Benatky nad Jizerou

Benatky nad Jizerou, photo:

Benatky nad Jizerou in Central Bohemia - a beautiful little town, just under an hour away from Prague with a population of 6700 - was founded on the site of a prehistoric settlement at the crossroads of market ways. The oldest documentation about the town dates back to 1052.

Benatky nad Jizerou in Central Bohemia - a beautiful little town, just under an hour away from Prague with a population of 6700 - was founded on the site of a prehistoric settlement at the crossroads of market ways. The oldest documentation about the town dates back to 1052. It first centred around the Drazice castle, which was founded before 1264 in the so-called "older town". Today, though, only the ruins of a tower and the remains of a wall are all that are left of it. At around 1349, Jan of Drazice was granted the permission to add a new part to the town with its own castle on the highland above the Jizera river. And according to Monika Gurtlerova from Benatky's Town Hall, it is thanks to its location around the river that it bears its name today:

"In historic days, towns that were created by civilisations around water sources were called Benatky. That is why we call Venice in Italy Benatky because it lies at water sources. In our town we have the Jizera river and many tributaries as well as a marshland."

Visitors who come to Benatky nad Jizerou for the first time head straight for its museum located on the castle grounds. Its interactive exhibitions give a detailed description of the town's history and traditions. Although there are no guided tours in foreign languages, brochures are handed out to every visitor in English and German. Blanka Nohacova works at the museum:

"The first exhibition you find is devoted to nature around the Jizera river. Here, we have narrated photographs of animals and stuffed birds and mammals. Next to it is an exhibition focusing on archaeology and astronomy. It has artifacts, a model of a vault, a Menhir stone and a jigsaw puzzle for children. We also have an exhibition on Tycho Brahe's connection to Benatky nad Jizerou. Panels describe the life of the famous Danish astronomer - how he came to Bohemia and ended up in our town under the rule of Rudolph II. Here it's possible to see the so-called Benatky meridian. Objects used during Tycho Brahe's life are also displayed in glass cases."

Tycho Brahe is probably the most famous foreign visitor the town has had. It is proud that out of the numerous places he was offered, the renowned astronomer chose to move his family to Benatky nad Jizerou, where he converted the castle into an observatory in 1599. He also invited his friend Johannes Kepler to join him in his research on the movement of Mars. However, Monika Gurtlerova notes that the town has since gained popularity thanks to its own inhabitants:

"Benatky nad Jizerou is not only known internationally thanks to its foreign visitors such as Tycho Brahe or Johan Kepler but also because we have the world champion in body building, badminton, a medal winner in rafting, an olympist in speed skating, European champion in bicycle acrobatics, a ballet maestro performing in the State Opera in Vienna and Benatky nad Jizerou is also home to the host of the popular erotic TV show Pericko."

But back to the museum. Founded in 1937 by the Soukal family, most exhibits were donated by the town's inhabitants or bought from the museum's patrons. It is located on the second floor of the castle and is open to the public every year from the end of April to the end of October. With the exception of Mondays, it's open from 9am to noon and from 1pm to 5pm.

Its new season is scheduled to begin on April 27 with a cultural afternoon, including an exhibition of paintings by the Bulgarian artist, Sevdalina Kostadin. On April 29, the whole museum will be opened with the introduction of a new interactive exhibition concentrating on the family of the rulers of Drazice. With the exception of some artifacts in glass cases, visitors can try out various objects to see what life was like in the Middle Ages. They can wear suits of armour, play a game in which they have to name parts of an altar or a bishop's clothing and can also build a castle using the museum's construction kit. Blanka Nohacova:

"Pretending to be Celts is another interesting interactive exhibition we offer in our museum. Visitors can try out clothing of the time, weapons, can grind corn in a Celtic home, cut wood, weave material on a weaving loom, and coin Celtic coins found under Kozak hill. Another exhibition is dedicated to important personalities from our town. We feature the lives of the founders of the museum - the Soukals, the two travelers Korensky and Polak, writers and historians, Kalista, Schneider and Vanicek, professor Novak the inventor and the first female parachutist, Marie Krupickova. Last but not least, we have an exhibition concentrating on renowned musicians that lived in Benatky. Bedrich Smetana spent much time here from 1844 - 1847. He taught music to the children of the Thun Hohenstein family that owned the castle at the time. The Benda brothers are also famous musicians. They were born in Benatky nad Jizerou and soon gained worldwide fame."

Today, the Renaissance Chateau houses two museums, the town hall, and the financial bureau. Other places of interest are the Church of Our Lady in late Gothic-style, the Dean's Church of St. Mary Magdalene built at the end of the 16th century and rebuilt in Baroque style in the second half of the 17th century, and the Church of the Virgin Mary in Rococo. On the town's Hus square, ancient middle class houses, especially house no. 59 are certainly worth seeing. The Baroque Holy Family Chapel in the middle of the square is now a house of prayer.

But most inhabitants aren't interested in their town's historical sites. The numerous sports opportunities have also attracted many a visitor. Monika Gurtlerova:

"We have a lot of sports clubs. For example, Benatky nad Jizerou is the only town [in the Czech Republic] with an outdoor skating rink for roller skates. Then, we have a golf course, which attracts professionals from around the country. Ice hockey is also very popular and those who like the country side can also go horse riding. Besides that, you can also play football, volleyball, badminton, chess, billiard, tennis you can motor racing, wild water rafting, fishing, mountain climbing and much more."

So, what may look like a quiet little place in central Bohemia soon proves to be a lively, picturesque town with much to offer. Monika Gurtlerova:

"Benatky nad Jizerou is also proud of many cultural activities. The town hall organises theatre performances, concerts - classical music, folk music and pop music. Every year we have a competition of amateur films, during which filmmakers from around the country can send us their work and we screen and evaluate them. The best three receive the Benatky Oscar. There is also an annual Bentaky Cup Dance Competition of Latin American and ball-room dancing. We also have a puppet theatre and a popular observatory. Hundreds of Czechs also come to the town to take part in the Terry Fox run, which is a charity event that anyone can go to. The town organises a lot of market, such as at Christmas, Spring and on other special occasions. For the New Year, the town celebrates with a very spectacular firework."