On our final day in Plzeň we took an early morning walk through the town just to look at the buildings. The rain was still there – it seemed to be a constant in our weekend – but it didn’t deter us at all; we threw on our raincoats and headed out.
Plzeň has some interesting architecture and features that make it special. We saw the Great Synagogue, which is the third largest Jewish sacred building in the world and can fit more than 2,000 people inside.
We looked at paintings on buildings, strolled through a park, and walked back through the market square – much quieter this morning than the day before when a concert was happening. We only walked for about an hour (okay, the rain was getting to us) but there was so much more to see in the city. We determined we’ll have to come back again and spend more time exploring the area.
Along the way, I found some brightly colored flowers that cheered me up on an otherwise dreary morning. We stopped at a little grocer and picked up some items for breakfast before heading back to the hotel and eventually home.
Pilsner beer got its start in Plzeň – and the brewery tour is an interesting way to learn about those beginnings. Beer has been produced here since the time of Wenceslas II (13th century) but the brewery has been here since 1842. As I learned on the tour, at one time nearly everyone in the city were brewers – there is a town map in the museum that graphically shows where all the brewers lived.
The tour begins in the Information Center. You enter the brewery through the triumphal arch that was erected when they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the brewery and park in the lower lot on the left. Tickets are for specific times and we opted for the English speaking tour. There are some displays in the information center and on the outside that you can view without a ticket.
I was hoping to take photos on the tour so I had to buy a special camera license – only those with this sticker on their jacket could take photos, or so they said. I saw a lot of people taking photos on the tour that did not have the sticker, but still I did it right and paid the fee.
The tour takes you through the history of beer making with a hands-on approach as you can touch and smell the hops, malt, and barley that they keep in display barrels. There is a very secure container that you can view their special yeast. Moving on, we saw the fermentation tanks, both old and new, and headed into the processing plant where thousands of bottles, freshly washed and sterilized, moved rapidly along the belts to be filled and sealed. Then we were led into the small but informative museum that had historical artifacts, photos, and brewing tools.
One of the more interesting parts of the tour (I’ve been on brewery tours before so this first part was very similar to others) was going down into the tunnels and cellars. We headed down into the tunnels through the museum. As we descended in the ground, it got colder. We passed displays that showed how the tunnels were made and how the casks of beer were stored traditionally. In one of many “refrigerators” the guide showed us an opening at the top of this very high room where the workers would bring in snow to fill the room in the winter. This snow, coupled with the air blowing over it, served as an early air conditioner for the rest of the cellar. One of the last things to do on the tour below ground was to sample the beer – direct from one of the barrels kept in the cellar.
Our guide was a young, funny guy that seemed knowledgeable about his topic. At first, I thought he was just reciting his lines from memory, but when the questions started flowing, he was able to answer them without missing a beat.
The tour was definitely worth it – and so was the photo license as I was able to get lots of photos of our time in Pilsner Urquell.
One of the first things we did in Plzeň was tour St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral in the market square of the city. It was just a couple blocks from our hotel. This Gothic cathedral was founded in the 13th century and has the highest tower in the Czech Republic.
It was raining pretty hard the day we visited but it did not stop us from climbing the steps to the top of the tower for a view of Plzeň. I’m sure the view would’ve been much better without all the fogginess from the rain.
To the left of the front entrance of the cathedral is a small door that leads you up some steps towards the tower. Part of the way up you come to a floor with a small shop and a place to pay for your tower climb (don’t you just love when you pay to climb steps!). It was relatively inexpensive and I enjoyed talking with the lady at the ticket counter (she didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Czech; thankfully we were able to communicate with our limited German).
We then headed up the steps…not as high as many of the towers we’ve climbed, but still a nice little workout. We passed the bells as we went up the stairs. As we reached the top, the steps led us into a small room at the top of the tower. Through its windows, we couldn’t really see much; but fortunately there was a narrow balcony that went around the top of the tower. Unfortunately, it seemed to be raining even harder! But we braved the rain (after all, we didn’t climb all those steps to not go out and see the view!). We walked around until we found the side that had less direct rain hitting us and were able to see the Urquell brewery, all of the market square, and many of the buildings in the old town part of Plzeň.
