Czech Republic: Pilsen

Top tourist destinations

The royal city of Pilsen was founded in 1295 by Wenceslas II at the confluence of four rivers – the Úhlava, Úslava, Radbuza and Mže. Its advantageous location at the crossroads of major trade routes contributed to the rapid economic development of the city, which soon became a centre of cultural and humanistic traditions. The high cultural and social level of the city is reflected in its unique building development. Valuable monuments include the Gothic St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, the Renaissance town hall, a Franciscan monastery and a Jewish synagogue. During the age of industrialization in the 19th century, industrial giants, including the Skoda engineering complex and world-famous Pilsner Urquell brewery, were founded in the city. The founding of the University of West Bohemia and a bishopric added further cultural and spiritual dimensions to the city.

Today, Pilsen is the dynamic and modern metropolis of western Bohemia. It is home to many major firms and industrial companies, universities and medical schools. It has an extensive network of hotels and restaurants, as well as a rich cultural and sports programme and well-developed tourist infrastructure. Its exceptional quality was confirmed when it earned the title European Capital of Culture for 2015.

Pilsen covers 138 km2, and with nearly 170 thousand inhabitants, it is the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic.

 

Republic Square

At the time of the foundation of the city, the square, with dimensions of 139 x 193 m, was one of the largest in Europe. It has undergone thorough renovations, gaining new flagstones as well as three new, modern fountains which portray heraldic figures from the Pilsen coat-of-arms: an angel, a camel, and a greyhound. To this day, the square is the main venue for cultural and open-air events and festivals. It is also the site of traditional markets. Together with its nearby vicinity, it invites visitors to the museums, galleries and historical sites, or to enjoy the romantic parks in the city centre.

The square is surrounded by rows of valuable historical houses, with Renaissance and Baroque modifications, often indicating the fast-growing wealth of their owners.

Town Hall 

Directly on Republic Square is a Renaissance jewel – the Town Hall, which, since its construction, has continued to serve its original purpose. It was built according to the plans of the Italian architect Giovanni de Statia in the years 1554-1559. The building is decorated with sgraffito displaying the city‘s coat-of-arms and Czech rulers. In the back room behind the mázhaus (foyer) there is a model of the historical centre of the city on a scale of 1:200 (free admission).

Plague Column

Right in front of the town hall stands a plague column with a Baroque replica of the Pilsen Madonna on top. It was built in 1681 to protect the city from the plague, from which legendary Emperor Rudolf II fled to Pilsen.

Fountains

Modern fountains designed by Ondřej Císler stand on three corners of the square. A reservoir of black Chinese granite catches water falling from gilded spouts that symbolize an angel, greyhound and camel motifs of a Pilsen character. The spouts are bronze castings of various heights whose gilding required about 720 grams of gold. Seven types of gold leaf 80 x 80 mm were combined to create a structure with different colour effects.

 

The Imperial House  

From 1599-1600, the house adjacent to Pilsen Town Hall, was the seat of Emperor Rudolph II, who came here from Prague to escape the plague. Today, the house, with a statue of a Žumbera knight, accommodates the Pilsen Tourist Information Centre . nám. Republiky 36

 

Pilsen bishopric

The house was originally owned by the Teutonic Knights, and in was rebuilt by Jakub Auguston into its present form. One of the most valuable preserved Baroque buildings in Pilsen, it is now the seat of the Pilsen bishopric. nám. Republiky 35
 

 

House by the Red Heart 

This Neo-Renaissance building from 1894, designed by R. Nicholas Štecha is decorated with sgraffito by Mikuláš Aleš depicting a knight on horseback. The scene recalls a famous tournament, held in Pilsen in honour of Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol. Reportedly, this is where he first met his fateful love Filipina Welser, a beautiful and educated girl from a merchant family, because of whom he later renounced his claim to the throne. nám. Republiky 36
 

House by the Golden Eagle (Hotel Central)

