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  • Kati and Roger

Litoměřice


Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Cathedral Hill

View of Litoměřice from Cathedral Hill

Litoměřice is a beautiful small town located at the junction of the Labe (Elbe) and Ohře (Eger) rivers, about 65km northwest from Prague and just under 5km from Terezín (Theresienstadt), infamous as the site of a concentration camp during WWII. The area surrounding Litoměřice has been inhabited since Palaeolithic times and is known as one of the oldest Czech towns since the establishment of a Přemyslid fort in the 10th century. The town continued to grow in importance thanks to its geological importance not only for trade but also agriculture, and is sometimes known as the “Garden of Bohemia.” Litoměřice also holds some religious importance, as it is home to the fourth oldest Catholic diocese in the Czech Republic.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice city model

Model of Litoměřice found in the Regional Museum

Both Litoměřice’s proximity to the border with Germany and its majority German-speaking population meant that it was one of the territories of former Czechoslovakia that was transferred to Germany as a result of the Munich Agreement of 1938. The town is also just under 5km from Terezín (Theresienstadt in German), infamous as the site of a concentration camp during World War II. Litoměřice’s short distance from the camp led to the construction of large underground factories in the town’s nearby hills that would use slave and forced labor throughout the war. These factories were codenamed Richard I and Richard II, and were the largest of their kind in the country.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Old Town Hall All Saints Church Mírové Náměstí

View from Mírové Náměstí (Peace Square) of the Old Town Hall and All Saints Church

Litoměřice seemed like the perfect place for a couple of history lovers to explore, so we booked our bus tickets and took off the next day from Prague’s Holešovice station. Once arriving in Litoměřice, we headed toward the town’s center and on our way came across the early Baroque Church of St. Ludmila, one of the town’s seven Roman Catholic churches. After the Thirty Years War, the Capuchin order acquired the district of Litoměřice and in 1656 commissioned the master builder Jan Koch to create its simple structure with a single nave.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Church of St. Ludmila

The Church of St. Ludmila

Not much further down the street, we came upon the All Saints Church, first mentioned in 1235 and containing the oldest known parts of Litoměřice’s town wall fortifications. It’s 54m high tower was added in the 14th century. The church is home to the graves of father and son architects Giulio and Octavio Broggio, known for their works on churches in the Litoměřice region.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice All Saints Church

The colorful roof and clocktower of the All Saints Church

We continued walking toward the town center when a colorful landmark caught our eye from above the other buildings. After making our way to it, we found that it is the Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. The church is a massive, dramatic Baroque building built for the Jesuit Order by Octavio Broggio. The church’s construction began in 1701 and would take 30 years to complete. After the suppression of the Jesuit Order in 1773, the building was turned into the town brewery’s warehouse. In 1818, the church was reconsecrated to be once again used for purposes of worship and its restorations began, including the construction of a vaulted hallway to join the church with the Jesuit college on the opposite side of the street.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary

The Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Photo attribution:

By H2k4 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary

The front entrance to the gigantic Baroque church

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary

Inside the church

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice street

The street leading to the entrance of the Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Straight ahead, you can see the bridge connecting the church to the Jesuit College opposite.

After taking in the enormity of the church, we reached Litoměřice’s center, Mírové Náměstí (Peace Square). Mírové Náměstí has been the nucleus of the town since the early 13th century, during Ottokar I’s reign as King of Bohemia. The square is quite large, measuring at about two hectares (or roughly 3 soccer/football fields). The size of Mírové Náměstí gives us an idea of its importance during the Middle Ages, when the square was home to the main marketplace in the region in addition to serving as the venue for important political and social events. Today, the square is still sometimes used as a marketplace and is home to museums, cafes, the old town hall, gothic houses, and other historical sites such as the House Salva Guarda.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Mírové Náměstí

Partial view of Mírové Náměstí

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Roger and Kati

Exploring snowy Litoměřice

The House Salva Guarda, also called the House at the Black Eagle, was built in the 1300s for a noble family. The house’s striking appearance today comes from its rebuilding in 1564 by the Italian architect Ambrose Balli. With its magnificent sgraffiti adorned with biblical themes, the house is an excellent example of Renaissance architecture. In 1560, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Ferdinand III honored the House at the Black Eagle with the privileges of knighthood, and the house also became known as “the King’s castle on the Elbe.” Along with these privileges, Ferdinand III also gifted the house with the mark “Salva Guarda,” meaning that it was given special protection from the king against looting and other forms of harassment. The inscription of the mark was found above the entrance to the house, earning it its name. Later, the house became one of the first established hotels in central Europe and also served as a noble residence, the city council house, and military barracks.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice House Salva Guarda Black Eagle

