The first written mention of a settlement at Olomouc is almost 1000 years ago when the Kosmas Chronicle described a fortified castle watching over the important Morava river ford on the road between Krakow and Prague. Between 16th and 19th centuries, Olomouc served as a strategically important fortress. The city today is the seat of the regional government, the Moravian archbishopric and the oldest university in Moravia, Palacky University (Universita Palack?ho).
Legend claims that the city was founded by Julius Caesar. It’s unlikely that Caesar actually visited in person, but it is known that the city was originally a Roman military camp with the name Julii Mons (Julius’ Hill). This name was gradually corrupted to its present form, Olomouc – which is pronounced ‘Olo-mowts’. The Roman influence is a proud heritage of the city, and manifests itself in numerous areas.
Olomouc is doubtless the undiscovered gem of the Czech Republic. It is home to countless beautiful buildings, great culture (home of the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra), and hundreds of unique restaurants, bars, and pubs. Olomouc is totally off the radar of most tourists, feeling quietly normal and relaxed even on a nice day in July.
As the home to Palacky University, Olomouc is the country’s largest student city by percentage of population. Palacky University is one of the largest and most prestigious universities in the country and only Charles’ University in Prague has a longer history. During the academic year, the population of the city is increased by roughly 20,000 students, giving the city a vibrant feeling of life and energy. This is important to remember if you want to enjoy the thriving nightlife of the city – many bars and clubs depend on the student population and close for the summer vacations.
Olomouc has been the seat of the Catholic Archbishop for almost 1,000 years, and thus has some of the most beautifully decorated churches in Central Europe – though they will not appear in many travel guides.
Olomouc is an exploring sightseer’s paradise. A good place to begin is the main square (Horn? n?mest? or ‘Upper Square’), with its huge Town Hall and the Holy Trinity Column (the largest column in Europe), which was enscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. It is the second largest historical square in the Czech Republic. Don’t miss the astronomical clock on the Town Hall. It is said to once have rivalled the beauty of Prague’s, but was seriously damaged in the WWII and then rebuilt and repainted at the beginning of the Communist regime to reflect worker’s values.
The Upper Square (Horn? n?mest?) is the main square of Olomouc, a beautiful place full of history where you can find some of the most important monuments:
The baroque Holy Trinity Column was built in the early 1700’s and consecrated by the Empress Marie Theresa in 1754. With a height of 35 metres, it has dominated the Upper Square (Horn? n?mest?) ever since and was added to the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage in the year 2000. The column features sculptures of the Holy Trinity (predictably), the assumption of the Virgin Mary, all twelve apostles, three virtues and the most important saints of the Baroque period. The base of the column contains a small chapel with amazing acoustics and the raised pedestal is a very nice place to sit and eat lunch. It is one of the traditional rendezvous points in the city.
The renaissance Olomouc Town Hall occupies the centre of the main square (Horn? n?mest?). Its halls and chapel are accessible on guided tours and it’s possible to climb the tower each day at 11AM and 3PM. The ground floor of the town hall houses a gallery, restaurant and the tourist information office. Ask in the office if you are interested in the guided tour and climbing the tower. On the north face is one of only two astronomical clocks in the country. On the west side, there is the Hygieia fountain from 1945, one of the many fountains in the city.
The Astronomical clock was constructed in the 15th Century, but takes its present appearance from the 1950’s, during a refurbishment to repair damage inflicted in WWII. Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule by then and the clock reflects the values of the day, the saints and angels being replaced by scientists, sportspeople and labourers. There is one other astronomical clock in the Czech lands (in the other ancient capital, Prague), but as a surviving example of Socialist-Realism, the Olomouc Astronomical clock is unique world-wide. It is another popular rendezvous point in the city.
The baroque Caesar’s Fountain is the largest fountain in Olomouc. It depicts the legendary founder of the city, Gaius Julius Caesar, riding a horse. It is one of the six great baroque Roman-themed fountains you can find in the city.
The baroque Hercules’ Fountain depicts Hercules fighting Hydra. Another from the series of the six great baroque Roman-themed fountains you can find in the city.
The modern Arion’s Fountaindepicts the legend of a poet thrown overboard and saved by a dolphin. It was specially designed to allow easy access to the water and is a favourite among children.
The bronze model of the city.
St. Wenceslas Cathedral, a thousand-year-old cathedral, dominates the city’s skyline with the tallest spire in Moravia, (second tallest in the Czech Republic) Pope John Paul II and Mother Tereza have both visited the cathedral and the holy relics of Saint Jan Sarkander are interred within.
St. Moritz church is a beautifully preserved gothic church dating from 1398. One of its highlights is the massive Engler organ, one of the largest in Europe. The organ is the focus of the international music festival in September/October and the Christmas Music festival every year. The tower of the church offers a magnificent 360 degree view over the city and countryside and is accessed via a graceful double-spiral staircase.
St. Michael’s church appears quite plain from the outside. Upon entering, however, most first time visitors find their breath stolen away. Inside is one of the most beautiful baroque churches in Central Europe. One notable feature is a painting of an apparently pregnant Virgin Mary, quite rare in a catholic church. It’s also possible to enter the old monastery attached to the side of the church and climb its bell tower.
Bezrucovy Sady is a lovely park that runs between the massive Fortress walls and the Mill channel, providing a great place to stroll and relax, also nice views of the University and St. Michael’s Church
Basilica Minor on the Holy Hill (Svat? Kopecek). This is one of the most popular pilgrimage churches in Central Europe, and was honoured by Pope John Paul II. The best way to reach it is to take the bus 11 to Svat? Kopecek from stand ‘E’ in front of the railway station.
The University is spread throughout the city, but the most interesting parts to visitors are between the main square and St. Wenceslas’ Cathedral. The fine arts faculty has a sunny terrace courtyard with a caf? and views over the city walls from above. Also notable is the law campus on 17th. November Ave. which was formerly the headquarters of the Communist party.
Baroque Fountains. The city’s impeccable series of six stone baroque fountains are all within easy walking distance of the Main Square. They are based on Roman themes, and depict Neptune, Jupiter (both on Doln? n?mest?), Mercury (near the Prior store), Triton (on N?mest? republiky), Hercules, and the legendary founder of Olomouc, Julius Caesar (both on Horn? n?mest?, the main square). There are also two more baroque fountains that were damaged and lost their central statues, Saturn fountain in the Hradisko monastery and Dolphin fountain near the Virgin Mary church. The missing statue of a child with a dolphin on the latter fountain was replaced a with lion head.
Modern fountains. There are also several remarkable modern fountains in Olomouc. The Arion fountain in the main square (Horn? n?mest?) depicts the legend of a poet thrown overboard and saved by a dolphin. It was specially designed to allow easy access to the water and is a favourite among children. Hygieia fountain can be found nearby in the west wall of the Town Hall. Bronze Living Water fountaincan be found next to the Chapel of St. Sarkander. There are also two fountains located near the Main Railway Station, one of which ‘dances’ along to recorded classical music.
The Archbishops’ palace on Wurmova Ulice is open to the public just one day per week. It was in this building on 2 December 1848, that [Franz Joseph] acceded to the throne of the [Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire].