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.
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.
Where is the Holy Trinity Column?
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. You can check the times here.
If you’re coming from one of the other cities in the Czech Republic, you might find that a bus is easier.
Why is the Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc important?
The Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2000 because it is the best example of the Moravian Baroque style of monument that was popular in Central Europe in the 18th century.
The Holy Trinity Column is 35 metres tall and decorated with ornate religious sculptures. It has been extremely well preserved and represents an important period in the history of the region.
Can you visit the Holy Trinity Column?
Yes, it’s very easy to visit the Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc. It is in the middle of the city’s main square, which can be accessed for free at any time of the day or night.
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.
The Holy Trinity Column
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’.
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 importance 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!)
Other things to see in Olomouc
But now that I’m here, I should probably have a look around to see what else there is to do in Olomouc.
It’s at this point that I realise there’s actually a lot to see in Olomouc. On my way to the central square, and as I now start to explore around it, I am struck by how beautiful the buildings are here.
Some are important landmarks, others are just delightful streets that have all the charm of other Czech cities but without the tourists – a refreshing feeling after visiting some of the busier attractions in the country.
If you’ve got some extra time in the city, these are the main Olomouc attractions that you may like to visit.
The Olomouc Town Hall is the most important non-religious building in the city, a symbol of economic and political power since it was built at the end of the 1300s. Then, it was a wooden building that burnt down about 30 years after it was built, replaced by what you see today.
The astronomical clock on the outside is the most interesting part of the building, but you can also go inside to see an exhibition about the clock. It’s also possible to climb the Town Hall Tower for views across the city.
St Wenceslas Cathedral
The imposing St Wenceslas Cathedral is another of the best things to see in Olomouc. Built from 1104, its facade with two towers is an iconic landmark here and its third tower is the second highest in the Czech Republic.
Inside, the three-nave basilica has had numerous reconstructions over the years, particularly a major restoration after a fire in 1265. I think it’s beautifully decorated, with just the right amount of detail to give it texture, without becoming ostentatious.
Church of St Gorazd
Although not nearly as important, you’ll notice the Church of St Gorazd just across the river from St Wenceslas Cathedral. Built in 1939, it is an important Orthodox sight.
The architecture is the most striking thing about the church, with its pink and green colours. It culminates in an octagonal tower topped with the gilded bulbous dome, inspired by traditional Russian Byzantine architecture.
Attached to St Wenceslas Cathedral is what remains of Olomouc Castle, a significant historical sight for many reasons – including because it was the site of the assassination of the Czech king Wenceslas III in 1306.
Beyond the cathedral, there is not too much to see here anymore, except for the partly preserved romanesque palace that still has some original elements like tis window openings. The remaining walls can look quite impressive from the right angle, though.
Throughout the centre of the city, there is a set of six baroque fountains that together make up one of Olomouc’s best sights. They each represent a figure from mythology – namely Neptune, Hercules, Caesar, Mercury, Jupiter, and the Tritons.
The first of the fountains to be built was Neptune in 1683 in the Lower Square. The last was Mercury in 1727. Keep in mind that this means the Holy Trinity Column began to be constructed after the first fountain, but before the last. Although the projects weren’t linked, they show a consistent approach to public works from the city’s residents.
And the final sight I want to mention is Hradisko Monastery, a large complex about one kilometre along the river. It was founded in 1078 as a Benedictine monastery and was expanded over the centuries, showing a range of styles including Italian mannerism and high baroque.
The monastery’s facade is decorated with sculptures and the ceremonial hall is a colourful masterpiece with a monumental ceiling fresco. It’s worth visiting just to see that alone, although the painting and stucco decoration in the library is also impressive.
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.
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.
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.
But, let’s together put Olomouc in our mental notebooks as somewhere that deserves more attention. One day soon, perhaps we’ll both be able to give it that.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN OLOMOUC
I think Olomouc is a really under-appreciated city, so I would recommend staying for at least a night to see it properly.
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!