Situated on the banks of the Vltava river, the town was built around a 13th-century castle with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. It is an outstanding example of a small central European medieval town whose architectural heritage has remained intact thanks to its peaceful evolution over more than five centuries.
Český Krumlov is located on an ancient east-west communication route at a crossing of the Vltava River. The earliest documentary record of 1253 refers to the existence there of a castle belonging to a member of the ruling Vitkovici family of south Bohemia. The core of the Castle (Hrádek) dates from the 13th century. Settlement developed to the east (Latràn) and also on the opposite bank of the river round a central square. This multi-nodal urban development is a characteristic of medieval town development, especially in northern and central Europe.
It was the seat of the influential Rožmberk family for 300 years from the mid-14th century. The Gothic Castle was reconstructed in Renaissance style, with the involvement of leading artists of the period. The wealth and importance of the town is reflected in the high quality of many of the burgher houses, since the presence of the seat of government led to Český Krumlov becoming an important craft and trade centre. There was also considerable ecclesiastical development, illustrated by the major 15th century church of St Vitus and monasteries of various preaching and itinerant Orders. The town later passed to the equally influential Schwarzenberg family, and it retained its importance well into the 19th century.
There are two main historic areas - the Latràn area below the Castle and the town proper on the opposite bank, in the meander of the Vltava River. The town has a regular street layout, typical of the planned towns of the Middle Ages, with streets radiating out from the central square and a circular intra-rampart road.
The Castle contains elements from the Gothic, High Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. It is dominated by the Gothic Hradek with its round tower: this was subsequently converted into a Baroque chateau with the addition of a garden, the Bellaire summer palace, a winter riding school, and a unique Baroque theatre of 1766.
Both Latràn and the town proper contain undisturbed ensembles of burgher houses from High Gothic onwards. They are notable for their facades, internal layouts, and decorative detail, especially carved wooden Renaissance ceilings.
The Church of St Vitus, dating from the early 15th century, anticipates High Gothic in its reticulated vaulting and is significant in the European context. Other important historic elements are the Renaissance Jesuit College and Baroque seminary, the Town Hall (created by combining several burgher houses and embellishing them with a Renaissance facade), the remains of the fortifications, especially the Budĕjovická Gate (a Renaissance structure, modelled on Italian originals), and the Renaissance armoury in Latrán.