A November 2005 trip
to Policka by captain oddsocks
Quote: Founded in 1265, Policka is a pretty town surrounded by a Gothic fortification system of round towers, moats, and high stone walls.
The most powerful and influential Bohemian king of the 13th century, Premysl Otakar II, founded Policka as part of his grand plan to link the Bohemian and Moravian capitals, Prague and Olomouc, with a safe trade route. The route led from Prague via Kourim, Kolín, Cáslav, and Vysoké Mýto, with Policka being the final settlement on the Bohemian side.
As a royal town, Policka stood on the side of the Catholic rulers at the beginning of the Hussite wars and was surrounded by the Hussite army of Jan Žižka. Legend has it that Žižka decided against attacking the heavily fortified town and intended to starve out the inhabitants. When almost all their resources were used, the Policans came up with a clever plan, set their last pig free outside the walls, and threw it the last of their food. When the Hussites saw that the townspeople had so much food that they could afford to waste it like this, they gave up and moved on.
In reality, the townspeople soon adopted the Hussite ideology and welcomed the army without resistance, but the town was taken back later the same year by the Catholic Hungarian army. Support for the anti-Catholic reformists caused the loss of many of the town’s privileges, which were reinstated only in 1628, and then only for Catholics.
During the large-scale industrialization and economic development of the 1800s, urban settlements were expanding rapidly, and the new demands that this brought about caused dozens of cities and towns to demolish their obsolete defensive walls. Polièka managed to retain its walls, partly thanks to a fire in 1845. The catastrophic fire effectively put a stop to economic development in the town, and along with the pond along the south side and the relatively small area of useful land to be gained, provided enough reason to not pursue any demolition of the walls. As a result, Polièka’s ground plan is an excellent example of Gothic town planning, its symmetrical central square surrounded by a grid of narrow streets, and then by the surrounding wall, regularly punctuated by tall towers.
The town today can be almost circumnavigated around the old walls, and the south side along the pond is especially picturesque. The landmark towers of the town hall and St Jacob’s church, (birthplace of world-renowned composer Bohuslav Martinù) can be seen from almost everywhere.
The c in Policka should have a small v-shaped accent above it and is pronounced as the ‘ch’ in chips or cheese. In English the town name could be transcribed as Polichka. The C with the accent is always pronounced this way, so keep it in mind if you’re heading south to Trebíc, Telc, or Ceský Krumlov.
Tourist information is at number 160 on the main square, Palackého námestí, and is very helpful. They’re open in June, July, and August from 8am to 6pm on weekdays and 9am to 2pm on weekends. The rest of the year they are open from 8am to 5pm weekdays and 8am to 11.30am weekends. They can be contacted by telephone on (+420) 461 723 800.
The 40-page booklet Policka, Gotické opevnení mesta is widely available in town and contains aerial photographs, historical sketches, and diagrams. It’s apparently only available in Czech, but the illustrations mean that it's still a good way to invest 40Kc.
Polièka is in Eastern Bohemia, toward the northern end of the Czech-Moravian highlands, approximately 180km east of Prague, 90km north of Brno, and 95km northwest of Olomouc. Svitavy (home town of Oscar Schindler) and Litomyšl (with a UNESCO World Heritage-listed chateau) are both less than 20km away.
The online timetables are the best place to find information about public transport to Polièka. Getting to Polièka from Prague will involve a change of trains at Èeská Tøebova, and from Olomouc or Brno, you’ll need to change buses at Svitavy. If you’re arriving by car, you’ll probably be taking Highway 34 via Svitavy. There are car parks in several locations just outside the town walls.
The bus and train stations are a few minutes’ walk north of the historic centre of town. Buses to the village of the same name beneath Svojanov castle depart frequently.
Within Polièka, everything of interest to short-term visitors, including the majority of the accommodation, is within walking distance of the main square.
Hotel | "Dobrotovy pokojícky/Dobrota’s rooms"
This small pension in the historic buildings backing up to the Gothic ramparts on Na Bídì is a great little place to stay. The four houses along this stretch of the wall were built in the 1800s by some of Policka’s less-affluent inhabitants on parcels of land belonging to the town and using the city wall as the rear wall of the house. Na Bídì means something like "in the poorhouse" and was originally a derogatory nickname but has since become the official name for the street. Another nickname was Na Žabárnì, from Žába (frog) and the ending árna (place of...), which was in reference to the former moat and its inhabitants.
