Is it just a column?
The Holy Trinity Column, Olomouc, Czech Republic
Did I really travel all the way here just to see a column?
It seems as though I did.
I’ve come to the Czech city of Olomouc as part of my World Heritage Journey – the challenge I have set myself to visit every UNESCO World Heritage Site on earth. I probably wouldn’t have stopped here otherwise, but my research told me there is a site here.
You know what? I probably wouldn’t have even heard of Olomouc otherwise. Had you heard of it before you started reading this post and I mentioned it? Possibly not.
It’s a rather unknown city, even by Czech standards. Everyone knows Prague. Most tourists have heard of Cesky Krumlov. Brno is relatively well known by people in this part of Europe. Olomouc… I have never heard anyone mention it before. I’m not even sure exactly how you pronounce it!
I am here come for a column, though. Not just any column. This is a column that is on the World Heritage List. And not as part of some larger site or as a grouped inscription with other columns. It, on its own, just one single thing, is a World Heritage Site.
As I come into the main square of Olomouc, it’s actually the Town Hall that first captures my attention. Right in the middle of the square, its position and size means it presides over this space. The tall tower with its green turret, the red tiled roof protecting the civic centre, the porticos on the side protecting the citizens from the elements. On the northern face of the building is an astronomical clock and on the western side is an impressive fountain.
But right next to the Town Hall is the column. Officially, it’s called the Holy Trinity Column. And it is the pride of Olomouc.
It’s much thicker at its base, which is made up of three levels and has 18 stone sculptures of saints. An undecorated and much thinner part of the column leads from the base up to the elevated focus. At the very top is a gilded copper sculpture of the Holy Trinity accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel above and the Assumption of the Virgin beneath.
It takes me just seconds to see the column. This may be the quickest visit to a World Heritage Site I have done yet. But I go closer and start to look at the details. I realise this may take slightly longer than I first imagined.
Focusing just on the base, I look at the top level. I have been told that the saints here are all to do with Jesus’s life on Earth – his mother’s parents, for example. And St Joseph his ‘father’.
The next level down has saints from the region, including St John of Nepomuk, who I have already written about.
And then on the lowest level are more saints who have a connection to Olomouc, even if they were not from here – An Austrian saint, St Florian, who protects against disasters, and St Aloysius Gonzaga who was a patron of students.
The history of the Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc
The column all came about because of a mason and architect called Wenzel Render, who came to the city council with the idea. He convinced them to support it, he designed it, he financed it and he even started building it… and then he died.
Some of Render’s supporters continued his work until they all also died. Then various artists picked up different parts of the column over the years and completed them until each part was finished and the final result was done.
The construction had started in 1716 but wasn’t finished until 1754. That means it took 38 years to finish a single column. Entire churches were built faster than that in those days! Then again, the Holy Trinity Column did have a lot of detailed sculptures to get done properly. The credit for those pieces is generally given to local sculptor Ondrej Zahner.
And so here, in the open air, for all to come and see for free, is a Baroque gallery of art. The finest of its type in the Czech Republic and one of the best preserved in Europe. I can see why so much important is placed on it. (It was apparently so important to the city that when the city was under siege by the Prussians at one point, a delegation pleaded with Prussian general to tell his soldiers not to shoot it!)
What is there to see in Olomouc?
But now that I’m here, I should probably have a look around to see what else there is in Olomouc.
It’s at this point that I realise there’s actually a lot to see. On my way to the central square, and as I now start to explore around it, I am struck by how beautiful the buildings here are.
Remember the astronomical clock on the northern face of the Town Hall that I mentioned earlier? It was first installed in the 15th century and is one of only two in the Czech Republic. The current appearance is from the 1950s when it was refurbished but it is internationally significant.
I keep walking and I find more. There are fountains, another column, resplendent buildings that I feel I should know more about.
There are small and carefully-designed gardens and more tousled parks. There are squares and alleyways and more turns than I can explore in the time I’ve left myself before sunset.
I do make it to St. Wenceslas Cathedral, the thousand-year-old church that is dramatic from the outside and emotive inside. I’m the only one here, I think, and I’m amazed at how so much beauty has been captured in this empty building. Perhaps it has something to do with the light, as we approach sunset.
Olomouc is not what I expected. I am doing some research on the fly, reading about the city and its history as I walk around. There’s so much more here than I realised.
Maybe I did travel all the way here to see a column… or maybe I didn’t.
The column certainly brought me here – I wouldn’t have stopped otherwise. But perhaps there was a higher force that guided me all the way to Olomouc so I could discover that the city existed. And, not just that the city existed, but that it had such wonders collected here.
I am badly-prepared and in the wrong mindset to appreciate this, I can now see. I already have plans to move on the next day and I’m starting to get a bit weary of being on the road. That combination means I’m not going to extend my stay here, despite my discovery of how much there is to see.
Let’s together put Olomouc in our mental notebooks as somewhere that deserves more attention. One day soon, I hope we can both give it that.
How do you get to the column in Olomouc?
The official address of the Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc is Horní nám, 771 00, Olomouc. It’s right in the city centre and probably close to your accommodation. If you’re just visiting for the day, it’s about 25 minutes walk from the main train station.
If you’re coming from Prague, you can get a direct train that takes just over 2 hours. It’s certainly the easiest way and you can see the timetable here.
If you’re coming from one of the other cities in the Czech Republic, you might find that a bus is easier. The best option is to book in advance through Student Agency.
Where should you stay in Olomouc?
If you’re looking for a budget option, then Cosy Corner Hostel is a great place in the city centre.
For something affordable but comfortable, I would suggest BEST Hotel Garni.
For lovely apartments, you should try the very popular Apartments 4U Centrum.
And if you want to splurge for somewhere special, Theatre Hotel is the city’s best!