Just a few moments ago I arrived in the town of Nymburk, our location for today's Spotlight. Nymburk lies in Central Bohemia, just 50 kilometres east of Prague. Now, it may not be an obvious destination but the town is in many ways remarkable.
"Premysl Otakar II had a huge impact on the founding of new royal towns in the Czech lands - and Nymburk - at the time a growing site located on the Elbe River in the lower Elbe basin - was no exception. It had everything going for it to become a vibrant medieval town. Its fortunes grew under the Premyslids, and continued under the Luxembourgs, including King Charles IV."
As a royal town Nymburk gained the usual privileges but also responsibilities: it was a requirement to build fortifications. They once stretched around the town's historic core - though only parts survive to this day. It may surprise you to learn that Dutch and German colonists had a very marked influence on their final design.
I'm just coming up the steps to the fortifications now and I have to say they truly are magnificent. The thing that sets them apart from other royal Czech towns, other medieval towns, is almost anywhere else such structures would be built of stone. Here, they are made of brick; in this, Nymburk is different.
"The Nymburk fortifcations are unique for a number of reasons: first, the fact that they are made of brick is very unusual, a tradition brought by the Dutch colonists. To this day, the orange brick sets Nymburk's surviving ramparts apart. Then, Nymburk has a kilometre and a half of moats in front of the fortifications that are absolutely unique. Along with a nearby English park, the area makes for a truly beautiful walk. The fortifications are a pride of the town."
Fortifications were an important aspect of any royal town and a necessity for the protection of its inhabitants. Town burghers were a new class that could own property and travel freely; in addition Nymburk benefited from fortifications given it lay on low ground and lacked a strategic promontory or hill.
Nymburk soon prospered and played an important part on trade routes to Polonia and the north. But its good fortunes wouldn't last. It suffered a period of relative decline in the mid 1500s. Then, in the 17th century, the town - like much of Bohemia and Moravia - suffered the consequences of the political and religious conflict that came to be known as the Thirty Years' War. Historian Pavel Fojtik once again:
"Royal towns' importance had of course peaked in the mid 1500s and Nymburk was no different. There had been a decline but the Thirty Years' War had a much more devastating effect. Nymburk, which lay on the path to important Imperial locations like Pardubice and Podebrady was repeatedly surrounded and sacked. Twice, armies from Saxony and Sweden held the town at siege: once in 1631 and then again in 1634.
"In 1634, Nymburk was almost completely plundered and destroyed, with records saying that only eleven buildings were left standing. There was also an infamous massacre which is remembered to this day: inhabitants took refuge inside the church, but were all killed by Swedish soldiers. The side gate to the church was closed and has remained closed ever since."
It would then take the town of Nymburk almost two centuries to recover. In that, industrialisation in the 19th century was instrumental. The 1800s saw Nymburk turned into an important railway hub and the Elbe River saw the production of new factories, as well as hydro-electrical facilities that slowly but surely brought the first electric power to surrounding villages. Nymburk was on its way to becoming a modern industrial and agricultural site.
"The main impulse was through a rise in agricultural production: there were dairies with milk and cheese production, sugar refineries, and all manners of agricultural facilities. Rail arrived, playing a massive role in transportation and this helped the town prosper, in building new schools as well as a system of locks on the Elbe that facilitated transport and travel on the river."
Today, roads and highways have long overtaken transport through Nymburk though, to its detriment. Daily traffic is non-stop, and that takes away much from the town's allure cutting through the town's historic centre, only a few hundred metres away from the town's beautiful parks. Still, there are buildings and walks that are highly notable - much, Pavel Fojtik says, of which one can be proud.
"Nymburk does not have the attraction of many Czech towns, for example some south Bohemian gems, and there is much that might even been seen as unattractive, such as newer buildings marring the landscape built under communism. But, there are exquisite sites to be discovered and many. At first, Nymburk was known for its Gothic architecture, but it has grown increasingly recognised for modern buildings too: a number of Cubist or Functionalist houses that are truly unique. I think, that if you give it time, there is much to discover."
And that isn't all - in the time we have here it's also worth mentioning at least one other famous Nymburk claim-to-fame: the town's connection to the great Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. Hrabal moved to Nymburk with his family as a five-year old child and later in his work he often reflected on life there and its local characters. "Cutting it Short" or "Postriziny" as it is known in Czech, is the first in a trio of books also including "The Town Where Time Stood Still", forming an ode to the area. Today, it's no mistake that the Nymburk brewery carries the Postriziny name. Pavel Benak is the facilities' director.
"We agreed with Mr Hrabal in 1992 on the Postriziny name and the various beer labels were based on characters from the books. Mr Hrabal lived here from 1919 and his step-father the caretaker at the brewery. He lived here until 1947 and he wrote a trio of novels based on his experience including Cutting it Short. Here in Nymburk it's said that it's not only from Hrabal's writings that we get a sense of his ideas, but that there is a bit of his inspiration also in the Postriziny beer."
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