Cesky Budejovice is more commonly known as Cesky Budweis, and since 1795 it has been brewing beer. However, don’t confuse the local brew with the American Budweiser as an ongoing court case is dealing with the fight over the trademark. But it’s not the beer that I’ve stopped for. I’m more interested in some of the less well known curiosities to be found in the city.
I start my search in the main square which is apparently the 2nd largest in the Czech Republic. It is certainly very square in shape and surrounded by beautiful buildings, the most spectacular being the city hall. Close to the Samson Fountain, in the centre of the cobbled square, I find my first curiosity – the erratic boulder. It is said to mark the site of the old gallows and locals believe that if you step over it after 10pm you will lose your way until morning.
Just around the corner is the smaller Piaristic Square, beside the Dominican monastery. It’s not easy to locate, but high up near the roof, next to a drainpipe, is a stone frog. The legend says that during the construction of the church, the walls that were built each day would collapse by the morning. No one understood why this was happening but one day they found a huge frog in the church foundations. Unable to drive the frog away by force, the locals resorted to prayers and the frog finally disappeared allowing the building work to be completed. The stone frog was placed on the church wall to remind people of their faith and it is believed that if the frog ever reaches the top of the wall and falls down, the church will also collapse.
Next to the monastery is the old armoury. Built in 1521, it has also served as a granary and a salt house from where it gets the name ‘Solnice’. There is an old story about three robbers who attempted to steal from the church. They were caught by a nun who cleverly locked them in the sacristy and sounded the bell to call for help. They were decapitated for their crime and the images of their faces were carved into the façade of the Salt House as a warning to others.
Cesky Krumlov is an easy day trip from Prague and so it’s not surprising to find lots of coach parties wandering around the UNESCO listed town and large castle complex. I arrive just in time for the English language tour of the castle interiors. Luckily it’s a small group but sadly the guide, whilst very knowledgeable, is completely devoid of any personality and her accent is so thick that it’s quite difficult to understand anything she says.
Fortunately the tourist office is able to provide me with some information about the history of the town and castle. Cesky Krumlov (which means ‘crooked meadow’) was established in 1250 by the Vitkovci dynasty who built the castle above the Vltava River and the town on the encircled land below. 50 years later the Rosenberg’s took over, expanding the castle fortifications and creating a coat of arms featuring the five-petalled rose, which is celebrated each year with a popular medieval festival. In order to associate themselves with the influential Orsini family (whose name comes from the Latin ors, meaning bear), The Rosenburgs included the bear in their coat of arms. Later, in 1707, records show the beginning of a tradition of keeping bears at the castle. Sadly the tradition continues in quite appalling conditions, though I cannot verify the bears’ condition as I never saw them.
After the Thirty Years War, Cesky Krumlov was given to the Austrian Eggenberg family who gave their name to the very refreshing beer which is still brewed in the town. Then, in 1719, the Schwarzenberk’s came along, expanding the castle further and decorating it in the renaissance style, also adding a beautiful baroque theatre.
I want to learn more about this ancient and complicated town so I join a free walking tour with local Jan as my guide. He’s wearing a bright red waterproof and carrying an equally bright red umbrella which makes him easy to spot in the main square. A lot of his tales seem to revolve around his drunken teenage antics but he does lead us to some great views and manages to shock us with the darker side of Cesky Krumlov’s history.
Ghosts play a big part in his stories. There’s the disgruntled innkeeper who was cursed to wander the main square and scare drunken students, the haunted music school where Jan’s mother works and the spirit of Markéta Pichlerová, mistress of Don Julius, mad bastard son of Emperor Rudolf II. One day he got so upset with her that he threw her out of the castle window. Amazingly, her fall was broken by the accumulation of rubbish beneath the window and she survived. However, she couldn’t escape the rage of her lover who subsequently stabbed her to death.
We end our walking tour on the Cloak Bridge which spans a deep cleft in the rock and provides a covered corridor between the castle and the baroque theatre. The views are fabulous but our mood is soured when Jan tells us never to talk when we pass under the bridge for fear of disturbing the spirits of those who have died there. Apparently the Cloak Bridge is a popular suicide spot.
I end my day by returning to the tavern where I’d had lunch for a glass of wine and some sweet dumplings. Na Louzi is a great place frequented by locals and providing inexpensive home cooked food. Strangely, the only curiosity in this place seems to be me!