On the site of today’s hotel from the 1980s, there once stood an inn with a rich history. In 1634 General Flavio Piccolomini lived here, from where he spied on Albrecht von Wallenstein, and in 1823 it was the home of Tsar Alexander I. It was here that in 1839 the most memorable sentence of highly-regarded Pilsen innkeeper Vaclav Mirwald was reportedly heard: "The one thing that is truly needed in Pilsen is good and cheap beer" - which led directly to the establishment of the Municipal Brewery, today’s Pilsner Urquell Brewery. nám. Republiky 33
 

House by the White Unicorn

This house, which now accommodates a pharmacy, features a neo-Renaissance facade with sgraffito showing a collection of medicinal plants by Mikoláš Aleš from 1896. nám. Republiky 27

Puppet Museum

The reconstruction of this formerly Gothic house created one of the most important Renaissance buildings in Pilsen, featuring a high Renaissance facade with rich sgraffito and sculptures. The building is used as a museum with an extensive exhibition of Pilsen puppetry. nám. Republiky 23

The Wallenstein house

This Renaissance building dates from the 16th century and originally served as the first seat of the reeve of Pilsen. The facade is Baroque, modified around 1730 by Jakub Auguston. In 1633-1634, Albrecht von Wallenstein lived here prior to his death. Also known as the European House, today it is the seat of several foreign cultural institutions – the English and Austrian libraries, a German reading room, the Goethe Institute and the Alliance Francaise. nám. Republiky 12
 

Chotěšov house

This originally Gothic house was owned by the Chotěšov monastery. The rear building is the only one in Pilsen with an open Renaissance loggia. Today the house is part of the Ethnographic Museum of the Pilsen Region.

St. Bartholomew´s Cathedral

The truly dominant feature of Pilsen is the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, whose construction coincided with the establishment of the city and was completed in the early 16th century. The church is a national monument, as is the argillite sculpture on its main altar, known as the “Pilsen Madonna”. The statue represents the so-called “beautiful style” of the Gothic period. The cathedral boasts the highest church tower in the Czech Republic (102.6 m), whose galleries at a height of 60 metres provide an overview of the entire city and its surroundings. The Šternberk Chapel, with an overhanging roof bolt, dates back to the first half of the 16th century. In 1993, on the order of Pope John Paul II, Pilsen was declared a bishopric and St. Bartholomew’s Church became a cathedral. The statue group on the east side of the exterior of the temple depicts Christ on the Mount of Olives, protected by a row of little angels, one of whom, according to legend, will make even the most secret of wishes come true ...

Brewery

The Pilsner Urquell Brewery, birthplace of the world-famous Pilsner Urquell beer, is the largest brewery in the Czech Republic. Beer has been brewed in Pilsen almost since the city’s inception. The Pilsner Urquell Brewery itself was founded and built through the joint effort of burghers with brewing rights. In 1842, in the former Burgher’s Brewery in Pilsen, the first bottom-fermented lager was brewed and before long it had conquered the whole world under the name Pilsner Urquell. Pilsner Urquell is a major manufacturer and exporter of Czech beer, exporting to more than 50 countries all over the world.
The Pilsner Urquell Brewery is one of the most visited tourist sites in the city, with more than 250,000 visitors from around the world passing through on guided tours annually.

Historical underground and Brewery Museum

Historical Underground

The Brewery Museum building is also a starting point for tours of the city’s historical underground. The Pilsen Historical Underground originated from the time of the founding of the city itself and up to the 18th century was gradually linked to two or three-storey cellars. Its complex labyrinth of corridors, cellars and wells, with a length of almost 20 km, makes it one of the largest in Central Europe. The cellars and corridors were used mainly for economic and technical purposes – as a store for food and barrels of beer. It was also used for workshops. The cellar contains a bookbinding exhibit with a medieval printing press that serves as a reminder of the printing of the Trojan Chronicle, the oldest printed book in Bohemia (Pilsen, 1468). A facsimile of it is on display in the Education and Research Library of the Pilsen Region.

In the 16th century a waterworks was established in Pilsen. A water tower was built with a water machine that pumped water through wooden pipes to fountains on the square. When replacing the floors, which were destroyed by floods in 2002, a pumping machine from the second half of the 19th century was discovered under the floor tiles. The original site was equipped with a replica water wheel made according to a design from 1875. The house with a late Gothic water tower at no. 19 (Pražská ulice – Prague Street) strengthened the defence function of the nearby Prague Gate as part of the city’s fortification system. The old water tower was in operation until the late 19th century. Today, the cellar of the water tower is part of the Pilsen underground tour and offers views of a functional model of a water wheel.

