The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times

6 Sep 2020
  Death by Porridge – The Daneil Cave in the Harz: Legends and Geology

There are several large and a number of smaller caves in the Harz mountain range, from the dripstone caves in the karst area to those in the Buntsandstein layer in the northern Harz. One of the latter became famous for serving as abode to a gang of robbers in the late 16th century. The so-called Daneil's Cave lies in the Huy, a forested ridge between Quedlinburg and Halberstadt (today Saxony-Anhalt). And of course, legends developed around a historical kernel. The cave may have been a hermit's cell in the Middle Ages, and later it was used by brigands – legendary and real.

View to the Daneil's Cave

There once lived an evil brigand chief in a cave in the Huy. His men would put up wires with little bells across the paths that announced the arrival of an unfortunate merchant, journeyman or farmer, and sometimes a maid on her way to the market in Halberstadt. The robbers would then attack the unsuspecting victims, kill them and bury their bodies in the forest, and make away with their gold and goods back to the cave. The had put their horses's shoes on backside forward and thus deceived their pursuers.

View out of the cave

One day a lovely maid names Susanne walked along the fateful path to the town to pay her father's tithes to the bishop in Halberstadt. The robbers caught her for the coin she carried, but when Daneil beheld her beauty, he forbade them to kill the girl and instead forced her to be his wife and swear a holy oath never to betray their secret cave.

So Susanne lived with Daneil and his men, cooked, washed and cleaned for them. She bore Daneil several children, but never saw them again; the cruel man did not want a baby's crying to betray their hideout. After a long while, Daneil allowed Susanne to go for walks in the forest around the cave, and it was then that she saw the wires and bells and witnessed the brigands killing a merchant, and she knew at what price the gold and gems were bought.

Beech forest surrounding the cave

Scared, Susanne ran through the forest all the way to Halberstadt, but she had sworn an holy oath and dared not confess to people what had happened to her. Instead, she sank on her knees in front of the stone statue of Roland, protector of justice, and told him everything. But a member of the town council stood near a window in the hall and heard tale. He called for a priest who absolved Susanne of her oath, so she could freely speak of her ordeals and the brigands' lair.

The Roland Statue at the Town Hall in Halberstadt
Erected in 1433, the statue symbolizes the rights of market, coin and toll which the town held since the 10th century, and free trade (Halberstadt became member of the Hanseatic League in 1367).

The next day, a detachment of soldiers was sent to the cave, but Daneil, alerted by Susanne's absence, had sealed the cave so well that the soldiers could not fight a way in. Then they called all the burghers of Halberstadt and the inhabitants of the surrounding villages to bring flour and heat large cauldrons of water.

The was a small hole in the roof of the cave, and people began to pour porridge into the opening. After a while the laughter of the bandits changed to cries of pain, and then everything fell silent. When the cave was opened, they found Daneil and his men suffocated by porridge.

Daneil's Cave

The existence of Daneil is a legend and his end, while spectacular, not realistic, but the cave did serve as hideout for bandits at times.

One notorious fellow who spent some time in the cave was a man nicknamed Thousand Devil of Halberstadt (Tausendteufel von Halberstadt). He was finally captured in 1600 and brought before the bishop of Halberstadt and Duke Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig-Lüneburg. His real name was Simon Bingelhelm, and he and his men were responsible for a fair number of thefts from churches in Halberstadt, Quedlinburg and other towns, the arson of Drübeck Abbey, numerous murders and some rapes. Their activities stretched as far as Aschersleben and Salzwedel.

Passages in the cave

Simon was put to the torture and finally confessed to 71 crimes, some of which took place near the cave in the Huy. Most of them were actual crimes, but some ludicrous stories about stealing Christian children he then sold to a Jew (and killed in case the Jew wasn't interested) likely have been told under torture; they confirm the prejudices that Jews used Christian infants for nefarious purposes rather than presenting facts. There may be a tie-in with Susanne's disappearing or dead babies from the legend.

Simon was dragged to the court square by hooks and executed by quartering on June 2, 1600.

Entrance to the cave with hewn stones to the left

The cave has been washed out of a rock face of the Buntsandstein (another word English has pilfered from German; for geological details see below) during the Neogene or the Ice Ages. It consists of three connected chambers which have their own openings respective entrances. Traces like holes for beams, doorframes and wooden partitions are proof that the caves have indeed been inhabited and enlaregd by human hands. Today, the cave is classed as nature reserve.

Interior of the cave with Buntsandstein layers

The Buntsandstein where the cave is located developed as sedimentary rock during the Lower Triassic about 252 to 247 million years ago.

Even further back, the tectonic movements had pushed the continents of Euramerica (Laurussia), Gondwana, and some smaller plates together into the supercontinent Pangaea. The last steps of that process happened in the early Devonian, ca. 420 -390 million years ago. Part of the process was the Variscan orogeny which formed a number of mountain systems in North America and Europe, including the mountain ranges for example in Pembroke, the Ardennes and the Bohemian massiv in the east – and those mountains know as the German mittelgebirge like the Black Forest, Taunus, the Rhine massif and the Harz.