Reception of Dobrota’s Rooms is open from 11am and is in the small pub (Šenk) next door. The attic rooms each have skylight windows to the sides and a small conventional window facing the street. I had the end room above the small café and could hear people down there during the day but had complete silence in the evening and through the night. Security is excellent, with three different keys needed to get from the street to your room. Bathrooms are shared between the rooms, and perhaps the only disappointing thing about the penzion was the meagre supply of hot water.
In the room, the walls are all lined with timber and the well-chosen secondhand furniture has all been painted in one colour and thoughtfully arranged. The floor is carpeted, the sheets, duvets, and pillows appear to be quite new, and the entire place is spotlessly clean. A great plus is the array of practical storage aids; especially in winter, you can never have too many hooks for coats and hats and the like. The three beds each have a bedside table, and there are also armchairs and a television for anyone who has more time in town than I did. One of the things I like most about the place is that they have definitely NOT adopted the popular no-expense-spared approach. It wouldn’t suit the history of the buildings, and there’s nothing worse than staying in buildings that are outwardly full of character but have had their hearts ripped out and filled up with Swedish furniture and Italian tiles.
Your first night will cost 450Kc, including breakfast, and every subsequent night will be 400Kc. If you choose not to partake in breakfast, the prices will be 70Kc cheaper. Breakfast is served down in the Šenk, and the time can be arranged to suit your plans, bearing in mind that you’ll need to have checked out by 10am on the last day of your stay.
Loads of character, a great location, and a good value for the money--my favourite kind of place!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 20, 2005
Knifesmith Dobrota's Pub
Policka, Czech Republic
Cafe Net Restaurant is, predictably enough, an Internet café and restaurant. It’s just outside Polièka’s Gothic town walls. The address is Husova, but the entrance is, from Na Bidì, 100m or so along the street from the Šenk nožíøe Dobroty.
Inside the main door is a small entry room, and the door to the main restaurant is off to the right. The restaurant is mad up of one room, with a bar in the corner just inside the door and the rest of the space filled with enough chairs and tables for about 30 people. The furniture is all wood and the walls are a warm grape colour. The music is thoughtfully chosen, and while I was there, included the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Beck, and soundtrack music from a recent Quentin Tarantino film. The door beside the bar leads into a back room, which serves as the Internet café. Internet access is 20Kè for the first 15 minutes or 50Kè per hour.
On weekdays there are good lunch specials, comprising of a choice of three main meals for 55Kè each and soup of the day for another 15. When I was there, the soup was cabbage and I chose the Spanish Bird, which is actually a thin cut of beef wrapped around an egg-sized lump of ham, egg, gherkin, and tomato, served with rice and a thick gravy. It is good, hearty fare for cold days. Also on the menu were toasted sandwiches for 48Kè and an impressive range of salads, ranging from 59 to 79Kè. The beer on tap was the kvasnicové (with a live yeast culture) from the local Policka brewery. Half a litre was 17Kè, but I chose the large Kofola soft drink for 20Kè.
When it was time for dinner that night, I walked around to a few places but didn’t like the look of many of them and ended up back at the café. It has large windows facing Na Bidì, and when it’s all stone and ice and darkness outside, the warmth and light and wood were too much to resist. Most of the tables were reserved, but the staff squeezed me into the last free spot. I think they recognised me from lunch, but I had the impression that they would be that helpful for everybody. Still, if you want to increase your chances of a seat without making a reservation, it might pay to stop by to take photos of your lunch and speak Czech with a strange accent earlier in the day. I ordered the chicken cutlet for 83Kè, which was on the table in front of me within 10 minutes and in my belly about 5 minutes after that.
Café Net Restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 11pm and on Sunday from 11am to 10pm. Reservations can be made on 604 888848.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 20, 2005
Cafe Net Restaurant
Policka, Czech Republic
Apart from the museum, the two main places to visit in Polièka connected with Bohuslav Martinù are the place of his birth, in the tower of St Jakub’s church, and his final resting place, just inside the gates of the cemetery on nearby Vrchlického.
St Jakub’s church was rebuilt in 1853-65 in the neo-Gothic style from the original stone, after being razed to the ground in a devastating fire. Bohuslav Martinù was born in the tower on December 8, 1890. His father worked in the tower as the fire watchman, and also as a shoemaker. The small living space 36m above the ground was also used by Bohuslav’s mother for her work as a laundrywoman. The tower was home to the five-member Martinù family until Bohuslav was 11 and had already written the first of his 400+ symphonies. Accessible within the warmer months, the tower is closed for safety reasons during the seasons of icy steps and electric Christmas decorations.
