In the first of our posts on why one should visit this fair city, we will focus on the obvious – the Main Market Square!
I guess our first entry into this series may seem a bit obvious, but we do have many visitors popping by with little idea of what Olomouc holds. If we got a Czech crown for every time a guest has said: “Well, I dropped off here on a whim, and you know what? Olomouc is ACTUALLY beautiful!” … then we would definitely have enough for one heck of a night out at the restaurants and pubs (but that is another article)! So, in the hopes of enticing you with the pure visual side of tourism, let’s hop straight into the centre of this historic Moravian city and begin.
The Holy Trinity Column
I am going to try and hook some of you UNESCO list hunters right away, which is ACTUALLY my plan! The Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000 as “one of the most exceptional examples of the apogee of central European Baroque artistic expression”. And as they say: “if it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it!” (OK, only I say that). So not only is it the largest of its type in Czech Republic, but it also has the distinction of having been build solely by citizens of the city itself, adding a good amount of bragging rights for the locals to boast with. Completed in 1754 to commemorate the Catholic Church and the populations’ faith that is said to have helped end the spread of plague earlier the same century, the monument was consecrated during a celebration that even had the Empress Maria Theresa show up to gaze upon it with favourable eyes (before she headed off to grab a beer and some local stinky cheese, I am sure). And one last interesting bit about this monument to its multitude of saints is that shortly after completion, the Prussians decided to have a go at the region once more and lobbed a load of cannon balls at the city, many hitting the Column! Not wanting their new, ultra-hip monument to get destroyed, the citizens marched off to the Prussian general and begged him to spare the construction … and he did! Nice guy, eh? After the war, the Column was patched up, but one ball was left, covered in gold and embedded near the top as a reminder, and it is still there today!
Everyone goes to Prague to see their clock … oh so famous and on nearly every postcard! BUT we have one, too! And it is nearly as old! Set in the city’s Town Hall, it is believed to have been completed in 1422 and was rebuild and added to many times over the years … as you can see in some stunning pictures of it as it was just before 1945! If you have not guessed already by my “as it was” comment, the end of WWII was not so kind to the region or the clock. When the German army was high-tailing it out of the city, they threw a grenade at it out of spite, damaging it pretty badly. The communist regime stepped in soon after and “saved” it, though in a completely refashioned form … socialist realism! Though still a time piece with the days of the week, months, zodiac signs and lunar phases, it has been covered in a mosaic depicting happy workers and folk scenes, and the bottom now has a calendar for Czech name days and important communist holidays (including one for Stalin’s birthday). This work of art doesn’t need to show off every hour like the one in Prague, so it only performs at noon every day instead. Taking nearly seven sombre minutes to complete its show, the headlining spot is definitely taken by the golden rooster set in the middle. I won’t give anything away, but the wait is worth the finale … even if just to watch the reaction of the onlookers (I can say no more).
That beautiful, stunning building you see on the Upper Square, decorated with the Astronomical Clock and Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance elements, is the Town Hall of Olomouc and has been the seat of administration here for nearly six centuries. Olomouc was once the royal capital of the Moravian region (leading to the present biased attitude towards Brno now), and the architects pulled no punches making it a thing of beauty! Today, it still serves as an administrative centre and the main tourist information centre for the city, and on many days, the former ceremonial hall holds weddings for those inclined to get hitched in style. And those of you who have knowledge of such constructions, for your pleasure (giggle) is the Gothic Chapel of St. Jerome decorated with the oldest ribbed vault of the so-called Danubian type in the Czech Republic. Highly recommended is a climb up to the clock tower for a view when they offer the opportunity to tourist. The Town Hall also offers one heck of a backdrop to the Christmas markets and other festivals on the square throughout the year, so grab your camera and start snapping!
You like fountains? We got fountains! Six Baroque fountains in the city centre, to be precise … and even newer ones from 2002 and 2007 JUST for good measure (as well as a minor one or two here and there in side streets and courtyards). Neptune, Hercules, the Tritons, Mercury, Jupiter and even Caesar (according to legend, Olomouc was founded by the Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar) are scattered about the Upper Square, Lower Square or close by, gracing the city with artistic beauty … and torturing all those that need to use the toilet with their splashing and tinkling of spouting water. The newest additions come in the form of a small fountain a few streets away within the courtyard of the Chapel of St. Jan Sarkander, but the cake is definitely taken by the Arion Fountain right by the Holy Trinity Column and the Town Hall. Completed in 2002 by a local artist that must have an imagination on par with Terry Pratchett, this immensely intricate piece of work represents the mythological figure of Arion, who was a Greek poet and musician, kidnapped by pirates and later rescued by a friendly dolphin, all supposed to symbolise an escape from injustice and destruction, which the Czechs themselves felt considering their history, especially after the fall of communism. Though it really doesn’t explain why Arion is nude and hugging the dolphin so closely in the composition … nor the turtle motif! Saying that, the whole is really amazing and does complement the square very nicely, and you can always find some new detail in it every time you stop by for a view. Another interesting side use for the fountain is that it tends to become a kids’ swimming pool in the hot months. Multi-functional!
But wait!! There’s more!
Of course there is more … like the theatre for the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, the oldest pharmacy in the city, all the reliefs, sculptures and details on buildings and even a SECOND Lower Square with another plague column, fountain, church and plaque with cobblestone street design indicating the location of the foundations of a Medieval chapel (when they were excavating it a few years back, you got a glimpse of all the mortal remains of those buried there hundreds of years ago … must have really done well for the appetites of those heading to lunch at any one of the many restaurants on that square at the time, eh?). As you can see, even from just the first article here, there is already a reason to stop by the quaint, historic city of Olomouc. But I don’t want to give it away all at once, now do I?