Brewery Museum

The Brewery Museum, located in the historical centre of the city, is the only museum of its kind in the world that is located in an original house with brewing rights from the 15th century. The house has been preserved in its original form, and here the visitor can see a Gothic malt house, malt drying kiln, rolling room, ice room, two-level cellars and parts of the former taproom. Hundreds of unique exhibits illustrate the history of brewing from ancient times to the present-day. In the vicinity of the Brewery Museum is one of the oldest pubs in Pilsen, Parkán. Its name is derived from its location in the space between the medieval city walls, called parkán.

The Great Synagogue

Jews have lived in Pilsen since the 14th century, and throughout the centuries there have been five synagogues in the city, two of which have been preserved to this day – the Old Synagogue, which is located in the courtyard of houses in Smetana Gardens (Previously there was even a Jewish school here. Today, in its place there is an unusual memorial to Holocaust victims.) and the Great Synagogue which, built in 1893 in Moorish-Romanesque style, is the second largest synagogue in Europe (and third in the world). It is a testament to the rich Jewish community in Pilsen, which was unfortunately almost decimated during the Nazi occupation in the years 1939-1945. The historic building underwent a complex renovation in the late 20th century, and, thanks to the excellent acoustics and unique atmosphere of the building, it serves not only religious purposes, but as a concert and exhibition hall as well.

The park ring

These municipal parks and gardens were created on the site of the former city walls that surrounded the historical centre of the city, offering visitors the chance to relax and enjoy the atmosphere of the city. Original promenade alleys from the 19th century were gradually supplemented with statues and monuments to prominent Pilsen personalities. Thanks to its nearly circular shape, it is reminiscent of a green necklace decorated with fully grown trees, flower beds and fountains. Views of significant Pilsen buildings enhance the walking experience. The entire park ring consists of Smetanovy sady, Kopeckého sady, Šafaříkovy sady, Křižíkovy sady, sady 5. května (Mlýnská strouha) and sady Pětatřicátníků (Smetana, Kopecký, Šafařík, Křižík, 5th May (Mill Race) and 35th Infantry Regiment Gardens respectively). The green ring is one of the most popular locations in the city of Pilsen.

 

Tour of the City Centre

 

Plzeň  - Tour of the City Centre

1. Náměstí Republiky (Republic Square)

The core of the historical center is formed by a large square, and with its dimensions of 139 × 193 m it is one of the largest squares not only in the Czech Republic, but also in the whole of Europe. This is where the heart of the city beats. The square is a natural center of cultural events, festivals and markets. In addition to St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, it is also dominated by a plague column from the 17th century and three modern gold fountains.
These modern fountains were designed by Ondřej Císler and stand on the site where original fountains once stood. Reservoirs made of black Chinese granite catch water falling from gilded spouts that symbolize an angel, a greyhound and a camel, motifs of the Pilsen coat of arms. The spouts are bronze castings of various heights on which gilding about 720 grams of gold was used.

2. Katedrála sv. Bartoloměje (St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral)

The best way to discover Pilsen is the view from the highest point - the tower of St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral. At a height of 102.26 meters, it is the tallest church tower in the Czech Republic. Construction of St. Bartholomew‘s began immediately after the founding of the city. The church is 58 meters long and 30 meters wide, and at a height of 25 meters there is interesting ribbed vaulting. In the middle of the Neo-Gothic altar, you can see the most valuable treasure in Pilsen – a 134-cm-high statue of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus, the so-called Madonna of Pilsen. On the back side of the church you will find decorative Baroque bars adorned with the heads of cherubs. Each one has a different expression, but only the most worn out one is said to bring luck.

