Johannes (Jan) Sarkander is Olomouc's local saint. Being a catholic priest in a village nearby, he was drawn into the unrests around the riots of protestant Moravians in the early stages of the 30 Year War. Because of his contacts to Poland he was accused of betrayal - according to modern research the accusations were unjustified - and imprisoned in Olomouc for questioning, which in those times meant torture. Even under torture he refused to reveal what he had been told in confession. He died in prison on March 17, 1620 from the injuries he had suffered.
Johannes Sarkander was canonized by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Olomouc in 1995.
In the very spot where he had suffered torture, the tiny chapel of St Jan Sarkander has been built. The chapel is not as old as it may seem. It is entirely neobaroque, i. e. about 100-120 years old. It contains the original tombstone. In the basement, visible through a large opening in the floor, a torture rack is displayed which is said to be the very one Sarkander has suffered on.
The chapel is located close to the Jesuit university buildings, and in the prettiest old town quarter with cobblestone alleys and old houses - More photos in my travelogue
The modern bronze fountain is a recent addition to the forecourt of Jan Sarkander Chapel. The fountain, named “The Spring of Living Water of St. John Sarkander”, dates from 2007. It consists of a slender bronze column that ends in a gilded star, two granite shells, and various symbols, signs and letters. The total height is 6.2 metres.
The significance of this fascinating artwork is described on the city's website:
"The basic motif of the work is connected to the spiritual importance of the site. In the past, the city prison where John Sarkander was interrogated and tortured in 1620 was located on the site of the Chapel of St. John Sarkander. The fountain’s decoration emphasizes the irreconcilable conflict between good and evil. Evil is symbolized by snakes, while triumphant good and eternal life are symbolized by the wedges used for the crucifixion and Christ’s wounds that are perpetually cleansed by the sprays of Sarkander’s water."
Quoted from http://tourism.olomouc.eu
In the era of the counterreformation, in 1573, the Jesuit order founded a university in Olomouc
which was then the capital of Moravia. At first it offered theological studies only, Roman catholic of course, to train priests which were to preach and administer the 'correct' faith in the then widely protestant country. Soon more faculties were added so the canon of a full university was available: philosophy, medicine and law. Olomouc university is the second oldest in the Czech Republic after Prague.
In the 1770s, after the abolishment of the Jesuit order and the reforms under Emperor Joseph II, it became a state university, but most faculties were closed down in 1850 because of their involvement in the revolution of 1848. Only after World War II, in 1946, they were reopened, and the name of the university changed to Palacký University, Olomouc, after František Palacký, a 19th-century Moravian historian and politician.
The vast building complexes of the Jesuit university extend along the southern and southeastern edge of the old town. The baroque buildings bear the signs of the Jesuit order, like the monograms JHS (Jesus) and MAR (Maria) in the wrought-iron window grates.
St Maurice is the parish church of the town centre and unlike the other churches in the old town not linked to an abbey or convent. It is a rare and valued example of late gothic style in Moravia. The church was built in the 14th and 15th century. Seen from the west, it appears almost like a castle with its two bulky, asymmetric and incomplete steeples.
The interior is a hall church with three naves of equal height. Throughout its history the church has been through fires and refurbishments. A couple of medieval sculptures are left of the original furniture. In the 19th century the interior was redesigned in the sense of "re-gothization" and equipped with neogothic altars, pulpit etcetera.
The organ on the western gallery claims to be one of the largest in Europe. The instrument was originally built in the mid 18th century, then renovated and extended in the 1960s to its present size: 5 keyboards, 135 registers, more than 10,000 pipes.
The church is open in the daytime except during mass.
The small church two blocks uphill from the main square is covered in three small domes, a feature which is rather known in orthodox architecture than in western catholic churches. The early baroque church, built in the 1670s and 1680s, replaced a gothic precedessor. The interior was first redecorated after a fire in 1709, then again in the late 19th century with neobaroque elements.