After we’d had enough of the rain, we headed back down the steps, stopping to chat with the ticket lady again, before we headed off to see more of Plzeň.
St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral dates back to the 13th century. Inside and beside the altar is a gothic style statue of the Madonna that dates back to 1392. The Catholic church became a cathedral in 1993 when Pope John Paul II made Plzeň a bishopric.
The cathedral hours are:
Tower: All year round: 10:00 - 18:00
Cathedral: April - September: We - Sa 10:00 - 16:00; October -December: We - Fr 10:00 - 16:00
A good website for history of the cathedral is found at Plzeň cathedral.
A note about speaking with the lady in St. Bartholomew's (this was originally posted on my blog, Wanderings, about this experience and I thought I'd share it with you):
I’ve learned some new vocabulary and I’m rather excited about it. Lingua franca. Until yesterday, I had never heard it, but now I realize that I have one. What is lingua franca?
Lingua franca (n.): a language used for communication among
people of different mother tongues
Since moving to Europe, I’ve been studying and attempting to learn the German language. I recently finished reading a book on the history of the German language and found that it is the second most common language in Europe; the first most common is English. That surprised me; I was expecting French to be the first. But French gets the bronze medal, third place. So learning German should come in handy, not just for train tickets or food shopping, but for communication when traveling.
Last month I realized I had a lingua franca without even knowing there was an actual term for it! What I mean is I was able to use German to communicate with someone that didn’t speak my native tongue, English.
We were visiting the town of Plzeň in the Czech Republic. It was a rainy morning and we opted to climb the cathedral tower in the market square. Only 250 steps…small compared to other towers we’ve ventured up. The cashier in the tower spoke Czech, which I do not. I spoke English, which she did not. But we realized we both spoke some German and were able to conduct our transaction. After returning from the tower, I stopped and spoke some more with the cashier, using our common German as the lingua franca. It had all come rather naturally and, as I left the church, it dawned on me that I now had a new ability I had not possessed just six months ago.
My current lingua franca needs improvement, for sure. So I will continue to work on my German…I just never know when I’ll need it!
We stopped at Pilsner-Urquell for a short lunch stop. The restaurant is great, and cheap. The gift shop has nice mugs and steins for souveniers. We didn't take the tour, but there are nice signs around to explain what the buildings are. And there is a cool static display set up showing the old brewing process.
Overall, a great place to strecth your legs if you're travelling that way...
When travelling to Plzen, is the brewery is a must see. There is guidet tours in English, German, Czech.
We went on the English tour and the guide was perfect in his english.
On the tour you will see:
- The new and old factory
- A couple of movies about Plzen and the brewery
- Hear a lot about the tecnical processes in brewing of beers
- See the old cellars where the beers were stored
- Tasting a special beer, made on the old fasion way
It costs 130 CZK for an adult, but as a student we have paid 80 CZK (Remember a studentcard)
I can highly recomend a visit at Pilsner Urquell Brewery
We went to the first Pilsen beer festival, 2007! They had 3 stages throughout the town, one in the center, one at the PIlsen brewery and one at some stadium. All within walking distance. It was a complete blast. We can't wait til this year. The web site is under construction. Last year it was in October.
The first stage we went to was in the center and had pop bands. This was at the huge church in the middle of town. Lots of food stands at this one and some places to sit and eat. The big stadium had a great drumming band and had a younger crowd. Food outside the stadium and lots of adult games which I showed in my pictures. The games were made of rubber so the drunkards couldn't hurt themselves too much.
The third place was at the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. We went there the last day and as it was the only stage that had anything going on. It was a show for grannies and everyone had grey/white/purple hair. It was traditional Czech folk music. Interesting for a short while to us. They had a fashion show in front of the main museum too, reminded me of the 80's.
