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Pisek, Czech Republic - Town History

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On the banks of the river Otava Bohemian kings founded the castle and town of Pisek in the mid 13th century. Thanks to gold mining and industrious trade and production activities the town rapidly developed and enjoyed benevolent Lords such as Premysl Otakar II., Charles IV. and Wenceslas IV., who were frequent guests. As of the 14th century it was the centre of an expansive region, called the Lands of Prachen (a region covering at its height a large part of South Bohemia west of the Vltava river). In the first half of the 15th century it played an important role for the defenders of the chalice (a branch of the hussite movement). The beginning of the Thirty Year War signified a catastrophe for the town of Pisek. Three times it was besieged and as many times conquered, for the last time on September 30th 1620 when it was completely destroyed by the imperial army and the majority of its inhabitants were killed. The sight of the town started changing in the 19th century - it outgrew its walls, suburbs developed whole streets of tenement houses, the Czech language conquered the town hall, institutions and societies of culture arose and Pisek was called the town of schools and students and the violinist's Mecca. As a town in a sea of forests, it has become a fashionable holiday resort and favourite aim for tourists. The old town centre of Pisek has been declared a historic site.

The castle
A significant example of Bohemian castle architecture. It was constructed in the mid 13th century by the Pisek-Zvikov builders for Premysl Otakar II, king of Bohemia. Over the centuries the castle lost all of its three towers and the only remaining of the four original wings is part of the west wing above the river Otava, where a large Gothic hall, decorated with copies of frescos from 1479, is opened to the public. The castle, part of which was rebuilt as a brewery and also as an army barracks in the past, now houses the Prachen museum with comprehensive regional collections.

The town hall
A two-storey building with a Baroque facade and two towers, erected between 1740 and 1767. The town emblem is inside the triangular tympanum and above it there are statues of Justice, Power and Patience and decorative vases. On the front there is a commemorative plate dedicated to two local compatriots - the humanist scholars Jan Kocin of Kocinet and Vaclav Hladic of Pisek. Upon entering the building you can see a plate commemorating the town workers who fell victim to the Nazi regime. Like most of the buildings on the square, also the town hall originally had arcades. They were removed in the middle of the last century.

The monastery church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
The church recalls the former Dominican monastery that stood south from the church in the mid 13th century until August 20th, 1419, when it was destroyed by the devotees of the chalice. After the Battle on the White Mountain the monastery was renewed, but again abolished by emperor Josef II. The monastery church has a remarkable Renaissance facade with graffito, left from the time it served as the town salt-house. Above the left portal you can see the emblem of the Dominican order. The tower has two bells from 1575 and 1673. The church is inversely orientated, its ground plan is cross-shaped. The main altar is from the 17th century, the chapel altars from the following century. Beneath the church you can find the crypt of Svamberk from the 17th century.

The house "U kouli" (the balls)
Once part of one of three medieval gates - the Putim Gate. When it was demolished in 1836, canon balls found near the gate were set into the facade of the house, whence its name. The front of the building also preserved some Renaissance graffito. The house boasts a rich culture history - the writer Josef Holecek as well as the poets Adolf Heyduk and Frana Sramek lodged there.

The deanery church of the Virgin Mary's Birth
A three-nave building from the mid 13th century, originally with twin towers. One of the towers was raised in 1489 and now reaches a height of 70 metres. The similarity of architectural elements reveals that the same builders also worked on Pisek castle and the Zvikov castle. Inside the church you can find mural paintings depicting: "Descent from the Cross", "Suffering Christ", "Crucifixion" and "Madonna with Jesus". The northern nave's Renaissance walls come from the 16th century. The present interior is almost exclusively neo-Gothic. In the extended Baroque chapel of Saint John of Nepomuk there is a colour vista of the town from the mid 18th century. The big tower houses four bells from the workshop of Marie Tomaskova-Dytrychova of Brodek near Prerov. They were cast in 1991 and 1992.

Hotel Otava
The building is situated on the site of the former Budweis Gate. The local pharmacist, Dvoracek, had it built into one of the most luxurious hotels in South Bohemia in 1899. Its facade is decorated with eleven graffito from the history of Pisek and its vicinity according to Mikolas Ales designs. The southern front from left to right: "Gold-panning on the Otava", "Captain of the Tabor Hussites, Matthew Louda of Chlumcany, on the Stone Bridge", "Tournament of Knights", "Conquest of the Town in the Thirty-Year War" and "Allegory of the Hunt". The eastern front form left to right: "Apotheosis of the Town Emblem", "the Battle at Cizov", "the Town Festival", "Countryfolk from the Pisek area", "Pisek students at Zvikov" and "Rafts on the Otava". In the early 20th century professor Otakar Sevcik's renowned international violin school resided in the hotel.

The plague column
The plague column of the Virgin Mary on Ales Square commemorates the great plague of 1713. The column with the figure of the Immaculate Virgin Mary on top stands in the middle of a group of statues. Sculptures decorate the surrounding square balustrade, depicting the following saints: Joseph, Sebastian, Rochus, Wenceslas, Lawrence, Barbara, Franciscus Xavier, Mary Magdalene and Pius V. Beneath the town emblem and the date 1715 engraved on the column lies the figure of Saint Rosalie. The statue was made by Ch. Widemann, a sculptor from Pilsen in co-operation with Fr. Zeber, a stonemason from Horazdovice. In the past an annual procession used to come to the plague column on the first Sunday after June 8th - in memory of the liberation of the town from French occupants in 1742. It was so called Town Festival.

Palacky Gardens
The gardens were laid out on the filled-in moats in front of the town walls in the 1840's. In the gardens we find Schrenk pavilion from 1841 in Empire style with a cryptogram of the architect's name inside. Next to it there is a monument of the historian Frantisek Palacky, a monument of the poet Adolf Heyduk and a Baroque statue of Neptune, which originally decorated no longer existing fountain on the main square.

The home of Adolf Heyduk
The house was built in 1900 according to the design of the architect Jan Koula in neo-Renaissance style for the well-known poet (1835 - 1923(, a member of the May society (a Czech writers and poets society of the second half of the 19th century, publishing the May almanac(. Some of Heyduk's rooms - his study, dining-room and sitting-room - have been arranged in their original design and are open to the public.

The power station
Pisek was one of the first towns in the country, where engineer Frantisek Krizik installed street lights run by electricity. This happened on June 23rd, 1887 and a year later a water power station was built to supply the extended light system. The dynamos were initially driven by a water wheel, which was replaced by two Francis turbines in 1901. After a long time of inactivity the town had the old system reconstructed, thus enabling electricity supply again. The power station was put back into service in 1994.

The stone bridge
The oldest remaining bridge in the country, it was evidently built before the end of the 13th century. It is 111 metres long and had defence towers on both banks, which have not been preserved. The bridge is decorated with statues of St. John of Nepomuk, St. Anne, St. Anthony of Padua and the Christ crucifixion. The bridge is part of the national heritage.

The former cemetery and the Holy Trinity church
The cemetery was founded in 1549, the church built in its centre in 1576. The south Renaissance portal depicts events from the town history. After the establishing of a new Forest cemetery in the 1920's the complex gradually stopped being used and was changed into a piety park. Architecturally interesting tombstones have been preserved and the resting-places of important local personalities are marked, among others: the historian August Sedlacek and the pedagogue Otakar Sevcik. Inside the church we can still find a wooden carved pulpit from the late Renaissance. The church belongs to the Prachen museum (exhibitions, concerts and festive events take place there.