That picture is just inside the entrance to the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, a small town about 90 minutes northeast of Prague. I had read about the Ossuary on one of those internet timewaster sites with a million lists of things. Top ten creepiest places or something like that, so I stored it in my small file of interesting places to visit if given the chance. And, since I was in Prague and had the time, I went for it.
The tour company I chose to get me there was pretty sketchy. But I had to book it pretty blindly as I’m not a last minute kind of person and I didn’t want to navigate the Czech train system alone. And the town is large enough that walking it all seemed tiring. So a small, cramped coach picked me up at my hotel and a Czech guy gave us a tour both broken English and Spanish. I’d hesitate to call him a tour guide though, as he would just say the names of things, but not give any background information on them. So, instead, I found myself eavesdropping on other tour groups.
The Sedlec Ossuary…well, I don’t remember the full history of it. But it’s decorated with human bones. That’s the main point, isn’t it? Something like the remains of 40,000 to 70,000 people lines the walls, ceiling, and corners of the church basement. Most of them having died of the plague, or in the Hussite wars.
Since an Ossuary is meant to store remains, I guess someone thought they’d spruce the place up a bit by using them as decoration. Sure, most of them are in giant bell-shaped piles in the corners, but there are little flourishes. The town seal, crosses, on the confessional booth (long since removed), and the centerpiece of the place, the chandelier. It contains every bone in the human body, and it sure is interesting to stare at.
You’d think it feel morbid and ghoulish to be in there. But it’s not. Sure, there’s that realization that every skull once contained a person. Someone who couldn’t possibly conceive some schlub like me would wander in 400 years later and gawk at his bones. But there are just so many, and there’s something playful about it that makes it interesting. It was done with the intent of respecting the dead, after all.
Kutna Hora, the town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is extremely beautiful. It was once a prosperous silver mine and home to one of the first mints to make currency for all of Europe. When the silver ran out nothing much happened there until a big Philip Morris plant opened up. That’s the heart of the town now.
At the top of the hill is Saint Barbara’s Cathedral, a massive gothic thing that, while beautiful, isn’t too different from any other big cathedral I’ve seen.
Next to the cathedral was a pathway lined with familiar looking statues. Seems they like the Charles Bridge in Prague enough to make their own knockoff version. It’s nice, but not the same.
The part of town I really enjoyed was the Italian Court, which was where they minted the coins. There we got a local guide who, though she still spoke broken English, actually knew what she was talking about.
I thought the building itself was just gorgeous. Almost to the point where, if I ever made myself a mansion (something I don’t really aspire to do, actually), I’d think about modelling it after here.
My pictures don’t really do it justice (the lighting was against me), but it was really something. The interior had some exhibits on the minting process, some very old coins, the king’s meeting hall, the king’s bedroom, and the king’s chapel.
We had free time after that, so I just roamed the streets for a while. A nice, small, quiet, and tourist focused town, yet it didn’t feel as tacky as big parts of Prague with the constant souvenir stores. I stopped in a little cafe for a slice of cake as I was starving and watched people. It was great. Should you be in Prague, it’s worth a day trip.
Karlovy Vary, and some other local castles seem like good side trips as well. Perhaps another time.