Not wanting to overstay my welcome in Prague and realizing that my uncle had set aside a substantial amount of time and energy to accommodate my last-minute visit to his beautiful city (read about my time in Prague HERE!), I came across a spectacular town nearby which is listed as a UNESCO heritage site.
The town of Kutna Hora is just over an hour east of Prague and holds one of the world’s most unique churches. When I realized how exquisite this site was, I knew it had to be my next stop.
I hopped aboard an afternoon train and hopped off after a quick snooze, finding the pension I’d reserved to be just 30 seconds from the railway station. In fact, it was so close that from my bedroom window I was able to hear passengers’ conversations and squeaking brakes at all hours of the day. At all hours of the night.
At all hours. The realization quickly set in that at 8euros a day, being picky is not an option.
It didn’t matter much though, as I was able to find the pension with absolutely no problem, and recognized that a thirty minute walk into and out of town each day was quite relaxing, offering a more intimate view into the simplistic lifestyles of the townspeople living in a space which recently has begun to thrive on a touristic economy.
Past the tiny markets and pizza shops, I found exactly what I’d been hoping to find: the small chapel surrounded by a yard of graves. These graves were packed more closely than most I’ve come across, and were decorated in fresh flowers and glowing candles. From the outside, the church looked welcoming and charming.
Inside, the church offers a whole different story.
A cross greets visitors as they pay an entrance fee. The cross, instead of being composed of metal or wood, is made of bones. Human bones. And it is just the beginning.
The interior of the entire lower level is covered in human bones, assembled in different arrangements to resemble shields, chandeliers, and caskets. The most alerting of all is the stacks of human skulls which are housed behind metal bars, appearing more like the skulls of prisoners than of parishioners. The eeriness of this religious palace made me want to take a seat in the center of it all and see if perhaps the bones would join together to replicate Walt Disney’s 1929 video “Silly Symphony: The Skeleton Dance” , clicking and clacking through the dimly lit chapel.
I had my wits about me on that visit, and did not take a seat, but rather continued downhill toward Kutna Hora’s main city center.
The town is very small but filled with cultural wonders. Besides the church, I found comfort in a large park south of the city, whose gravel trails were covered by shade trees and traced by railroad tracks and a parallel stream. Across the stream, an expansive green hill covered in grape leaves and freshly harvested plants, leading up to Saint Barbara’s Church. The view was so picturesque that I returned three times during my short trip to the city, spending more time in the undercover locations of park benches than in any cafe or restaurant.
Another particularly unexpected find was the Jewish Museum which is just beginning to step up its game by offering personalized tours through a family-run synagogue. I was able to take a personal tour through the synagogue and listen to a high school student’s stories of genocide and of the holocaust’s effects on his family. His own aunts and uncles had been part of the Holocaust, and some had survived internment at Auschwitz. During our hour long visit, he answered so many questions I didn’t even know existed, and opened my heart to an important part of Europe’s history which I would later get to explore in greater detail.
Though a small town, Kutna Hora offered more than the typical tourist might find on a day trip from Prague. I’d highly recommend staying there for two to three days to become more familiar with the city and open up opportunities otherwise not available. During my second and third days, I was able to make friends with the owner of a local cafe, teach another foreigner how to buy fruits at the market, and find myself lost – and found – within a nearby forest. I visited the cemetery of Sedlic Ossuary on multiple occasions to try to understand its uniqueness and to attempt to determine how its interior might haunt its exterior. But I don’t think it works that way. I think its interior brings with it a calming understanding of an afterlife that helps locals and tourists not to worry about the hereafter. I think its interior helps draw in the tourists needed to keep the city alive and the living happy.
I also think its interior is incredibly romantically creepy.