View into the cave

During the late Permian, the Zechstein Sea flooded what is now northern Germany – as well as lowland Britain, Denmark and northern Poland – as result of the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps (260 – 252 million years ago), but Pangaea still stuck together. Remains of the Zechstein Sea can be found in the Karst landscapes in the southern Harz.

By the time of the Lower Triassic, the Variscan mountain ranges had eroded, but they left kernels of old rocks behind (like the granite that later rose to the surface again in the Ilse's Rock, or the quartz veined granite of the Rosstrappe Cliffs and the greywacke in the lower layers in the Bode Valley; see this post).

Buntsandstein layers near the cave

At the end of the Permian, the Paleo-Thetys Ocean broke through in what is now southern Poland and flooded the Germanic Basin in an alluvial fan formation. This happened several times through the next millions of years, so the clastic material settled down and solidified in layers. The overall climate was continental and therefore arid, so there was little erosion and chemical weathering, therefore the Buntsandstein developed in a rather pure variant with few inclusions. The Bunter than can be found in the respective geological strata in Britain developed the same way.

Outside wall of the cave

During the Middle Triassic, the global sea levels rose and a tropical sea now filled the Germanic Basin. It left behind a layer of musselkalk, the solidified version of reefs with chalcoid inhabitants like corals and mussels.

The Triassic is named for the three layers of different sedimentary rocks: Buntsandstein, musselkalk and Keuper, black shale mixed with dolostones that was deposed in the Upper / Late Triassic (237-200 million years ago). Pangaea broke up and the climate became more humid, with monsoon like rains, and the sedimentary rocks mirror that change. The rain and the development of rivers led to a larger erosion that also afflicted the Buntsandstein and musselkalk strata; a development that continued during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods when the continents as we know them formed.

View out of the cave

During the Cretaceous (150-65 million years ago), the Harz began to rise again in what is called the Saxon Orogeny; a subdivision of the Alpine Orogeny. During the process, the Northern Harz Boundary Fault (Harznordrandverwerfung) developed. It forms the border between the Harz proper and the German Basin or Norddeutsche Tiefebene (a part of the older Germanic Basin). The Harz Block was thrust over the Triassic and Jurassic strata of the southern part of the basin and tilted those formations, while in the block itself granite and greywacke that even predate the Permian were uplifted. This process goes on today.

It is the geological reason for the Buntsandstein formations originating in the Germanic Basin that today can be found in the northern foothills of the Harz, including Daneil's Cave.


16 Aug 2020
  Pretty Houses in Cheb / Eger

I included an overnight stop in Cheb (also known by its German name Eger) on my way to Prague, for one because the town is the site of a 12th century palatine castle – which will get its own post – and because its proximity to other interesting places like Loket Castle and Karlovy Vary. Cheb also has a pretty town centre with historical houses, so I took a little walk with my camera.

Cheb (Eger), market square

Eger, situated in the borderlands between Germany and Bohemia, has been known by both names for a long time; a charte from 1374 mentions Egra in boemica lingua Cheb (Eger, which in the Bohemian language is called Cheb). The existence of the town – or settlement at that time – dates to a charte from 1061, then named 'Egire' for the river Eger at which is situated. In Czech, the river is called Ohře; the name Cheb may derive from a word for 'river bend'.

Market square from a different angle

There had been an old Slavic fortress on the promontory above the river, dating to 900 AD. After the land had been Christianised and colonised by German settlers, it became part of the Northern Shire (Nordgau) which belonged to Bavaria. Count Diepold II of Vohburg, Margrave of the Nordgau, erected a new castle on the old site about 1120. In 1167, the settlement of Eger and the Egerland came into posssession of the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa who turned the castle into a palatine seat (1179) and gave Eger the rights of a town.

Cheb castle, the chapel (left) and Black Tower (right)

Eger received the Nuremberg Rights in 1242 (a variant of special rights for towns; the towns in the north I blogged about usually got the Lübeck or Magdeburg Rights); in 1277, it became an Imperial city (Reichsstadt), a privilege that granted Eger Imperial immediacy, placing the town under the direct authority of the Holy Roman Emperor and not some feudal lord. Later, Imperial cities would become members of the Imperial Diet and held a vote there. Eger also also erected town walls at that time.

Old houses in Eger

For the next step in the history of Eger, we need to have a look at some geneaology again. With the death of the last male heir in May 1254, the rule of the Staufen dynasty as German kings and Holy Roman emperors came to an end; it followed a period of elected kings, most of them without much actual power and influence (1). One candidate that stood out was Henry VII of House Luxembourg who was elected king in 1308 and Holy Roman Emperor in 1312, ending the long interregnum (2). The Luxembourgians would found another dynasty that provided several German kings and Holy Roman emperors.