Martinu passed away in Switzerland on August 28, 1959, and was buried close to Basel on the land of his friend Paul Sacher. In 1979 his remains were returned to Polièka to be laid to rest in the family grave. The grave is simple but elegant and is also the resting place for Martinù’s beloved wife Charlotte, his parents, siblings, and sister-in law. The cemetery is accessible from at least 8am to 7pm throughout the year, and from the area of the Martinù family grave there is a beautiful view to their former home in the tower of St Jakub’s.
One of the quotes in the museum suggest another part of Polièka connected with Martinù’s musical career. Je to nábøeží optimismu. Byla to moje témìø každodenní procházka, tam jsem v hodinách oddechu našel Špalíèka a skoro všechny svoje ostatní námìty. It’s a bank of optimism. It was my almost daily walk, and there in the hours of rest, I came up with Špalíèek and almost all of my other ideas. The bank of optimism refers to the area around the pond that lines the south side of Polièka’s historic centre, and a statue in the park commemorates his affection for the place.
If you’re like me and don’t know much about Martinù before your visit to Polièka, I would recommend visiting the museum first and then searching out the places mentioned above. He’s an intriguing personality, and the story of a boy born in less than affluent circumstances who rises to the peak of his chosen art is an engaging one. And even if your imagination is not fired by Martinù’s story, the three places are each worthy of a visit in their own right.
Various Locations Around the Centre
Policka, Czech Republic
Šenk nožíre Dobroty is a small pub nestled beneath one of the battlements in the Gothic city walls on Na Bidì.
The low entry door from the street leads to a small entry hall, and to the right is another door leading to the pub itself. Inside you’ll be faced with wooden paneled walls displaying a wide range of framed pictures, old and antique skis, sleds, bottles, old farming and brewing equipment, and a gentleman’s umbrella. There are four tables to choose from, but if it’s a weekend evening, they may all have reserved signs on them. This was what happened to me, but the friendly staff found me a place and explained that if I could be finished by the time of the reservation, I could stay and eat. The Šenk came highly recommended both by tourist information and by the people I was talking to in Kavárna Andílek the previous night, so I took the seat offered, ordered a drink, and started to look through the menu.
The first thing in the menu was a description of how the bar got its name, but I was in a hurry, so it would have to wait. The specialty of the Šenk is steak, but it’s relatively expensive. The 10 or 12 dishes ranged from 155Kc for the cheapest 150-gram portion to 288Kc for the most expensive 200-gram portion. The next section was pork, with about 15 dishes, mostly ranging from 85-95Kc, but with the 250gram Farmaøský pork steak with horseradish, mustard, and devil's sauce (piquant) for 110Kc. There were also several salmon dishes for about the same price and five or six vegetarian options from 45-55Kc. In the chicken section, though, I found a meal that had been suggested to me: Dobrotova dobrota/Dobrota’s kindness, richly spiced strips of chicken in a cheese sauce sprinkled with more cheese. It's absolutely delicious, but anyone with a cholesterol problem should probably give it a miss.
With the meal ordered there was time to return to the menu. The pub is named after Jachym Dobrota, but the story begins with his father, who was an infantryman in the Austrian imperial forces. During the battle of the three emperors, he became disoriented and ended up 750km away in Montenegro where he met his future wife and Jachym’s mother. In time, Jachym followed his father into the Austrian imperial forces and was posted to Policka and charged with guarding the city on the pond side. Demobilised from the army, some say for repeatedly dozing off while on duty, he took up residence in the poorhouses on Na bide and turned to knife sharpening. Not a shred of truth in it, but it’s a good yarn and draws your attention to the old skis and pictures from Dobrota the knifesmith’s various adventures.
The Šenk is open Monday to Saturday from 11am to midnight and on Sunday from 11am to 10pm.
