Hradec Králové lies beside the confluence of the Orlice and Labe Rivers in Eastern Bohemia, about 30km north of Pardubice. One of the oldest and most important cities in Bohemia, Hradec Králové evolved in the 12th century from a riverside fortress that stood on the site for at least three centuries before that.
Dowry of the Bohemian Queens
Hradec Králové’s heyday was from the early 1300’s until the beginning of the Thirty Years War in 1618, when it enjoyed special status as a dowry town of the Bohemian Queens.
In the middle ages entire towns and cities were owned either by the royals or by powerful aristocrats. Queen’s dowry towns specifically were the property of current and former queens. Hradec Králové was bequeathed to Queen Elisabeth (Eliška Rejčka) upon the death of her husband King Wenceslas II (Vaclav II) in 1305.
Gothic Church of the Holy Ghost
When Elisabeth arrived in Hradec she set about construction of the Church of the Holy Ghost, which remains one of Hradec Králové’s most prominent buildings to this day. The tall, narrow church is of a dark red-brown exposed brick and has a steep roof and twin towers topped with gothic spires and turrets of slate and copper.
Like many buildings of its age, the Church was rebuilt several times, and its present appearance dates from a reconstruction in the 1860’s and 70’s.
White tower and town hall
A few metres from the Church of the Holy Ghost is the five storey freestanding belfry known as the White Tower, and facing the square below, the pale grey building with the pair of slender clock towers is the town hall.
The town hall was later modified and extended in the baroque style, but the tower has retained its original appearance and with the austere gothic church just metres away, you might be forgiven for thinking this end of the square had been torn from the pages of an architecture textbook.
The viewing platform of the white tower offers a particularly good view of the main square. Along the northern, left hand side of the square the two and three storey houses have retained their renaissance appearance. Their facades and gables are colourfully painted and on the ground level wide masonry arches protect the covered walkway that runs the length of the square.
On the opposite side of the square most of the buildings date form the periods of reconstruction after the thirty years war (1618-1648). The Bishops’ palace and the Jesuit college are now used as a gallery and university classrooms respectively, but the adjoining Jesuit church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is still used for it’s original purpose, with services eight times a week.
Also along this side of the square are two staircases leading down to the flat ground alongside the Orlice and Labe rivers. There’s a ring of parks around the Hradec’s old city walls and along its riverbanks, and some of the best of the Czech Republic’s 20th century architecture, including the Museum of East Bohemia, and the riverside power station.
Across the river in the direction of the train and bus stations are more examples of work by the notable architects Kotěra and Gočar, including a former bank, several school buildings, a Hussite church and some lovely open squares and boulevards.
With around 100,000 people Hradec is the largest city in the region, and is also the seat of a university, which adds a vibrant student town atmosphere to Hradec’s otherwise considerable list of charms.
An excellent place to stop if you’re in the region and if you’re planning a longer stay, it’s worth remembering that Hradec always comes out at or near the top of any studies or polls about quality of life or the best places to live within the Czech Republic.
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Outside Prague last updated June 13th, 2010. All text and images Copyright 2007-2010. Articles may be excerpted for review, or printed for use by individual travellers.
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