Traveling through history

The Prague Post

From castles to chateaus to awe-inspiring cathedrals, UNESCO sites offer a great way to tour the Czech Republic

For a country its size, the Czech Republic has a remarkable amount of culture — not just in the performing arts, but in its wealth of historical, architectural and geographical treasures. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, recognizes and protects sites that are deemed to be of worldwide importance, placing them on its World Heritage list. There are 12 such sites in this country, plus one Geopark.

“No other place on earth can boast such a concentration of UNESCO sites in such a small area,” says Helena Kopecká, public relations manager for CzechTourism. “I think it’s because of the country’s long history, a combination of various cultures leaving their traces here and also the fact that the places have remained well-preserved. Plus, Czech artisans used some of the world’s architectural [styles], but adapted and enriched them in a way that makes many places truly unique.”

Asked to recommend the best site to visit, Kopecká says she can’t name just one. “All of them are unique,” she says. “If you’re interested in nature, go to Ceský ráj; interested in religious sites, see Zelená Hora; like old noble places, visit Kromríž; interested in a mixture of unbelievable features in one place, go to Lednice-Valtice.”

To get you started, here’s a thumbnail sketch of each site and online contacts to learn more.

Kroméríž

The chateau and gardens of Kroméríž are a splendid example of Baroque palatial and garden design. Added to the list in 1998, this Moravian site is a well-preserved example of a noble residence and garden from the 17th and 18th centuries. (www.mesto-kromeriz.cz)

Ceský Krumlov

One of the most popular tourist destinations in the country after Prague, the entire town was deemed worthy of being added to the UNESCO list. The 13th-century castle combines elements of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, and the city surrounding it is a well-preserved example of a medieval European town. Česky Krumlov boasts 300 historical buildings and offers a variety of festivals and other events almost year-round. (www.ckrumlov.cz)

Prague

We have Charles IV to thank for Prague being put on UNESCO’s list. Thanks mostly to his building mania, the city’s Old Town, Lesser Quarter and New Town show off a unique combination of architecture and design from the 11th to 18th centuries. Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Art-Nouveau, Cubism and Functionalism all play a role in the city’s amazing display of well-preserved architecture. (www.prague-info.cz, www.pis.cz)

Telc

The 15th century was a good one for Telc. After a fire destroyed much of the city’s wooden buildings at the end of the 14th century, the town was rebuilt using stone. Telc is often called the “Pearl of Moravia” for its beautiful and idyllic atmosphere surrounding a Gothic chateau and gardens, and its Renaissance main square, featuring an uninterrupted facade of historic houses. (www.telc-etc.cz)

Holašovice

Holašovice is an exceptionally complete and well-preserved example of a traditional Central European village. It showcases an architectural style known as South Bohemian Folk Baroque, popular in rural areas in the 18th and 19th centuries. Blending two building styles, Holašovice is an outstanding illustration of a traditional rural settlement. (www.holasovice.cz)

Olomouc

Moravian artist Ondrej Zahner designed the 35-meter-tall (115-feet-tall) Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc. The Baroque monument depicts a variety of religious sculptures, and is an excellent example of Central European artistic expression from the early 18th century. Unique for its large dimensions, built-in chapel and use of a variety of materials, this showpiece dominates the historical center of Olomouc. (www.olomoucka.cz, www.olmouc-tourism.cz)

Trebíc

The peaceful and cooperative existence between Jews and Christians here from the Middle Ages to the 19th century is what makes Trebíc a fascinating place to visit. The town’s Jewish Quarter bears witness to the thriving Jewish cultural community, while the Basilica of St. Procopius is a remarkable example of West European architecture not typically found in this region. This is the first, and currently the only Jewish UNESCO site outside of Israel. (www.trebic.cz)

Kutná Hora

One of the most popular day trips from Prague is to this former silver mining town, perhaps best known for its famous “”bone church.”” The massive St. Barbara’s Cathedral is a fine example of the late Gothic period, while the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary in the nearby village of Sedlec is 18th-century Baroque. The many well-preserved medieval dwellings in the town center make this an easy escape to the Middle Ages. (www.kutnahora.info, www.guide.kh.cz)

Lednice-Valtice

Between the 17th and 20th centuries, the ruling dukes of Lichtenstein transformed their part of south Moravia into an architectural and landscape gem. They blended Baroque architecture with the classical and neo-Gothic castles of Lednice and Valtice, and threw in an English-style garden. At 200 hectares (494 acres), it’s one of the largest artificial landscapes in Europe. (www.radnice-valtice.cz, www.lednice.cz)

Litomyšl

The chateau of Litomyšl is an example of Czech artisans adapting an architectural style to their own vision. It’s based on the Renaissance arcade-castle style that began in Italy, but modified with High Baroque features and other unique additions. The chateau’s facades and gables decorated in sgraffito are not to be missed. (www.litomysl.cz)

Cathedral of Sv. Jan Nepomucký

This pilgrimage church is a beautiful example of the work of architect Jan Blažej Santini, whose style falls somewhere between neo-Gothic and Baroque. Legend has it that when the martyr St. John of Nepomuck drowned, a crown with five stars appeared above his head. Santini used this as a blueprint for the church, which is shaped like a star, has five exits and five stars and five angels on the main altar. (www.zamekzdar.cz, www.zdarns.cz)

Tugendhat Villa

This Brno villa is one of only four modern properties on the World Heritage list. Built in the 1920s by German architect Mies van der Rohe, it’s a classic example of the modernist movement in architecture that was developing in Europe at the time. The building has a steel frame, floor-to-ceiling windows and chrome-plated pillars. The furniture was also designed by the architect. (www.tugendhat-villa.cz)

Ceský ráj

Technically a Geopark, an area of geological importance, “”Czech paradise”” encompasses the towns of Jicín, Turnov and Mnichovo Hradište. (www.cesky-raj.info, www.bohemian-paradise.info)

For more information, check www.czechtourism.com or www.unesco.com