Český Krumlov has only Prague to compete with as the Czech Republic’s most picturesque postcard theme. What was not too long ago a quiet, remarkably preserved medieval town, is now in the summer months a tourist amusement park, its cobbled streets lined with souvenir stands and concept bars. It even has places that offer Sunday brunch! Fortunately, it hasn’t lost all its charm yet. Its UNESCO landmark status keeps hotel development at bay, and from late autumn to early spring, when the crowds are thin, it’s easy to imagine what the town might have looked like in a quieter era.
This year, in fact, marks the 700-year anniversary of the founding of Český Krumlov, a town that boasts the country’s second biggest castle, once inhabited by the ancestors of the Czech Republic’s current Foreign Minister and headline-maker Karel Schwarzenberg.
The town is preparing a year-long programme of cultural events to mark the celebration, including an extensive exhibition of the area’s history, which opens in February. Another planned event is a competition, Český Krumlov 2099, which invites local children to imagine what the town will look like in 90 years and present these visions to the public through stories, pictures, models or music.
The city hall has earmarked CZK 800,000 for the festivities, and total expenses for the anniversary year are expected to reach CZK 1.5 million.
The first written mention of Český Krumlov appears in a document of King Henry I of Rosenberg, dated 2 September 1309. The original document will be on display as part of the exhibition.
The foundations of the castle date even further back to 1230. Like the Prague castle, it’s been rebuilt and expanded on many occasions, reflecting the waxing and waning prosperity of the town. It underwent a major reconstruction in the 16th century when Český Krumlov was booming thanks to its prospering silver mines. The Schwarzenbergs acquired the castle in 1719.
Before declaring the town as a heritage reservation area in 1963, communist authorities managed to build several panel high-rise developments on Krumlov’s outskirts, marring, perhaps, the aerial view, but fortunately leaving the historical core intact. Many of the town’s gothic and renaissance buildings have remained virtually unchanged for centuries.
So it might be worth paying Krumlov a visit, especially now in the winter months, when the town survives in a sleepier state. With its crowded towers and spires and steeply sloping rooftops, it’s like pocket-sized Prague, tightly packed into a steep valley through which flows a slowly meandering river – a miniature Vltava.
Kristina Alda can be reached at [email protected]