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Jan Blazej Santini´s Baroque Gothic Architecture in the Highlands

The Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady and St. John the Baptist in Sedlec protected by UNESCO, the Church of the Nativity of Virgin Mary in the monastery Zeliv, the UNESCO Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk in Zdar, the Cemetery built on a ground plan of a human skull, the Church of St Wenceslas in Zvole, the Church of Visitacion of Virgin Mary in Obyctov, the pilgrimage place Bobrova.

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Those that love the architecture know the name Jan Blazej Santini Aichl, the creator of the style Baroque Gothic. Choose the sights with our guide to admire his work. The Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady in Sedlec protected by UNESCO with the famous ossuary, the Church of the Nativity of Virgin Mary in the monastery Zeliv, the Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk on the Green Hill built on the base of five-pointed star protected by UNESCO, the cemetery symbolically built on a ground plan of a human skull, the Church of St. Wenceslas built on the base of the Greek cross, the Church of the Visitacion of Virgin Mary built on the base of the tortoise, the symbol of maternity, the pilgrimage place with 14 stations in Bobrova.


The Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady and St. John the Baptist in Sedlec protected by UNESCO and the Ossuary
At the turn of the 14th century, the monastery in Sedlec ranked among the most important church institutions in Bohemia. The immense wealth generated by local silver mines enabled the Cistercian order to initiate vast construction activities, the results of which are still to be seen today. The monastic Church of the Assumption of Our Lady was built between 1282 and 1320; it is a monumental five-aisled structure with seven chapels arranged fanlike around the presbytery – the oldest cathedral in the country. On 21 April 1421, the monastery and the church were seized by Hussite troops and burnt down. It took centuries, exactly 280 years, to reconstruct the buildings. Major contribution to the current appearance was made by J. B. Santini-Aichl (1677 – 1733), great Czech Baroque architect. His innovative style, the so-called Baroque Gothic, which he applied especially in the cathedral, has no parallel in Europe and connects both styles in a remarkable unity.
The reconstruction affected other monastic buildings, too, especially the Cemetery Chapel of All Saints with the Ossuary.
The Cistercian monastery was abolished in 1783 upon the decision of Emperor Joseph II, the seventeen monks were transferred to other institutions, the church was deconsecrated.
The Church of the Assumption of Our Lady is considered a unique architectural complex that was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.

Zeliv Monastery
Church of the Nativity of Virgin Mary
The Gothic basilica of the church in Zeliv grew up by the reconstruction of the original Romanesque building in the late 14th century. After being destroyed by the Hussites it was renewed again. After a fire in the year 1712, the abbot began to look for an architect and designer to modify the church. Santini came to Zeliv in the year 1714 in order to elaborate a project and to survey the construction consequently, until the year 1720 when the church was completed. In Zeliv, he was supposed to complete the new part of the building and attach it to the repaired Gothic chancel.
The axis of the church is optically prolonged by means of a forward vestibule and side towers. A Gothic monstrance set according to Santini's design in 1719 is located between the towers. The space architecture of the interior is divided into 3 naves separated from each other by means of hung-up suspension voussoirs making an impression of a fantastic fragility in spite of their mass, as well as the insights into the upper level near the large side windows. Similarly to a number of other Santini's buildings, just these elements can be explicated as a path towards the light.

