbara’s church all have tourist information offices and the city has a decent selection of accomodation and dining options.
Kutná Hora is a very popular day trip destination from Prague and many organised coach tours go there from the capital. However, if you prefer self-guided touring or just wish to save some money, getting to the city on your own is not that difficult by rail.
Vist the city’s official website to see more of what Kutná Hora offers.