Medieval city and its castle
In Czechia, castles and châteaus set in picturesque places define the landscape. One of them sticks out. A fairy-tale-like palace in the town of Český Krumlov, about 180 km (112 miles) south away from Prague, stands high on a cliff over the river Vltava. In 1992 Český Krumlov historic town centre and its castle became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The castle throughout history
Unlike many other noble structures in the area, the castle complex didn’t experience severe damage during the devastating wars of the 20th century. Thus, visitors can walk through history and observe the architectural changes that the owners had made over time.
The Lords of Krumlov founded the originally Gothic castle in the 13th century. The early 14th century marked the beginning of a 300 years long era of the Rosenberg family. During their rule, the medieval castle changed into a beautiful Renaissance residence. The family supported trade and crafts, and the town flourished.
In the 1600s, the noble Eggenberg family obtained the palace. Renaissance halls had to make space for significant Baroque refurbishing. In the early 18th century, one of the most significant European noble families, the House of Schwarzenberg, inherited the mansion.
However, the ancient residence did not live up to the expectancies of a modern lifestyle. The Schwarzenbergs chose the nearby Hluboká chateau as their principal seat. In 1947 the castle, together with its vast estates, became the property of the Czechoslovak Republic in an expropriation act.
The castle today
Today, the castle offers several guided tours through the historical chambers. Five courtyards embrace the different architectural styles. With its original stage machinery, the Baroque theatre is one of the few remaining in the world. The cliff on which the castle stands offers magnificent viewing points of the city. Be sure to walk all the way to the fifth courtyard once you cross the three storeys high Cloak Bridge. Behind it, a tiny terrace provides a great view over the Vltava river zigzagging through the medieval town.
The first courtyard is full of surprises as well. As you walk towards the main entrance, you may notice podium steps around the outer wall. Their purpose is to provide a better view of the moat, home to the castle’s bears. The bear-keeping tradition in Český Krumlov dates back to the 16th century. Legend has it that the Rosenberg family was related to Orsini Italian noble family, whose name derives from the Latin word “ursinus” or bearlike.
Tip: For guided tours of the castle, check the official website (https://www.zamek-ceskykrumlov.cz/en/plan-your-visit/tours).
The Old Town
In the eyes of UNESCO, Český Krumlov is an outstanding example of a small Central European medieval town. It lies within the meander and on the banks of the Vltava river, surrounded by picturesque hilly landscape.
The town remained intact because of the relatively peaceful cohabitation of several ethnic and religious groups throughout the centuries.
To this day, the town is a maze of incredibly photogenic cobblestone streets with historic houses, some glamorized by colourful facades. Besides the castle hill, don’t overlook other great view spots. Stop at Seminární zahrada to get an excellent overview of the chateau. Or climb the tower of the former St. Jost Church (now a residential building), from where you can look directly at the castle’s colourful tower.
The art spectacle
Modern art enthusiasts won’t be disappointed during a visit in Český Krumlov either. The Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, a mentee of Gustav Klimt, spent several months in 1911 in the South Bohemian town. However, its residents didn’t quite approve of his free bohemian lifestyle and forced him to leave. Today, The Egon Schiele Art Centrum houses a permanent exhibition of his works and altering exhibits of 20th and 21st century artists.
Český Krumlov is a lovely town worth visiting for a few days. The fairy tale castle, the preserved old town at the shores of the Vltava river, and modern art galleries provide attractions for many tastes and interests. And it’s also a good base to explore the South Bohemian Region.