About the same time, the Czech dynasty of the Přemyslids endend in the male line with the assassination of Václav (Wenceslas) III in 1306. His father Václav II had chosen Eger as location for his marriage to Judith of Habsburg, the daughter of Rudolf I of Germany, in 1285; an attempt to end the feud between the houses of Habsburg and Přemyslid. Václav II also had granted the rights of coinage to the town of Kutná Hora and initiated the time of prosperity of the town.

The New Town Hall from 1722, Italian Baroque

Henry of Luxembourg did not succeed in having his son John (born 1296, † at Crécy in 1346) elected as his successor, but he succeeded in establishing the young man as King of Bohemia. John married Elizabeth of Bohemia, one of the daughters of Václav II, and was accepted as king by right of his spouse in 1310 (3). Henry died unexpectedly in 1313, which brought several candidates for the German kingship out of the woodwork. John decided to forego his own claim and supported Ludwig of Bavaria, of House Wittelsbach against his rival Friedrich of Habsburg.

As compensation (4), Ludwig pawned out the town of Eger to the Bohemian Crown, though the town retained its status as Imperial City and its rights (charte from 1322). When John's son Charles IV united the crowns of Bohemia and Germany (both 1346), and became Holy Roman Emperor as well (1355), there was no need to redeem the pawn, and Eger remained part of Bohemia.

View from town square towards the pedestrian zone

Eger joined the Catholic coalition during the Hussite Wars (details see link about Kutná Hora above) and sent troops to support them on several occasions. A Hussite army on their way back from Nuremberg broke part of the town walls and plundered the town, but could be bribed into withdrawal (1430).

The market square – Place of King George of Podiebrad (Náměsti Krále Jiřího z Poděbrady) – is named after the 'Hussite' king George of Podiebrad who succeeded the last king of House Luxembourg, Ladislaus. He was elected king by the Estates of Bohemia in 1458, the only king not of an ancient and powerful noble family, though he was a member of the civilian patriciate. Eger played an important role during the reign of King Podiebrad; he also was the last king to reside in the palatine castle.

In 1459, George Podiebrad ended a long quarrel between Bohemia and the duchy of Saxony; the borders then defined are pretty much the same as today. One result of the negotiations was the marriage of George's daughter Zdenka (Sidonie) with Albert III 'the Courageous', Duke of Saxony, which was celebrated in Eger. Albert had an eye on the crown of Bohemia, but he failed to gain it after George's death in 1471 (who had proclaimed Vladislav, the son of Casimir IV Jagiełło, his heir).

The Špalíček on the Market Square

One of the famous vistas of Eger is the Špalíček on the market square, a group of Mediaeval houses. It grew out of a cluster of market booths of bakers, butchers, chandlers and such, but also a goldsmith, which had been erected there in the 13th century. Those timber stalls, often becoming part of a family's heritage, were eventually expanded into houses with a stone basement and upper floors in half-timbered style, making up in height for the limited layout. Later, some of the houses were connected inside, creating larger entities, though the distinct facades remain.

The Chandler's Lane in the Špalíček

The two blocks are separated by the 1,60 narrow Chandler's Lane. The outer walls of the houses are still mostly Gothic, only the corner houses have been altered with some Baroque elements. Walking through that lane gives you a distinctly Mediaeval feel.

An engraving from 1472 shows three rows of those houses, but the third group was dismantled in 1809 due to its bad shape. The other eleven buildings have been restored in the 1960ies.

The Špalíček, seen from the side

Eger joined the Lutherian Reformation in Bohemia which brought it in conflict with the Catholic emperors Rudolf II and Ferdinand II of Habsburg (emperor since 1619) who were also kings of Bohemia. After the short intermezzo of the unfortunate 'Winter King' Friedrich V of the Palatinate and his wife Elizabeth Stuart, and the defeat of the Protestant party at the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620, the Counter-Reformation was introduced in Bohemia. By 1628, most Protestants had left Eger and other Bohemian towns.

Among those who left the town was the Lutherian major Alexander Pachelbel (he held the position 1620-1628) and his brother Wolf Adam. They were members of a patrician family; their father Wolfgang († 1620) had turned an old house in Eger, dating to 1390, into a fine Renaissance four wing residence with an inner yard. After the family left the town, the house came into possession of the – now Catholic – town council.

The Pachelbel House, the site of Wallenstein's assassination

The house became famous due to the fact that the Catholic general of Bohemain descent, Albrecht von Wallenstein, one of the most influential personalities of the Thirty Years War, stayed there several times during the various mannoeuvres of the war (in 1625, 1630, 1632 and 1634). Wallenstein was assassinated by minions of the Emperor Friedrich II in this house on February 25, 1634.

The house is a museum since 1873, but unfortunately, it was closed for renovation when I visited Eger. I was a bit sad, since Wallenstein is a character who has fascinated me for years and I would have liked to see the room where he was killed.

After Wallenstein's death, the house came into possession of the Jesuites until 1735, then it became the residence of the Austrian town commander. Wolf Adam of Pachelbel never returned to Eger, but he fought – in vain – for the town to regain Imperial immediacy during the negotiatins of the Peace of Westphalia. He died in 1649, only a few months after the Thirty Years War had ended.

