Considering I’ve been running this blog and website dedicated solely to dark tourism for just over three years now, it may come as a surprise that this was my first trip to what I would classify as a ‘darker destination’. Though I’ve had a keen interest in the subject since studying it and then writing my dissertation on it at university, I’ve never had much of an opportunity to visit many of the places I write about on this website. As well as this, it’s a belief that one should visit these destinations out of interest for each individual site, not as a checklist of morbid monuments around the globe. This particular location gained my interest as soon as I learnt about it whilst researching ‘dark tourism’ for my university work; a church garnished in the remains of over 40,000 plague victims, arranged in chandeliers, candelabras and intricate shields, Sedlec Ossuary had me intrigued from the first photo.
Catching a flight from London Luton to Prague on a dark October evening was just the beginning of my travels to check out Sedlec Ossuary, a small but absolutely fascinating ossuary, situated about an hour’s train journey from Prague in Kutna Hora. Once I’d settled down in Prague and spent my first night in a simple but charming apartment situated some ten minutes walk to the Old Town Square, I spent my first day exploring the city by foot and taking in as much as I could possibly fit within one day. By the second day I had developed a limp. Now I could continue to talk about all the wonderful sights, attractions and beer that Prague has to offer, but I’ll save that for another time, we’re here to talk about the Sedlec Ossuary.
Getting to Kutna Hora, whilst certainly not ‘easy’, was far from intimidating. Arriving at Praha hl.n, the main train station of Prague, is a relatively straightforward job. Walk through the main entrances, continue past the shops, metro and tram services and find yourself presented with a row of ticket booths with English speaking attendants, who were able to help me out after I flashed my phone in their face whilst repeatedly mispronouncing ‘Kutna Hora‘. I cannot for the life of me remember the exact ticket price, nor did I keep the ticket as a souvenir, but I can without a shadow of a doubt tell you that it was cheap. I believe that the return ticket I bought was somewhere between £3 – £4, possibly a fiver at a push, but nothing compared to the cost of UK rail fares. After missing one train by about two minutes, quite likely due to the amount of delicious Czech beer I’d had the night before, I had to wait for the next one although fortunately this service runs every hour.
Once on the train, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of space I had to myself. It was a busy service, full of locals, tourists and guided tours. Fortunately I’d managed to find myself a seat and settled down with a book for what would be a good hour long journey through some (admittedly rather mediocre) Czech landscapes. I had already looked up train times via iDNES.cz website and so knew when my train would be arriving rather than anxiously looking out the window and reading station signs. I can tell you now that the train journey was largely unremarkable, with quite pretty scenes to look at but unfortunately did not differ from the typical English countryside views I am use to. There were a couple of towns to pass and if you’re in to your architecture (I think every visitor to Prague becomes a fan of architecture once there!) then there’s definitely some stuff to catch your eye.
Once arriving at the train station, you take a journey underneath the tracks and are presented with a roughly twenty minute walk in to the ‘center’ of this small and seemingly peaceful town. This is so far removed from the hustle and bustle of Prague and does make an excellent ‘breather’ to the city trip. Following the other gaggle of tourists, I made my way towards the town and passed many a roadwork site with men who didn’t seem to be doing too much road work, though it was around lunch time so I won’t pass judgement too quickly. Following Google Maps on my phone had made exploring Prague, and now Kutna Hora, so much easier and I would recommend it highly to anybody whose network operator is kind enough to provide free or cheap data roaming.
After following the map and walking for roughly twenty minutes; there it was, right in front of me, the church and ossuary that I had spent so much time reading about, looking through all the photos of, reading the reviews – and it was right there, and it was rather small. That is not to say that it wasn’t as impressive or as fascinating as I had imagined it to be, but in my head it was bigger. I took a stroll around the tastefully decorated surrounding cemetery whilst more builders seemed to be doing work to the outside of the church. Once inside, boy does it hit you.
From the outside looking in, it looks rather unremarkable; a plainly (but admittedly quite quaint) looking building presents itself as nothing remarkable. A small brown tourist sign and a information map is about all that shows that this is the intricately decorated burial grounds for between 40,000 – 70,000 people. Once you get in through the door though, it’s quite a wow factor. Straight away you are presented with an intricate and artistic arrangement of skulls and bones above the stairs leading down, where you can already see that this is just a taster.
It is truly remarkable the amount of work that has gone in to this place, every corner you look there is an intricately arranged collection of skeletons and skulls. The larger and less decorated piles of bones are equally as impressive as some of the smaller and more artful pieces. When I went, the ossuary was quiet and I could explore the small chapel at my own pace with no fear of ruining somebody’s holiday snaps. In case you were wondering, this place was not visited solely by those with a taste for the morbid and dressed in black; there was a plethora of tourist types, with several other solo travelers like myself, as well as a couple of guided tours and some families too.
The story of this small ossuary starts in 1278 when the King of Bohemia sent the abbot of the Sedlec Cistercian Monastery to Jerusalem. The abbot returned with a jar of “holy soil” and soon people from all over desired to be buried in the cemetery and an expansion was soon needed. In the 15th century, a Gothic church was put up near the cemetery and the basement was built as an ossuary. They stayed there until 1870 when a woodcarver named Frantisek Rint was appointed to create some order and structure to the collection of bones. Well some may say that he became a little overenthusiastic in his new position and hence created this morbidly marvelous and truly unique display of human remains.
Truly a fascinating place that is definitely worthwhile visiting, it is actually one of the top attractions within the Czech Republic with an estimated 200,000+ tourists arriving every year, and hopefully this brief post will potentially get you to visit. The entrance cost is extremely modest at around 60CSK (3ish Euros) and more information can be found on the official website, including a little more on it’s history and practical information on how to get there. Below is a gallery with all the photos I took whilst there, they were taken with my smartphone and so may not be the greatest quality but they should give you a good idea.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and I hope that I’ve encouraged somebody out there to go and visit this most unusual of tourist attractions. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to visit some more ‘darker destinations’ over the next couple of years, with a particular interest in ossuaries, so do follow the blog and come back to see where I’ve been to next. As always, if you like what I write about then please follow the page on Facebook where I post regular updates daily; all the support is hugely appreciated as this website is ran only by myself, purely out of interest for the subject and unfortunately on a rather tight budget. Until next time, thank you for reading.