3. Renesanční radnice (Renaissance Town Hall)

If you stand facing the portal to St. Bartholomew‘s, on your left you will see a Renaissance gem – the Pilsen Town Hall. It was built in 1558 according to the plans of the Italian architect Giovanni de Statia. The building is decorated with sgraffiti depicting Czech rulers and the city’s coat of arms. Do not be afraid to pass through the mázhauz, or foyer of the Town Hall. In the back room you will find a model of the historic city center.

4. Císařský dům (Imperial House)

To the left of the Town Hall you will find the so-called Imperial House. On the massive pillars stands a stone statue of the knight Roland, sometimes called Žumbera. His presence was meant to inform newcomers that order reigned in the city. The Imperial House is named after the Emperor Rudolf II. When plague broke out in Prague in September 1599, the monarch fled the city with just a part of his court and came to Pilsen. Until June 4, 1600, the city served as the capital of the Empire. Today, the Mayor’s office is situated behind the windows on the first floor.

5.Morový sloup (Plague Column)

Looking between the Imperial house and the cathedral, you can see the plague column. Pilsen burghers erected it in 1681 as an expression of gratitude for a less severe plague epidemic. The top of the column is decorated with a Baroque replica of the famous Madonna of Pilsen.

6. Budova biskupství (Diocese building)

The diocese building is located directly opposite the entrance to the cathedral. The house was rebuilt in 1710 by Baroque architect Jakub Auguston and is one of the most valuable Baroque structures in Pilsen.

7. Dům U Červeného srdce (House by the Red Heart)

This Neo-Renaissance building is easily identified by a red heart in the middle of the facade. The house, decorated with sgraffiti by Mikoláš Aleš, dates from 1894. The sgraffito scene recalls the famous tournament which was held in Pilsen in honor of Ferdinand II of Tyrol.

Riegrova ulice (street) takes us from the entrance to the cathedral on the square to Sady (park) Pětatřicátníků. On the other side of the busy Klatovská třída (street) we can see from afar the impressive Great Synagogue. Nearby is the Great Theatre.

8. Velká synagoga (The Great Synagogue)

The Great Synagogue was built in 1892 in the Moorish-Romanesque style, and is not only the largest synagogue in the Czech Republic, but also the second largest in Europe after Budapest. Today, the unique acoustics of this one-of-a-kind structure contributes to the unforgettable experience of the frequent concerts that take place there.

9. Velké divadlo (Great Theatre)

In Smetanovy sady (park) you will see the J.K. Tyl Divadlo (theatre) – also called the Great Theater. It was built in 1902 in the Neo-Renaissance style with Art Nouveau elements, and today is one of the two permanent venues of the theatre.

10. Sadový okruh (park ring)

These city parks, which are divided into several parts, were created as a promenade in the mid-19th century. They arose on the site of demolished city walls. They include the main points of interest in the city of Pilsen. Thanks to their nearly circular shape, they are reminiscent of a green necklace decorated with trees, flowerbeds and fountains. Views of significant Pilsen buildings add to the experience of walking through them. The entire park circuit is divided into Smetanovy, Kopeckého, Šafaříkovy, and Křižíkovy sady, sady 5.května, and sady Pětatřicátníků.

11. Studijní a vědecká knihovna Plzeňského kraje (The Study and Research Library of the Pilsener Region)

Below the Great Theater we see a gray Neoclassical building, which is the home of the Study and Research Library of the Pilsener Region. Originally, a Dominican convent stood here. After the monaster, a philosophical institute, where music composer Bedřich Smetana once studied, remained in the building. A striking statue in front of the building commemorates Franz Josef Smetana, a professor at the local grammar school and also uncle of the famous composer.

Through the Branka (gate-originally the ancient Litická gate) you can get to the street B. Smetana. Here you can see not only a picturesque pedestrian zone , but also the Church of St. Anne and Rose of Lima, which was lent to and is still used by the Orthodox Church.

12. Hotel Slovan

Return to Smetanovy sady, enjoy the pleasant promenade of the park ring and take in the view of lovely Pilsen buildings around you. One of them is the stately former Hotel Waldek, now the Slovan, which, at the end of the 19th century, was the best hotel in Pilsen and once hosted the Emperor Franz Joseph I. Well-hidden in the courtyard of one of the houses just above the Hotel Slovan (at Smetanovy sady 5) is the oldest synagogue in Pilsen.

