Spotlight Litoměřice

17-12-2011 02:01 | Jan Velinger

The North Bohemian town of Litoměřice has long enjoyed the reputation of being one of the Czech Republic's most beautiful towns. Founded roughly 1,000 years ago, Litoměřice lies in one of the Czech Republic's hilliest ranges on the confluence of the Elbe and Ohře Rivers. The town's beginnings was originally a Slavonic fort overseeing a number of small municipalities, later replaced by a castle and emerging town in the 11th century.

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LitoměřiceLitoměřice Oldřich Doskočil is a local historian who has lived in Litoměřice most of his life:

"We can't set an exact date for the founding of Litoměřice but we do know that its beginnings reach back to the nearby Domský Vrch or Dome Hill, the site of a castle that was important under Bohemia's Přemyslid rulers. The castle included an early Romanesque church - which later fell into ruins. They did recover a piece at the archaeological site: an original tile, featuring a well-known and recognisable symbol of Christianity: two fish bound by a ribbon."

In 1057, Litoměřice was given a chapter of the church of St Stephen, increasing its importance.

LitoměřiceLitoměřice "Gradually the town grew. Across the valley there were several settlements - later given names like 'Zásada', 'Kocanda', 'Rybáře', and 'Nové Město' - the New Town. They eventually came together and by 1260 formed the early medieval settlement. Arguably, the most interesting activities continued to take place on the periphery - especially the Zásada district, has the feel of a village within a city even today. In medieval times it was increasingly settled by foreign merchants: Arabs, Slavs from the Balkans, German-speakers. Litoměřice gained a true multi-ethnic 'character'."

Under the Přemyslids, Litoměřice and its castle were vital and remained important under the Luxembourgs. Fortifications and an additional castle were built on its western flank at the command of King Charles IV, who visited Litoměřice on three occasions. Charles granted the town the nearby hill of Radobýl for the foundation of a royal vineyard. Wine production in the area lasted up to the 2nd half of the 19th century, when landslides destroyed the vineyard.

I asked Oldřich Doskočil whether any records describing the wine's taste, had survived:

LitoměřiceLitoměřice "Well, it was said to be among the very best in the country. It wouldn't be wise to criticise the king's wine! I wouldn't! On the other hand, I know they used to criticise Litoměřice's beer: it's said that the brewing tradition that used to exist here was never all that great!"

Wine and beer traditions are of course just a footnote in Litoměřice's history: the town experienced periods of great social change and eventually - upheaval. The 1400s and 1500s were largely marked by the Hussitte movement, with much of the region backing the Protestant movement. But, eventually the defeat of Protestant forces at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 at the beginning of the Thirty Years' War, spelt the end of Czech autonomy and paved the way a for brutal re-Catholicisation of the Czech lands. Many loyal protestants - in Litoměřice as elsewhere, were forced to depart.

Church of St. StephenChurch of St. Stephen "The Hussite movement was always strong here and the sanctions were strict. Even so, the first two Jesuits who came here were chased out by townsfolk carrying pitchforks. Following the Battle of White Mountain, some 200 families were forced to leave. They were given a choice: either to go into exile, or to convert. Property was seized - many left their homes behind. "

But, Litoměřice itself survived, largely intact. The architecture in the historic centre remains stunning: a beautiful panorama of spires on the hazy Elbe River; ramparts from the 13th century; its main square. A mix of burghers' houses rebuilt in the Renaissance - and later - Baroque styles. A courtyard on Jezuitská Street complete hides a twin-peaked Gothic Church. Litoměřice was also heavily influenced by the Baroque including the famous Jesuit church of St. Stephen.

Classicist, Art Nouveau, and later Constructivist buildings follow. Without a doubt a unique pleasure in visiting Litoměřice is just simply wandering the town's wider area, viewing private villas off the beaten path. I spoke with a couple tourists on a day-trip from Prague:

"I'm here just for one day to see the city. We have seen the square here - which is very beautiful - and some Gothic cellars I think they were. Yeah!"

"We saw the square and now we're walking to see houses and buildings outside the town. What I like is that there are German houses and buildings here - they are beautiful!"

RadobýlRadobýl In the distance, the nearby hills and hillocks shimmer in the sunlight. The Dome Hill, Radobýl - the site of the former vineyard. It was from those same slopes that in late October 1836 the great Czech Romantic poet Karel Hynek Mácha saw part of Litoměřice catch fire. In a letter to his parents and fiancé he wrote:

Karel Hynek MáchaKarel Hynek Mácha "In the evening, I was lying on Radobýl, one of the high peaks behind Litoměřice, it was already dark, and flames appeared in Litoměřice. I saw it from that peak. So I ran quickly down... I had to run about three-quarters of an hour to get there, and I was still one of the first ones to the fire. Eleven barns, full of grain, burst into flame, and the wind was blowing through them terribly. Such clarity and heat I've never seen in my life."

The poet and others cooperated together to fight the blaze, but that night - his caught a chill that eventually led to his death, a month later - at just twenty-seven. Oldřich Doskočil once more:

"It was Mácha's last journey. On Radobýl he saw the flames and rushed to help on the other side of town. He caught pneumonia, which eventually proved fatal. That was how the Czech's greatest Romantic poet died."

 

The episode featured today was first broadcast on May 17, 2006.

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