The royal town of Pisek


A well-known 19th century student song sings about Putimska brana - one of the three historic gates in the town walls around Pisek. Only a remnant of the gate is preserved to this day and the town has long expanded beyond its medieval defensive walls.

"Pisek is a town in southern Bohemia, about 100 kilometres south of Prague so it's quite easy to reach the town. It takes only 1.5 hours by bus or by car. The town itself has a pleasant location on the Otava River. The river goes really through the town so it's nice to walk around and you would always find the water."

Edita Kucerova from the town hall's department of tourism and foreign relations.

Founded by a royal decree in the 13th century on the gold bearing Otava River, in the midst of game-rich forests, the town soon became a favourite with medieval Czech kings, Premysl Otakar II, Charles IV and his son Wenceslas IV.

"The history goes back to the 13th century when the town was established by the Czech kings. They actually did it because there were important trade routes going along the river and also people in those days washed sand from the river to get gold. And this was so important that the Czech kings decided to establish a town here and call it Pisek which means 'sand'."

Pisek was such an important crossroads in those days that it had a stone bridge built in the 13th century. Over 100 metres long and 6.5 metres wide, it is the oldest standing bridge in the country.

The oldest remaining bridge
"We have the oldest remaining bridge in the Czech Republic and this is really a jewel of the town. Everybody in Pisek is very proud to have the oldest remaining bridge in the country. It is even older than Charles Bridge in Prague."

The historic town centre is located on the right bank of the Otava on a hill just above the bridge. The town's other landmark, a tall white church tower standing on the hill, is therefore visible from afar. Edita Kucerova again.

Virgin Mary Birth church
"The main church in Pisek is the Virgin Mary Birth church which is a large white building located on a small hill. Since the end of the 15th century the church has had a very high tower. So this tower you will see from everywhere in Pisek and it is really a kind of landmark of the town. We also used to have a monastery but the monastery does not stand anymore, there is only the monastery church left. And also there is another important church, the Holy Trinity church in the former cemetery. In this church there are no services right now but the town organises concerts there and different other activities but no religious services."

Pisek has traditionally been known as a student town, it always had more schools than is usual for a town of its size. It is true to this day.

"Pisek is called 'the town of students and pensioners' because for more than a hundred years, we have had many schools and also in the summer many visitors came. Especially in the old days the elderly people used to spend the summer here and had a very nice life here. In the old days from autumn until spring the students were here in the flats. Then they left for home and the pensioners came.

"We have the schools until now. Pisek is quite famous for its schools. There are of course primary schools, there are many high schools, we have even some very specialised schools, like the forestry school, one out of only two in the country, we have the grammar and business school. What is also quite new and interesting in Pisek is a film college. Even many students from Prague come here to learn to make movies."

Pisek is also the centre of the Prachen region, an administrative unit which no longer exists. But you can visit a museum dedicated to the region on Pisek's main square.

Statue of Adolf Heyduk in Pisek
"This is the Prachen Musem. The museum is located in a part of the former royal castle. So from this old castle we only have one remaining wing and in this wing this museum is located. It is a regional museum, it shows the history and culture of the region. In the 1990s it was under renovation and I must say the exhibitions inside are now really nice and modern, visitors really like to go there. The museum even got a prize 'European Museum of the Year 1996'.

"Last year the museum even opened a newly renovated exposition, which is a house of Adolf Heyduk, an important Czech poet. So besides this castle they also have a house where this poet used to live. You can go and see the flat of this poet from the beginning of the 20th century."

Most of the historic town centre has been beautifully renovated and Pisek is now concentrating on its industrial heritage.

"Pisek always used to have only light industry which is good for the town, it is good for the tourists. In the town centre you can find the old buildings of some kind of industry if we want to call it like this. There is a malting house which was part of a brewery. This brewery is undergoing renovation right now. It should be finished next year, in 2008, and we expect a centre of illustration to be there and many more different activities. But all for culture, so it's not going to be for any industrial use.


"And of course, the old power station is a very important site for the tourists here. It is a building on the Otava River which used to be a mill. Later on, at the end of the 19th century, the town of Pisek established there the first water power station. Pisek claims to be the first town in Bohemia to have public electric lighting. And what is interesting about this building and its equipment is that it's still working, so you can go inside and see the machines more than 100 years old still working, in a very good condition, of course, after renovation. There is also a small museum of the lighting of the town."

The first water power station

The Otava River has been a source of wealth for the town, be it its gold bearing sand or its hydro-electric power. But is has also proved a disastrous element several times in history. Most recently it was five years ago when pictures of the raging river covering all but the heads of the sculptures on the bridge made the front pages.

"In 2002 the situation was really bad. In August, there was there was a lot of water coming from the Bohemian Forest where the Otava River comes from. There were two points of culmination of the water and I think on the 12th or 13th of August the situation was the worst. The water was really high, some ten metres above its normal level, so even the old bridge was completely covered underwater. We could only see the sculptures on the bridge and people were very afraid. They didn't know if the bridge would survive or not.

New buildings along the Otava River
"Also many houses were flooded, especially on the left bank of the river which is more flat. Thank God, the bridge was not damaged heavily and could be repaired in the next few months after the flood. And also the town put a lot of effort and money - there were even public collections - into repairing the bridge and other things as well. So a few months after the flood, you wouldn't realise there was something like this. But the situation was really bad and critical and there was a lot of damage in Pisek."

If sightseeing is not really your cup of tea and you prefer a more active way of spending your holiday, there are plenty of cycling and hiking opportunities around the town.

"We have a very large area of forest which belongs to the town of Pisek. Pisek is the second richest town in forest property in the Czech Republic. The forest stretches some 20-30 kilometres outside the town. For tourists it is very nice that not many cars go through there, car traffic is limited there. It is good for walking and especially for cycling. Not far from the town there is a viewing tower called Jarnik. It takes some 1-1.5 hours to walk from the town centre to reach this tower. There is no entry fee, you can climb it and have a very nice view of the town and even of the Bohemian Forest."