Travel back in time to explore the beautifully preserved medieval town of Český Krumlov –

with cobblestone streets, picturesque Baroque and Renaissance-style shops, cafés and homes and one of Europe’s largest castle complexes overlooking the majestic Vltava River.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Monument, the Krumlov Castle is actually a large complex of 40 buildings and palaces, five castle courts and a castle park and garden. First built in the 13th century by the Lords of Krumlov -- a powerful Czech family with a five-petal rose on their coat-of-arms. This rose has now become a part of the culture of the city, a symbol of the castle and the namesake of the Festival of the Five-Petalled Rose. Originally a Gothic castle, the structure went through a number of design changes – and expansions -- over the centuries and is more often linked to the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Ever seen a bear at a castle? The Bear Moat is always a favorite spot among visitors and dates back to 1707 (although bears were kept here beginning in the 16th century). Originally, a brilliant way of keeping invaders away, the bears continue to thrive. Another favorite sight is the castle bell tower which rises nearly 200 feet above the grounds. Inside, it has a beautiful wall mural gallery, with paintings circa the late 16th century and four bells dating back to the 15th-18th centuries. The views of the city and river below are breathtaking.

The extensive castle gardens rival those of some of the most beautiful palaces in Europe. With an eclectic mix of styles – from baroque and neoclassical -- one of the garden’s focus points is certainly the four-tier Cascade Fountain (built in the 18th century). Adorned with stone sculptures of Neptune, Water Dieties, fish and stone vases, the fountain is flanked by grand staircases on each side. After a time of neglect during Communist rule, the fountain and gardens were restored to their full splendor in the late 1990s.

The castle is also known for Prince Johann Christian I. von Eggenberg’s stunning Baroque theater, built from 1680-82. Renovated by Josef Adam zu Schwarzenberg in the 1760’s with the latest stage equipment, decorations and opulent murals. It’s among only a few court theaters that remain throughout Europe and even opens for public performances twice a year. A noted moment in its prestigious history include a 1937 meeting here with Czechoslavakia’s president, Edvard Beneš, in which theater owner Adolph Schwarzenberg offered a considerable amount of cash to help defend against the Nazis. After the war and occupation, the castle was confiscated by the government.

A newer addition, an elegant open-air revolving auditorium offers more opportunities to catch a show throughout the year – holding opera, theater and ballet performances.

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