“I was euphoric”: Český Krumlov marks 30 years of UNESCO status
Český Krumlov, one of Czechia’s best preserved historic towns, is celebrating three decades since it was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The listing placed the town on the global tourist map with tens of millions of visitors having traveled there since.
While today Czechia boasts no fewer than 16 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, in the immediate years after the fall of Communism there were none. That changed in December 1992, when the international organization decided to admit the historic centers of Prague, Telc and Český Krumlov into the exclusive club.
The man in charge of administering the iconic castle in the center of the city, Dr Pavel Slavko, still recalls the moment when he got the news.
“I was euphoric. I remember I was so excited that I decided to stay the whole night in the office where I was coming up with ideas for the future. I was making lists of all that needed to be restored.”
In retrospect, he says, some of those ideas were naïve, while others turned out even better than he expected. The connections within the city were reengineered, the facades of the buildings were restored and the incoming tourism industry fixed many of the historical features that were still contained within the city in order to cater to the demand of the influx of new visitors. In short, UNESCO membership brought much greater access to money, says Dr Slavko.
“Within a space of 10 or 15 years, a previously little known spot started shining like a diamond in the crown of Czechia’s tourism industry. This happened because it initiated a huge wave of activity from the state, the region, and the town itself, as well as from those who own the listed buildings here.”
In the immediate years before the pandemic, foreign visitors made up around 70 percent of the tourists in Český Krumlov and the tourism sector employed close to 40 percent of the local labor force. The town was especially popular among Asian tourists. Indeed the Chinese loved it so much that they built a 1.4 million square meter copy of Krumlov's castle in the city of Dongguan.
The town was almost too popular, according to Helena Pospíšilová, who lives on the outskirts of Krumlov.
“It was terrible before the pandemic. I would go into the centre once a year, because it was impossible among all those crowds. But now I am noticing that it’s starting all over again.”
Whether you interpret it as a curse or a blessing, statistics indicate that the town’s tourism sector is still affected by the effects of the pandemic, with visitor numbers this year being only at around a half of what they were before 2020.
With polls indicating that the overwhelming reason behind Český Krumlov’s popularity is its UNESCO membership, there is perhaps a greater threat to the town’s continued prosperity than a pandemic interlude – losing a place in the exclusive international club.
UNESCO inspectors have long argued for the relocation of the local revolving auditorium, a 20th century structure that they believe is out of place in the castle’s baroque gardens.
However, despite promising to do so in 1992, the town has still not moved the structure and the dispute is likely to continue.