The series of three domes dominates the interior, too. The architecture is very 'Italian'. Sturdy pillars and the vaults and domes create a row of small chapels instead of one big church nave.
Don't miss a look into the adjacent cloister with its grave monuments (photo 5).
Kostel Panny Marie Snežné, the baroque church of the Virgin Mary of the Snow, is part of the Jesuit convent and high school/university complex. It was erected within four years, from 1712 to 1716, in the typical style and design of Jesuit churches. The facade with the two spires is dominant in the street view along Denisova and námestí Republiky, a landmark that corresponds with the cathedral in the distance.
The interior consists of a single nave accompanied by side chapels under a gallery. The vaulted ceilings are painted with frescoes. It is a bright hall with large windows. The structures of architecture, main altar, galleries and organ are delicate and leave the windows unobscured so that the light falls in from all sides. Nothing appears heavy in this church. Architecture, stucco, woodcarvings, frescoes and paintings create a "whole". Among the many art works, the benches caught my eye, especially their elaborate inlays on the sides (photo 5) .
Among the many impressive facades in Horní námestí, the Upper Square, this one is a promising candidate for the most beautiful. This is the one you have in the background if you take a photo of the Hercules fountain (photo 2). The house was built in 1572-1586 for Vaclav Edelmann, influential citizen and member of the city council. The renaissance facade has sandstone basreliefs with biblical scenes and floral ornaments.
In the 18th century the palais became municipal property. During construction works at the city hall it even hosted the town's administration for a couple of years. In the 19th century it was the seat of the commanders of Olmütz fortress and garrison. The most famous inhabitant was Field Marechal Johann Joseph Wenzel Radetzky who lived here from 1829 to 1831 - yes the one with the march. A memorial plaque on the facade recalls him (photo 5).
The so-called Lower Market Square is the second largest square in the old town. Upper and lower square are immediately connected by a wide street which then opens up into the other square, and form a series of open spaces in the town centre. The lower square is easily missed if one focuses on the attractions of the upper square, the town hall, the column and the fountains.
The lower square is shaped like a slightly curved wedge, which creates remarkable perspectives together with the slightly inclined pavement. It is equipped with the necessary ingredients - a Marian column and two baroque fountains - and could well be the one and central main square of a medium-sized town. The fountains feature the ancient Greek-Roman gods Jupiter and Neptun/Poseidon. The square is surrounded by representative baroque and 19th century townhouses.
The astronomical clock on the northern side of the town hall dates from the 16th century. Its original splendour must have been equal to the one in Prague. However, from the looks of it you would not guess it is really that old.
What you see now dates from the year 1955. The clockwork is old but the front has been redesigned entirely in the stye of "socialist realism" during the Stalinist era.
The walls of the niche are decorated with mosaics. They show figures that reflect regional culture and of course the socialist ideology about the working classes. The main figures at the bottom are a "blue collar" worker, a mechanic, and a "white collar" academic, a chemist - hence industry and science. The smaller figures on the side walls represent various works in agriculture. The upper part shows a folcloristic scene with people in traditional dress. The lucky escape of a young prince from a besieged city, dressed in girls' clothes, is reenacted in a costume parade.
The calendar around the main clock lists the name days, which are more important than birthdays in Czech culture. The important communist holidays are marked on red ground.
The clockwork operates daily at noon. Then the woodcarved figures on the 'roundabouts' will move; they represent professions and activities in socialist society, like the factory worker (female of course), two blacksmiths beating the iron on the anvil, the butcher sharpening his knife, a handball player etc. The cock in the middle will flap his wings and crow.
In the run of six centuries the city hall has been built, extended, refurbished over and over again until it reached its present shape. The large building, or rather complex of buildings, is located in the middle of the main square. Its tall tower is one of the landmarks in the cityscape.
Features of interest:
# The tower can be climbed. Inside there is an exhibition about the astronomical clock. Guided tours of the interior are said to include the gothic hall and the chapel - we did not do that, please enquire at the tourist information office.
