Zizkov celebrates 120th year of lively townhood

Zizkov's Coat of Arms

Unlike any other Prague district, Prague Three, or Zizkov, has a fierce sense of community and a wild tradition for revelry. This week Zizkov celebrates its 120th anniversary as a "Royal Town" - a privilege granted under the Habsburg Monarchy. Tricia Deering reports.

Zizkov's Coat of Arms
A wobbly tram from 1928 cruised through the streets of Zizkov on Tuesday, taking a brass band and residents on a trip through the quarter, which boasts a community pride like no other in Prague.

With more than 300 pubs over 649 hectares, Zizkov bears the proud title of "The Most Pubs Per Square Meter" of anywhere in the world. Zizkov has the world's tallest equestrian statue - in homage to the quarter's namesake, Jan Zizka, the fearless Hussite warrior who lost an eye in battle against the Catholic oppressors. The Franz Josef regime endowed the title of Royal Town onto Zizkov in 1890, sparking off the town's building boom. Zizkov became known as the quarter of entrepreneurs, and was the fourth largest town in Bohemia and Moravia.

In 1922, Zizkovites - "Zizkovaci" in Czech - protested the incorporation by Prague, demanding an Independent Republic of Zizkov, explains Petr Blazek, spokesman for Zizkov Town Hall.

"This term comes from the time of the first republic and from the literature of the time. It is represented by Jaroslav Hasek -- probably you know his "Good Soldier Svejk". This connection with Prague was badly accepted by local patriots and they protested against this connection and they said at this time that the Zizkov Republic is still independent."

Zizkov has been compared with New York's Greenwich village and Paris' Montmartre district. Drawn to the lively Gypsy quarter which always promised a laugh and a fresh beer, artists and writers have flocked to Zizkov for centuries.

"Because they loved this place. It was connected with some special atmosphere. They had their ateliers here, and they came here to the pubs to have a beer and have a good time in Zizkov."

During the communist regime, the fierce pre-war "Zizkovak" pride faded. During a communist "architecture revival" plan, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of Zizkov's buildings - some dating back to the 15th century -- were torn down to make way for pre-fabricated housing and cheaply built supermarkets. In 1978, the regime razed part of a 17th century Jewish cemetery to erect a TV transmission tower. A photo exhibit at Zizkov's town hall this week features merry ice skaters and fishermen at the Zizkov Pond (today's Olsanske Namesti), which the communists drained.

But over the past 10 years, that enthusiasm has returned, with a vengeance.

"Under the communist regime, this local patriotism was suppressed. It was something which was not suitable for the ideology. So, in the last 10 years we [have been] trying to revive this sense of connection with place."

A sizable community of Africans, Asians, North Americans and Roma pepper Zizkov's population. Writers, artists and musicians still flock from around the globe to set up studio. And there's a good reason, says Zizkov town hall spokesman Petr Blazek.

"I'm sure that Zizkovaci are more tolerant than other people, and that could be a reason why so many ethnic minorities are living here in Zizkov."

Author: Tricia Deering
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