Although Olomouc is a place with more than a thousand years of history, it seems as if the city is still waiting to be rediscovered.
This was even noted by the Lonely Planet tourist guide, which went so far as to call Olomouc one of the most underrated places in the Czech Republic and ranked it among the Top 10 tourist destinations that you should not miss when visiting Europe.
Olomouc’s beauty can confidently rival not only that of Prague but also of many other popular tourist destinations in Europe, and it is certainly deserving of your attention. This is where you will find the second most important urban conservation area in the Czech Republic, which is surrounded by splendid parks, an incredible concentration of sacral buildings, a UNESCO monument, and even an astronomical clock with a story which is perhaps more interesting than the one of Prague’s Orloj. All this, and without the endless bustle of a big metropolis. You can bet that the relaxed pace at which you can enjoy the local wonders is offered by very few European cities.
Photos: Archdiocesan Museum (© archiv Czech Tourism)
Archiv CzechTourism | © Mgr. Pavel Dosoudil
Holy Trinity Column
This plague column, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, is an important work of Baroque sculpture. Erected between 1716 and 1754, it was consecrated in 1754 by Bishop Ferdinand Julius Troyer in the presence of Empress Maria Theresa. At a height of over 32 metres, it is the largest sculptural group in the Czech Republic and the largest grouping of Baroque statues in all of Central Europe.
Archiv města Olomouc | © Milena Valušková
The seat of Olomouc bishops and archbishops has been host to many important visitors and became the setting for several important historical events. The palace is open to the public, so you can see for yourself the Throne Room, where on December 2, 1848, the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I assumed office; the Reception Room, where Russian Czar Alexander I discussed his plan prior to the Battle of Austerlitz with the Austrian emperor; or the Green Room, where in 1850 Prussia, Austria and Russia signed the so-called Punctation of Olomouc, which was to mark the end of the conflict between Prussia and Austria.
Archiv města Olomouc | © Milena Valušková
Archdiocesal Museum and Romanesque Bishop’s Palace
Established as part of the Museum of Art in 1998. Between 2000 and 2006 it underwent extensive reconstruction, which gave the museum its current form. Part of the museum tour is the Romanesque palace.
In the chapter house of the St. Wenceslas Cathedral, on the site of today’s museum, the 11-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed one of his first symphonies – Symphony No. 6 in F Major. It was precisely here that he convalesced from an illness after the whole family hastily left Vienna to escape a smallpox outbreak. A small exhibition recalls his stay here, and Olomouc is also part of the international Mozart Ways project, linking places where Mozart stayed in ten European countries on his numerous travels.
© Michal Maňas (Wikimedia)
St. Wenceslas Cathedral
This cathedral with a two towers, whose foundation dates to the 12th century, is one of the major symbols of the city. The South Tower is the tallest church spire in Moravia and the second highest in the Czech Republic.
Archiv města Olomouc | © Jan Andreáš
Chapel of St. John Sarkander
On the site of today’s Neo-Baroque chapel once stood the city prison, where in 1620 the priest Jan Sarkander was interrogated and tortured, having been accused of helping the Polish king’s troops in Moravia. Because the priest would not divulge confessional secrets under torture, he was canonized in Olomouc in 1995 by Pope John Paul II. The interior is decorated with frescoes with depictions of legends, and you will also find the original torture rack preserved here.
© Tedmek (Wikimedia)
This former Premonstratensian monastery is the second most significant cultural monument in the region after Olomouc’s urban conservation area. The Baroque building of the monastery, which is sometimes called the “Moravian Escorial,” acquired its appearance in the 17th and 18th centuries and is among the most valuable works of Central European Baroque architecture. After the abolition of seminaries in 1790, the former monastery fell to the army. The army initially set up a fortress storehouse, then in 1800 a prison camp for French soldiers, and since January 1802 it has been a military hospital, making it the oldest military hospital in the Czech Republic.