More pretty houses: Gabler House (left) and Schirndinger House (right)

There are some more outstanding houses in Eger. The Gabler House (photo above; the one with the red decorations) has a pretty Rococo facade dating to the 18th century. It too, had been in possession of the Jesuits in the 17th century.

The Schirndinger House is the only Gothic patrician residence in Eger that remained unaltered since the 15th century when the facade with the stepped gable and the portal was added. The house itself dates to the 13th century.

Closeup Schirndinger House

The house got a new layer of paint in autumn 2014. The colour has led to a vivid dispute, since the choice of that charcoal tone met with a fair amount of disapproval, being deemed too dark. The expert of the National Monument Institute, Jakub Chaloupka, said that old layers of cast had been discovered which all showed that almost black colour. But old postcards show the house with a paint that looks more a dark red, therefore critics assume that the black colour was caused by soot and weathering. It would be unlikely that a rich patrician chose such an unattractive colour to paint his house. Personally, I agree that a dark red might have been the more likely version (5), since it was a pretty expensice colour.

A smaller square in the old town

At the end of the Thirty Years War, Eger was occupied by a Swedish army which left after the peace. As result of the war, lands were redistributed and some borders changed. The crown lands of Bohemia remained with the Austrian Empire; Eger became a garrison town. A fired destroyed part of the town in 1809, including a number of Mediaeval buildings.

Baroque beauties: Limbeck House (the white one to the left), now Tourist Information, and Grüner House (the red one to the right; 6)

After WW1, Czechoslovakia was founded and Eger / Cheb became part of it; still with a large percentage of a German population. This was one of the reasons that the Egerland and the Sudetenland were adjudged to Germany at the Treaty of Munich in September 1938, and occupied by German troops. On April 25 1945, the 97. US Infantry Division conquered Eger; the understaffed German troops surrendered or 'disappeared'. Soon thereafter, the town was handed over to the Sovjet army as a result of the Treaty of Potsdam. After WW2, Cheb became part of Czechoslovakia; the German population was evicted.

Today, German tourists are welcome again.

Closeup of some fine half timbered work in the Špalíček

1) Among them was Richard of Cornwall, 1257-1272, a son of King John of England and brother-in-law to the Staufen Emperor Friedrich II, whose third wife was John's daughter Isabella of England, though they only had a daughter.
2) Some sources date the end of the interregnum to the election of Rudolf I of Habsburg as king in 1273, but Rudolf was never crowned as emperor.
3) After he ousted Henry of Carinthia who ruled – with little success – by right of his marriage to an elder daughter of Václav II, Anna, who died childless in 1313, thus ending any claim by Henry of Carinthia.
4) There were more details to the agreement, of course, like the support of the emperor re. the Bohemian claims to Silesia and the Polish Crown.
5) We had a similar discussion in Göttingen in the 1990ies when the decorations of a Mediaeval house were repainted with an old receipe including ox blood. The colour came out very different from what people had been used to for many years, but it has faded a bit now and looks less aggressively red.
6) The German writer and polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited the city councillor Josef Sebastian Grüner, who lived in the house in first half of the 19th century, several times during his many sojourns in western Bohemia. They shared an interest in geology and mining.


19 Jul 2020
  Silver Mines and Hussite Wars – A Walk through the Historical Kutná Hora, Czechia

I seldom participate in guided tours when traveling since I prefer more freedom, but sometimes it's the better option than spending too much time trying to get to a place by public transport. The visit to the Sedlec Ossuary and the town of Kutná Hora in Czechia was one of those tours.

Kutná Hora, view from St. Barbara's Church to the old town, with St.James Church (left) and Italian Palace (right)

Kutná Hora (historically also known by its German name Kuttenberg) is a town about 70 kilometres east of Prague. Some time after the Cistercians founded the abbey at Sedlec in 1142, silver and other ore was discovered in the area, and the monks brought in German miners from their mother house in Waldsassen (Upper Palatinate) who settled in Kuttenberg. The settlement is first mentioned in a charte from 1286, but existed at least some twenty years prior.

At the end of the 13th century, Kutná Hora had developed into the second largest town after Prague and became of great historical importance when King Wenceslas II of Bohemia granted the town the right to mint coin, the famous 'Prague Groschen'. Despite some setback during the Hussite Wars, Kutná Hora remained a prospering town until the mid-16th century when the silver deposits dried out. The town centre is part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 1995. (More about its history below.)

Zoom in to St. Barbara's Church (choir side) from the Italian Court

One of the symbols of the town's former wealth is the St.Barbara's Church, where our walk began. The church has been built on a hill overlooking the town, on ground that did not belong to the Abbey of Sedlec – who owned most of the land in the area – to demonstrate the wealth and independence of the burghers of Kutná Hora. The church is dedicated to St.Barbara, patron saint of miners.