Zdar nad Sazavou - Zelena Hora Green Hill
Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuceno
The big admirer of the martyr John of Nepomuk, the abbot of the Zdar monastery Vaclav Vejmluva, had considered commemoration of the intended Saint's martyrdom since his instalment. That is why he approached to ideological specification of a new shrine, symbolically situated on a hill above the monastery, right after opening his grave in March 1719 and declaration of the miraculous reviviscence of soft tissue considered as the Nepomuk's tongue. The hill was named Zelena hora Green Hill according to the martyr's birthplace. The architect Jan Santini Aichl also understood the miracle of an intact tongue fundamentally - as a God's suggestion. For Santini, this project was an absolute culmination of his work and an expression of his personal message and heritage. Twelve masons were first paid during the construction on the 13th August 1719 and the church was festively consecrated three years later, on the 27th September 1722. Henceforth, the work with the construction of cloisters with five chapels and five gates continued. The project worked out both in conception and in detail was completed after Santini's death, on the 7th December in 1723 led thoroughly by the Abbot Vejmluva. After all, the cloister ground plan had been surveyed based on circular proportions already in the year 1719. According to the customs, the foundations were earthed and left under the ground until the time of the construction. Both personalities were concerned with the intention to commemorate the Saint John of Nepomuk by building a pilgrimage church for a longer time. The main element was the invention of a star in the middle of stars as the then preachers said. The basic ground plan on a five-pointed star shape symbolizes not only the five martyr's blows of the Christ but the five chapels in the cloister also symbolize the five stars appeared above the place of John of Nepomuk's martyrdom. The whole structure of the church was created following the particularly detailed symbolism, both from the mathematical and the symbolically descriptive point of view. The construction of the church itself can be described not only as an enclosed building but on the contrary as an illuminated space surrounded with the permeating shapes. The perfectly central balancing of the church as well as the whole pilgrimage premises was in the first construction phase, that is to say before the devastating fires, topped with five pile steles situated above the roofs of the cloister chapels. The fascinating outside of the church - that unfortunately was not reconstructed in the original Santini's design - was a compositional crown of the wide region, situated on the top of a marked hill above the monastery itself. Today, the exterior of the church is deforested and its appearance comes back to the original Santini's idea. The absolutely unique character and originality of Santini's approach to the architecture as well as the purity of all architectural and stylistic elements was unambiguously confirmed by listing this solitaire building into the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites.

Video: Zelena Hora - Green Hill UNESCO protected

Cemetery based on the plan of the human skull
The next order was construction of a small cemetery, later on called Plague Cemetery. Originally, it had been really intended for eventual victims of the plague. Hovewer, this epidemic did not touch Zdar that time. The cemetery was symbolically built on a ground plan of a human skull with three chapels and a statue of the Last Judgement Angel by Rehor Theny in the middle of them. Later a fourth chapel was integrated into the ground plan and the cemetery area was considerably enlarged.

Please visit the special blog about: Pilgrimage Places in the Highlands The blog is written in Czech language. For translation please use Google translator!

The Highlands beautiful countryside videos: Pohled Pilgrimage Place of st. Anna
Vysocina - Highlands
Vysocina - Highlands, Christmas Time

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Church of St Wenceslas
Originally medieval Church of St Welceslas was in a condition of disrepair early in the 18th century. Santini carried out reconstruction as a part of the complex of arrangements and completions in the area of the Zdar monastery sphere of action. Together with the churches in Horni Bobrova, Obyctov and Zdar itself, this church illustrates Santini's ability to apply also to smaller buildings of a local importance in a way responsibly. The church, rebuilt in the baroque style, has got a ground plan of the Greek cross and is delimitated by a geometrical outline composed of circles described and inscribed within the ground square. The dominant of the roof is the lantern shaped within the canonical mitre symbolism as an attribute of the shrine's patron. The letter W at the top of the gable of the western façade reminds of him as well as of the submitter Vejmluva.

Horni Bobrova Pilgrimage Place
Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
Santini elaborated a project in the year 1714 and the church was consecrated on the 5th October of 1722 in connection with the realization of the St John's pilgrimage church on Zelena hora hill. Of the original late-Romanesque church, Santini retained only the central nave but he converted it in a chancel with an altar, thus turning round the whole church orientation. That is to say he attached the area of a new nave on the eastern side. The entrance five-lateral portal was realized in an impressive baroque style and its Italian design is often mentioned in the literature, especially the Roman façade of the architect Borromini. The simplicity of the whole design illustrates Santini's ability to dedicate also to the sophisticated designing of small suburban projects, besides the monumental pompous buildings.

