For first-time visitors the world-famous Konopiste Chateau or Karlstejn Castle are natural choices for daytrips outside of Prague but one destination visitors might want to consider is the royal Czech town of Rakovnik, a veritable historic gem found less than 60 kilometres west of the Czech capital. Archaeologists have found that long before it was established as a town, the site of Rakovnik and its surroundings, was favoured by tribes as far back as the Stone Age. Finds on display at the local TG Masaryk Museum in Rakovnik show some of the oldest flint weapons and stone tools, and the museum gradually maps the evolution of Rakovnik and its hilly and wooded surroundings down through the ages.
Archaeologist Katerina Blazkova - who has worked at the museum for five years and is herself a Rakovnik native - told me a bit about the area's ancient past:
"The earliest archaeological indicators from this region date to the Middle Palaeolithic period some 250,000 years before Christ, when people lived above stream valleys and gathered plants and hunting big game and we have a lot of finds from that time for example near the village of Mutejovice. There are also very interesting finds from the Middle Bronze Age, like a hoard of bronze objects as well as rolls in gold wire, and they were put in a ceramic pot along with other objects. It might have been somebody's treasure."
Photographs at the museum reveal some of the idyllic groves, fields, and areas near river banks where archaeologists made finds, and slowly we move down through the centuries. Like many parts of the Czech lands, the Rakovnik region was later also home to the Celts and one of the region's most famous discoveries dates back to their time: a princely grave that included uncovering gilded jewellery, weapons, and surviving pieces of a horse's harness and parts of a two-wheeled chariot.
"It's very rare and we're really very proud: it's the only find of its kind in our region. There are only some 80 such graves in the whole Czech Republic."
Certainly the animal features famously to this day in the town's coat-of-arms - dating from 1482.
In 1588, Rakovnik was named a royal town by the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II. In the decades before the Battle of White Mountain and the start of the Thirty Years' War, the town prospered, becoming famous for its market but especially for its beer. Archaeologist Katerina Blazkova again:
As Katerina Blazkova notes, most burghers' homes were built on the town's magnificent Hus square:
To this day Rakovnik retains a quiet but fascinating "medieval" character, with all of its historic houses including the sgraffito Samson house in what was once a famous Jewish quarter, as well as original gate towers, and many side streets winding uphill. One person who knows Rakovnik perhaps better than most - but from a completely different perspective - is Milan Kivala - a local pilot who sometimes shows visitors Rakovnik, as well as the entire region, from above:
For those spending more than a few days in the Czech Republic, Rakovnik is definitely worth a visit, especially if combined with Krivoklat Castle. If you've been looking for a path just a bit less travelled, Rakovnik and its surroundings may just be it.