Archiv CzechTourism | © Lubomír Stiburek
Basilica on Svatý Kopeček (Holy Hill)
The Baroque Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary on Svatý Kopeček (Holy Hill) is one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in the Czech Republic, and to this day it remains a popular destination for admirers Baroque beauty. The importance of this sacred place is confirmed by some of the important visitors. Mother Teresa stopped at Holy Hill in 1990, and in May 1995 the pilgrimage church was promoted to a basilica minor in the presence of Pope John Paul II.
Olomouc has always been the spiritual centre of Moravia, and you can still get a sense of its glorious past at every step. If you want your journey to discover its history to begin with the earliest monuments, head first to Olomouc’s castle with the Gothic St. Wenceslas Cathedral and the seat of the Archbishop of Olomouc. In addition to the thousand-year-old remnants of the Romanesque Bishop’s Palace, you can admire the church treasures and works of art from the collections of the Olomouc bishops and archbishops in the recently renovated Archdiocesan Museum complex. In your quest to explore the beauty of Baroque architecture and sculpture, continue to Horní náměstí (Upper Square), where you will find one of Olomouc’s most important monuments – the Holy Trinity Column. This plague column, the largest grouping of Baroque statues in Central Europe, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. If you then head off from the upper square in search of other local sights, you will be captivated by the splendour of Baroque architecture almost everywhere you go.
Right in the centre of Olomouc you can marvel at a unique set of Baroque fountains, the Church of St. Michael and a complex containing a Jesuit school and church, but you can also continue your journey beyond the city limits, where you also encounter further architectural treasures – the ancient Hradisko monastery, which because of its impressive size is called the “Moravian Escorial”, and the basilica on Svatý Kopeček (Holy Hill). A visit to this ancient pilgrimage site with spectacular views of the calming and fertile Haná plains was made even by Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa.
It is a historical paradox that the beauty of Baroque Olomouc was born from great suffering and the complete destruction of almost everything that used to be here. However, it just makes the value of the local monuments that much higher. They are a symbol of determination, indomitable will to survive and spiritual strength.
When Swedish troops pulled out of the Czech lands in 1650 after eight years, they left the city in ruins. Of the seven hundred buildings in the city, only roughly a quarter were habitable. Of the approximately 30,000 people who lived here in the year 1640, a mere 1,765 remained. In light of the dire situation, some even suggested not to resist fate and to turn the ancient city into a village. But that did not happen. On the contrary, beginning in 1655 and continuing for a long hundred years, Olomouc gradually transformed into one of the most perfect bastion fortresses in the entire Habsburg monarchy. The symbol of its rebirth and one of the most beautiful sights in Olomouc today is a set of six Baroque fountains with figural decoration and motifs from antiquity. Fountains of Hercules, Jupiter, Mars and other figures from classical mythology are complemented by the modern Arion Fountain from 2002 on the upper square and the fountain called Spring of Living Water of St. John of Sarkander in the courtyard of the magnificent Neo-Baroque St. Sarkander Palace.
Photo: Arion Fountain (Archiv města Olomouc | © Jiří Fajt)
While the origin of Olomouc’s name is disputed, according to one version the name is a blend of the terms for “buzz” and “beer”. The truth is that very high-quality hops are grown in the Olomouc area, and the city offers an unusually high number of restaurants, pubs and microbreweries where you can taste the excellent local beer. And although a more peaceful atmosphere reigns in the city during the day, at night in the centre “buzzes” like a beehive with activity. This is due to the large number of young people who live and study in this university town, which has the second oldest alma mater in the Czech Republic. You certainly can’t go wrong if you start your quest for good food, drink and fun in the former Water Barracks, part of the reconstructed fortifications from the time of Empress Maria Theresa. In the surrounding area you will find many pubs, restaurants, bars, discos and clubs from which you can choose according to your mood and tastes. But definitely don’t forget to sample the renowned local cheese specialty Olomouc tvarůžky and if you are a true beer fan, then you should plan to visit Olomouc at the end of June, when a traditional beer festival takes place that is among the biggest and most popular events of its kind in the country.