Tuesday, 22 May 2007
UNESCO or not
Those of you who have read my other posts will know my love of Cesky Krumlov. It is a wonderful Czech town in South Bohemia. As you arrive from Prague you come down the hill and in front of you you see a Renaissance castle, set on cliffs, almost Gormenghast-like in its proportions and aspect. It takes your breath away and you realise you are arriving somewhere very special. And you are - the heart of the Cesky Krumlov is a perfectly preserved medieval/renaissance town. In recognition of this the town was made a UNESCO world heritage site. The UNESCO status is meant to help protect its wonderful and unique collection of buildings and in some ways it does. But UNESCO status is a double-edged sword, it brings with it other dangers.
Being a UNESCO World Heritage site means that inevitably the town gets on to the tourism map. There is nothing wrong with that if the tourism is managed in an appropriate sustainable way, but it isn't. It would appear that those who "manage" tourism in Cesky Krumlov and too many that invest in it worship at the shrine of the filthy lucre, of the god of the fast buck. The tourists that are coming tend to be day-trippers, often on a day-trip from Prague. Now it takes about 3 hours to get from Prague to Cesky Krumlov , so as you can see a day-trip to Cesky Krumlov actually means that the visitors have only 2 - 3 hours in the town, not long enough to spend enough money to justify the damage they are doing to the town.
In the 1970's under the Communists there were a small band of people in the Krumlov, who set about saving the town and its heritage from the ravages of communist planning. They went in and saved old medieval doors and other features when the houses were being "improved". Over the decades these same people have faithfully restored frescos, chimneys and other features. If you want to understand more of this, visit the small museum of architecture (you can bet the day-trippers won't). This museum is an example of the sort of visitor offering that the town should have been providing, one in keeping with the setting and which enables the visitor to understand the heritage of Cesky Krumlov. Of course the town did not provide it, it was the initiative of one dedicated individual. The town didn't even provide the building in which this remarkable collection is housed.
The band rejoiced when the town got UNESCO status, now they feel that the status has done harm. It would seem that the greed of capitalism has combined with the centralist legacy of communism to exploit the status for financial benefit, not of the people of Krumlov nor of the fabric of the town, but of a few individuals and often external companies. Historic houses held in trust by the local historical fund have been sold off for inappropriate use. Restaurants, hotels and the like may keep the facades, but inside these uses inevitably result in major changes in the fabric of the houses - visitors expect ensuite bathrooms, these in turn need pipes to be punched through medieval walls. The so-called "protectors" of Cesky Krumlov are creating a disney-world, a facade beautifully restored but a facade nonetheless. A year ago I laughed when my friend told me that some of the Japanese visitors thought that the town was folded up and put away for winter. It is too near the truth now for me to laugh.
Action is needed. Action from UNESCO and the Czech government to stop this. To stop this now before it is too late.
For an update on this post visit my September post