St.Barbara, Kutná Hora, westwork

Construction started in 1388, but it took until 1512 for the building to be finished – one of the reasons of the delay was the Hussite Wars and the resulting financial problems – and the church turned out smaller than originally planned, which is still pretty impressive.

The competition of Kutná Hora with Prague became evident in the chosing of the first architects: Petr Parleř, leader of the royal workshop, who also built the St.Vitus Cathedral in Prague (photo below), and his son Jan. The Paleř family hailed from Swabia and had been involved in the construction of a number of outstanding Gothic churches like the Minster of Ulm and the cathedral in Cologne.

St. Barbara, main nave with view to the altar

Since I mentioned the Hussite Wars several times and because they play an important role in Czech history, I'll give you a brief overwiew here: The Hussite movement started with some ideas by the reformer Jan Hus (1369-1415), who in turn was influenced by John Wycliffe, (ca. 1320-1384) scholastic philosopher at the University of Oxford. Hus formulated what was to become the Four Articles of Prague which demanded freedom to preach, celebration of the communion under both kinds (bread and wine – sub utraque specie, which gave the name to the Utraquists, the major branch of the Hussite movement) as well as Church service in the native language, poverty of the clergy and expropriation of church poroerty, and punishment of the deadly sins even for kings and magnates. As result, Jan Hus was condemned a heretic and ended on a pyre in 1415.

St.Vitus Cathedral in Prague,
work of the same architects who were involved in the construction of St.Barbara in Kutná Hora

I need to introduce a major player here: King Sigismund of House Luxembourg (1368-1437). He got more jobs than he could juggle: Prince Elector of Brandenburg (since 1388, though he gave that title and position to Friedrich of Hohenzollern in 1410), King of Hungary (since 1387; 1), King of Germany since 1411 (2), titular king of Bohemia since 1419, though it would take until 1436 for the Czech Estates to acknowledge him; and Holy Roman Emperor since 1433.

Sigismund played an influential role in the Council of Constance (1414-1418) which had been assembled to deal with the Papal schism – three popes were definitely two too many – and some other problems like the conflict between the Teutonic Knights and the Polish Crown, and the heresies spread by the followers of Wycliffe and Jan Hus. Sigismund – who had granted Hus safe conduct – had no interest to see Hus executed; he wanted Hus to renounce his more audacious claims and preferably disappear in some monastery, thus turning the faucet off the movement. But Hus refused and stood by his belief, so the Church turned him over to the secular powers as convicted heretic. He was burned during Sigismund's absence.

Vladislav Hall in Prague Castle (an example of helical vaulting);
the work of Benedikt Rejt who also constructed he helical vault of St. Barbara in Kutná Hora (see below)

Sigismund was right: Jan Hus' death sparked a rise in the Hussite movement, causing unrest in Bohemia which culminated in the first Defenestration of Prague, when a Hussite crowd threw several members of the city council out a window of the town hall in Prague to their death in 1419. Open war broke out.

The Hussite armies, a mix of the population from peasants to the nobility, led by Jan Žižka and Prokop the Bald, were not well equipped (except for the knights), but they had the advantage of numbers and fought with religious fervour. The Catholic troops were usually smaller and less motivated, except for those at the borders to Brandenburg, Saxony and the Upper Palatinate who suffered from the Hussite raids. Most of the battles and skirmishes ended in favour of the Hussite or at a stalemate. . I won't detail the battles and skirmishes here, though.

Both Sigismund and the Papal Legate Cardinal Henry of Beaufort (3) tried in vain to raise a special tax in Germany to hire a mercenary army large enough to deal with the Hussite troops for good. Most German magnates saw the war less as a crusade, but more as a Bohemian problem.

Old houses in Kutná Hora

Kutná Hora was involved in a battle in 1421 during which the monastery at Sedlec was burned, and again in 1437, when a party of Hussite fugitives sought shelter in a nearby castle that was eventually conquered. Most Catholic German burghers were driven out of the town during the wars. Mining came almost to a standstill (many of the miners had been Germans), minting of coins was afflicted by the lack of silver, trade construction of St.Barbara's Church was interrupted and trade suffered. The town was damaged by a fire as well (see below).

St.Barbara in Kutná Hora, flying buttresses and soaring spires

Of course, politics and diplomacy played a role, too. There was a complicated net of duties, obligations, ambitions and the occasional betrayal going on in the background. The Hungarians thought Sigismund spent too much time in Germany, the Germans thought he spent too much time in Italy and wasn't really keen on dealing with the Hussites in the first place, the Bohemians didn't want him as king – Sigismund had to flee the country after a hasty coronation following the death of his brother Wenceslaus in August 1419. Not to mention the Hundred Years War flaring up again in the west (4).

To mention just one example involving people already known to my regular readers: Sigismund's brother-in-law Władysław Jagiełło (see footnote 1), who first supported Sigismund with troops, turned around after Sigismund negotiated a treaty Jagiełło considered in favour of the Teutonic Knights at the Council of Constance. Thus Jagiełło was ready to accept the Bohemian Crown the Czech Estates offered him; the plot ony failed due to the fact that the Polish Estates would only accept a king who had his main residence in Kraków, not Prague. In return, Sigismund proposed that Jagielłło's cousin Vytautas, grand duke of Lithuania, should be crowned king, which would have driven a wedge between the men. Vytautas' death in October 1430 put an end to that scheme.

