Thursday, June 28, 2007

Kutna Hora

Probably one of the longest and most fun days today. But I am getting tired, and need to be getting more sleep. I think I should probably go to bed right after this (though it is only 10:30) because I am getting a cold and I think it may be related to not getting enough sleep. Anyways, back to the story of my day.
Today we traveled to Kutná Hora, which is one of the bigger cities in the Czech Republic. It is also not a huge tourist attraction, so it was nice to see a city that wasn’t swarming with tourists. Our bus left at 8 in the morning, which is why I haven’t been getting enough sleep, and we drove south east for about 100 kilometers. Though driving was uneventful, it was fun to look out the window and watch as it changed from suburbs (for about a half an hour) into the actual countryside. Czech countryside, from what I have seen, seems to be similar to what would be seen while driving through upstate New York. Very pretty, somewhat interesting. But I was just tired, so I slept for a lot of the way/ listened to my little iPod shuffle. Most people on the bus were sleepy, so there wasn’t much interesting conversation.
The first stop in Kutná Hora was an old monastery. It was famous in medieval times because a monk once took a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and found soil that was part of Christ’s grave and scattered the soil on the cemetery. Christians wanted to be buried in the soil because it was believed that Christ would more likely visit such a place after the second coming of Christ if it had more importance. (And it took a long time for Christ to get from place to place because he had to walk!) The real interesting part about the monastery was found in the inside. For some reason, I’m not positive why, they decided to make the interior decorations out of bones. I know my mom saw something similar in Portugal, but the sight in person is quite shocking. I had never seen anything quite like it; the altar, the goblets, the cross, the decorations, everything was made out of skulls, leg bones, jaw bones, etc. My favorite decoration (or should I say the one I found most interesting, everything was quite unnerving) was the chandelier centerpiece. It was mostly made out of skulls near the bottom, but as it got higher, the rows of skulls were connected by leg and arm bones. Finally, it was attached to the ceiling by strings that were decorated with jaw bones. It was crazy. I lit a candle, but since I’m not Catholic I wasn’t sure exactly who to pray for. So I prayed for one of the skulls, and I wonder if it’s spirit is somewhere in the afterlife and feels a small part of the world remembering his presence...
I’m not sure where they got the bones. I know they dug them up, but I’m not sure if it was the bones of the monks or the commoners or what. However, the sight was amazing. They said that the bones were dug up in the 15th or 16th century, but they are still in good condition. Nowadays, the monastery is pretty much just a sight for the morbidly curious as well as those interested in making B rated movies or having a very unique wedding! I wonder if Katie would have liked to get married surrounded by thousands of skeletons...
After the monastery, we went into the downtown area. The tour was kind of boring of the city. It was more of a lesson on historical progress and the creation of cities and the effect it had on the population and the idea of the individual. This was interesting, but it became very long. After looking at a couple of interesting buildings and a cathedral, we were allowed to get lunch. We found this really quaint restaurant that served traditional Czech meals (at a great price). The soup was delicious, and only 12 krona. Our waiter didn’t speak a word of English, and it was really fun to order off of the Czech menu; it helps that we are learning a lot about food in our Czech language class.
The most fun part at lunch was the tourists next to us. They also didn’t speak English, and for a while they were just staring at our food. Then my friend Emily said, “Hey, they are speaking Spanish!” Of course, I was really excited and broke into Spanish and was able to help the Spaniards order their food. They were really impressed with my Spanish ability (I was surprised I could still speak pretty well) and I was glad I could help translate the menu (from Czech to Spanish, pretty tricky). The only difficulty was that they used the vosotros form, a verb conjugation form that we didn’t worry about in throughout my Spanish classes. It is only used in Spain, and rather difficult when you only studied it for two years in high school. They also had a slight lisp; they were from south of Barcelona, really interesting. I never thought I would be speaking Spanish in a Czech restaurant with 4 elder hispanoblantes.
After lunch, we headed to the mines. Kutná Hora is known for it’s silver mine, which thrived for 400 years from about the 1200's to the 1700's. After the discovery of mine in South America (specifically Potosi) there was less attraction in the mining in Kutná Hora. The mines went as deep as 600 meters, which is about 2,000 feet. The silver mine was able to strengthen the economy of Kutná Hora and it vied against Prague as the capital of the Bohemia. There was a lot of importance about minting various coins, but most of that went over my head. I was too excited for the actual touring of the mines; we were going to enter the mines ourselves!

Our group put on white, frock-like garments, grabbed a flashlight and mining helmet, and headed down into the depths. Although we only went down 30 meters, it felt like we were in the heart of the earth. If we all turned off our flashlights, it was pitch black; the miners worked with hardly any light and mined for 6 hour shifts, only mining about one or two inches a shift. It seemed like very hard work, but it paid off. The mine was a little scary, and I couldn’t imagine being in it if I was a tad bit claustrophobic. At some points, the ceiling was only four feet high, and at others, it was so narrow that we had to walk sideways. We also had to crowd together, and could barely fit into a section overlooking an underground ravine. It was surreal, it was like living in another world. On the walls, limestone had grown throughout the years and it looked like some sort of beast had passed through. My friends and I joked, saying it was the great wheat beast that traveled through and left it’s slime. (We have an ongoing joke that wheat comes from the great wheat beast, various interpretations have arisen as to what it looks like. I will attach my picture. The wheat beast is our source of wheat, I mean if steak comes from a cow, then hamburger buns must come from some sort of animal, right?) Anyways, we weren’t allowed to take pictures, but it is an experience I won’t forget. I cannot imagine a life where everyday I had to descend into such great depths.
Our final leg of the tour was the St. Barbara Cathedral. St. Barbara was a martyr who died by being locked in a metal cage, so I guess the miners of the city were able to empathize with such a death and chose her for their patron saint. Interestingly, the cathedral was funded by the miners and not the church. With their increased wealth from the silver mines, they were able to create a lavish church that did not follow some of the patterns familiar to most churches. For example, St. Barbara is higher than the virgin Mary and Jesus on the outside entrance of the church; it seems a little sacrilege, but shows part of the cultural tradition. The inside was gigantic, and beautiful, but eventually all the Cathedrals you see seem to swirl in your mind, and I can’t remember any specific characteristics. There was a very nice organ, but other than that, it was another grand and beautiful church. Religion in the Czech Republic is very interesting, but this letter is getting quite long and I should leave that for another day. I also need to write about all my friends that I have met... but I should sleep!

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