FLASHBACK: Prague Tales, Part 4 – Macabre in Kutna Hora & Little Boy Running Thru Alleys In Cesky Krumlov
By Dave Mendoza, Master Cybersleuth, Affiliate Partner, JobMachine Inc.
Archives: 05-07-2007 – SixDegrees is on the road …
“Yes, and I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from. Oh, yeah. You tear your history down, man! â€œ30 years old, let’s smash it to the floor and put a car park here!” I have seen it in stories. I saw something in a program on something in Miami, and they were saying, “We’ve redecorated this building to how it looked over 50 years ago!” And people were going, “No, surely not, no. No one was alive then!”
Well, we got tons of history lying about the place, big old castles, and they just get in the way. We’re driving– “Oh, another castle! Have to drive around it…” Disney came over and built Euro Disney, and they built the Disney castle there, and it was, “You better make it a bit bigger, they’ve actually got them here… And they’re not made of plastic!” We got tons of them, â€˜cause you think we all live in castles, and we do all live in castles! We all got a castle each. We’re up to here with fricken castles! We just long for a bungalow or something.”
Eddie Izzard, “Dress To Kill”
On March 29th, I ventured south from Prague, passing familiar American corporations like Dell, Honeywell, Accenture, Intel and others along my trek. MY appetite took a detour at Kutna Hora. Kutna Hura is a UNESCO protected site, recognized for its unique landmarks, both of a once flourishing silver mining settlement and its Cemetery All Saints Chapel. It was here that 30,000 bodies were buried at the time of the great plague in 1318 and grew further during the Hussite Wars. A double towered Cemetery Chapel was built with an Ossuary located in the bottom floor. Bones from the abolished graves were first piled up around the chapel. In 1511 a half blind monk piled them into pyramids. A century later, bone decorations were rearranged. By the 18th century, the bones were bleached, disinfected, and, In all, the remains of 40,000 bodies were reassembled in Baroque Gothic style to form ornate sculptures to decorate the Sedlec Ossuary. The purpose of this macabre presentation? To remind visitors of our own mortality. The tourist guidebooks reinforces the issue, stating, “This fact is intended to lead to mutual harmonic coexistence and to respect life and to make people responsible to the divine.”
My harmony was unfortunately disassembled, however, by the tour guide’s single allowance for a restroom stop and constant injection of political overtones as a socialist on the losing side of history. How she managed to make politics relevant at the Ossuary and in the village town itself, took deft skill sets of which she could only master. On the lighter side, a well intentioned, sweet British woman kept interrupting the tour guide with inane observances which made me bury my face into my scarf to avoid embarassing her with my laughter. Her fellow Brits kept rolling her eyes as she repeatedly asked “But why were there religious wars, fighting over religion is wrong,” as if by stating as much could defy the history of the paths we took and tales of woe. Seeing all those bones made me yearn for a nice bowl of soup on that frigid day. I settled for duck.
On March 30th I traveled for four hours each way on a chilly morning to Cesky Krumlov, listed as a monument of world importance by UNESCO. It’s a magnificent example of Renaissance-Baroque architecture, picturesquely located on the Vltava River. The unique location contains more than 300 historical buildings and its atmosphere is striking with its deep cobblestone alley ways, buildings etched into the surrounding rock and aqueducts. Interestingly enough, given the Czech Republic’s history as one of the richest veins of silver, it was once the center of coin minting for Old Europe before war and over extended mining took its toll, but the vast wealth paid tribute to Prague’s former status as seat of the Holy Roman Empire and it was evident throughout the valley of impeccable craftsmanship in each of the building sites. The long walks up and down steep streets was made easier after befriending two American doctors, a brother and sister, in fact, who made for great conversation and enjoyed my quips about how the kind but repetitive tour guide would say “Renaissance” at each building. (It may not sound funny now, sure, but it you walked with us, you could appreciate the jest.)
Upon returning from the long journey from southern Bohemia to Prague, I invited the American doctors I befriended to join me for dinner for “something Czech and authentic.” The concierge recommended “Santa Klara’s. We took a taxi to the most astounding restaurant I have seen or experienced, complete with a thematic cave dwelling ambiance as we were fed several courses of duck, venison, wild boar, and sweet, aromatic wines. The restaurant alone could have justified the adventure to Bohemia. Once I returned to the hotel, I collapsed in bed, with a deeper appreciation of the rich history and role this central European country played in transcontinental European culture and commerce, and an even deeper appreciation for savory wild boar rolling on a skewer. Good times that day, good times.
The morning after, I walked through large crowds in a certain state of rabble. I walked into an international parade of sorts, children and young teens singing national anthems, holding national banners – with Czechs leading the way. The procession ran from the streets of the Old Jewish Quarter through Old Square, with those assembled celebrating their favorite teams for a major, local, soccer tournament. It’s worth a look, but alas let’s look at it next time …
Until then, let me close by saying, “They’ve redecorated these buildings to how they looked over 550 years ago!” And people were going, “No, surely not, no. No one was alive then!”
Indeed they were alive, and what a culture they’ve managed to sustain, and even more important for the Czechs in that long history of woe and wonderment, … today a republic if they can keep it.