For a country of its size and population the Czech Republic boasts the highest number of historic monuments on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List. Since 1992 twelve monuments have been included on the List and there are a further twelve sites at various stages of the application process. Since 2005 the area of Cesky raj (Czech Paradise) has also been listed as a UNESCO Geopark. All of the UNESCO monuments are easily accessible from the capital city of Prague. Visitors can reach them all within 30 minutes to three hours’ drive. The collection of Czech UNESCO sites comprises historic town centres, Christian and Jewish ecclesiastical monuments, castles surrounded by beautiful gardens, a village built in the folk Baroque style and one leading example of modern architecture. The Trebic Jewish quarter has a special place on the list as it was the first ever UNESCO listed Jewish site outside of Israel.
Prague – the treasury of architecture
Where better to begin the journey to discover the twelve Czech UNESCO sites than in the capital city of Prague. Prague was included on the UNESCO list in 1992 and the listing covers the whole protected historic city centre. Prague´s exceptional position among the UNESCO monuments is not only thanks to the size of the site (863 hectares) but also the architectural variety of its monuments. There are Romanesque rotundas, Gothic cathedrals, Renaissance town houses, Baroque and Rococo palaces, Art Nouveau buildings as well as cubist and functionalist structures.
Kutna Hora illustrates the wealth of a royal town
Kutna Hora (1995) is just under one hour´s drive away from Prague. Thanks to its rich silver deposits Kutna Hora became the second most important town of the Czech Kingdom after Prague in medieval times. Nowadays silver mining is a thing of the past but the beautifully preserved historic centre of the town with St. Barbara´s Gothic Cathedral reminds visitors of the glory of the royal town. The temple is dedicated to St. Barbara, the patroness of miners, and its interior is decorated with frescoes featuring mining themes. Vlassky dvur, the former mint and, from the 15th Century, the seat of the Czech kings also attracts a lot of visitors to Kutna Hora. The list of UNESCO monuments and sites in Kutna Hora would not be complete without The Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady in Sedlec. It was originally upgraded by Jan Blazej Santini at the beginning of the 18th Century.
Noble seats in the cultural landscape
The Lednice-Valtice Complex (1996) is located in the wine growing region of South Moravia close to the border with Austria. This vast landscaped area was created at the Liechtenstein Estate throughout the centuries beginning in the 17th Century and continuing until the 20th Century. The axis of the whole complex is created by the Baroque Valtice Castle and Neo-Gothic Lednice Castle. The surrounding countryside has been gradually landscaped by architects hired by the Liechtenstein family to become a sophisticated cultural landscape which includes numerous ponds, forests and beautiful parks with rare species of trees. The area is dotted with several smaller buildings with poetic names such as Apollo´s Temple, Border Castle or Temple of The Three graces which were built for the pleasure of the owners. Covering an enormous area of 200 km2 the Lednice-Valtice Complex is one of the largest landscaped areas in Europe.
The Renaissance chateau in Litomysl
The east Bohemian town of Litomysl (1999) is known to Czech music lovers as the birthplace of the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana and the venue of the Smetana´s Litomysl Festival. The Litomysl Chateau is a UNESCO-listed building and it is particularly charming when it comes alive with the festival music. The beautiful Renaissance chateau with later Baroque features was inspired by Italian arcade architecture which was adjusted to suit the Czech environment. The chateau is easy to date because of the revealing façade decorated by several thousand sgraffiti motives which are never repeated. Experts agree that the chateau with its complex of utility and farm buildings represents an outstanding example of a central European noble seat during the period of Renaissance.
Staying in South Bohemia the village of Holasovice (1998) is also well worth a visit. Holasovice is located close to Ceske Budejovice and the village was founded in the first half of the 13th Century. It is remarkable that despite various changes throughout the centuries the village retained the medieval layout of residential and farm buildings which are joined by walls with gates and arches. The current look of the village is the work of master bricklayers in the second half of the 19th Century who rebuilt the gables and entrance gates of the houses in Holasovice in the style of Folk Baroque. The village square is formed by 22 houses with beautifully decorated Baroque gables and front gardens. The village is a unique example of this architectural style.
