If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that this summer I spent a lot more time traveling than I usually do. As a tour guide, my summers are usually spent working – a lot – so the tourist season is normally not that for me! Sadly, due to the Coronavirus, my tour business was virtually nonexistent this year, so I decided to hit the road. But the pandemic also made travel outside of one’s country a bit difficult or impossible – so I did something I hadn’t done since I first moved to Prague: I traveled around the Czech Republic.
Some trips were to places I had visited before but always like to revisit, such as Cesky Krumlov. But I also wanted to add new places to my list. One place I had longed to see but never had was the famous star-shaped church at Zelena Hora by the equally famous architect, Jan Santini.
Located on a hilltop in the outskirts of the town of Žďár nad Sázavou, the church, whose official name is the Pilgrimage Church of St. John of Nepomuk, was added to the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1994. This church on its own is well worth a visit, but there is much more to see in the vicinity, including the former Cistercian monastery and a chateau belonging to the Kinský family.
If you really want to do the place justice, an overnight stay (or even more) is required. But if you arrive early enough, you can see a lot on a day trip. If you do stay overnight, you can book a hotel in the town of Žďár, which has a few interesting sites of its own and good restaurants, as well, and then you can walk to the church and chateau via a lovely path along the Sázava River. The walk from town will take you about 30 minutes. Direct trains to Žďár from Prague’s main station leave every hour, and the journey takes about 2.5 hours.
The town of Žďár nad Sázavou originated at the end of the 9th century as a market village on the border between Bohemia and Moravia. Its inhabitants supplied goods to the pilgrims who were visiting churches that had been established in nearby places before the Cistercian monastery in Žďár was established. At the time, the border area was an undeveloped deep forest, a sort of “no man’s land” that many a nobleman and order of the church tried to lay claim to. Whoever dwelled there was well-protected from attack, as there were very few established routes leading through the forest.
The dense nature of the forest and the protection it offered was part of its attraction to monks, whose lives were hard and focused on prayer. But this also made the establishment of a monastery difficult. After being officially founded in 1252, the Cistercian monks who founded the monastery pictured here were still living in log houses in 1300 while trying to build a stone church.
Fortunately, the monks persevered and succeeded in building their church, a monastery, several ponds for growing fish and for water management, and many more structures. But a fire in 1689 caused major damage, and the Abbot subsequently hired prominent architect, Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, to transform the site into “one of the most prominent sacral domiciles,” according to its website.
Though the Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk was the pinnacle of Santini’s work here, it is not the only thing he did. He transformed the entire complex, including the prelate’s residence, a cemetery, a building for housing the monastery’s livestock and the Basilica Virgin Mary Assumption Church.
The monastery complex has been renovated with the expert guidance of the Kinský family, and it now includes a topnotch museum, gift shop and café. The museums features are state-of-the-art and provide an in-depth history of the complex and monastic life. There are also tours available of the main sites of the monastery focusing on Santini’s work.
If you're interested in a visit to Žďár nad Sázavou, contact me and I can help you make arrangements under my Concierge Services. And check out my Prague guidebooks on Amazon.com!
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I am an American who has been living in Prague for two decades. After a long career in international finance, I left the business world to pursue other interests. I now work as a writer, mentor and guide to the city.