Český Krumlov is an outstanding example of a central European small town dating from the Middle Ages that owes the structure and buildings of its historic core to its economic importance and relatively undisturbed organic development over some five centuries. The town grew up within a meander of the Vltava river, which provides a natural setting of great beauty. Its evolution over time is evident with startling clarity from its buildings and its urban infrastructure. It has profited from a relatively peaceful history in that it has retained its entire medieval layout and most of its historic buildings relatively intact. Restoration and conservation has been slight and so there can be no question as to the authenticity of both the townscape and its components.
The site is located on an ancient east-west communication route at a crossing of the Vltava River. The earliest documentary record of 1253 refers to the existence there of a castle belonging to a member of the ruling Vitkovici family of south Bohemia. The core of the castle (Hradek) dates from the 13th century. Settlement developed to the east (Latrán) and also on the opposite bank of the river round a central square. This multi-nodal urban development is a characteristic of medieval town development, especially in northern and central Europe. It was the seat of the influential Rožmberk family for 300 years from the mid-14th century. The Gothic castle was reconstructed in Renaissance style, with the involvement of leading artists of the period. The wealth and importance of the town is reflected in the high quality of many of the burgher houses, as the presence of the seat of government led to Český Krumlov becoming an important craft and trade centre. There was also considerable ecclesiastical development, illustrated by the major 15th-century church of St Vitus and monasteries of various preaching and itinerant orders. The town later passed to the equally influential Schwarzenberg family, and it retained its importance well into the 19th century.
There are two main historic areas - the Latrán area below the castle and the town proper on the opposite bank, in the meander of the Vltava River. The town has a regular street layout, typical of the planned towns of the Middle Ages, with streets radiating out from the central square and a circular intra-rampart road. The castle contains elements from the Gothic, High Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. It is dominated by the Gothic Hradek with its round tower; this was subsequently converted into a Baroque chateau with the addition of a garden, the Bellaire summer palace, a winter riding school, and a unique Baroque theatre of 1766. Both Latrán and the town proper contain undisturbed ensembles of burgher houses from High Gothic onwards. They are notable for their facades, internal layouts and decorative detail, especially carved wooden Renaissance ceilings.
The Church of St Vitus, dating from the early 15th century, anticipates High Gothic in its reticulated vaulting and is significant in the European context. Other important historic elements are the Renaissance Jesuit College and Baroque seminary, the Town Hall (created by combining several burgher houses and embellishing them with a Renaissance facade), the remains of the fortifications, especially the Budejovicka Gate (a Renaissance structure, modelled on Italian originals), and the Renaissance armoury in Latrán.
The small towns of Bohemia are, because of their relatively untouched condition, of great importance in illustrating organic urban evolution in medieval and Renaissance central Europe in response to political, social and economic developments, and Český Krumlov is the finest surviving example, in terms of both its intactness and the quality of its buildings and townscape.
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