10 May 2013

Kutna Hora
The Czech museum of silver in Hradek castle.
The Bone Church (Ossuary)

Up the hill again to go underground

Up the hill again to go underground

OK Its time to type Kutna Hora.  Past time really.  I have been putting this off, as it is a very hard day to type, and with the time passing was hoping to make it easier.  This is not the case.  It may be shorter to type, but just as hard.

How to start?  The rain is still around, and after massive storms last night, we were worried that it would continue today.  The morning was very overcast, and walking the couple of kilometres into town had spits and spats, but no torrential downpour as we expected.

The silverminer

The silverminer

In town we made our way to Hradek Castle.  Personally I would call it a palace, rather than a castle, but that’s how it goes.  There are documents that record its existence as far back as 1312, and has been extensively renovated over the years.  Currently it is in Gothic style.  A massive building by the church, and now turned into a small mining museum.  This is what we wanted to see first, before making our way to the bone church out of town.  Most of the palace is inaccessible to the public but when you do the mining tour, you get to see a cellar or two.

Down the mine we go

Down the mine we go

On buying our tickets, we still did not know what to expect, other than a visit into one of the many silver mines that the town is famous for.  They, well, they undermine the town!  Tunnels are all through the hills, and have never been fully mapped out.  Occasionally this causes problems when someone is building a cellar, or the road collapses into a sink hole.  The mine we are going into was only discovered in 1967!  Its right under town, yet they still lost it for about 300 years!  In 1995 after a lot of work within the mine, and creating a new exit, it was opened to the public.

That said, lets start the tour.  There was only the two of us and a Canadian doing the tour, so we were happy at that, especially as she was also interested in the small details on what was going on.  Being taken down into the cellars to get an idea of what it was like down there, we saw some mock ups of miners in action.

From there we were taken under a massive wooden teepee.  This housed some of the mining equipment on the surface.  Mainly a huge horse powered winch.  This was only used to winch up the ore that was mined.  The pore miners themselves had to climb the ladders up and down…
We were now joined by a group of Indians, so there went our nice small tour group.  It was not that bad, but it is always harder in a bigger group.
After being given white trench coats and torches,we paraded like idiots down a couple of streets to the entrance of the mine.  Descending down a fairly new staircase, which was a lot better than the ladders that they would have had back in the day.  By now we were at the back of the group, with only the girl making sure we were not left behind.  This was fine, as she let us take our time.

The mine is supposed to be narrow, and only enough room for the miners themselves.  This may be true, and they have expanded it a little bit for the comfort of tourists, but it was not that bad.  The very small narrow sections where they follow splits in the veins of ore are very tight, although we were not allowed up them.  There are also other sections that are full of deep clear water.  The area has so much rainfall that getting water out of the mines was a problem, and since they have been abandoned centuries ago, these deeper shafts have filled up.  We were told to hurry up a couple of times, as we were lagging too far behind.  This is not because the mine was filled with dioramas, it wasn’t.  The mine did not have any information posted around either.  What was making us take so lone was that the mine was no longer just a mine, it was a very active limestone cave!  KK29mine2There were stalactites and mites everywhere, the roof was being coated in straws, and there were sections of flowstone and cauliflowering everywhere.  Considering it had only been abandoned since the 1700’s this was amazing. Even the work that was done to open the mine to the public was being overtaken by limestone formations.  The girl keeping an eye on us started opening up a bit at our interest in everything, and not just the mine.  It gave her a new way of looking at it.  Her English also improved dramatically from nothing to a full conversation!  We did the obligatory lights out after the narrowest bit of the tunnel, and as expected, couldn’t see anything.KK10
Now there was a small stream running underneath the floorboards, and we followed this to the new exit, a nice round concrete section that took us out the side of a hill.  Back to the museum, and we were shown a little of the smelting process and minting.  We also found out that all the miners were free men, and fairly well paid for the time.  Even if conditions were not that good.  The government was also heavily involved, and even though the mines were free hold, the owners had to pay tax every step of the way.  Almost like a value added tax today, just no rebates!

KK37skullsWith this amazing experience done, we started to make our way out of town towards the Ossuary.  Now the clouds were a lot thicker, and by the time we were close, it started raining.  You could see here that this is what draws the tourists.  In town there are a few cafes around the square, and a couple of tourist shops, but not much.  It is life as normal there.  Here, the entire street is souvenir shops.  The tour buses are pulled up on the street, and tourists are wandering around everywhere before catching their bus, or walking back to the train station.  It is almost a blessing that they are not all swarming through the town!

KK32skulls2When we got to the Ossuary, we took a small walk around the graveyard first,to let the people in there clear out.  The Ossuary was built in the 14th Century and about 40,000 people are buried in there.  Well, when we say buried, we mean that the bones are interred inside.  Mostly within four massive pyramids of skulls and bones.  Then there are decorations strung up all over the place.  A couple of bone chalices, candle holders, and the rest.

Amazing what you can make out of bones

Amazing what you can make out of bones

While we were there, we found that half the bones had been cleaned and bleached with redecorations happening a couple of times.  It looks interesting with differences between the old and the clean.  While we were there, a couple of tour groups passed through, but each group was there for only five minutes or so.  It is good to be able to take your time and appreciate the human body!
KK36bonechandelier
That done, we headed back in the rain, with the hope that it ends soon.

AA

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