Attraction | "The Gothic Ramparts and Bastions"
Archaeological surveys suggest that Polièka was surrounded by a fortification of wooden piles soon after it was founded by the King of Iron and Gold, Pøemysl Otakar II, around 1265. In the course of the early 1300s, the wooden piles were replaced by a stone rampart wall with battlements and an arrangement of guard towers to watch over the four gateway entrances. At the same time as the fortifying walls were being built, a long, narrow pond was dug along the south side of the town and filled with water from the Bilý Potok/White Stream. Outside the main rampart walls was a second lower parallel wall and a moat. After the Hussite wars (1418-1434), the moats were deepened considerably and the entrances to the city further fortified.
Refinement of gunfire and shelling in the late 1400s and the ascent of the Hapsburgs to the Czech throne in 1526 brought about new methods of fortifying towns, but as the Czech lands were not near the centre of war against Turkey, the techniques were seldom applied. During the Thirty Years’ War, the redundancy of Gothic fortifications was definitively demonstrated and Polièka was overrun by the Swedish army. Even though there was little left of the town at the end of their ruinous stay, repairs were carried out to the ramparts from 1652-57 and in 1698.
Today, the fortifications of Polièka are the most completely preserved in the Czech Republic. All four gate towers were demolished in the mid 1800s, and the moat was mostly filled when underground drainage was introduced to the town around the turn of the 20th century, but the main wall, with its 19 bastions, is almost complete and the large pond remains. The 1220m-long main walls enclose a roughly oval-shaped area and are about two stories high. Most of the towers are just as high, and at the base the walls are at least 6 to 8 feet thick.
The ramparts are accessible to the public from the beginning of April through to the end of October with a guide from the tourist information centre. The tours leave on the hour and allow you to walk along the top of the walls in some sections and to visit the interior of some of the bastion towers. Starting times are from 9am to 4pm 7 days a week in the high summer and from 9am to 3pm only on weekdays in April and November.
Without a guide or out of season, it’s possible to almost circumnavigate the historic centre by following the walls. If you happen to be staying at the penzion on Na Bidì, the wall of your entry hall is the stone of the ramparts, and down in the café/restaurant, you’ll see that the counter of the bar is rounded to follow the curve of the semi circular bastion that towers above.
Gothic Ramparts and Bastions
In the Ring Around the Centre of Town
Policka, Czech Republic
The town museum is focused on the life and work of locally born composer Bohuslav Martinù. Martinù is considered, along with Dvorak, Smetana, and Janacek, to be one of the four most important Czech composers, and his music plays softly in the background as you visit the museum.
Visitors can choose to look around the exhibits at their own pace or join a guide for no other fee than the 20Kc (for adults) entry price. If you choose to go it alone, you should work counterclockwise around the hall for the exhibits to be in chronological order.
The first exhibit deals with the life of the Martinù parents and includes a model of St Jakub’s church, where Bohuslav was born and lived until about the age of 12. Photographs from school and early music performances, historic photographs of Policka, and a copy of his first symphony (written at the age of 8) give an impression of Bohuslav Martinù’s formative years in his hometown.
The exhibits move on to the composer’s first performances with the Prague philharmonic orchestra and feature sketches and caricatures from his sketchbook. The sketches become especially interesting when Martinù begins to associate with other cultural and musical personalities and to feature them in his drawings. The exhibits move to the time that Martinù spent studying violin at the conservatory in Prague, and then on to the years he spent at home in Policka during WWI. He established a small music school in this period, and the actual piano that he used is on display here.
After becoming a regular touring member of the Prague symphonic orchestra, Martinù became fascinated with France and managed to get himself a scholarship to study in Paris, where he met his future wife. The exhibits include dozens of quotes from Martinù, and in one he attributes most of his musical ideas to having grown up in Policka. He stayed in Paris until WWII, when his position as a foreigner in occupied France became so difficult that he moved with his now wife, Charlotte, to Boston in the US. Posters, newspaper reviews, and awards from the American Classical Musical Society fill almost this entire corner of the museum.
The last section deals with Martinù’s return to Europe in 1953, being unable to return to Czechoslovakia due to the prevailing political system, and the years spent in France and Switzerland, up until his death in a hospital near Basel on August 28, 1959. The very final display is a head-and-shoulder bust of the man, whose story the museum so eloquently and respectfully explains.
In the high season (May to August), the museum is open every day except Monday from 9am to 5pm. For the rest of the year closing time is 4pm, and there’s a half-hour lunch break at noon. In January, the museum is only open on Saturdays, and only from 2 to 4pm. Entry is 30Kc and the telephone number is 461 725769.
Town Museum and Bohuslav Martinù Memorial
Policka, Czech Republic