Medieval meanderings in the historic city
For those travelers who feel the best way to really meet a city is by getting lost in it, Tábor was designed with you in mind. The historical center is truly a venerable maze of cobblestone streets, perfect for the wandering walker. Turn left or right at random, whichever way your strolling spirit takes you. One can wander happily for a couple of hours, admiring the architecture and beauty of this 15th century town.
The town was settled in 1420 by a group of Jan Hus followers. Hus, the well-known Catholic reformer, was burned at the stake as a heretic a few years earlier. His followers hoped to turn their vision of a just society into reality and gave the town the biblical name of Tábor. Situated on a hill overlooking the River Lužnice, then the town provided safety from invading enemies. Now it offers visitors beautiful views and tempting trails.
A visit here is best begun in the middle of town. Žižka Square is surrounded by quaint buildings with some fun architecture. In the middle is a fountain and monument to Jan Žižka himself, the man who led the Hus followers into town. The Infocentrum (tourist info, Žižkova nám. 2, www.tabor.cz) is also located here. The Infocentrum has recently introduced audio guides to the town, highlighting the city’s architectural sights.
Start your day by going down. Located in the Gothic Town Hall is the Hussite Museum (Žižkovo nám. 1, www.husmuzeum.cz.) Cultural events and exhibitions are on view here and the Gothic Palace is quite impressive. The highlight however is the tour you can take of the Underground Tunnels. Heralding back to the 15th century, the tunnels were built as cellars under residents’ homes. Future generations kept up the digging and many of them became interconnected. The cellars were originally used for storing food and beer, but they also doubled as a shelter in case of fire or enemy invasion. About 800 meters of tunnels under Žižka Square are open for touring.
After resurfacing, cross the square to the Dean Church of Lord’s Conversion on Mount Tábor (Žižkovo nám.) Both the interior of the cathedral, as well as a view tower are open to visitors. Visit the tower, and 250 steps later you will be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the town and surrounding valley.
Now that you have been up, down and in the middle, it’s time to branch out. Pick a street, any street. Narrow cobblestone wind up, down and all around. Have fun twisting and turning through corridors that abruptly end or leave you at the edge of the hill, rewarding you with beautiful vistas. Gaze over the River Lužnice. The large lake, Jordan, was the first artificial lake in Central Europe. Walking paths circle it, and if it’s warm enough you can go for a swim.
Hopefully your meanderings have directed you to Kotnov Tower and Bechyne Gate. Bechyne is the only preserved gate in Tábor and has survived practically intact since the 15th century. Inside is an exhibition showcasing “The Life and World of Medieval Society.” It isn’t exactly known when the castle was built, but historians speculate it was sometime in the second half of the 13th century. The tower is the only preserved part of the castle. Climbing to the top will offer hardy souls another lovely view. A new exhibition at the castle is the “Tábor Treasure Exhibition;” devoted to coins that were found during a 2001 archeological dig at a local house. Gothic tiles, ceramic and glassware rescued from the site are also on display.
Worked up an appetite haven’t you? The town is the second largest in South Bohemia with about 37,000 inhabitants, so you aren’t going to be wandering around lost for a restaurant. Meloun at Špitálské 290 offers a varied meat selection that includes fish, rabbit and venison. The décor is modern and colorful, decorated by a Prague artist. Cheaper, medieval-type pub food can be found at U Cerveného kone just off Žižka Square at Križíkova 31. Feed your pizza need at Caffé Pizzerie Berka (Kostnická 159) or your Chinese yearnings at Cínská restaurace Shang-Hai inside the Hotel Palcát (tr. 9 kvetna 2471.) Nicer restaurants can be found inside most of the hotels such as Restaurace Brasserie or Restaurace La Cave both inside Hotel Dvovák Tábor (Hradební 3037.)
The city offers a full calendar of cultural events, but the most popular is the Tábor Meetings Festival which takes place every September, this year the weekend of 12-14. Street theater, a medieval market and concerts as well as a parade all showcase the city’s Hussite history. The parade was the best part; after the fully-costumed participants circled the Square, they all headed straight for the beer stand. Soldiers, prisoners, peasants and royalty all toasting each other in what I’m sure was an accurate recreation from the Hussite battles. Sunday is reserved for European Heritage Days which means entry to many of Tábor’s sites is free.
One final Tábor must-see is the Monastery Church at Klokoty (Staroklokotská 1, sweb.cz/klokoty.) A pleasant walk from Kotnov through Holecek Park will bring you to this pilgrimage church. Building of the Baroque structure began in 1700 and took 30 years. The church itself was finished in 1714 and the attached cloisters and chapels were completed in the following years. The beautiful church surrounded by peaceful countryside is the perfect way to end a perfect day in Tábor.