Aimlessly wandering through the southeast part of the country, just to see what we might find, we stumbled upon Klatovy.
We didn’t pick Klatovy specifically, as much as Klatovy picked us.
As we drove through town, the square looked just too inviting not to stop and hang for a while.
Just off the square we found a small guesthouse with reasonable rooms and a cozy cafe.
Called a penzion, it was close to what we’d call a bed & breakfast in The States.
Checking in, we were asked our preferred breakfast time and were quickly escorted to our sunny little guest room.
Perfect, the car could stay put and we could tour the town on foot.
We started at the center of town and worked our way out.
Námestí Míru, or Peace Square, like town squares most everywhere, has an open center, with benches, flowers, trees, statues and a fountain, that is surrounded by businesses, eateries, churches and civic buildings. Several are among the top points of interest for the town.
The first attraction to catch our eye was The Black Tower. The tallest structure for miles around, we would have had to been blind not to notice it.
The 265 foot high tower was built back in the 1550s, when Klatovy, situated at the crossroads of major European trade routes, was one of the richest cities in Bohemia.
An astronomical clock, certainly not as jammin’ as Prague’s more famous version, but way cool in its own right, was added in the 18th century.
Adjacent to the tower is Klatovy’s Town Hall. Rumor has it that a secret door leading to the tower’s torture chamber connects the two and The Black Tower cast a more ominous shadow once we we made aware of that lovely fact.
Originally built at the same time as the tower, the Town Hall was remodeled in 1920 and the outside adorned with Bohemian style sgraffiti.
Sgraffiti is a style of decorating walls by scratching through one layer of plaster to expose a different colored layer underneath.
The word comes from Italian verb sgraffiare, meaning to scratch.
Also the word origin of graffiti, another popular wall decor the world over, though we must admit our preference for the non-spray-painted sgraffiti. Much classier.
We had first noticed scratched ornamentation at the Schwarzenberg Palace in Prague Castle and, having never seen (or more likely noticed) it before, we thought it not very common.
Turns out that sgraffiti is very popular, certainly in Klatovy. From Renaissance Italy, the technique was brought to Germany and spread like wildfire throughout Europe.
Wow, we need to pay better attention.
Across a narrow street from The Black Tower we found the Church of Immaculate Conception and St. Ignatius.
The church is famous for the catacombs beneath it, that were added during its construction in the 1600s.
The Jesuits used the tunnels as a final resting place for their fellow priests and for protection in case of attack (can you IMAGINE being stuck down there with all those dead bodies?), but in later years local nobility and VIPS also were entombed here.
We were highly disappointed to find the catacombs closed due to renovation work, but brightened up when we noticed an open door around the back.
Because we were curious and knew this would be our only chance to see them, but mostly because we are obnoxious buttholes, we decided to try to sneak a peek.
Holding our breath we quietly peeked through the doorway, craning our necks down the dark, damp, dusty corridor toward where we figured the dead dignitaries must lie. Before we could get into any real trouble, we caught a glimpse of some workers inside the tunnels, then we heard footsteps.
What should we do? Desperately trying not to pee our pants, we ran like scared children back out into the street.
We realized that we really hadn’t seen a thing, but we did have another shot at finding some macabre oddities.
U bílho jednorožce, the Baroque Pharmacy “At the White Unicorn” stands right beside the church.
Originally run by the same Jesuit priests, then later a private business, it is now a museum of bizarre medical practices from the past.
The front room looks like a fri
endly little business with bottles lining the shelves and drawers filled with various medicinal items. The most interesting feature is the large whale tusk protruding from the wall that gives the pharmacy its name.
Back in the day the horn was believed to be from a unicorn and have curative powers. The place could be described as charming, but the back room, well that’s another story.
Beyond the doors lay a laboratory of questionable tactics. There were blades for bleeding, strange electronic instruments, and bugs, plants, roots, fungus, hooves, antlers, bones and animal entrails for producing medications. Even an enormous leech swam happily around in a jar.
Our guide seemed to take perverse pleasure in watching the squeamish reactions from the group as she upped the ante with each new potion and device. By the time we got out we were definitely a tad queasy.
Maybe some ice cream would help.
Czech it out, an old-timey ice cream truck just waiting for us right in the square.
With frozen treats in our bellies and our nerves calmed, we were ready to explore a little more and venture out beyond Peace Square.
The White Tower grabbed our attention because it stands out so starkly against the surrounding structures.
Built in 1581 as a replacement bell tower to the Nativity of Virgin Mary Archdean Church, it is a striking sight, gleaming white and topped with a traditional onion shaped dome.
We walked right through it, since it has an archway as a base, and continued on to check out the church.
The Archdean Church was Klatovy’s first, and is now the oldest building in town.
Built in the mid twelve hundreds, it became a major destination for pilgrimages after 1685.
That was when an image of the Virgin Mary had been brought in and was said to have bled and have healing powers.
The pilgrimages continued for centuries before fading away, but have recently been renewed.
If we had been around for the first week of August, we could have seen it first hand.
The original painting remains in the church, but the image has become somewhat of a symbol for the town and reproductions can be seen all around.
You can’t swing a cat in most of the shops or restaurants without hitting a replica proudly displayed.
The oddest thing about the work (okay, other than the bleeding part) is that the “baby” Jesus looks creepily like a miniature full grown adult.
That and he’s dressed like a medieval priest. Guess they weren’t going for realism.
As we worked our way out from the center of town, we came to the medieval fortifications that protected Klatovy through countless dynasties and power struggles.
Dating back to the 1400s, these are some of the best preserved ancient walls in all of Bohemia, even after the town has grown out beyond them.
Sadly, some parts have been torn down to make way for the expansion, and in some places the original walls have been incorporated into more modern buildings, but in general the ramparts and semicircular bastions still look ready for action.
Of course by now we had worked up quite an appetite and were ready for our last Czech dinner before crossing over into Bavaria. The little restaurant at our Penzion sounded like a good idea, stuff our guts and then just walk up the stairs to fall into bed.
Browsing the menu, it looked as though Pork Neck was the specialty of the house, so we ordered up a “Grilled Pork Neck Steak with Golden Fried Onion Rings” and a “Fried Pork Neck with Onion Rings and Tomatoes on Coarse Wholemeale Toast with Cheese Au Gratin.”
The latter was advertised as “For Small Hungry,” as if that is possible when eating a pork neck. Gotta say that the Czech version of country cookin’ suited us fine.
In the morning, we crawled out of bed at our appointed breakfast time, expecting the typical Czech hotel buffet-style breakfast.Instead what we found was an incredible culinary send-off for our incredible Czech journey.
A beautiful spread at a table set just for us, with flowers and sumptuous eats – breads, cheeses, yogurt and juices – that’s when we realized that we had just had two meals in a row without a dumpling. Now we were ready for our transition from Bohemia to Bavaria.
Beer and sausage, Ho!
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com