Kutna Hora is a small, dull town about an hour away from Prague. Most tourists wouldn’t ever think to go here unless they happened to hear that this town has a cathedral that could compete with Notre Dame in Paris, an off-the-wall church made of over 40,000 human bones, and one of the original Jesuit Colleges. This is what’s so great about this town. I found it very stimulating to be hanging out in some random unknown city in the middle of Czech Republic where hardly any tourists go, yet holds these fairly unknown gems. Kutna Hora was formally known for being Europe’s largest silver mining town in its heyday.
Arrival in Kutna Hora
The city looked ugly when we first got off the train, it was absolutely dead silent, there were no tourists, let alone people and there wasn’t much to look at. But as we started moving around a little we quickly found the beauty of the city.
Kutna Hora was our first attempt of “doing it ourselves” without a tour group. With my guidebook in hand, we took the hour long train ride from Prague which was easy enough. Once off the train it was a 10-15 minute walk (as my guidebook said) to the bone church we wanted to visit. We found that easy enough. Then came the wrench in our plan. After touring the church, the free bus that I was relying on to take us to the cathedral from the bone church happened to not be running that day for a reason I can’t remember. After 40 minutes of language barrier conversation and confusion, we ended up taking the local city bus to the Cathedral after debating on walking for who knows how long to the other end of town.
The city bus was a very interesting cultural experience to say the least- a random city bus in a random Czech town that doesn’t see many tourist. You don’t get much more imbedded in the culture than that! The driver didn’t speak a lick of English but was able to get us to the cathedral easily enough. It actually was a good experience, because it forced us to see other areas of the town per the bus route which we probably wouldn’t have seen with a straight shot trip from the bone church on the free tourist bus.
Once we toured the cathedral, ate lunch and walked through the Jesuit College and some other areas of the town, it was late and we desperately tried to find a bus stop. After a great deal of walking and getting lost, we found a bus stop, but the guide schedule on the sign was less than helpful. We were afraid the last bus had ran for the night and we would have to stay in Kutna Hora. After some time, a bus did finally come and took us to the train station; but that was the next worry, it was so late we were afraid the last train to Prague had come and gone. We got lucky and caught the very last train of the night but it resulted in a high stress charade to top off our otherwise great experience. This could have all been avoided if we had a backup plan to taking the free bus that we had relied on to be running.
To this day I have no regrets not going with a tour group to visit Kutna Hora. It made the experience more “real,” and we were able to really feel the city and not have it clouded by a tour guides agenda. All in all, it was a great experience. There is something about Kutna Hora that I love probably more than any other city I’ve toured in Europe. I really think it has to be the fact that it is such an average every day city with such a vast history that still holds the remains of its time.
St. Barbara’s Cathedral
Founded in 1388, this breathtaking Gothic structure is worthy of being compared to any of the most fascinating and famous cathedrals in all of Europe, but most people haven’t even heard of it- that’s what I loved about it though. We were the only ones there and it is crazy that in the middle of this quite, dull town is this Jaw-dropping cathedral that was built off the funds of the silver mining this town was famous for in it’s hey day. I love gems like this in Europe. This church is another one of those that took hundreds of years to build and was originally supposed to be twice its present size, not that it’s current size is anything less than massive. Construction on this church wasn’t fully completed until 1905.
As you exit the cathedral, you will see the large Jesuit College and at a viewing point close by, you will find the beauty of the otherwise dull town of Kutna Hora. The Jesuits arrived here in 1626 and built this historical college. In front of the college is a walkway dotted with statues that top the vineyard hill below. If you walk down the walkway, you will run into cobblestone hills and twisty turny lanes lined with small shops and restaurants that lead into the historic city center. We actually could never find the city center for the life of us and ended up backtracking to the church to get out of there.
Jesuit College next to church
The Bone church Sedlec Ossuary
This church decorated with over 40,000 human bones is nothing less than Jaw-dropping. Next to the Jewish graveyard in Prague, this is probably my most favorite and memorable site in all of Europe. The Sedlec bone church is located in Sedlec, a suburb of the city of Kutna Hora. The church is a ten minute walk from the Kutna Hora train station. This small, medieval church in the middle of this no-name town, is surrounded by a beautiful modern graveyard. I love this because you don’t see many graveyards surrounding churches here in America like you do in Europe. I thought it was interesting for there to be such a modern graveyard surrounding such an old church. Normally, the graveyards are rotting away and perhaps older than the church itself, but there is a reason for there being such a modern graveyard at this particular church.
The story goes that in 1278 a monk from the Sedlec Abbey returned from a trip to the Holy Land and brought back with him some earth from these lands in which he sprinkled over the graveyard of the abbey. When word got out, this land was instantly considered sacred and everyone wanted to bury their dead there. Due to the 14th century plagues and 15th century wars, this land became overpopulated in a hurry and had to be expanded.
A small chapel was built in the center of the graveyard around 1400, containing an ossuary in the bottom to contain the bones of the growing number of dead. It became the task of a half blind monk to pull and stack the bones into the ossuary. In the late 1700s, wood carver and artist Frantisek Rint was commissioned to artistically arrange these bones to decorate the interior of the church and in turn, making room for all the bones. His most notable works include the centerpiece of the church- a giant chandelier made of every bone in the human body, an enormous coat of arms of the family who commissioned his work, and 4 giant bells in each corner of the church stacked with human bones. How would you like to know that after you died, your remains would become a part of a coat of arms of someone else’s wealthy family? Harsh.
I remember when we were in this church we noticed we could see our breath when we talked as you would outside on a cold winters day. It was totally eerie in that it was very warm outside and only cool in the basement of the church. It was definitely not cold enough to see your breath. This chapel is eerie, fascinating, remarkable and full of history. It is an absolute must see on any trip to Prague!
Other things to do
One of the other popular things to do in Kutna Hora is to take a tour of the famous underground silver mines. We did not do this, but I imagine it would be an interesting tour if you had the time and felt it was something you would want to put first on your list.