13. Měšťanská beseda (Burgher’s Hall)

In the early 20th century the imposing Burgher’s Hall decorated low-lying Kopeckého sady (park). Pilsen burghers built it to serve as a center of community and social life. The building has two social halls and restaurants built in the Renaissance style with Art Nouveau artistic decor. An integral part of it is a beautiful Art Nouveau café.

14. Františkánský klášter s kostelem Nanebevzetí Panny Marie (Franciscan monastery with the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary)

The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded in 1295, and along with the adjacent Franciscan monastery it is one of the oldest buildings in the city. The Chapel of St. Barbara is decorated with frescoes dating from around 1460. Inside the Franciscan Monastery is the Museum of religious art.

15. Západočeské muzeum (West Bohemian Museum)

The West Bohemian Museum was built in the Neo-Renaissance style between 1893 and 1902. Its main attractions include the town armory with a significant European collection of Gothic weapons. Have a look in the museum vestibule and try to light the original arc lamps.

Do you want to touch Spejbl and Hurvínek?
Šafaříkovy sady, below the monumental building of the Museum of West Bohemia, is comprised mostly of large landscaped lawns that beckon you to relax. Just below the museum building on the fern-lined edge is a fossilized Araukarity tree. A pergola with creepers hides a small work of art – a sculpture of two natives of Pilsen, the world-famous puppets Spejbl and Hurvínka.

16. Theatrum Mundi

A special addition to the impressive atmosphere of the City Park is the largest large-scale wall painting in the Czech Republic called Theatrum Mundi. The painting was completed in 2001 and shows the most famous Pilsner personalities, from the founder King Wenceslas II to the popular actor Miroslav Horníček, who was born in Pilsen in 1918.

17. Masné krámy (Meat Market)

The former meat market building has stood in this place since 1392 and served as a meat market until the 1950s. Today, in its unique space you can find works of art. That is because the market is now the exhibition hall of the West Bohemia Gallery.

18. Vodárenská věž (Water tower)

The oldest water monument in Pilsen is the four-sided late Gothic tower on the corner of Pražska ulice (street) and sady (park) 5.května. The tower was part of the city fortifications by the former Prague gate and once served to fill fountains on Republic Square.

19. Pivovarské muzeum a plzeňské historické podzemí (Brewery Museum and Pilsen Historic Underground)

If you want to know the history of beer, head to the Brewery Museum, which is located in an original house with brewing rights close to the water tower. The courtyard of the museum is also the starting point for tours of the Pilsen Historical Underground. Below the urban core is a network of 20 km of underground tunnels, part of which you will see when you visit.

20. Mlýnská strouha (mill race)

A canal on the east side of the city walls once brought water to the manor mill, which stood in the place of today's Marriott Hotel. In the early 19th century this quiet romantic corner of the city was a popular place for Pilseners to take walks and could also be passed through on boats. In 2010, an artificial lake was created amidst the beautifully landscaped park area.

21. Plzeňský Prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell)

The brewery is near the center of the city, approximately a 15-minute walk which takes you around the Mlýnská strouha (mill race) and through an underpass into Štruncovy sady (park). A footbridge over the Radbuza River takes you directly to the brewery courtyard. Along the way you will pass a Neo-Renaissance gymnasium building and a stadium that draws fans to watch the matches of the football team FC Viktoria Plzeň.

During a tour of the brewery, you will visit one of the most modern bottling plants in Europe, a panoramic cinema, a unique exhibition of raw materials and a historical as well as contemporary brew house. The highlight is a visit to the historic brewery cellars, where those over the age of eighteen can taste unfiltered and unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell (when visiting the cellars we recommend that you wear something warm).

Other places of interest

Pilsen, as a city known mainly for its beer and industry, will surprise visitors with its plentiful parks, gardens and green space. Within the city there are several nature trails and protected areas, while the pride of Pilsen is a unique park ring in the city centre. The most important recreational area in the city is the Bolevec ponds (Bolevecké rybníky) area, which dates back to the 15th century.

 

Pilsen
Czech Republic

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