Once Kutna Hora was Prague's equal. Silver ore ran in threads through the surrounding hills and was responsible for the city's growth and importance. So much so, that in the early fourteenth century, the city became the seat of Wenceslas II's royal mint. When the silver mines ran dry in the sixteenth century, Kutna Hora was almost wiped off the map, whereas Prague continued to flourish.
In the thirteenth century, the abbot of Sedlec Monastry brought home a pocketful of soil as a souvenir from his pilgrimage to Golgotha. He sprinkled the holy dust over the monastery’s graveyard which made it into a popular burying place. Helped by plague epidemics, the graveyard soon became over-crowded. Older bones had to be removed and were stored in a chapel. In the late nineteenth century, the Schwarzenberg Family bought the monastery including the pile of bones and commissioned a woodcarver to decorate the chapel with these skeleton parts. The star attraction is the family’s coat of arms entirely created from bones and skulls. A raven picking the eye from a skull is just one ghoulish detail.
Schwarzenberg Family Coat of Arms — Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone
Kutna Hora Silver Mine
All participants of the silver mine tour don white coats and protective helmets and are provided with torches. A multi-language sign warns that the tour is unsuitable for claustrophobics and for overweight or tall people. In places the tunnels are no more than 60 cm wide and 1.20m high. Squeezing through cracks and crevices, the miners followed the veins and collected the silver ore. Visitors descend a 160-step staircase, the equivalent of 6 floors, past small caverns and along water-filled shafts. When the tour reaches the narrow part and the guide switches off all torches, complete darkness takes over. This is what it must have been like when the miners ran out of oil for their lamps.
St Barbara Cathedral
St Barbara is a magnificent monument. It's difficult to decide which is more spectacular: the tent-shape spires and the abundance of flying buttresses or the interior with richly decorated ceilings and stained-glass windows. The cathedral was built from funds donated by miners and some wealthy Kutna Hora citizens. It's appropriately dedicated to St Barbara, the patron saint of miners. Pay special attention to a small statue of a kneeling miner, clad in a white-hooded cloak and holding a miner's lamp.
St Barbara Cathedral, Kutna Hora — Photo courtesy of Marianne Crone
Kutna Hora is 70 km southeast of Prague and an easy day trip from the capital. Trains leave from Hlavni Nadrazi, Prague’s central station, and travel via Kolin to Sedlec, Kutna Hora's main station 2 km northeast of the city centre. The distance is 70 km and the worthwhile journey takes one hour.