Litomysl History of the city

History of the city

The first settlement of the area that is now Litomysl grew up along public trading routes, later known as the Trstenice Routes, which continued through what is today the town of Svitavy and along the regional border, joining the Czech lands with Moravia. According to written records the city was established in the 11th century, when Prince Bretislav II, established either a church or a Benedictine Order House on the site of what was probably an earlier Slavník fortress, which was mentioned in the Kosma Chronicle in 981. In the mid 12th century Bishop Zdík of Olomouc brought the Premonstians, whose monastery stood on the site of today's castle, and the area gained the name Mount of Olives. Part of this monastery was the Church of St. Clement, previously long considered the oldest church in the Czech lands

The monastery became an important centre for the region, and under its walls a settlement grew up along the public routes that followed the River Louèná. In 1259 King Pøemysl Otakar II conferred city privileges on this settlement and Litomysl became a bonded city.

In 1344 a bishopric was set up in Litomysl at the same time as the Prague Archbishopric was established. The monastery ceased to exist and its land was divided between the bishop and his chapter. Jan II of Støeda, Bishop of Litomysl, was from 1353 the chancellor at the court of Charles IV, and was a man of great cultural vision. In 1356 he invited the Augustinians to Litomysl, whose monastery chapel later became today's Probost Church.

From 1388 the Bishop was Jan IV. Zelezny, who is well-known as an opponent of Hus. In 1421 the Hussite army turned against Litomysl, despite the fact that Jan IV had transferred to Olomouc. The city gave up voluntarily, but four years later it was taken by a radical Hussite wing and there was a battle for the castle hill. Bishop Aleš of Bøezí fled and with the burning of the Bishop's Palace the bishopric disappeared.

From 1432 Litomysl was in the hands of the Kostek of Postupice family. The city blossomed under their rule and in the last quarter of the 15th century it became an important centre of the Union of Brothers. Their Bishop, archive and renowned printing house were based here. At the end of the fifteenth century the New or High Square appeared with its own local administration.

In 1547 Litomysl was confiscated from Bohuš Kostek of Postupice because of his unsuccessful participation in the uprising against Ferdinand I. One year later the ban on the Union of Brothers was renewed (who also took part in the uprising - especially Bishop Jan August), and their members were forced to leave the land.

In 1567 Vratislav of Pernstejn became the lord of the Litomysl demesne, and it was he who built the renaissance castle. The seat of the Kostek family, which consisted of the former Bishop's palace, later destroyed by fire, was abandoned and the castle was a new building. It was to become one of the most beautiful buildings not only in this country, thanks also to its beautiful sgrafitto decoration. Vratislav's period also saw the introduction of a town cleaning corps - an interesting document of the appearance and care for public hygiene.

Vratislav of Pernštejn took harsh measures against the Czech Brothers, and following his death his wife, Marie de Lara and his daughter Polyxena, both continued in the re-catholicisation process. The last member of the Pernštejn family, Frebonie of Pernštejn, invited the Piarist Order to Litomysl, devastated by the events of the Thirty Years' War. The Piarist College and its church were built later on the site of the Upper Square, which had been destroyed by another fire in 1635.

The Piarists were an educational order: they began teaching in schools that originally stood on the site of today's church in 1644. The philosophical institute, opened as part of the Piarist grammar school in the 17th century, was of great importance for further cultural development in the city.

Hard work and other duties, enforced by the bondage following the Thirty Years' War, together with the continuing re-catholicisation process, ended with a peasants' revolt, the centre of which was Litomysl and its surroundings. The main leaders in the revolt were executed.

From 1649 the owners of the demesne were the Trautmannsdorfs, who inscribed a new face into the city, especially the Piarist church which was built according to the plans of G. B. Alliprandi by F. M. Kaòka in 1722. The church became a symbol of the victory of anti-reformation; this building and the whole town were in future years to be witnesses to magnificent church celebrations.

Throughout the 18th century the city fought against a series of fires - throughout the Czech lands there was a saying "it is burning like Litomysl". There were also floods and war damage. In 1775 a catastrophic fire hit the city, followed by a flood in 1781 and another great fire in 1814. The result of the fires was the frequent re-building of the burghers' houses which, in the first half of the 18th century, gained an overall Empire style.

For the lords of the demesne, who had been the Wallenstein-Warttemberg family since 1758, the fire of 1775 provided an impetus to embark on large-scale building alterations to the castle and its immediate vicinity. At the castle the theatre was built, which exists to this day; amateur productions were also a favourite pastime in the city. At the philosophical academy Bedrich Smetana, who had been born six years previously in the castle brewery, made an appearance as a child genius in 1830.