When visiting Plzen travelers usually want to visit Pilsner brewery, I am not exception ;) A representative building is located a bit outside old town, it was designed by H .Zapal in 1917. Some parts of brewery are older. Brewery Gate is from 1892, and water tower from 1888. Despite its industrial purpose, complex of buildings look quite nice.
Here is possible to take excursion about beer brewing process, to get more information about beer, its types, and so on. My recommendation is to reserve excursion of beer-brewing some time before, as I made mistake and haven’t participated in it.
The city gardens were formed at the beginning of 19th century, they are around old town, at the site, where defensive city wall stood (still some remains left). Gardens around Plzen old town are split into a few parts: 5th May, Safarik, Krizik, Kopecky, Smetana and Petatricatniku gardens. You could see here monuments for famous Czech people (eg. Smetana), fountains, city maps and information.
Oldest fragments of city wall are from about 1300, some others are from 18th – 19th centuries. Actually (the same as in my hometown Vilnius) there are examples of defensive wall incorporation into houses. Fragments of walls you could see walking around city parks.
Tyl theatre of Plzen is just at the corner of city gardens. It is example of beginning of 20th century architecture, here is actually neo-Renaissance. Construction was designed and built in 1899-1902 (architect Antonin Balsanek).
Here is such a gossip that theatre was built as a rival (if we could say so) to Prague National Theatre to show the strength of Plzen in land of Bohemia.
At the time I visited Plzen (July, 2009) theatre was under reconstruction.
Plzen synagogue is an approval about former big community of Jewish people (before Second World War). It is famous because of its large size. Fact tells it is second largest synagogue in Europe (after one in Budapest).
The Great Synagogue was built in 1893 in neo-Rennaisance and Romantic styles, combined with oriental decorations. Interesting fact, that sanctuary had to be the other appearance before, Gothic one, with long spires, but city administration declined the project due to reason that Synagogue could dwarf Plzen Cathedral of St. Bartholomew.
Synagogue is mostly used for concerts and exhibitions, and worship process is rare here.
It is one of the oldest and one of most valuable buildings in Plzen, touching the 13th century, Premysl dynasty. Construction still has early gothic traces, but later, in 1611, instead of ruined chapel new one was added, and second one was added later, at the same 17th century.
The church was closed at time a visited Plzen, but it is worth visiting it, it is told, there are beautiful baroque altar inside and other valuables.
Building of State Research Library was formerly used as monastery for Dominican nuns. Jakub Auguston constructed it at 1711 – 1714. Later, in 1782 city administration purchased it for educational purposes. More adds were made at 1804-1809, when Philosophical Institute were constructed in Classical Louis XVI style.
The part of building could be seen from the part of Smetanovy gardens; the sculpture for B. Smetana is nearby. B. Smetana was famous Czech composer (1824 - 1884), the most important his work, probably, is symphonic poem “Vltava”.
Plzen town hall is so called one of the most beautiful town halls in Bohemia. It was designed and built in 1554 – 1559 by Italian architect Giovanni de Statia.
At 1907-1912 town hall was reconstructed by J. Koula, he designed a new graffito decoration.
The building is one of dominant in square of Republic and is divergent from other constructions around due to its style and colouring.
St. Mary Plague column exist in Plzen town as well, at Square of Republic, near St. Bartholomew Cathedral (as I think, it is quite usual for Central Europe towns). The column was built in 1681. The reason of building it was thank giving for quite mild plague epidemic in 1680.
Top of plague column is adorned by copy of Madonna of Plzen statue that originally exist in town’s Cathedral.
Construction of gothic St. Bartholomew Cathedral was quite long – from 1295 till beginning of 16th century. Maybe architecture of church exterior is not very impressive (as, let say, St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague), but it is well observed due to long spire (102,6 meters, longest church tower in Bohemia). It is worth going up to see panorama of Plzen, especially of square of Republic around Cathedral.
Sanctuary houses a statue of Madonna of Plzen (year of 1360) – it is an example of Czech “beautiful Madonna style” art works.
St. Bartholomew’s got Cathedral title only in 1993, when John Paul II established bishopric here.