Introducing Kutná Hora
Now dwarfed by 21st-century Prague, Kutná Hora once marched in step with the capital and, with a little help from fate, might even have stolen its crown. Enriched by the silver ore that ran in veins through the surrounding hills, the medieval city was once the financial heart and soul of Bohemia, becoming the seat of Wenceslas II’s royal mint in 1308 and the royal residence of Wenceslas IV a century later. The silver groschen that were minted here at that time represented the hard currency of Central Europe. But while boom-time Kutná Hora was Prague’s undisputed understudy, the town receded from history when the silver mines began to splutter and run dry in the 16th century, a demise hastened by the Thirty Years’ War and capped by a devastating fire in 1770. While Prague continued to expand, its sister city sank below the political horizon.
Which is not to say everyone has forgotten about it. Kutná Hora has risen from the ashes of obscurity to become an A-list tourist attraction – it was added to Unesco’s World Heritage List in 1996 – luring visitors with a smorgasbord of historic sights and more than a touch of nostalgic whimsy. Standing on the ramparts surrounding the mighty cathedral of St Barbara, looking out across rooftops eerily reminiscent of Prague’s Malá Strana, it’s all too easy to indulge in a spot of melancholic what-might-have-been.