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A brief history of Písek

Medieval Písek

The first written record of Písek

Mikoláš Aleš (1852-1913) – Panning Gold on the Otava, photo by: Městský úřad PísekPísek was first mentioned in written sources in 1243 in a document of King Wenceslas I. The area was settled much earlier, however, as shown by evidence of human inhabitation from the Palaeolithic Age (Old Stone Age). The first settlements in the Písek river basin are linked to the beginnings of gold panning from the sediments of the Otava River. The first people to thoroughly and systematically sift through these sands were the Celts. Evidence of a Celtic presence here can be found in the discovery of several burial mounds near Putim containing many valuable objects from gold and silver. Slavic tribes arrived to this area somewhere around the 5th or 6th century A.D.

Písek and Premyslids

Písek - Reconstruction of the royal castle – Pracheň Museum exhibition, photo by: Městský úřad PísekThe first actual settlement definitely existed on the right bank of the river on the site of today's city by the 12th century. The settlement's focus on panning gold can be presumed from its name, "Na Písku", or "On the Sand". It's important to note that by the late 13th and early 14th centuries, gold was also being mined here from deep under the ground, and Písek was already the center of a mining district. The settlement gradually became a market village with its own church, consecrated to St. Wenceslas. King Wenceslas (Václav) I (1205-1253) began building a castle close to the settlement in order to protect the Otava panning areas as well as the merchants passing through this section of the Gold Route which crossed the Otava River at this location. It was King Wenceslas I who founded and built the town together with the castle. The town was most likely named after the river sediment, having played such an important role in its history – the gold-bearing sand, or písek. Even though Wenceslas I founded the town, it was his son Přemysl Otakar II (1233-1278) who is credited for its expansion and development and who turned Písek into a royal fortified city. During this time, perhaps within a mere two decades, he also had the Stone Bridge build across the Otava River, the Dominican Monastery, and the parish church, and he completed the construction of the royal castle. Přemysl Otakar II, known for his power and wealth as the "iron and gold king", spent time here regularly; it was during his reign that Písek became one of the most important cities of the Bohemian kingdom and its importance and growth reached its highest historic level.

Town of Písek under the Luxembourg

During the 14th century, the panning and mining of gold in Písek, as well as its advantageous position on the Gold Route, allowed it to prosper and grow even wealthier. This importance is attested to by several privileges granted it by King John of Luxembourg (1296-1346): the right to collect tolls, exemption from customs and tolls, the "mile right" (no merchants or craftsmen were permitted to set up within a mile of the city), and the right to store salt and grains. Just for comparison, these privileges were similar to those of the Old Town of Prague. John's son, King and Emperor Charles IV (1316-1378) later confirmed Písek (actually New Písek) as the capital city of the Pracheň Region. Like his father the emperor, King Wenceslas IV (1361-1378) visited Písek often, but he was the last ruler to hold residence at the Písek castle.

Písek and Hussites

The Hussite period was an important chapter in the history of the city. Even before the Hussite War broke out, Písek was leaning towards the religious reformation movement evoked by the teachings of Master Jan Hus. In fact, the nearby village of Sudoměr, not even 10 km southwest of Písek, was the site of the first victorious battle of the Hussites, under the command of Jan Žižka from Trocnov.

Písek - The first firearm in Bohemia (Pracheň Museum), photo by: Městský úřad PísekAt the Battle of Sudoměř on March 20th of 1419, the scant regiment of Hussites (just over 400 people) dealt a severe blow to the royal forces, despite being outnumbered five to one. This was the first battle in which Jan Žižka proved his skill as a military commander. Using "wagon forts", his forces took up fortification on a dam between two ponds, causing the enemy forces to completely lose their advantage of numbers. When the royalists attempted to attack from the direction of a drained pond, the heavily armed soldiers became mired in the mud and the Hussite forces quickly finished them. Legend holds that the Hussite women had spread sheets of canvas along the floor of the pond; this hampered the movement of the heavy cavalry, who then became easy prey for the Hussites.

Just like the Hussite town of Tábor (and maybe even sooner), the townspeople of Písek placed a large wooden vat in the town square where everyone placed all their personal property to contribute to the "common cause". Písek became one of the centres of the Hussite movement and remained faithful to Jan Hus' ideals for several decades – up until 1452, it served as a self-governing city of the Hussite Republic.