Most, photo: Miloš Turek

When you ask Czechs to describe the North Bohemian town of Most, the most common answer is a grey mining town that expelled its entire native German population after the Second World War and offers few things to do or see. But fact is that Most, with its population of over 68,000, is today a thriving place that offers several noteworthy sights and plenty to do.

But let's start at the beginning. The history of Most dates back to the 10th and 11th centuries. The word "most" means "bridge" in Czech and the town was named after the intricate network of wooden bridges that were built over the swampy terrain, to allow merchants travel more easily between Freiberg in Saxony and Prague. But the town was also called Hnevin Hill, named after Hneva, one of the Hrabisics family, who had established a village and stronghold. A dominant attraction of the town and one of few places left representing its history is Hnevin Castle. From the mid-15th century to the mid-17th century, Most suffered unlucky turns of fate. In the years between 1455-1515, much of it was destroyed by a number of fires. It had to be rebuilt, only to suffer attack a century later, in the Thirty Year War (1618-1648), when it was conquered by the Swedes, who brought terror to Most inhabitants when they gained control over Hnevin Castle in 1646. Town historian, Petra Trojnova:

"After the end of the Thirty Year War, Emperor Ferdinand II agreed to have the castle pulled down as no one was interested in the castle hill any longer. In fact, the lack of interest prevailed until the end of the 19th century, when someone came up with the idea to build a restaurant and look-out tower on the castle's site. In 1889, the carpenter Johann Franz made a copy of the Eiffel Tower that was 25 metres high and had three floors. It was opened in October 1889, only to be torn down by a strong wind in the following month of January. It was completely destroyed."

However, the people of Most did not give up. An association called Friends of Castle Hill was founded, with its main goal to build a look-out tower on the ruins of the castle. In 1898, a ten-metre high structure came to being, rising by another ten metres within two years. A restaurant and hotel were added later. Visitors, who see the castle today, often do not even realise that they are looking at a replica.

Edward Kelly
Not many famous, or infamous, personalities have paid the town of Most a visit. There is one man, however, who unwillingly spent much time at Hnevin Castle. The renowned 16th century alchemist, Edward Kelly, started off a promising career in Bohemia, after being ennobled at the hand of the Bohemian Emperor Rudolph II as a reward for his works. But when he later failed to deliver what he had promised - that is, to find a recipe for making gold - he soon came to regret he had ever stepped foot on Bohemian soil. The sad fate of alchemist Edward Kelly is commemorated with a statue in Most today:

"He certainly was an adventurer. He came from England, where his ears were apparently cut off as punishment for forging a document. So, he let his hair grow to hide it. During his time in England, he learned the trade of the alchemist and ended up at the palace court of Rudolph II in Prague, who was known for believing in this sort of science. Kelly pretended to make gold. Of course, he was faking it, so Rudolph II lost his patience. However, Kelly thought he could fool the king. Rudolph II had no mercy on Kelly and had him thrown in jail."

Rudolf II
Kelly was thrown in a dungeon at Krivoklat Castle west of Prague. When he tried to escape, he broke his leg, which later had to be amputated. He was then pardoned by Rudolph II, but as he - not surprisingly -again failed to produce gold, he was confined to the grounds of Hnevin Castle. When Kelly tried to escape for a second time, he broke his other leg. He is believed to have drunk a poisonous potion, out of desperation.

As historian Petra Trojnova hinted earlier, Most lost much of its economical and political importance after the Thirty Year War and it was not until coal was discovered in the second half of the 19th century that the town developed into a modern city. A railway was introduced in 1870, paving the way for industrial development. Plants, factories, and institutions such as the sugar works, steel works, porcelain factory, brewery, and the town's first museum soon sprung up.

But in 1964, the people of Most were to witness a development that angered many and displaced thousands of residents. The historical, mostly Gothic, part of the town was destroyed, levelled completely, to access coal and construct modern high-rise buildings to accommodate mainly miners and their families.

Only one building was spared. The Early Gothic aisled Church of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary was considered too sacred to be torn down.

The Church of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary,  photo: Hadonos,  CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
"There were four possibilities, concerning the future of the church. The first was to leave the church on the coal pillar and only dig around it for coal. The second was to take it into pieces and build it back up elsewhere. The third option was to preserve only the most important architectural elements, and the last was to move the church to another place as a whole."

The town opted for the last possibility and proceeded to draw up a vast plan to move the church, while keeping it intact:

"The move was launched on September 30th 1975 and was completed within a month. 53 transport vehicles were used, driven by a special hydraulic mechanism. The church was moved very slowly by some 1-3 centimetres per minute."

The massive basilica weighed over ten thousand tonnes and was moved 841 metres. In real time, it was in motion for exactly 500 hours and one minute. After extensive reconstruction, it is now open to the public, serving as a venue for concerts and the annual Christmas Mass.

The hippodrome,  photo: Archive of Radio Prague
The town of Most has recently been devoting much time and money to the development of recreational sites. It now boasts car racing tracks, with a 4148m circuit, a water park, and is home to several sports clubs. A number of land-fills that cover former coal mines surround the town. Some have been used to rejuvenate the 14th century wine-making tradition, others are to serve for further recreational and entertainment purposes. Miroslav Suchy is the director of the town's hippodrome - horse racing track:

"This part of the hippodrome covers some 150 hectares of land. We are entering the seventh season and anyone interested in turf and horse-racing knows that we have come a long way in these seven years. We are now part of the top Czech turf triangle of Pardubice, Chuchle and Most."

The race course was built on the Velebudice land-fill on the outskirts of Most, where some 750 hectares of land were filled mainly in the 1950s and 1960s.

"After the fifty years that have passed, the land sinks about a centimetre every year. This makes the construction of buildings difficult. Foundations often reach seven metres into the ground in order to make buildings secure. Most of the land-fills that were done fifty years ago are stabilising but there are some parts that were filled as late as in the 1990s, where the ground is still very fresh."

Most | Photo: Miloš Turek,  Radio Prague International
But plans are underway to "recultivate" these places too. The town of Most hopes to grow pastures, to support sheep breeding, but also establish a golf course, a bob-sled track, a football pitch and a camp site. The latter is to be placed next to a pond in the lower part of the Velebudice land-fill. Looking more like the countryside in southern Bohemia, visitors would never believe that they are just two kilometres away from the centre of Most.