“That was Mozart. That! That giggling dirty-minded creature I had just seen, crawling on the floor!”
The image of my homeland is a bit twisted. Whenever I head abroad, and I tell people where I come from, almost instantly they respond that they truly love Prague, the queen among the cities.
And there their knowledge ends. While I feel some sort of pride deep inside my chest, it still saddens me. I find it strange to reduce the Czech Republic to one city only.
Even though I do not consider myself nationalistic in any sense, not even during the height of the ice hockey season, I believe that quite a few places in the country should not suffer from the shadow our capital casts upon them.
If you try, you can find real jewels hidden away in the countryside. The towns of Český Krumlov, Telč, or Karlsbad have made it to the guidebooks already, but another location deserves more attention. In the middle of the Moravian fields, about 50 minutes ride from Brno lies the old town of Kroměříž.
With a well preserved historical centre and an outstanding baroque architecture, it is no wonder Miloš Forman chose the town for shooting the crucial scenes of his eight-Oscar winning masterpiece Amadeus.
The three landmarks listed under UNESCO
The story of Kroměříž starts in the 13th century when the Bishop of Olomouc decided to build a summer residence by a small market town on a merchant road.
Over the years the residence was rebuilt into a chateau of vast proportions and it has always belonged to the Catholic church; no aristocracy ever possessed it. It reached its final form in the second half of the 17th century when it was rebuilt after the destruction caused by the Swedish invaders.
Nowadays the Archbishop’s chateau is one of the three landmarks of Kroměříž that are written on UNESCO’s list of the world cultural and natural heritage sites. And it was for the mostly untouched halls inside the chateau that made Forman move his filming crew here for a month even though the story of Amadeus took place 200 kilometres south from Kroměříž, in Vienna.
“That was Mozart. That! That giggling dirty-minded creature I had just seen, crawling on the floor,” Antonio Salieri said in the movie about seeing his hero, Mozart, for the first time in his life.
He caught the young Amadeus in a slightly intimate moment with a lady during an Emperor’s reception where Mozart performed with his orchestra. It was right inside the biggest and one of the most decorative halls the chateau can offer, the grand Assembly hall, where Salieri realised that the ill-mannered youngster was the genius everybody was talking about and where he started to develop his hatred and jealousy towards him.
Being genuinely interested in history and the way of living in various time periods, I took a guided tour through the halls to see it with my very own eyes.
The tickets for a tour with an English or German speaking guide cost around $12, and apart from seeing exhibits from different epochs, you can take the opportunity to slide on the parquets in the humungous slippers every visitor is required to wear. Sadly, it is strictly prohibited to take any pictures.
The grandeur of the Assembly Hall, with the most beautiful rococo-styled interior in the Central Europe, will leave you speechless.
However, I found the Liege Hall, where the Archbishop’s courts were held, and the ancient historical library the most impressive parts of the exhibition.
I could feel the excitement at the discovery and documentation of hidden mysteries from the times when people started to pay attention to the world around them.
Over the centuries the owners of the chateau broadened their collection of precious arts. The Chateau Gallery, accessible in the lower parts of the building, is home to the rarest painting in the whole country, the Apollo a Marsyas from the Italian renaissance painter Tiziano Vecelli.
The painting used to decorate the Throne Hall, but to save it from possible harm the gallery decided to relocate it, leaving a blank spot in the hall as a tribute.
Where the peacocks can’t be proud enough
Right under the chateau, with an area of almost 64 hectares, the large Chateau Garden is the second of UNESCO’s landmarks.
The English-style park is an ideal place for romantic souls. You can roam with your loved ones through a sophisticated network of canals and ponds, a zoo where even baboons find their home and hens share their cage with a wildcat; or you can just sit with a book and enjoy the tranquillity of the quiet oasis.
Peacocks and other animals stroll around without any sign of fear; they are used to humans and seem proud of their classy habitat. Various monuments built over the centuries, such as the Maxmillian pavilion, decorate the park, showing the sheer wealth of the nobility of the baroque period.
When you have had enough of romanticism, you can move to the second green space that is also listed under UNESCO. The Versailles style Flower Garden, also known as Libosad, is considered to be one world’s most essential garden artworks.
The garden dates to the second half of the 17th century and features geometrical clipped hedges and floral ornaments. In comparison to romanticist parks, the creators focused on symmetry and perspective.
A massive and almost mythical labyrinth takes visitors through the area decorated with sculptures, water elements and architecture that leaves even the appreciators of untamed wilderness in awe.
After seeing all the UNESCO sites, it is time to simply wander around the historical centre. Picturesque narrow streets, enigmatic facades on the buildings around, and friendly locals make it a lovely place for a lazy afternoon.
Kroměříž lies on the banks of river Morava that not only gives this region its name but brings the most fertile land making South Moravia the vineyard of Czech Republic. Visiting the town requires some serious wine tasting.
The best option is to visit the Archbishop cellars where they organise tours and tasting events, or just enter any restaurant or a café around. I tried some muškát in Radniční sklípek, and as a well-known sommelier, I do assure you it tasted like… Well, it was white wine.
Kroměříž also stays loyal to another very Czech trait – the omnipresence of beer. The town has a few breweries and a microbrewery which is right on the main square, U černého Orla, where you can quench your thirst after a day full of walking.
But it is because of the chateau and Libosad that I wouldn’t hesitate to call Kroměříž the true baroque pearl of Moravia. If anything, this little town hidden in the Czech fields can be an nice and calm alternative to Prague.