Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Czech Republic : Kutna Hora (1995)

Kutná Hora developed as a result of the exploitation of the silver mines. In the 14th century it became a royal city endowed with monuments that symbolized its prosperity. The Church of St Barbara, a jewel of the late Gothic period, and the Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec, which was restored in line with the Baroque taste of the early 18th century, were to influence the architecture of central Europe. These masterpieces today form part of a well-preserved medieval urban fabric with some particularly fine private dwellings.

There has been human settlement in the Kutná Hora region from early times. There was a mint there in the 10th century AD, associated with the rich deposits of silver ore. It was the latter that determined the earliest occupation in what is now the historic centre of the town, which seems to have been occupied by numerous scattered mining settlements in the 13th-16th centuries. The complex street plan of Kutná Hora is attributable to this early exploitation of the mineral resources, although it preserves what is almost certainly an anCient, nonurban road junction at its core, one road leading to Malin and the other to Časlav, both ancient settlements. Another old road leads to Kolín. The many small mining settlements in Kutná Hora itself are indicated by the small Romanesque parish Churches that existed until their disestablishment at the late 18th century: only one survives to the present day.
This pattern of settlement appears to date from the 12th century. The mid-13th century saw major Changes in the occupation of the land. The royal fortified towns of Časlav and Kolín were founded in the early 1260s, both closely associated with the silver mining in the area, which quickly developed during the reign of Wenceslas II (1285-1305) into a major industrial region. The extent and intensity of this exploitation of the mineral resources of Kutná Hora is reported in documents of the period from as far away as the Rhineland. It seems to have been uncontrolled: Kutná Hora was a boom town like those of North America during the Gold Rush of the 19th century.
This situation came to an end with the establishment in 1300 by Wenceslas II of a mint at the Vlašský dvur (Italian court) on the southern edge of what is now the historical centre of Kutná Hora, to produce the so-called 'Prague groschen" that was the basis of his coinage reform. In effect Kutná Hora became a Royal mining town, giving it a status second only to that of the capital of Bohemia, Prague. This new status is reflected first not in the town itself but at Sedlec, where Wenceslas established a major monastic house for the order that he favoured, the Cistercians. The earlier Romanesque church was demolished to make way for a magnificent cathedral in the High Gothic style.
The growing importance of the town is reflected in the accounts of the two Sieges, in 1304 and 1307, by Albrecht Habsburg. The first was repelled despite the fact that its defences were rudimentary, and when Albrecht returned three years later he was equally unsuccessful, since by then Kutná Hora was enclosed by massive stone walls. The Hrádek (Little Castle) probably dates from the same period. The early decades of the 14th century saw Kutná Hora being transformed from a chaotic mining settlement into a proper town, and by the middle of the century the definitive system of defences was complete, with its four main gates, moat, and bastions. The present street pattern was evolved from the haphazard communications of the mining boom and what must have been largely wooden houses were replaced by substantial stone houses. Public buildings began to appear, such as the first town hall and a number of Churches. Work on the monumental church of St Barbara began in the 1380s, outside the crowded town proper. Although it is of cathedral-like proportions, it has almost always had no more than the status of a daughter church of the parish church of nearby Pnĕvice.
The Hussite wars of 1419-34 saw profound changes at Kutná Hora. Sedlec Monastery was destroyed by fire in 1421, to remain in a ruined state until the late 17th century, and there were serious fires in the town itself in 1422 and 1424 which destroyed most of its buildings. However, the wealth resulting from silver mining ensured that it was rapidly rebuilt when peace was restored. Work on the churches was led by two outstanding architects of the period, Matĕj Rejsek and Benedikt Ried. The defences were supplemented by an outer wall, with irregularly spaced artillery bastions, and the Hradek was rebuilt in Late Gothic style. The town was also embellished by many splendid merchant houses and with the system of arcades that is such a feature of Kutná Hora.
The relative lack Of Renaissance buildings in the town graphically illustrates the sudden decline in its fortunes in the early 1540S, when the silver mines became exhausted. The economic stagnation of Kutná Hora was exacerbated by the after-effects Of the Thirty Years' war (1618-48): although the town was not itself directly affected by the war, it fell into a deeper decline and over two hundred of its 574 houses were deserted or demolished. The establishment of a Jesuit College in the 17th century did little more than endow the town with a striking new arChitectural feature, similar to the High Baroque renovation of Sedlec cathedral in the early 18th century by Jan Blažej santini and the work of Killian Ignaz Dientzenhofer at the Ursuline convent and the Chapel of the Holy Trinity.
The dissolution of Sedlec Monastery in 1785 was followed by the deconsecration and demolition of many of the town's smaller churches, and others disappeared in the first half of the 19th century. It was not until 1850, when Kutná Hora became an administrative centre of some importance, that the town began to revive and to begin to concern itself about its architectural heritage.

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