Olomouc at the top
Three years, three excellent awards by the world’s prestigious guidebook. Lonely Planet made a list of the most beautiful, yet lesser known tourist destinations. It wasn’t the hot springs of Iceland, Gibraltar Rocks, Odysseus' Ithaca or Luxemburg that ranked in first place but the historical center of Olomouc!
The mini guidebook, Secret Europe, presents tourists with fifty cities from different parts of Europe. The largest, world-renowned guidebook publisher attracts tourists to Olomouc by saying that “in terms of tourism Olomouc can be equated to an authentic restaurant which is your own, small, personal secret. The Main Square is amongst the most enchanting in the country. It is surrounded by historical buildings. It is adorned by the Holy Trinity Column listed as the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Magnificent churches, many of which host an exciting history, are scattered in the streets of the historical center. Explore the foundations of the ancient Olomouc castle in the Archdiocese Museum which is a must-see and then set out to one of the many pubs or mini-breweries”. In 2012, the publisher also awarded Olomouc by ranking it in the top ten most beautiful hidden treasures in Europe. One year later it was once again on the list of the recommended destinations in Moravia. “It’s beautiful as well as surprising for us. Lonely Planet is to tourist guidebooks what Michelin is to gastronomy. I perceive it as a win in the tourist Olympics,” responded Olomouc mayor, Martin Major, when he first heard of the award. “I am very pleased that the professional editor-in-chief of this publication truly appreciates the beauty of our city, its picturesque atmosphere and its uniqueness.
Apart from other things, Olomouc captivated them by the fact that it offers the same architectural treasures as Prague but without the crowds of tourists. It is definitely Olomouc’s advantage in comparison with our capital. However, despite repeated acclaim from the renowned guidebook, it may only be temporary”, mentioned the mayor, Major, with a smile. The deputy mayor, Jan Holpuch added, “I believe that this is an opportunity to introduce our beautiful city to many other tourists.” “I think that being awarded as a hidden treasure or undiscovered city will give Olomouc an even stronger stamp of attractiveness and will evoke more interest in potential visitors.”
Olomouc has been trying to advertise its beauty in a high-quality and systematic way. In the past years, this attempt has proved effective. Statistically as well as simply looking into the streets of the city center confirms that the number of tourists to Olomouc has truly increased. Olomouc is on the list of destinations offered by travel agencies as for example, one-day trips from Prague or as a part of the Vienna – Krakow route. “Greater advertising in cooperation with the agency CzechTourism certainly helped.
This agency gives Olomouc more space than before”, says Karin Vykydalová, head of the tourism department. “Acclaim from Lonely Planet obviously helps. Ideally, a visitor comes here based on the recommendation, is satisfied here and then recommends Olomouc to his friends back home”, adds Dušan Gavenda of the same department. Lonely Planet Secret Europe can be downloaded for free at: www.lonelyplanet.com/secret-europe.
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Olomouc was severely affected by the Thirty Years War. Neither the events that predated the war at the start of the 17th century were happy. Cardinal Francis Dietrichtstein (1599-1636), the next bishop after Stanislav Pavlovsky, can not be denied credit for construction activities.
His dómský presbytář built between 1616 and 1618 represents the very beginning of Baroque architecture in the Czech lands. During his time as bishop and through his significant contribution, however, religious freedom was finally lost in all Moravian royal cities including Olomouc. Non-Catholics returned to the city council only briefly, supported by a delegation of the Estates in 1619.
In February 1620, Olomouc burghers along with Moravian Estates paid homage to the "winter king" Frederick, Elector Palatine. At the same time the action against the Holešov priest Janem Sarkandrem took place. The priest was accused of treason and conspiracy with the Polish army, which had pulled out to Moravia to help the Emperor Ferdinand. He denied the allegation even under torture and died from his injuries on March 17th 1620. Many years later, in 1993, Juan Sarcandro was declared saint by Pope Juan Pablo II. The canonization process took place two years later, right in Olomouc.
Events snowballed after the defeat of the Bohemian and Moravian Estates in the Battle of White Mountain. Olomouc was occupied without resistance by the Imperial Army on January 11th 1621. Soon afterwards the town council got under catholics loyal to the Emperor. Margrave Jan Jiří of Krnov unsuccessfully tried to conquer the city in the same year. In 1642, the legend of the impregnable city was, however, destroyed after a four-day siege by the Swedish army, led by General Lennartem Torstensonem. The city capitulated probably not only because of the vain waiting for a military help from imperial troops, but also due to the poor state of the city fortifications. Swedish troops were subsequently busy engaged in the construction of new Olomouc fortifications. Tried by war, Olomouc endured still more unsuccessful sieges by the Imperial forces in the years 1642-1644. The Swedes liked Olomouc so much that they stayed eight long years and did not leave until war reparations had been paid in 1650.
The situation in the city after their departure was aptly described by Imperial Commissioner Jan Jakardovský of Sudice: “Before the Swedes' arrival there were 700 family, aristocratic and clerical houses in the city of Olomouc, and now out of 77 aristocratic and clerical houses only 23 have been left habitable, 18 are partly destroyed and 36 completely destroyed. Out of 623 family houses only 145 have been left habitable, 242 half-destroyed and 236 completely destroyed. Before 1640 there were more than 30,000 inhabitants, and now there are no more than 1675.”
The very existence of the former proud royal city was in jeopardy now. The Imperial commander Raimund Montecuccoli even suggested to the emperor that the city should be demolished. Fortunately this proposal was not implemented. Perhaps due to the pride of the common as well as aristocratic citizens of the city, perhaps due to an unbroken cultural tradition, maybe because of these and other reasons, Olomouc managed to survive. And not only that.
After several decades, a new imposing city arose. This was largely due to the effort of the art-loving Olomouc Bishop Karl II of Liechtenstein-Castelcorno. Thanks to his endeavour, many buildings were designed by Italian architects, who also worked for the Vienna court. The Bishop brought to Olomouc a number of sculptors, painters and plasterers. Talented artists worked on building sites of the Premonstratensians, the Dominicans and others.
After 1655, when Emperor Ferdinand III declared Olomouc a fortress town, a gradual construction of new barokního opevnění města was under way. This was accomplished in the Theresian period in 1742-1756. The ciudad-fortaleza was able to demonstrate strength only once, namely in 1758, when it withstood a siege by Prussian troops, with contribution of the famous generál Laudon. Since this famous event, no other army has bothered to capture the city (after all the fortress could get simply bypassed ...). Even so, the event from 1758 was glorified and, in the same year, the císařovna upgraded the city’s znak and promoted the fortress commander to Field Marshall. In 1762 she confirmed the town’s privilege to use the title of Royal Capital City.
The whole 18th century was more than rich with important events. Aside from the wounds which Olomouc suffered at its beginning - a huge fire in 1709 and the plague of 1713-1715 -many nicer events took place. In 1746, for example, Baron Josef Petráš founded the first Scientific Society in the Austrian Empire called "Societas incognitorum“ in Olomouc. In 1770 a permanent theater was established in the city. Of great importance was the elevation of the Olomouc Diocese to an Archdiocese in 1777. During his stay in Olomouc in 1767, the eleven year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his Symphony No.6 in F major. Somewhat less enjoyable was the stay for the French General J. P. Lafayetta, who spent the years 1794-1797 imprisoned in the fortress casemates.