St.Barbara, main nave, view towards the organ (west side)

In the end, the decline of the Hussite movement was mostly due to the quarreling parties within the Hussites. After years of war, the high nobility and the burghers of the towns in particular, deemed the damage caused in the economy too great and sought reconciliation and peace. On the other side, the Catholic alliances were aware that they could not put an end to the movement in the field. Sigismund was one of those arguing strongly for negotiations – he knew his Bohemians, after all.

After the moderate Utraquists joined with the Catholic side; the more radical Taborites were defeated at the battle of Lipany in 1434. The Council of Basel (1431-1449) granted the Hussites some concessions like the communion with wine and the liturgy in Czech in Bohemia. Sigismund was finally acknowledged as King of Bohemia in 1436.

Later, the Protestant movement would find fertile ground in tolerant Bohemia at an early stage, and the Thirty Years War would start with another Defenestration of Prague.

St. Barbara, upper gallery

Let's return to the church of St.Barbara. The guided visit offered a rare chance to access the upper gallery of the church. I've seen a lot of churches – though usually not with a guided tour – and seldom had the luck to get to a place which in most churches is closed to the public. It made for a fascinating view down into the naves and gave a much better feel of the actual height of a Gothic church. Soaring indeed.

View from the upper gallery

Jan Paleř changed the plan to add additional naves on both sides, turning the church into a five nave basilica. A transept obviously was never planned. The ambitious construction was put more or less on hold during the Hussite Wars, but nevertheless, the church was consecrated in 1403. This doesn't mean it was in any way complete, but churches usually were built in segments rather than horizontally, so the choir part with the altar was finished and could be used for services and prayers (this technique is also the reason the church was later cut off on the west side to half its originally intended length).

St. Barbara, another shot of the main nave

Economy had suffered greatly during the Hussite Wars. It would take until the 1480ies to stabilize, and the burghers of Kutná Hora and patrons of the church would have enough surplus money again. The first architect of the second period, Matěj Rejsek, was a sculptor, not a mason, and soon got into trouble with the Guild of Masons, but he left behind some fine decorative elements like the tracery vaulting.

Repairs of the oldest part had also become necessary, because the local sandstone that had been used was more like musselkalk and not very durable. The rest of the cathedral was built with a sandstone of higher density.

Helical vaulting of the ceiling in the main nave

The next architect responsible for the construction of St. Barbara was Benedikt Rejt (1450-1540). He too, was involved in works in Prague and had the luck that he could bring some of the finest masons with him when building of the Hradčany was interrupted. His most ambitious project at St.Barbara was the helical vaulting of the main nave without any pillars and archs to support the vast expanse. He had done something similar in the Vladislav Hall in the Prague Castle (photo above).

Rejt took up the plans of Rejsek and brought them to another level of complicated and decorative. Rejt's first attempt collapsed, but he eventually managed to finish the work, making the main nave of St. Barbara the largest unsupported vaulted space north of the Alps.

Side nave with remains of frescoes

By the end of the 16th century, the church was finished, with eight chapels of trapezoid layout in the side naves and arcades, the ambitious helical vaulting and the three peaked roof. But by that time, the silver mines, the main source for the town's wealth, became less productive and money for the church dried up. Instead of the great entrance hall planned by Rejt, the building was basically cut off at the west side, and a much simpler westwork was added to give it a look of completion. But the church never got towers.

With the arrival of the Jesuits in Kutná Hora in 1621, the Baroque style came into fashion. Several features of the church interior, like altars and statues, are of the Baroque style, but the Gothic style remains predominant, including the remains of some frescoes.

Jesuit College, with some of the sculptures and the vineyard

When leaving the church on the way towards the town, the Barborská ulice passes the Jesuit College. It was built after the Thirty Years War – which had hit Bohemia particularly hard – as life slowly turned back to normal, mining resumed – albeit not on the former scale – and trade connections were reestablished. After the collapse of Bohemian Protestantism during the war, it was the Catholic Jesuits who dominated the spiritual life and the education. The College was built for that reason and would attract a number of well known philosophers and theologians of the time. It is a fine example of a laid back Baroque facade with a set of sculptures on the other said of the artificial bridge. Architect was the Italian Domenico de Orsini; the musselkalk sculptures of saints and historical persons were crafted by Franz Baugut 1703-1717.

Kutná Hora, view to the town and the Hrádek (left)

The original settlement of Kutná Hora must have looked more like a gold rush frontier town, after the rumour of silver mines attracted people from as far as outside Bohemia. The largest group were Germans who brought advanced technology and some of the (in)famous German order, establishing sort of a local government. A charte from 1327 lists the members of the town council – there are only German names.

