Olomouc Archdiocese Museum
The Archdiocese Museum in the buildings of the former Olomouc Castle is the city’s best and most extensive historical sight. Even if you’re sick to death of museums, it’s worth going into this one just to see the buildings themselves. Admission is only 50Kč which is less than a third the price of museums or castles in Prague or Krakow. And entry is free every Wednesday and Sunday!
There are three main levels to the museum; the cellars, ground floor and first floor. The original stonework of the old gothic and Romanesque cellars was exposed in the recent reconstruction and there are archaeological findings exhibited here that date back as far as 3500BC. There are quite a few nooks, crannies and tunnels to explore, but also several places that are off limits to the public. To get down to the cellars you need to descend along the concrete ramps in the same room as the restored carriage that once belonged to Bishop Troyer. No matter what you feel about the excesses of the church, the carriage is an impressive exhibit.
On the ground floor and behind the carriage are the entrances to the treasure room and the sculpture galleries. The treasure room is in the base of the round tower, which began its life as a lookout tower for the castle. With solid masonry walls up to two metres thick and narrow windows it’s the ideal place to store valuable artifacts like the diamond and emerald encrusted monstrances, reliquaries and chalices. With subtle lighting in the black room the exhibits glisten and you almost expect to see a team of acrobatic thieves rappelling down from the ceiling to get their hands on the treasures.
Behind the carriage and through the sculpture galleries is the corridor leading to the adjacent bishops’ palace. The museum is housed in four buildings that were never really designed to be used as one, so there are some maze-like passageways to negotiate and don’t be surprised if the stewards usher you into places they think you may not have seen. On the way to the palace you’ll pass gothic and renaissance altarpieces, relieves and free standing sculptures on loan from the most important churches around Moravia. The highlight is a lifesize and lifelike statue of St Wenceslas in sandstone from around 1500.
The bishops’ palace is made up of several parts. The typical gothic cloister wraps around the courtyard, where a peaceful patch of greenery surrounds a functioning fresh water well. Leading off the north side is the chapel of St John the Baptist and in the palace itself are the oldest preserved architectural features in Olomouc; the original stone windows of Bishop Zdik’s 12th Century Romanesque palace. The windows were hidden until a storm damaged the building in 1867, but have been thoroughly restored and are protected behind thick sheets of plate glass. One is visible from the small square in front of the museum.
Back in the main building, there’s a wide staircase leading up to the picture galleries. The museum has preserved the old custom of felt-overshoes, which are intended to reduce noise and protect the intricate parquet wood flooring. Just slip them on over the top of your shoes and slide rather than step until you get the hang of them.
Breughel and St. Barbara
There are no paintings by Picasso, Monet of Dali here, but there’s an extensive collection of Dutch, Italian and Austrian painting from the 1600’s to the turn of the 20th century, including a Breughel. Again the exhibition rooms themselves are part of the display; especially the chambers of Mars, Jupiter and Neptune at the western end of the complex. Also on the first floor is the entrance to St. Barbara’s chapel, which is in the round tower, above the treasure room, and is perhaps Olomouc’s most beautiful small chapel.
The archdiocese museum is the only one of its type in the country and opened in 2006 after a four year restoration of the castle buildings. During his visit to Olomouc in 1995 Pope John Paul II expressed his support for the museum project, but passed away before its completion. He may be watching on from a higher place, so be sure you keep your slippers on in the picture galleries!
Olomouc Archdiocese Museum
Vaclávské náměstí 3
771 01 Olomouc