The Cesky Krumlov Castle Complex is the second largest in the Czech Republic
Cesky Krumlov (1992) is often described as the pearl of South Bohemia. The dominant landmark of the historic town centre which contains more than 300 Gothic and Renaissance town houses is the vast castle complex. Generations of owners gradually kept rebuilding it in line with the changing period architectural styles. Among the highlights of the castle are the Rococo masquerade hall and the unique Baroque theatre. The castle garden, which ranks among the largest castle gardens in Europe, invites visitors to take a pleasant walk. The garden features a beautiful Rococo fountain and comes to life during the summer months in particular when there are theatre and music performances held at the revolving auditorium.
The beautiful and mysterious Highlands
The UNESCO sites in the Highlands form a triangle with the corners marked by the towns of Telc, Trebic and Zdar nad Sazavou.
Telc is featured on the list because of its unique collection of town houses in its historic centre and the chateau (1992). The face of Telc as we know it today was largely shaped by a wealthy nobleman Zacharias from Hradec in the 16th Century. He admired the Italian Renaissance so much that he invited several Italian architects to turn his Gothic seat into a representative chateau. The Renaissance makeover did not exclude the town houses surrounding the square. According to a unified plan the houses were extended to include an arcade and a decorative gamble at the front. Only a few houses kept their pure Renaissance form until the present. Most of them underwent later Baroque changes.
The UNESCO sites of Trebic including St. Prokop´s Basilica, the Jewish cemetery and the Jewish quarter of Zamosti (2003), are living proof of the long-term co-existence of Jewish and Christian cultures. Start the tour of Trebic in front of the Romanesque-Baroque St. Prokop´s Basilica. The stunning Romanesque portal with its round rosette is one of the most valuable parts of this building dating back to the first half of the 13th Century. The Jewish quarter is not far away from the basilica. Zamosti did not undergo a vast amount of demolitions or rebuilding so there are more than 100 buildings preserved today. Among these buildings are two synagogues, a rabbi´s house, a Jewish school and one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the Czech Republic. Although the original inhabitants of these houses no longer live there, the mysterious atmosphere of the narrow streets, charming corners and archways persists today.
A truly unique site on the UNESCO list is the pilgrimage church of St John of Nepomuk at Zelena Hora near Zdar nad Sazavou (1994). It was built at the beginning of the 18th Century in the Baroque-Gothic style by renowned architect Jan Blazej Santini to pay homage to the Czech martyr. Santini opted for the symbolic shape of the five-pointed star which is reflected in the layout of the church and in the interior where there are five chapels and five altars. The pilgrimage church was formerly part of a Cistercian monastery and now it belongs to the Zdar Castle.
The Baroque sights of central Moravia
The archiepiscopal town of Olomouc (2000) is situated in the heart of central Moravia. It is the second largest protected historic town centre area in the Czech Republic and its centrepiece – the Holy Trinity Column – is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The column was built to commemorate the victims of the great plague. It is unique because of its original artistic concept, rich sculptural decoration and also its size. With its height of 35 metres it is one of the largest groups of Baroque sculptures concentrated in one monument in Central Europe.
Nearby Kromeriz (1998) is a place where the bishops and archbishops of Olomouc had their summer residence. The most significant change to the building came in the second half of the 17th Century when it was rebuilt in the early Baroque style. The elaborate Baroque palace was equipped with expensive furniture and also contained a collection of precious paintings from the 15th – 18th Centuries by famous artists such as Titian and Lucas Cranach Sr. The archiepiscopal chateau is surrounded by the Lower Chateau Garden which was turned into a romantic English park in the 19th Century. The Flower Garden originally founded outside the town walls is also included on the UNESCO list. Visitors can admire its geometrically planted flower beds, the maze and a colonnade with statues of Greek gods and mythical figures.
The Tugendhat Villa represents modern architecture
The first Czech modern architecture representative on the UNESCO list is the functionalist Tugendhat Villa located in the south Moravian city of Brno (2001). This outstanding example of the work of renowned German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe impresses by its courageous architectural design and its advanced technical background. On the main residential floor of the villa the interior naturally blends with the exterior: two windows stretch from the floor to the ceiling and thanks to an electrically powered mechanism it is possible to open them fully into the garden. This symbol of Brno´s modern architecture is considered to be one of the milestones of world architecture of the 20th Century. An extensive refurbishment was carried out at the Tugendhat Villa from 2010 to 2012 and it was restored to its original state from when it was completed in 1930. The interiors are furnished with precise replicas of the original fittings and furniture.