Jan Blazej Santini Aichel signed as a "painter and architect" in the official certificate of acquirement of the burgess-ship of Malá Strana from the 20th October of 1705. He got trained in both these professions with Jean Baptist Mathey until the year 1695. While his architectonic work is represented by approximately tens of buildings, we do not know any Santini's painting work and it seems that he was not concerned with painting during his architectonic activity anymore.
The well-known ground plan of the peak Santini's work - the Church of St John of Nepomuk on Zelena hora in Zdar nad Sazavou - was exactly and fairly designed by means of a compass on a sheet of paper. The logical steps of the ground plan arrangement, utilization of construction in the rate of the golden section and complete multiples of semi-diameters of the individual used circles, the lot had got both the formal and the contents qualities from the beginning. Thus, the rising geometrical pattern is a genuinely ideogram of drawing, more a theoretical and intelligible reality than a kind of design and structure. Including the sections of the building and the architectural design of its interior were elaborated by means of equal, abstract processes in the vertical plane. In this phase of the project, the scheme of the building arose as abstract minimized networks delimitating the internal area and opening it to the spatial infinity in a number of directions. However, the network of vertical sections also shows an explicit design of the dematerialised but secure construction system in spirit of the cathedral support structures. This system shows sufficient proportioning of the wall thickness including in the ground sections. As if the abstract linear network predetermined not only the appearance but also the proportioning of the building material and its structural ties. Further shape structuring of the exterior and the interior of the church - completed by the newest findings of the original appearance of the middle area vault architectural structure - called up and intensified the impression of the building as a dematerialised labyrinth of lines penetrated by the light, of a superior sacred complexion.
Analyses of other buildings and designs of Jan Blase Santini Aichel also illustrate that this - symbolic-ideal pattern - was generally true for the Santini's sacral buildings and it was intended and prepared by the architect and most probably by the customers, too.
Jan Blazej Santini-Aichel (born on 3rd February 1677 in Prague - died on the 7th December 1723 in Prague) was the significant Czech architect of the Italian origin. He is famous for his unique style called baroque-Gothic.
He was born on the day of St Blase as the oldest son in the reputable family of the Prague's mason Santin Aichel and baptized as Jan Blase Aichl in the Cathedral of St Vitus the following day. He was born with a physical handicap - he was paralysed in a part of his body and lame. It disabled him from successful continuing in his father's career and from undertaking his masonry. Nevertheless, he got skilled in masonry (as well as his brother Frantisek), but studied including painting, probably at Kristiana Schröder. As soon as skilled, he set out for a journey in order to gather experience about the year 1696. He travelled through Austria and arrived in Rome in Italy where he had the opportunity to become acquainted with the work of Francesco Boromini from Tesina, the radical architect considered as "a crazy" by the Roman conservative contemporaries. He also incorporated his father's name Santini into his name while he was in Italy, as well as his brother Frantisek.
In the year 1700, Santini already built and designed independently and had his own money, i.e. he was member of some of the architectural guilds and possessed his own building company. He took up the work of the architect J. B. Mathey and undertook and completed some of his projects after his death. He took over including the Mathey's range of employers and he partially took up his style, too. Santini prospered and he bought the house Valkounsky dum (No. 211) for 3000 gold coins in cash in the street Nerudova in 1705. Two years later, he bought including the neighbouring house U zlate cise (No. 212) and connected both houses.
After Schröder's death, Santini married his daughter Veronika Alzbeta in the year 1707. He had four children with Veronika but all the three sons - Jan Norbert Lukas, Josef Rudolf Felix Rehor and František Ignac - died from tuberculosis when they were children and only the daughter Anna Veronika remained.
When his wife Veronika died in 1720, he married the South-Bohemian noblewoman Antonie Ignatie Chrepicka from Modliskovice and so he was ennobled. He had a daughter Jana Ludmila with her in the year 1721 and a son Jan Ignác Rochus just in the year of his death. Benefactors from the high aristocracy became godparents of all Santini's children.

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Last updated on Jun 13, 2018