Budějovice town hall and main square
The heart of České Budějovice's old town is the main square, named after the founder of the city King Přemsyl Otakar II. The two, three and four storey townhouses that face the square have colourfully decorated facades and most have a covered walkway at ground level, providing a convenient space for shoppers to shelter from the weather and for cafes to set up outdoor seating.
Baroque town hall
The single most prominent building on the square is the town hall, near the south-western corner. Originally from 1387, but rebuilt several times, the current appearance of the town hall dates from around 1730. The core of the building is the same height as the others lining the edge of the main square, but its roofline features a tall clock tower, four larger than life statues and a low turret at each corner.
The architectural features of the town hall are trimmed in complimentary shades of a bluish grey, and the facade is decorated by relief sculptures of the city's coat of arms and the symbols of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. The statues representing Justice, Bravery, Wisdom and Prudence watch over the square from their rooftop perches and enormous gargoyles shoot out over the footpath.
Musical chimes and modern lines
Several times each day the bells of the clock tower play one of several dozen tunes, which vary according to the hour, the season and events such as Christmas, Easter and St Wenceslas' Day. The bells were installed in the mid 1990's and behind the historic facade are modern sections of the town hall form around the same time.
The most interesting part of the modern construction for me was the upper floor above the staircase. The top floor was removed and the individual doors that once opened onto it are now connected by a series of curved bridges and balconies. Guided interpretive tours of the town hall are available from the city tourist information office which is conveniently located on the ground floor of the building.
Open space for people, events and exhibitions
České Budějovice's main square is one of the largest in the country and with car parking confined to the outer edges, it's an enormous open space that is really the focal point for public community life in the city. Its size doesn't stop it from being almost constantly alive with people. Benches, planter boxes, and bicycle racks are arranged around the edge of the open space, cafes and restaurants set up outdoor seating in the warmer weather and the northern end of the square is regularly used to showcase large pieces of sculpture.
The central point of the square is marked by a huge stone fountain featuring a sculpture of Samson and his lion. The fountain is the tallest in the country and dates from around the same time as the baroque reconstruction of the town hall. It's also ringed by wooden benches and is the usual meeting place for people in the city.
At night the fountain is illuminated, as are the town hall and many of the two and three storey townhouses facing the square. Just off the north-eastern corner, the high facade of St Nicholas' church and the tall bell tower of dark stone also look down over the square and out across the countryside as far as Hluboka chateau and the mountains of the Šumava National Park.
Even if you decide not to explore the interior of the town hall, spending an hour or so people-watching and absorbing the atmosphere of the main square is one of the best things you can do on a visit to České Budějovice.