Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kutná Hora

This last weekend I ventured outside the city of Prague with some friends to a little town about 73 kilometers southeast called Kutná Hora.
The trip by train takes just under an hour and the total price was 115kc each. We did buy a group ticket and the cost was less so that didn't hurt. Essentially from what I have heard, when you buy a group ticket, anything more than one person, the first person pays full price and everyone else pays 1/2 price. I'll try to clarify that later at some point. Anyway, 115kc is about $6.00. For a 140km day trip that is awesome in my book, a movie in the states would have cost three more bucks.
Kutná Hora is on the train line in between Brno and Prague, so there are trains leaving every hour to get there and there are trains heading back to Prague all the time. It was a no brainer, we knew we would not get stuck there as long as we finished up before 8 p.m. or so.
When we arrived at the train station we noticed we were pretty much on the outskirts of town. We had been told at the station in Prague that we could make a transfer from the station we arrived at and get to the city center easily. We didn't want to do that so soon and we started walking. The town isn't that big so a walk wasn't going to kill us.
The outskirts of the town really aren't that picturesque in fact the most interesting thing we first came across was a Phillip Morris factory. I don't know if they have tours, but I'm going to go back and find out. I've never seen a cigarette factory before and I bet it would be cool to see. Maybe they'll give you a free pack of smokes at the end and I can sell it and make 60kc or so to offset the cost of my trip.

The prettiest part of town is really the city center.

This is a view back into the town from the St. Barbara Church. I didn't like any of the photos I took of it this time, so that will have to wait until my next trip. The building at the top of the hill on the left is a Jesuit College and the church you can see in the photo is the Church of St. James. I really liked this church and have quite a few photos of it. It is in the heart of the city center.

This is a view while walking through the city center.

This is a view of the church from the road right next to the Jesuit school. You can see the road in the very first photo of the town here.

We found a great restaurant and spent about two hours there eating goulash and drinking beer, very Czech since goulash and beer are very traditional. I also had some mead which was excellent and I had it warm. This was perfect because it was really cold all day and wandering around outside in the winter time really only stopping to see churches and cathedrals is not a way to get warm. It turns out 500 year old churches don't get central heating when they are renovated and I can't blame them. When you have a fifty foot ceiling the place would cost a fortune to heat.

But our main reason for visiting Kutná Hora was not to find a great restaurant and look and wander around the old town center. We were there to see the Sedlec Ossuary. A quick Google search will tell you that an Ossuary is a container or room into which the bones of dead people are placed. I've never heard of one of these in the states and if you want to know more about this particular one just click the link up there and Wikipedia will help you out.
The brief synopsis is that there had been a mass grave in use right near the church for centuries and it was excavated for some reason and they had to do something with the bones. So, some guy had the brilliant idea to put them in the church. I imagine, and this is of course pure speculation, that he got tired of stacking all the bones and went a bit nutty and decided to start using them for interior design.
I could sit here and type for hours and not really describe what the end result was. I'm just going to throw a bunch of photos up and let you check it out.

So, this is pretty much what I would expect to see in an ossuary, given the Google definition. It's a pretty mundane stack of human bones with a little flair at the front. Don't ask me how that tunnel part was achieved, I have zero experience stacking human bones. I think it was probably tricky. The pile of bones is basically a pyramid going all the way to the ceiling and is about 20 feet high. There are four of them, one in each corner of the church.

If you're interested in some tips to improve your bone stacking technique perhaps a close-up photo will help. If you look at the skull in the center you'll see a coin in the right eye, it's a 2kc piece. Evidently tossing coins as an offering is pretty popular in this church.

As you can see from this photo a broken cranium makes a great place to leave your offering. Most of the coins are pretty small, but if you look at that one at the bottom center and left a bit that is the largest coin possible, a 50kc piece. If I'm going to throw money at the dead I'm going to throw big too.

Like I said, tossing money as an offering is really popular.

This is one of the pieces of art which greets you as soon as you walk into the place. As you can see somebody spent a lot of time and effort to make stuff out of human bones. And it gets even stranger.

Also at the entrance are this huge chalice looking things, one on either side of the church but we're not done.

A bone coat of arms. It really doesn't get a whole lot more interesting than that, right? I mean what else can you do with a coccyx?

This isn't my favorite photo, but it is still pretty important. This chandelier contains at least one of every bone in the human body. So I'm told, I didn't examine it to find a hammer and anvil. I believe them. I think you have to be very creative, slightly mad and completely burned out from stacking human bones to be able to create something like this.

Compared to the chandelier and the coat of arms, this is just a few boring jolly rogers stacked on one another. Honestly, it is one of my favorite photos from the day.

I was with other people, and I could have spent a lot more time in the bone church taking photos, but you have to go with the group sometimes. I also could have spent half the day taking photos in the cemetery which surrounds the church. Like I said, I want to go back in the spring or summer when it is warmer, the days are longer and I can spend more time photographing the amazing town. Maybe the grapes will be growing by the Jesuit school too.

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