Plzeň (Pilsen), Czech Republic
Plzeň is the Czech Republic’s fourth largest city and the capital of Západočeský region. A Catholic stronghold during the Hussite wars of the fifteenth century, it is now principally an industrial city best known for its beer manufacture and the Skoda engineering works.
The site of modern Plzeň was established in 1295 by Wencelas II, at the centre of major Prague–Bavarian trade routes. Known as Nova Plzeň (New Plzeň), the new site was around 10 km from that of Old Plzeň, where a castle had been constructed in 976. The first brewery in the area was recorded in 1307.
The early Hussite movement found support from the town in the early fifteenth century, but was expelled in 1420. Despite being besieged three times by Hussite invaders (in 1427, 1431 and 1433–34), Plzeň remained resolutely Catholic. The period from 1550 to the seventeenth century was one of dynamic growth. The first Czech printed book, Trojan Chronicle, was published in Plzeň in 1468.
The town was devastated by fire in 1507, with two thirds of its buildings destroyed. It was the first of several fires to blight the town over the coming centuries, with the last major blaze occurring in 1835. In 1599 Emperor Rudolf II based himself in the city for a year in a bid to escape the Plague and made Plzeň the interim capital of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1618 the city fell to the Protestant forces of Count Arnost Manfeld. It also endured two outbreaks of the plague before the end of the century.
The city expanded again in the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. The City Brewery was established in 1842 and was followed 17 years later by the Waldstein Engineering Works that would evolve into Skoda. Expansion continued throughout the century, although Plzeň was occupied by Prussian troops for 2 months during 1866.
Growth slowed during the twentieth century as a result of World War I and a general economic slump. The city came under fierce air attack during World War II, with over 6,500 houses destroyed and almost 1,000 people killed. It was liberated on 6 May 1945 by US forces led by General Patton. Under communist rule until 1989, Skoda became one of the leading suppliers of engineering and transport manufactures to the Eastern Bloc.
Brewing and engineering dominate Plzeň’s local economy, which has plentiful supplies of coal and iron ore. Textiles, paper and pottery are also important. Plzeň acts as a trade centre for the surrounding agricultural region.
Trams, buses and trolley buses run within the city. Plzeň is on an extensive rail network and its airport, a former military base, is undergoing a 10-year development plan that began in 2001. The University of West Bohemia was founded in Plzeň in 1949.
Plzeň was chosen by the EU to be one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2015, alongside Mons in Belgium.
Places of Interest
Plzeň’s leading attraction is the Plzeňsky Prazdroj Brewery (City Brewery), home of Pilsner Urquell beer. The Skoda works has its own museum. St Bartholomew’s Church dates from the thirteenth century while the sixteenth century town hall was created by the Renaissance architect, Giovanni de Statia. The Franciscan church and monastery have retained much of their Gothic heritage, while the Church of St Anna and St Ruzena Limanska is a fine example of Baroque design. The Grand Synagogue is among the largest synagogues in central Europe. The West Bohemia Museum has a collection covering the region’s history from pre-historic times. Also open to the public is a network of multi-leveled cellars built between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries.