Kutná Hora, Czech Republic

by - January 04, 2011

Tuesday 4th January 2011

Kutna Hora panorama

On our third day in Prague, we decided to go and explore the rest of the country a bit. Having both interrailed in the summer, we decided the best way to get out of the city would be by train. Our chosen destination for this journey was the town of Kutna Hora, about 60 miles south of Prague.  The town had once been the country’s second city having felt a boom when silver was discovered in the hills there.  as a result, it is renowned for its elegant buildings, palaces and cathedrals and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  However, it was not these sites that drew us to the town, as we had heard about a place called the Sedlec Ossuary.  After arriving at a small and relatively deserted station with no idea which direction to go, we followed the first rule of travelling in a tourist destination and followed the Japanese people with the big cameras.  Sure enough, they led us right up to the entrance.

Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora
Bone Chandelier 
City Coat of Arms. Literally.
See, it’s a church too
The Ossuary is a small monastery in a graveyard on the edge of town.  From the outside it appears to be fairly insignificant, but inside are the remains of 40,000 human bodies.  The skeletons of these bodies, which were either victims of the Hussite Wars or of the Black Death, had centuries ago been meticulously arranged by a half blind monk into a variety of objects, such as a chandelier and a coat of arms, as well as being attached to most of the free wall and ceiling space and piled into four large mounds of skulls and bones.  It ought to have been a sombre place - it contained over a hundred times as many bodies as the amount of British soldiers that have died in Iraq and Afghanistan to date - packed into a small church, but strangely the overwhelming feelings in the building were curiosity and awe.  It was as though nobody was quite willing to acknowledge that every skull represented a human being.  The strangest thing of all was that, despite appearing to be what I imagined hell to look like, it was a place of worship and amongst the skulls and bones were crucifixes.  It is a fascinating place and one ot the most unique I have ever been to.  It’s also very accessible from Prague - a £4 return tourney lasting just under an hour.

Saint Barbara Cathedral, Kutna Hora
With the logic that, interesting as it was, the Ossuary alone couldn’t have warranted the town’s UNESCO status, we thought that there had to be a few more places to see and headed towards the town centre.  This meant a half hour walk through the town’s suburbs on which we saw pretty much no locals.  It was like a ghost town.  This theme continued in the town centre - while there were a few people going about their daily business, the seemingly sparse population was totally out of character with the grand buildings.  The centre of the town had been built by King Wenceslas amongst others and featured two cathedrals and several palaces. Our plan was to only spend about 2 hours in the town, but after looking around the Saint Barbara church and a few squares it became apparent that the transport system in the town was very confusing.  Our train tickets from Prague allowed us to travel from the Kutna Hora Mesto station, but it wasn’t marked anywhere on the maps we had.  To get around this, we decided to follow the train line until we met the station.  To add to this confusion, the icy paths and roads made it impossible to move with any pace and the fact that the town was built on a hill only worsened the problem.  To cut a long story short, we found the station 10 minutes after the train back to Prague had left, with the next one departing two hours later.

Inside the Cathedral
Having done pretty much everything of interest in the town, and with two hours to spare, we headed for a restaurant to warm up a bit.  The food was good and wasn’t too expensive.  I picked up a map from a tourist office and found a few other little sites to look at.  With plenty of time to spare, we ambled back towards the Mesto station, from which there was a train to the station on the outskirts (where we had arrive), where we would change for one back to Prague.  It wasn’t quite that simple however as, despite the journey only being six minutes long, there was another station between the town centre and the outskirts.  It hadn't occurred to me that a town of 20,000 people would need three train stations, so we got off the train, only to find ourselves at the wrong station and lost.  What ensued was a mad dash from this middle station to the outskirts, along icy streets.  In said mad dash I slipped over and Ellie nearly got hit by a car (the fact that I pulled her back from it is her present for it being our six month anniversary), but we got there.  Just. This was a massive relief as the idea of spending two hours in a tiny Czech railway station, the only entertainment in which was a coffee machine, was massively depressing.

Italian Court, Kutna Hora
I write this from the train, where apart from the conductor telling us we had the wrong tickets and charging us fro new ones, things have gone smoothly.  Having had a chance to see the map of Kutna Hora, it is clear just how strange it is.  The town has 20,000 people, but has double that number of human skeletons hanging up in a church in its suburbs.  It has two massive cathedrals, three train stations and a palace built by the Czech national hero, King Wenceslas.  If that wasn’t enough, having looked at the map I have found it has loads of museums, including a silver museum, a cigarette museum and a “baby prams from 1860-1960” museum.  All this and the streets are basically deserted.  If in Prague, this curiosity of a town is well worth a visit.

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