Český Krumlov is beautiful. Maybe even a little too beautiful?
It feels, at times, as if the city beautification program has gone about their task without the steadying hand of restraint, that they’ve gotten carried away in their excitement, that they’ve slapped on a little too much paint, and cleaned and tidied with a little too much fervour.
Every building is clean, crisp, sharp; each is painted in charming colours, and decorated with delightful motifs. The lanes are perfectly-cobblestoned; the shop signs are so cute they are almost cartoonish.
The city has been so heavily beautified it often verges on twee.
On the other hand, it’s also undeniably appealing.
The city, as should be clear from the photos, has been restored to its utmost best; the prettiest parts of its Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural stylings have been brought together and presented as one.
The question remains: is the current state of Český Krumlov a faithful depiction of this historic city? Is it authentic?
Did Český Krumlov ever truly look this good?
Probably not, is my thinking.
The founding of Český Krumlov
The first castle to grace this bend of the River Vltava was constructed sometime around 1240 CE. A small hamlet sprang up in the valley below not long after.
In 1302 by the castle was handed over to the powerful Rožmberkové family (anglicised to the Rosenbergs) who inhabited Český Krumlov Castle for the next 300 years.
Český Krumlov Castle
The Rosenberg line came to an end in the early 17th Century. In the ensuing years the castle changed hands between various noble families, during which time it was added to and modified, given Gothic, then Renaissance, then Baroque styling.
It grew to become the 2nd largest castle in Czechia (Prague Castle is the largest).
Český Krumlov Castle courtyards
The castle complex includes 40 odd buildings clustered around five central courtyards.
Courtyard III and Courtyard IV feature Renaissance murals – painted circa 1575 – depicting figures from Greek and Roman history and mythology .
Tourists are able to walk through all of the courtyards, and thus pass through the castle, free of charge.
Cloak Bridge, which connects Courtyard IV and Courtyard V within the castle, was originally a wooden structure and dates to the 15th Century. It was converted into the daunting stone structure we see today in 1717.
The stone bridge is topped by three levels of covered passageways – connecting various rooms within the castle – that were added to the structure in the 18th Century.
Český Krumlov Castle Round Tower
The 6-storey Castle Round Tower dates to the early 13th Century.
The geometric and pictorial murals that decorate the exterior of the tower were painted in 1590.
Český Krumlov Castle Gardens
The Castle Gardens occupy a flat ridge of land adjoining Český Krumlov Castle.
The gardens, which are Baroque in design, contain a Rococo summer house built in 1690 – remodelled into its current form in 1757.
Svornosti Square, Český Krumlov
The main square of Český Krumlov is lined with the multi-storey residences of the wealthiest townspeople. The square includes a Plague Column, and a pharmacy that has been in operation since 1620.
The paintwork and detailing of Český Krumlov may seem excessively cutesy-pie at times, but it turns out that many of these murals are original. Just like the Castle Round Tower and the castle courtyards, these buildings were painted this way during Renaissance times.
The Renaissance murals – many of which were painted over, or whitewashed, as styles changed over the centuries – have only recently been re-discovered. The murals are slowly being reinstated as more and more buildings are restored.
Which means the cutesy-pie styling of Český Krumlov might not be inauthentic at all.
And if there was a city beautification program that went overboard, it was the one that was working here 400 odd years ago. 🙂
Practical information and how to reach Český Krumlov:
Český Krumlov can be accessed from Prague as part of a long day trip. Trip time (by private or public bus) is approximately 3 hours each way. Lodging in nearby České Budějovice (45 min by bus from Český Krumlov) is a more enjoyable alternative. More transport info here.
Read more on Český Krumlov in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.