# The city's tourist office can be found on the ground floor on the northern side by the astronomical clock. Useful for any kind of questions. A fancy detail is the vending machine that sells the famous Olomouc cheese (inside the tourist office in the corner on the left).
# The inner courtyard (photo 2). We have no idea if we were supposed to enter or not - we quietly sneaked in without asking. But the policemen standing guard did not seem to mind. After all, it is a public building.
# Renaissance stairway and loggia on the eastern facade, ornated with sandstone bas-reliefs of the coats of arms of the city and the country's historical regions (photo 3).
# The beautiful gothic oriel on the southern side (photo 4) is the choir of the chapel of St Michael inside the city hall.
# The astronomical clock deserves a separate tip.
The smallest fountain in the main square shows a statue of Hercules (Herakles), the ancient Greek hero and half-god. He is shown in the middle of his fight against the Hydra, the sea monster. Hercules is ready to club the seven water-spitting heads to kill the beast.
Note the eagle clinging to the lion fur that Hercules is wearing. There is no eagle in the legends about Hercules. The bird's coat of feathers shows a chequered pattern: this is the heraldic eagle that appears in the coat of arms of both the city of Olmütz and the country of Moravia.
So is this the Moravian Hercules who wins against any danger? Or Hercules as protector of Olomouc and Moravia who defends the city and country against all enemies?
Among the many trinity columns in the former territories of the Habsburg realm, the one in Olomouc is probably the biggest and most impressive. This superlative gained it the status of UNESCO World Heritage.
On top there is the Holy Trinity, made from gilded copper, and the Archangel Michael. The Assumption of Mary is shown halfway up on the shaft of the column. The three-storey stone piedestal carries sculptures of the twelve apostles and 18 saints. Inside there is a little chapel which is open during certain hours.
It is simply - huge. Photo 4 which was taken from a side street gives the best idea of the dimensions compared to the surrounding townhouses.
It took decades to build and was completed in 1754; the date is shown in a Latin inscription with a chronogram (photo 5). The capital letters must be read as Roman numbers and the addition done.
DDD C LLL IIII
3x500 + 100 + 3x50 + 4x1 = 1754
Five photos are not enough to present this huge monument, so there are some more pictures of details in my travelogue.
The Caesar fountain in the eastern corner of the main square is probably the finest sculpture among Olomouc's six baroque fountains. The equestrian statue shows Gaius Julius Caesar, the legendary founder of the city.
The two male figures resting at his feet are personifications of two rivers, Morava and Dunaj. One of them is holding the Moravian coat of arms with the chequered eagle. The dog in the back symbolizes the city's faithfulness towards the emperors.
However, the Caesar depicted here rather resembles a baroque emperor than an antique Caesar. Surely there is a reference to the then ruling emperor Karl VI.
The series of six baroque fountains in Olomouc's squares has been extended by this modern one, completed in 2002. The sculptor was Ivan Theimer, a native of Olomouc who lives in France now.
The fountain refers to the legend of the ancient Greek singer Arion. The famous singer once travelled to Sicily where he won a competition and was granted, in addition to a lot of applause, a large sum in gold. On the voyage back home to Greece the captain and sailors on the ship envied him, they wanted his gold and threatened to either kill him immediately or throw him into the sea. Arion asked to be allowed to sing one last song. He sang, and a dolphin heard him and saved him from the water.
So far the legend. The sculptor has turned the story the other way round, in the fountain Arion is carrying the dolphin instead of vice versa. Then there is a grooup of two children from the sea, and a big turtle carrying an obelisk-like structure. Another turtle is walking outside the fountain - this one is popular with children (and wombats) who like to sit on its back.
The bronze model of the old town in the main square gives an overview of the structure of the old town. It is located in the square facing the astronomical clock. The most inportant buildings are founded in bronze of a lighter colour. Numbers refer to the legend which is carved on the edge of the model. Shapes are simplified - the trinity column looks like a Christmas tree to me - but you will find your way.
Unlike many other similar models in other towns this one unfortunately does not have any explanations in Braille writing for blind people.