The House Salva Guarda

Near Mírové Náměstí, we found a small street leading to a statue commemorating Karel Hynek Mácha. Mácha was a 19th century Romantic poet from Prague who found much of his inspiration walking in the region around Litoměřice. Largely ignored during his short life, he was buried in a pauper’s grave. Mácha died at the young age of 26, just days before he was to be married, from an illness that developed after he had attempted to put out a fire. His works were rediscovered during the late 19th century during the Czech national revival and is now greatly revered as a Czech poetic master, especially for his lyrical poem Maj (May). Two days after the signing of the Munich Agreement, local Czechs were able to move his remains from Litoměřice before the German occupation began. In May 1939, his remains were reburied in the Vyšehrad national cemetery in Prague.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Karel Hynek Mácha

Statue commemorating poet Karel Hynek Mácha

In the area surrounding Mácha’s memorial, we were pleased to find ourselves standing on part of Litoměřice’s old town wall fortifications, mentioned in the town’s records as long ago as 1257. The current system of Gothic walls date from the late 14th century, with further modifications and expansion undertaken during the early 16th century. Originally, these walls connected the four gates leading into the town, but the last of these was demolished in 1863. What we were most interested in about these walls, however, was the beautiful view they provided us. From this point, we were able to look out over Litoměřice’s Cathedral Hill, quite sleepy and cozy as it was dusted with snow.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Town Walls

Part of Litoměřice’s old town wall fortifications

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Cathedral Hill in the snow

Overlooking Cathedral Hill

Heading back into Mírové Náměstí, we decided to visit the tourist information center. Here, we were given some useful information by the friendly staff about what to see in the town and were happy to add a couple of new postcards to our collection. The information center is housed in a unique building on the square called the Chalice House, sometimes also known as the Dome House. The Chalice House is notable for the large observation tower on the roof in the shape of a chalice, giving the building its name. The chalice is the symbol for the town of Litoměřice, but is also the symbol for the Hussite movement, a group of people in the 15th century led by Jan Hus (known as an important forerunner to the Protestant movement). It is quite unusual that Litoměřice should share the symbol of the chalice with the Hussites given that the town is one of the oldest Catholic dioceses in the country.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Chalice House

The Chalice House

The late Gothic house was built in the 16th century for the Mráz family by Ambrosio Balli, the same architect who built the House Salva Guarda as well as the Old Town Hall. The family, who helped to strengthen Litoměřice’s winemaking traditions, specially ordered the chalice observation tower to make the house more distinguishable from its neighbors. Town councillors used to meet at the Chalice for privacy, and according to Litoměřice’s information center, it is said that they would not leave the tower until they had reached a final decision (though many believe they would meet here because it was a place where they could enjoy the local wine without interruption). After serving the Mráz family and town councillors, the Chalice House was used as the salt office under the Austrian monarchy before settling into its current purpose as the information center.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Salva Guarda Black Eagle Chalice House

The House Salva Guarda on the left, and the Chalice House on the right

While visiting the Chalice House, we acquired a map and then decided to head to St. Stephen’s cathedral that we had seen from a distance at the town walls. We came across a small but elegantly designed Baroque church on our way there, the Orthodox Church of St. Wenceslas. The church is first mentioned in 1363, but its old Gothic structure was destroyed during the Thirty Years War. The new Baroque-style church was built between 1714-1717, also by Octavio Broggio, to show the town’s gratitude for the end of its plague outbreak.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Orthodox Church of St. Wenceslas

The Orthodox Church of St. Wenceslas

Once we reached Cathedral Hill, we found ourselves standing on the site of an 8th century Slavonic settlement. This settlement was later fortified by the Přemyslids (the dynasty associated with the myth of the first settlers to the Czech lands). The earliest Czech chronicler, Cosmas, called the local tribe the “Liutomerice.” In the year 1057, the Přemyslid Prince Spytihněv founded a church to St. Stephen that would be rebuilt as a Gothic-style church in the 14th century. It was not long after the founding of the Catholic diocese in 1655 that the existing building was destroyed and a new Baroque cathedral was built under the design of Giulio Broggio and Dominik Orsi, finished in 1668. The tower is connected to the cathedral by a bridge, and was added in the late 19th century.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice St. Stephen's Cathedral

St. Stephen's Cathedral

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice St. Stephen's Cathedral

The Cathedral's interior

Heading back into the center, we decided to stop to eat in the restaurant Robo, a family-operated tavern serving homemade Czech food and Radegast pivo (beer). We decided to try a couple of more traditional Czech dishes along with the pivo: svíčková and smažený sýr. Svíčková is considered to be *the* typical Czech dish, comprising of beef tenderloin in a vegetable-based thick cream sauce, usually with some cream and cranberries on top and bread dumplings as a side. Smažený sýr (“fried cheese”) is another typical Czech dish, popular among vegetarians and often thought of as a “light” dish, despite actually being quite filling as the slice of cheese is around 1.5cm thick. Our order of smažený sýr came with three different types of cheeses: edam (the most typical cheese used for this dish), hermelin, and emmental. Both dishes were tasty, leaving us satisfied and ready to continue exploring the town.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice food

