Monday, 5 October 2009

A pilgrimage to Pelhřimov

Pelhřimov is best known as being the city of world records and the home of Poutník beer, one of the best brews in the country. But its old town centre has a fine collection of historic architecture including churches, gate towers and some lovely residential buildings, particularly the ones facing the main square.

The town was apparently founded in 1225-26 by Bishop Pelegrin of Prague who passed through on a pilgrimage to Rome and was so taken by the beauty of the place that he founded a settlement. The symbol of Pelhřimov is a pilgrim at the gates of a fortified city and the town's name is derived from the name Pelegrin, so there seems to be substance to the legend even if no written records.

At its beginning Pelhřimov was a wooden town and the architectural highlights that survive today are all from later centuries. The preserved parts of the old town walls and the upper and lower gate towers are from the 14th century, as is the church of St Bartholomew. The valuable town houses range from the 16th century to a rare cubist reconstruction from the early 20th century. Just on the northern edge of the old town are St Vitus' church and a free-standing bell tower which were rebuilt for the Jesuits in the early 1700's.

St Bartholomew's church towers over the upper end of the main square but its entrance is from the western end that faces away from the square. The original Gothic torso of the church has been preserved but was covered with a striking pattern of deep red and white sgraffito when that became fashionable in the 1500's.

The main square is surrounded by attractive old houses representing architectural styles from early Gothic to the present. The beautifully crooked and asymmetrical house at number 17 is the oldest on the square and once belonged to the city burgrave. Renaissance arches and baroque scrolls decorate houses on all sides of the square, and the imposing facade of the Hotel Slavie was refurbished in the art nouveau style in the 1920's.

The most architecturally interesting building on the square though is the house at number 13, which was rebuilt in the Cubist style in 1914. Architect Pavel Janák redesigned balconies, windows, the gable and added subtle cubist relief work to the facade. The hard edges and acute angles of cubism might sound out of place amongst historic facades from the 16and 17th centuries, but it's a clever, subtle and original design that fits in surprisingly well. Along with the burgrave's house it was the highlight of the square for me. Unfortunately the style that might best be called Drab and Insensitive Post-revolution Commercialism is also present in building of the bank over on the corner where Palackého Ul enters the square.

Along Palackého is the lower gate tower and its five floors are home to the Museum of records and curiosities. Inside are displayed and explained the biggest, fastest, longest, oldest and smallest of everything from motorcycles to scarves to feats of strength and endurance. There are also quite a few huge items of clothing that seem to have been sewn by their companies purely for the purpose of getting into the museum, but the real curiosities like cross-country water skis(!!) were the most interesting part of the museum for me.

Pelhřimov is 105km from Prague, 50km from Tábor, 30km from Jihlava and direct buses travel to and from those towns several times each day.

Connections to Pelhřimov
Museum of Records and Curiosities

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