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A brief history of Písek

Modern Transformations of the Town Písek

Písek and the Habsburg Monarchy

After the Hussite Wars had subsided, the second wave of blossom and prosperity arrived to Písek. The proceeds to the city coffers were so great, that at the beginning of the 16th century, Písek was one of the wealthiest cities in Bohemia. The city was even able to purchase the unused royal castle and entire royal dominion in 1509. This dominion included the Písek Mountains, which now meant that Písek possessed the most extensive forest lands of any city in Bohemia. This period of prosperity was interrupted by the great fire of 1532 which destroyed a large part of the city; some sources claim that the fire was set intentionally. Another fateful event in the city's history was the unsuccessful uprising against Emperor Ferdinand I of Habsburg (1546-1547). Afterwards, the office of royal reeve was established in Písek (as well as other royal towns), which defended the interests of the sovereign and oversaw the decisions of the city council. With this, Písek de facto lost the right to decide freely on its own important matters.

From the beginning of the 17th century, Písek and its inhabitants suffered one blow after another. In 1618, after the second Prague defenestration and after the outbreak of the Estates Rebellion, Písek took sides with the Czech aristocracy. For this decision, it was punished severely – in the following year, Písek was burned by imperial troops, and by 1620 it had been conquered and plundered by the Habsburgs three more times. The last raid of the imperial army proved fateful for the city; most of its residents were murdered, and nearly all homes were burned. In 1623, the lien holder of the city and dominion of Písek became the imperial general Martin de Huerta, known for his cruelty to his subjects. He was entrusted with the task of turning Písek back to Catholicism, using "all means possible". The first half of the 17th century was definitely one of the darkest periods of the city's history.

The beginning of the 18th century was marked by the plague which decimated the surroundings but miraculously left the city unharmed. As a token of gratitude for protecting Písek from the plague, a Marian Column was erected on the then-named Small Square in 1715. In 1742, the city was threatened again with bombardment and pillaging, as a military conflict brewed here between the Austrian army and French troops, which had chosen Písek as their foothold. Luckily, the battle never took place and the city was spared further damage.

At the end of the 18th and during the 19th century, the city and its culture began to undergo fundamental transformations. The national revival gave rise to the foundation of numerous cultural associations and institutions (in 1868 the Sokol gymnastics organization, the Museum in 1884), and a number of new schools were established: the Gymnasium (1778), the Czech Real School (1860), the first Czech Girls' High School (1860), the agricultural school (1870), the game warden school (1884), and the forestry school (1889). This was the period when Písek began to be known as the "Athens of South Bohemia".

František Křižík (1847-1941), photo by: Městský úřad PísekBy the late 19th century, the quiet city of Písek was hit by the industrial revolution. The most important newly-founded enterprises included paper mills, a tobacco factory, and textile plants for the production of coloured stockings and fezzes. One very important event for the city, as well as a strong impulse for the development of local businesses, was the connection of Písek to Prague with a railway in 1875. In 1887, Písek became the very first Czech city with permanent public lighting, the work of František Křižík.

Písek in the first half of the 20th century

The first important event of the 20th century was the declaration of independent Czechoslovakia in 1918. This declaration was announced in Písek on October 14th, two weeks before the new free nation was actually born. The townspeople of Písek, then, had to wait a fortnight before the definitive dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (see below). During the relatively peaceful period after the end of WWI, life in Písek returned to that of a traditional summer vacation destination, mostly sought out by students and retirees.

Liberation of Písek by the American Army on May 6, 1946, photo by: www.buddies-pisek.wbs.czUnfortunately, this period of calm lasted only two short decades. The Nazi occupation turned the life of the city and its inhabitants completely upside down, just like other Czech towns, bringing suffering and fear and costing many innocent lives. The long-awaited liberation finally arrived with the arrival of the American Army on May 6, 1945.

The longest that World War II lasted in Europe was in Čimelice, a town with about a thousand inhabitants some 20 km northeast of Písek. On May 9, 1945, the town was still occupied by eighty thousand German troops who had fled Prague and refused to surrender to American forces. It was finally on May 12, the day after the Red Army arrived to Čimelice, that the German general Pückler signed a surrender. He shot himself immediately afterwards, as did his aid and interpreter.

Písek during the years after the war

Písek - Aftermath of the destructive floods in September 2002, photo by: Městský úřad PísekThe post-war period mostly saw the development of the peripheral areas of Písek – new housing estates were built, and new factories were erected. Luckily, none of these factories, not even the largest – the Jitex textile factory and the Kovosvit machine works – were heavy industry, so Písek remained an oasis of quiet on the banks of the former gold-laden Otava River. This tranquillity was shortly interrupted by the catastrophic flood of 2002, which nearly washed away Písek's most valuable monument, the Stone Bridge. This great work of our predecessors, however, survived the floodwaters. Just like the city of Písek itself, it withstood all the heavy blows of its turbulent yet rich and glorious history.