Property 617 – Historic Centre of Český Krumlov
I arrived in Český Krumlov after two months of travelling through central and Eastern Europe. I was sick of sausages. I was sick of bread. I was definitely sick of potatoes. So as soon as I arrived in town I dumped my bags in the nearest hostel and headed out, guidebook in hand, to find something, anything, different to eat. In a medieval alley laid with cobblestones I found a shop selling Chinese and Taiwanese tea.
As you do.
Over a nice oolong and some pumpkin seeds, I contemplated what I’d heard about the old town of Český Krumlov. I’d heard that it was lovely, that it was like Prague in miniature, that it was the finest little medieval town you are every likely to find. I am happy to report that every one of these things is true.
I was blessed with excellent weather when I was there, with sunshine every day. This certainly helps, because I suspect it would be rather grim in winter. Also, with good timing that I neither planned nor deserved, I managed to arrive on the weekend of the Five-Petaled Rose Festival. For that weekend, the entire town is converted into a replica medieval settlement, complete with people wearing all manner of leather accoutrements and helpfully offering to craft magical raiments for your lordship’s pleasure. At least that’s what I assume they were doing. I don’t speak Czech.
The town doesn’t really need that much help to be interestingly medieval. It sits at the bottom of a winding river valley with the obligatory castle built into the side of a nearby hill. I can see why it’s been sited here – it has a feeling of being sheltered from the outside world, and no doubt the river was the main means of travelling around in the past.
The town feels medieval, even though most of the buildings date from later periods. It has a hidden-away feeling, as if the town residents were trying to protect themselves against a siege. Most of the buildings are baroque, and have a gracefully bulbous look about them. To my eye they resemble Florentine buildings translated for people who like onion domes. Views from any height show a sea of lovely red terracotta bricks that contrast with the lush greenery of the surrounding countryside.
Certain highly medieval features remain – the castle has a moat across the main entrance and at the time I visited it still contained a live bear. Not a very happy bear I hasten to add. I suspect that it had become unemployed in the recent past but no-one was quite sure what to do with it, so they left it in the moat and fed it regularly. It’s good to know that even in the post-Communist period bears are entitled to some kind of welfare benefit.
The castle looms over the town in a mildly oppressive way. I guess intimidation is the intention, but it’s somewhat ruined by the obviously decorative flourishes that abound. It’s as if at some point in the 18th century the builders acknowledged that they weren’t actually interested in oppressing the peasants, and that building frilly castles and collecting art were far more worthy ways to spend the time. It looks like they got lucky, because I suspect that if Český Krumlov had ever been properly invaded all of the decoration would have been smashed in short order.
In some ways Český Krumlov is a bit like a museum, and the Renaissance Faire during my visit added to that. But this is a small town that people actually live in. It’s been tucked away in a little river valley for hundreds of years while Europe tore itself apart again and again. I’m grateful that it survived, museum piece or no.