Snapshot: Český Krumlov

“Situated on the banks of the Vltava river, the town was built around a 13th-century castle with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. It is an outstanding example of a small central European medieval town whose architectural heritage has remained intact thanks to its peaceful evolution over more than five centuries.” UNESCO

Český Krumlov is a small city in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic that was recommended to me by a friend. With only one week in the Czech Republic, I ended up spending three nights in Prague and four nights in Český Krumlov. That might sound crazy, as there is so much to do in Prague and it’s pretty easy to see Český Krumlov in a day or two. But, as I’ve said previously, I really relish chilling out and spending time in smaller towns that have plenty of character and charm.

I fell in love with Český Krumlov’s Old Town the minute I arrived. This gorgeous place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 300 protected medieval buildings and the second largest castle complex in the Czech Republic. The Old Town is free of traffic and I roamed around the cobble-stoned streets peering into shops and cafes, and sampling food such as ‘trdelnik’ – a sweet made of walnuts, cinnamon and almonds.

I treated myself to wonderful accommodation at the Pension Barbakan, which is located close to the bus station and just inside the entrance to the Old Town. The building was formerly part of the city wall, where gunpowder and arms were stored. There is also a restaurant in the basement, where I enjoyed a few meals. It had a great atmosphere; dimly lit with medieval music playing amidst the laughter and chatter of its patrons. The ceiling was low and the walls were covered in paintings of coats of arms. I loved it.

For me, the highlights of Český Krumlov were St Vitus’ Church, which was built in the early 1400s, and Český Krumlov Castle, which consists of 40 buildings and palaces, as well as picturesque gardens and courtyards.

My absolute favourite experience was touring the castle’s theatre, which is the oldest original Baroque theatre in the world. The interior was dark and moody, lit by imitation candlelight that was designed to keep the theatre in good condition.

Apparently, the main reason this theatre survived so long was because the royal family hardly ever used it. It remained shut to the world for a very long time. Now, there is a dilemma about whether to use it as a theatre or treat it as a museum because, if it was used regularly, the oxygen levels from the audience would destroy it. So they’ve compromised and only present shows here two or three times a year.

Many Baroque theatres burned down because special effects included fireworks so, once again, this theatre survived due to lack of use. The stage, wings, cloakroom, scenery and some original theatre equipment are still in working order. We got to see the equipment used for sound effects. A wooden roller on the floor created the sound of thunder; a barrel of stones and gravel was rotated to sound like rain; and a piece of canvas was rolled against wood, to sound like wind. Put together, this sounded like a raging storm. It was awesome!

Another favourite room in the castle was the colourful Masquerade Hall, which is the greatest example of Rococo work in Český Krumlov. There were frescoes all over the walls, along with mirror that were meant to create illusions. Apparently, the masquerade models in the paintings were based on real people and the artist, Josef Lederer, is drinking coffee in one of the scenes.

There were also more coats of arms on display, including one which featured two bears. This was the coat of arms for the royal family that had introduced brown bears to the castle moat; their purpose to entertain the crowds. Unfortunately, even today, there are still bears in the moat and it seems that their purpose is still to entertain the crowds.

Having just come from two weeks of volunteering at a brown bear refuge at Kuterevo in Croatia – a place where the needs of the bears came first – I’d really hoped that the bears at Český Krumlov were part of some conservation program. But, I couldn’t find anyone willing to talk about them and there wasn’t even anyone monitoring crowd behaviour at the moat. I saw people yelling at the bears, taking photographs with flash, and even throwing things into the enclosure. It was awful and I sincerely hope that something is done to change the fate of these bears in the future.

Putting aside that disappointment, I really loved my days in Český Krumlov and I’d highly recommend it. Just don’t go to see the bears.

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