Things began to change when King Václav II (Wenceslas II; 1278-1305) of the Přemyslid dynasty issued a code for the technical and administrative conditions for operating mines, the Ius Regale Montanorum, in 1300. Soon thereafter, Kutná Hora became the seat of the mint of Bohemia, with the right to strike the so-called Prague Groschen The mint was first located in the Hrádek, the castle, which dates to the very early 14th century. Later, the mint moved to the Italian Court (see below).

The castle was built to protect the new settlement and the entrance to the main mine. It was bought by a rich patrician, Jan Smíšek, after the Hussite Wars, and turned into a Gothic palace; later it came into possession of the Jesuites. Today, the Hrádek locates a minting museum, but – one of the disadvantages of a guided tour – there was no time to visit the place.

Market Square with Plague Column

The kings of the Luxembourg dynasty that provided Bohemia with several generations of kings from John the Blind († 1346) of Crecy fame to Sigismund († 1437) would grant the town a number of privileges. Kutná Hora became the financial centre of the country, and the town changed from an assemblage of huts and hovels to a well laid out place with half timbered houses on stone foundations, churches, town hall, a hospital and other features. The timber fortifications were replaced by stone walls; they soon had to be extended due to the growth of the town which competed with the Old Town of Prague at the time.

A landmark is the Gothic St.James church (see the first photo of this post) with its single high tower – there was no money for a second one – built 1320-80 by the Cistercians). It was not included in the tour, but St.Barbara more than made up for it. As said above, increasing conflicts between the town magistrates and the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec led to the construction of St.Barbara's Church outside the town and range of monastic jurisdiction (though it was later included in the town walls).

The Gothic Stone House

Several of the old houses that today display a Baroque or Classicist style exterior, have a Gothic foundation. There is also a labyrinth of mines and drainage shafts under the town.

One particularly fine example of an original Gothic house remains, dating to a time before the Hussite Wars. The decorated facade was added in 1490 by a mason named Briccius Gauske from Görlitz in Germany. It is assumed that Gauske is also the mason who built the Gothic fountain.

The Gothic Fountain

It had been assumed that the well was the work of Matěj Rejsek who was involved in the construction of St.Barbara, but recent research deems Gauske to be the more likely candidate. The well was financed by Jan Smíšek, the then owner of the Hrádek; it was built in 1493-1495.

The extensive mining had led to a sinking of the groundwater level, which caused problems with the town's water supply. Water had to be brought into the town from the mountains by a system of pump works and wooden pipes over several kilometres, and was then collected in several wells. The Gothic Fountain is one of those. It was in use until 1890.

The market square, different angle

Let's get back to the Hussite Wars once again. The German patriciate of Kuntá Hora – predominantly Catholic – at first supported King Sigismund. But in May 1421, war reached up with the town. The monastery of Sedlec was burned, most miners captured and many German burghers expelled or killed. A fire destroyed part of the town, mining and coin minting came to a standstill, and with it the source of wealth of the town. It would take until 1469 before coins were again minted in Kutná Hora.

Minting and storage of silver and coins had moved to the so-called Italian Court already during the 14th century. The site became the centre of minting of the Kingdom of Bohemia. The original building was more like a castle to protect the valuable materials, but was expanded into a royal residence at the end of the 14th century, again by the royal Masons' Guild from Prague. The treasury was kept in a chamber under the royal chapel.

The Italian Palace

Kutná Hora continued to play an important role in Czech history. Vladisalv Jagiello was elected king during a meeting of the Diet of Bohemia in the Italian Court in 1471.

The Hussite Wars may have been over, but the problems between Catholics and Hussites continued to fester. After Sigsimund's death, he was succeeded by the Catholic King Albert II of Habsburg and his son Ladislaus, who had both sworn to respect the ancient compacts but tried every way out of them. The Hussite faction was led by George (Jiří) of Poděbrad, member of a patrician Bohemian family and a veteran of the Hussite Wars in which he had participated as boy of fourteen. Poděbrad defeated the troops of King Albert, and in March 1458, the Estates of Bohemia elected him king. He tried to keep peace with the Catholic Church as long as both sides stuck to the Compact (which the pope often didn't). Georg of Poděbrady died in March 1471, naming Vladislav, the son of Casimir IV Jagiełło, his heir (5).

Vladislav, himself a Catholic, was obliged to acknowledge the rights of the Hussites. It was in Kutná Hora where, long after a peace conclusion had been reached at Basel, freedom of religion was finally confirmed during a diet of the Czech Utraquists and Catholics in 1485. Catholic and Utraquist faiths were declared equal in front of the law and religious peace proclaimed for the Czech lands. The first Czech translation of the Bible was printed here in 1489.

Italian Palace, detail of the old walls

The mining and coin production were now in the hands of Bohemian financiers who held the important positions in the town council and the mining court. Most of them were entrepreneurs willing to risk more than the former German patricians, so it is no wonder that corruption and frauds took place. Social tensions between the patriciate the the miners rose, and eventually culminated in riots that lasted from 1494 to 1496.

