Wandering in search of Santini

Church of St. John of Nepomuk at Zelená hora
23. 4. 2013

Architectural gems along the Santini trail

Few architects have had such an effect on the look of Czech villages, towns, monasteries and chateaux as the genius Jan Blažej Santini Aichel. Follow in his footsteps to discover grand structures erected in his peculiar Baroque Gothic style dotting the Czech Republic. You’ll encounter magnificent churches, enchanting chapels, vast convents and whole textbooks of detailing, which together make up a lifetime of effort by one of the most important architects ever to have worked in central Europe.

Our imaginary trail linking Santini’s buildings starts in Žďár nad Sázavou, home to the architect’s most significant work. This is the pilgrimage Church of St. John of Nepomuk at Zelená hora, a fascinating structure peppered with symbols relating to the saint, and listed as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO for its unique character. Whether you decide to see Santini’s masterpiece on a guided tour or on your own during your trip around the Czech Republic, there’s a fantastic architectural spectacle awaiting, one which has inspired generations down through the centuries.

Santini in Moravia

If you wanted to visit all of Santini’s creations your journey through the Czech Republic would take several months. During his 26-year-long active working life the architect was involved with 80 different buildings spread across the entire country. At present around ten are open for the public to peek inside. There are several circuits you could follow. On the Moravian circuit you should start with the magnificent church at Zelená Hora (see above). Another stop could be the Benedictine Monastery in Rajhrad not far from Brno. One of the most attractive Baroque structures in the Czech Republic is the grand church in Křtiny. If you prefer more modestly-sized rural architecture, you’re certain to like the beautiful churches in Zvole and Horní Bobrová.

A cathedral, a chateau and a monastery in East Bohemia

Santini also designed buildings in East Bohemia. The circuit here could include one of the two cathedrals in Kutná Hora, namely the one in the suburb of Sedlec, a UNESCO-listed site along with the town’s historical centre. Another stop could be an exquisite example of elegant architecture commissioned by the nobility – Chlumec nad Cidlinou, the embodiment of the castle in Kafka’s novel. Some of Santini’s most frequent commissions were makeovers of monastery complexes. You can see an example of this at Želiv where the twin-spired church can be seen from far and wide. Here you shouldn’t pass up the chance to taste the monastery’s own excellent beer that has been brewed here for several centuries.

Santini heritage in West Bohemia

West Bohemia can also boast some Santini masterpieces. For instance you could head to the wonderful monastery in Kladruby. When inspecting the bizarre dome of the church there, you’ll understand why it was one of the most controversial structures of its time, but today its one of the true gems in the Czech architectural collection. Your steps should then lead you to the Cistercian Monastery in Plasy, which is an exquisite example of a building built on a marsh using over 5,000 wooden stakes as foundations. As you approach another of Santini’s works, Mariánská Týnice, a grand sight welcomes you from a distance. Pass through the ambit, see how the light passing through the beautiful dome plays on the walls or just take time out to meditate in these majestic surroundings. You may get the feeling that it’s exactly in this kind of place that the legacy of this most skilful of architects lives on.

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