In the first half of the 19th century the Piarist schools and the philosophical institute, reopened in 1802 after a short period of closure, were the centre of spiritual life in Litomysl. Many significant personages from scientific and cultural life taught and studied here during this time.

Litomysl dramatically experienced the revolutionary events of 1848. In March that year a student legion was established and a city guard was formed shortly afterwards, led by Josef Buchtel. A section of the students and the city guard fought in June that year in Prague, and after the October clashes in Vienna, Buchtel embarked upon an armed uprising. He was betrayed, however, and Buchtel was arrested. The uprising spread further throughout the schools, but the philosophical institute was closed down in 1849.

The Litomysl demesne, heavily in debt, was purchased by the von Thurn und Taxis family in 1855 and, following political and administrative changes enforced by the revolutionary events the demesne became their base, and the city of Litomysl became the administrative centre of the new district.

Life in the city following Bach's absolutism was centred on several societies. Many of their members were recruited from the ranks of teachers made redundant by the closure of the philosophical institute, and the grammar schools were reformed; from the 1850's onwards these schools employed these enlightened teachers. Many important people, especially writers, were attracted to Litomysl not only by the schools, but also by the renowned August printing house. Alois Jirásek came to the city as a professor at this time. In 1891 the city museum was opened, a library was established, and from 1905 the Smetanuv dum/Smetana Hall served the city.

In the first third of the 20th century the new Masaryk Quarter was built. A new grammar school was opened in 1923, and one year previous to this, the Lidovy dum community hall was completed. Building work on the industrial vocational school was finished in 1929.

In 1924 a monument to Bedøich Smetana by Sturs was unveiled on today's Smetanovo namesti/Smetana Square. In 1926 the city gallery was opened with works by J. Marák, A. Dvorák and modern artists. Today's newly opened gallery in the castle follows on from this tradition. In the first half of the 1930's Litomysl was the scene of large exhibitions (on A. Jirásek, B. Nìmcová, B. Smetana), the organisation of which was mainly in the hands of a native of the city, Zdenek Nejedlý.

During the Second World War the city's Jewish community was liquidated. The post-war evacuation of the German population changed the ethnic makeup in particular of the outlying villages. The events of February 1948 ("Victorious February" - communist takeover [translator's note]) passed without great reverberations; public opinion was not agitated until the trial of the rector of the Piarist College F. A. Stríteský and others in 1950. Since 1960 Litomysl has been part of the Svitavy district.

In 1949 the first Smetana's Litomysl opera festival took place in the castle grounds, under the supervision of Zdenek Nejedlý. This has been held to this day; it has, however, abandoned the original idea of purely bringing the music of Smetana to the public - today it is a festival with a wide dramatic range and is of great renown. It is also one of the most important cultural events in the city. Since 1974 the Young Smetana's Litomysl festival, an event for young musicians, has also taken place.

At the Litomysl castle, now state-owned, and a national cultural monument since 1962, restoration work has been carried out on the sgrafitto decoration since the 1970's during which time a team of artists headed by Olbram Zoubek has performed this work. The Museum of Czech Music inside the castle did not last long, and at present there is a public exhibition on noble lifestyles in its place. In 1999 their inscription onto the UNESCO World Heritage List confirmed the unique nature of the entire castle grounds.

Following the Velvet Revolution in 1989 there were a great deal of changes in cultural and political life, and also a number of new building and monument restoration projects. The Portmoneum was opened, and a restoration school was established. The economic development of the city was closely linked to the fortunes of the Vertex factory. The meeting of the Central European presidents, which took place in 1994 at the invitation of President Václav Havel was a significant event; this was followed one year later by a visit by the King of Spain. The last main change to the appearance of the city was the reconstruction of the monastery gardens and their opening to the public in September 2000.

Today's Litomysl is a city that is aware of its rich history and traditions, and is able to make use of these in order to develop further. There are a large number of valuable monuments, but attempts are being made to provide high-quality modern architecture. A "small-town" character is preserved, and offers the opportunity to discover at least traces of the spirit of the period of National Revival. A rich cultural and social life is developing, as is industry, business and the economy; inhabitants and visitors alike are offered a rich variety of sporting opportunities (sports arena).

In the preparation of this text the book by M. Skrivanek 'Litomysl - An old-fashioned city' Paseka, Prague and Litomysl 1997 is used, in which further literature on the history of the city is listed.

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