In addition, the miners had to dig more deeply, down to 500 metres, to still access silver veins; the danger of groundwater flooding increased. In 1543, the main mine had to be closed. Deep scale mining would have required more expensive equipment than the town could afford. It was the beginning of the decline of Kutná Hora.

The lack of high quality silver decreased the quality of the Prague Groschen, still the main coin produced in Kutná Hora. Its production was terminated in 1547. The groschen was replaced by a thaler which was considered inferior. Nevertheless, the town could continue to mint coins due to imported silver and still looked prosperous on the surface for several decennia.

The end of the role of the Italian Court came with the revocation of minting rights by Imperial decree in 1724. The building decayed, but was restored in 1904 and remains a landmark of Kutná Hora.

Pretty lane in Kutná Hora

The Thirty Yeas War started in Bohemia, and struck Bohemia particularly hard. After the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620, the King of Bohemia, Friedrich of the Palatinate – the 'Winter King' – had to flee Bohemia, together with his wife Elizabeth Stuart. The Habsburg monarchy started the re-catholization of the hence tolerant province; all Lutherans, Utraquists and Calvinists should convert or emigrate.

At first, the authorities of Kutná Hora tried to maintain the freedom of worship, to prevent the mass exodus of Lutheran miners, but to no avail. The emperor sent in Spanish troops and the Jesuits; the burghers and other inhabitants had to no choice but to convert or emigrate.

Moreover, the town was twice raided and severely damaged by Swedish troops (1639 and 1643) during the waves of the war that swept through the lands. At the end of the Thirty Years War, the mines were abandoned, many houses stood empty or were in ruins, though St.Barbara's Church had escaped severe damage.

Restored Mediaeval passage

Nevertheless, Kutná Hora recovered to some extent and was still one of the bigger towns in Bohemia at the beginning of the 19th century. But it failed to introduce the industrialisation, either in modern mining methods or the establishment of other factories.

That had one advantage, though. The pretty old town – rebuilt after the Thirty Years War – was preserved in good shape and joined the list of UNESCO Heritage in 1995. Today, it is a minor tourist attraction for visitors of Czechia, not crowded as Prague, but a pretty destination for a day tour.

Painted facade of a house in Kutná Hora

1) Sigismund's wife, Maria of Anjou, inherited the throne from her father Louis who was King of Hungary 1342-1382, and King of Poland via his mother, Elizabeth of Poland, since 1370. His younger daughter Hedwig/Jadwiga would inherit the Polish throne and marry Władysław Jagiełło who became King of Poland by right of his wife, the same way his brother-in-law Sigismund became King of Hungary.
2) The German Prince Electors had deposed Sigismund's older brother Wenceslaus – nicknamed 'the Lazy' – in 1400 due to incompetence, end elected Rupert of the Palatinate of House Wittelsbach. After Rupert's death in 1410, they went back to House Luxembourg which in the end had more political clout, power and money than a local magnate. Wenceslaus remained King of Bohemia until his death in 1419.
3) He was a brother of King Henry IV of England.
4) Sigismund visited King Henry V in England after the Battle of Agincourt (1415), trying to negotiate a reconciliation with France, and signed the Treaty of Canterbury which acknowledged the English claims to France.
5) Vladislav was only King of Bohemia proper; the duchies of Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia had been occupied by Matthias Corvinus, the King of Hungary (and another king who rose from the local nobility after the death of Sigismund). Vladislav and Matthias divided the Crown of Bohemia at the Peace of Olomouc in 1479.

Jörg Hoensch: Die Luxemburger – eine spätmittelalterliche Dynastie gesamteuropäischer Bedeutung 1308-1473, Stuttgart 2000
Martin Kintzinger: Sigismund (1410/1411-1437), in Bernd Schneidmüller, Stefan Weinfurter (ed.): Die Deutschen Herrscher des Mittelelalters – Historische Porträts von Heinrich I bis Maximilian I, München 2003, p. 462-485.
Jan Kulich: St.Barbara's Church in Kutná Hora, Liblice, 2013.


The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.

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Location: Goettingen, Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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King David and the Civil War, Part 2

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House of Knýtlinga
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The Duchy of Estonia
Danish Kings and German Sword Brothers


Kings of Norway

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King Håkon V's Swedish Politics
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A Time of Feuds

Famous Nobles and their Feuds
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


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Scandinavian Unity
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Towns of the Hanseatic League

The History of Mediaeval Riga

The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


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The Wars in Lithuania
The Siege of Vilnius 1390

Lithuanian Princes

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Royal Dynasties

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Other Times

Prehistoric Times


Neolithic Remains
Stone Burials of the Funnelbeaker Culture

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
Hutewald Project in the Solling
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen


Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Bronze Age / Iron Age
Clava Cairns
The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Their Function in Iron Age Society


The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd

Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)


European Nobility
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus


History in Literature and Music

History in Literature

Biographies of German Poets and Writers
Theodor Fontane

Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane
(Translated by me)
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
Buntsandstein Formations in the Northern Harz
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations

Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite

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