Our traditional Czech meal of svíčková and smažený sýr, with Radegast pivo (in a Pilsner mug :-) )

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice restaurant Robo

The interior of Robo is decorated with chalices, the symbol of the town

We decided to make our way back to Mírové Náměstí, where we visited the Old Town Hall, one of the most striking buildings on the square. The lovely Renaissance building dates from the 14th century, and the pillar on the northern corner holds a statue of the famous French knight Roland. These statues of knights with drawn swords are common throughout Central Europe, symbolizing the rights and privileges accorded to the town. On the lower part of the pillar is an iron Czech “ell,” a unit of measurement once used by local traders.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Old Town Hall Regional Museum

The Old Town Hall

Today, the Old Town Hall is home to Litoměřice’s Regional Museum. The ground floor has a small exhibition of the geological development of the region, showcasing findings from the area’s earliest settlers through to the Middle Ages. We were impressed by the collection of rare iron swords and silver jewelry dating back thousands of years. The upper floor of the museum features objects from the Thirty Years War until the 20th century. Most of the exhibits focus on typical objects for local households at the time, as well as the crafts and occupations of the locals, such as agriculture, fishing, and trade. The objects and photographs on display from the period of World War I as well as the German occupation of Litoměřice were particularly interesting. It was quite chilling to see the photographs of the same charming streets we had been exploring throughout the day be used for the purposes of war.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Regional Museum

In the Regional Museum- this room was once used for meetings of the Town Council

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice coat of arms

The coat of arms for the town of Litoměřice, one of the oldest coats of arms in the country

After visiting the museum, it was time to head toward the castle. The beginnings of the castle date back to the reign of King of Bohemia Wenceslas II (1283-1305), but little remains of this period and the castle would not be completed until the late 1300s. The castle did not become a permanent royal residence, and the ownership of the castle would be transferred to the town during the reign of Vladislav II, leaving space reserved for storing the wine from the royal vineyards. Over the coming centuries, the castle continued to serve as a storage space and later as a brewery after suffering a devastating fire in the 17th century. The primarily economic function of the building would lead to its massive towers and fortifications falling into disrepair. It was not until 1971 that historical research into the significance of the castle led to the reconstruction of its chapel, entrance gate, roof, and walls. Today, the castle serves as an exhibition space for the history of winemaking in the region as well as wine tastings, which we were happy to hear about. Once we got inside, however, we were told that the winemaking exhibition was closed and there would be no wine tasting that day, but that we were free to look around. Though we were pretty disappointed in missing out on learning about winemaking in Litoměřice, it only strengthen our want to visit the town again once warmer weather comes to the Czech Republic.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice castle

Part of the restored castle wall

It was nearing time for our bus departure back to Prague, so we decided to make our way back toward the bus station. On our way, we stopped at Dobrá Bašta, a bar and restaurant inspired by the food of the First Republic of Czechoslovakia (1918-38), influenced by increased contact with Western Europe and that the restaurant calls “confident, rich, and varied.” While we didn’t sample the menu, we did enjoy the atmosphere with some pivo and víno.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice dobrá bašta

Dobrá Bašta's interior

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Roger

Enjoying our last hour or so in Litoměřice over pivo and cribbage

Dobrá Bašta’s building was originally a part of Litoměřice’s outer fortifications and dates from 1513. In the 18th century, the building was expanded and linked to a prison chapel that stood between it and the inner walls until its demolition in 1951. Legend has it that Vaclav Babínsky, a legendary Czech robber and murderer, served as a minister here. Convicted for his crimes in 1841, Babínsky was given a 20-year sentence in the feared Špilberk prison in Brno (a city in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic). Remarkably, he survived his sentence, in part to his new-found piety that allowed him to obtain favorable positions in the prison workforce. After his release, he worked as a gardener in a convent near Prague, and since has been the subject of many stories and songs about his crimes.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice Dobrá Bašta

The exterior of Dobrá Bašta

Exploring Litoměřice was such a fun adventure, and we loved having the opportunity to learn more about this region. We really hope to return in the summer to be able to see some of the things that we didn’t have time for or were closed for the winter season - such as the observation tower of the Chalice House and the underground tour of the limestone mine, as well as being able to return to the castle for some hands-on learning about Litoměřice wine.

Where to go in Europe Litoměřice fortifications

Part of the town's old fortifications

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