How Žižkov Became the Czech Montmartre

It can be spotted from anywhere thanks to the TV tower: Žižkov. While it is a little out of the city center, Žižkov is one of Prague’s most renowned neighborhoods—especially for nightlife. But few know about its rich historical past.

Žižkov was founded in 1875 by the division of Královské Vinohrady, which was eventually brought into the city of Prague in the following years. The pastures and fields lying east of Old Town gates turned into Žižkov for housing for new settlers. Karle Hartig, who became this area’s first mayor, came up with that decision and the architectural plans for the area. The hilly landscape at the bottom of Vítkovský Hill was difficult for normal architectural structures, so a specific shape of steep narrow streets, stairs, and squares were made. This makes it look similar to Montmartre region of Paris.

The area also had a similar bohemian community to the Parisian quartier because people who could not afford to live closer to the city center would wind up here. This led to an unspoiled atmosphere in nightlife and community that is still there today.

However, this feeling almost went away during the communist regime as the narrow, charming streets were going to be replaced by large, old apartment buildings. Fortunately, the Velvet Revolution put a stop to these plans and saved Žižkov. While it is true that more residential buildings are going up in the area right now, the charm is still prevalent.

The magical sensations can be felt in all the famous spots in the neighborhood like Vitkov hill. It was built to commemorate the legacy of Czechoslovak legionnaires and the resistance during WWI with a symbolic tomb for unknown soldiers and a bronze statue of Jan Zizka from Trocnov.

In Prokop Square, an unconventional riding bust commemorates Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek who lived in Žižkov. Many markets appear in this triangular neighborhood square selling anything from kolaches to scarves.

Hidden within a block of several houses is the Art-Nouveau Bethlehem Chapel. It was designed by Emil Králíček, and the interior reflects the old Cubist style of Prague à la The House of the Black Madonna in Old Town. Nearby the Chapel is St. Prokop’s Church. It is a stunning Neo-Gothic Cathedral with a slim, 73-meters tall tower designed by Josef Mocker.

One of the most important Jewish historical monuments—the Old Jewish Cemetery—lies in Žižkov. Currently, the Olšany Cemetery is the largest in Prague with an area of more than fifty hectares and nearly two million buried. Jan Palach, the poet Karel Jaromír Erben, the actors Werich and Voskovec, and Franz Kafka all have their eternal resting places in this cemetery.

Žižkov tower was built during the communist regime to transmit information to the public. It was used as a transmitter, a meteorological observatory and as a landmark modern architecture skyscraper. In 2009, it was voted the second most ugly building in the world from an online poll. With its height of 216 meters, it is also the tallest building of the metropolis. Sometimes artwork is featured on the tower like David Černý’s tiny babies crawling up it.

At the center of Žižkov is Akropolis Palace, which holds restaurants, bars, and cafés. The cinema Aero, originally a pre-war functionalist cinema hidden in the interior of the house, plays mainly independent and art film productions and galleries there. Be sure to grab a meal at Lavička restaurant or Café Pavlač.

History, bohemian culture, and entertainment all converge in Žižkov. From the sun-drenched inns to the slew of bars, restaurants, and cafes, to the multi-cultural community hubs with markets, to the historical landmarks, this area just oozes an artistic ambiance anyone can get along with.

Author: Meredith Hessel

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