Do you feel proud of your roots when someone tells you that they are going to spend a vacation in the place you have been growing up? I definitely do. And it happens to me quite frequently since I come from Žďár nad Sázavou, a town famous for its exceptional baroque structure of the Pilgrimage Church of St. Jan Nepomuk that is listed in the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage Sites. Besides the church and monastery that attract not only Czech tourists to visit Žďár nad Sázavou the entire area offers fun activities for individuals, couples and families.
You can find Žďár nad Sázavou in the hilly Vysočina region on a route between Prague and Brno. Any season you travel there, be aware it is always a bit cooler there than in the capital of South Moravia. Which may come in handy during a hot summer but maybe not that pleasant during winter. Believe me, I have lived there for more than 20 years and the sign telling me I am getting close to home was usually wind and, many times, piles of snow. On the other hand, the tougher winter may be the reason to hit the region for skiing and other snow-related revels.
Church of St. Jan Nepomuk – Symbol of a Legendary Saint and Masterpiece of an Architect
As mentioned, the highlight of Žďár nad Sázavou is the Pilgrimage Church of St. Jan Nepomuk at Zelená hora (Green Hill) that was built in the years 1719 to 1722 in Žďár nad Sázavou.
It is a unique work of art and indisputably the most original and individual building designed by the brilliant Bohemian architect of Italian ancestry Jan Blazej Santini-Aichl in the Baroque Gothic style. It is a building that escaped the conventional architectural rules and nostrums of the time. It impresses even the modern eye as quite exceptional, with its complex interconnecting spatial forms, the dynamism of its volumes, and the upward lift that defies the weight of the masonry.
The foundation of the church was linked to the preparations for the beatification and canonization of John of Nepomuk after the opening of his tomb in St. Vitus’s Cathedral in Prague and the finding of his allegedly miraculously intact tongue. Construction started in 1719 on the orders of the Abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Zdar, Vaclav Vejmluva, and the church was consecrated a mere two years later.
Abbot Vejmluva’s concept of the church was based on the image of a star as the main motive, which Santini transformed into an exceptionally impressive design that only the modern era was able to appreciate. The church is built on a foundation that has the shape of a five-pointed star, indeed. Legend has that when Jan Nepomuk drowned, a crown with such a star appeared in the water of the Vltava (Moldau) River. This symbol is repeated in many other elements of the church. The structure has 5 entrances and 5 chapels with 5 altars. The Latin word TACUI – I remained silent – consists of 5 letters. The dome of the church has the form of a big red tongue – a symbol of St. Jan Nepomuk, again, surrounded by a circle of tongues that sun rays radiate through.
The church at Zelená Hora is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites of the Baroque era. A fire that broke out on 16.7.1784, destroyed the monastery’s roof completely. At the request of Abbot Otto Steinbach of Kranichštejn, both the monastery and the church were closed. A priest named Matěj Josef Sychra tried to save the complex from demolition at the beginning of the 1800s. Full restoration of the dilapidated complex, however, began only in the seventies and eighties of the 20th In 1994, the application was approved for inscription in the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage Sites.
When exploring the church and monastery don’t forget to visit the New Generation Museum opened a few years ago. It guides you through the eight centuries of history on the grounds of the former Cistercian monastery and current estate so you can enjoy the unique atmosphere of history, life, creativity, and beautiful nature of the area.
Relaxing by Water
If you like hanging around water highly recommend to stop by “Pilák” recreation centre situated not far from the St. Jan Nepomuk Church. You can walk along the water reservoir on a cycle path, bike or inline skate or rent a paddleboat. There is also a table tennis court, beach volleyball court and amusement are for kids. And when you are thirsty or hungry the local bistro or a restaurant will serve it.
TIP: If you go a little bit further there is a village called Polnička with a very decent restaurant where the food is tasty and you get a pretty big portion for good money.
Another great place to hit in summer is Velké Dářko, the largest pond in the Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic, about 10 kilometres from Žďár nad Sázavou. It is also a camping area where you can park your van or set up a tent and spend a few days there while swimming, windsurfing, or mushrooming in the nearby forest.
When it comes back to gastronomy, there is a cozy restaurant Tisůvka located at the edge of the village of Cikháj and again, circa 10 kilometers from Velké Dářko.
Local Coffee Places
If you are a coffee type of person there are three coffee shops in Žďár nad Sázavou that I like:
Café u tety Hany (Aunt Hana’s café) – a place dedicated to the Queen of Czechoslovak chanson, Hana Hegerová with an atmosphere alike
P Café – sweet store/coffee place with a bakery next door
U bílé kočky a černého psa – translated as “At the white cat and the black dog” which may attract especially children
Let me know if you take a trip to Žďár nad Sázavou. I will feel again a bit more proud.
And if you prefer discovering a rather smaller town of the Czech Republic don’t forget to put Čáslav or Moravská Třebová in your itinerary.
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Photos: Martina Vidová