Jičín – Gateway to Paradise

Eastern Escape 

IMG_1190
Overlooking Valdštejn square; it’s arcaded facades echoing the city’s Baroque influenced past.

Jičín, in the East Bohemia region of the country, is a small city and one of a small group of towns considered symbolic gates to the popular Český ráj region and its picturesque rock formations.

However, Jičín is more than just an entry point to the region. The city and the immediate surrounding area have their own deep history tied to old nobility. One man in particular, Duke Albrecht of Valdštejn (1583-1634), was instrumental in not only shaping the contemporary face of the city but also significant tracts of the Czech nation’s history.

Valdštejn was one of the most influential noblemen in his time and had grand visions for landscaping Jičín and adjoining localities into a large, continuous garden. While his vision was left incomplete following his assassination, much of what was accomplished remains intact to be explored by visitors.

If you decide to make Jičín your entry point to Český ráj, do make sure to set aside at least a day for for the city itself.

Valdštejn’s Garden 

IMG_1199
The 1.7 kilometre long Linden tree alley which leads from the centre of Jičín to Valdštejn holdings on the outskirts.

Valdštejn’s influence over Jičín and vicinity began shortly after the Battle of White Mountain, in 1620. White Mountain was an early and pivotal battle of the Thirty Years’ War and Valdštejn was an infantry commander on the victorious side of it. He received the title of Duke for his part in the battle and chose Jičín as his seat. He began the remodelling of the city in 1624.

Much of the landscaping work happend along a straight line running from Veliš, south west of the city, to Valdice, just on the city’s north east outskirts. The line bisects Valdštejn square, in the heart of Jičín, and touches seven important former Valdštejn holdings along its length.

At the south west terminus of the line is the ruin of Veliš castle. The castle dates to at least the early 1300s. While it successfully withstood seige by Swedish forces during the Thirty Years’ War, it was destroyed by imperial order in 1658.

Further along the line takes you to Jičín’s main square where you’ll see the Valdice gate tower, Valdštejn palace and the Church of Saint Jacob. Valdice gate is the last remaining tower from the city’s old fortification walls and a climb up to the top will reward you with a good view over the city and surrounding areas.

Valdštejn palace is the predominant structure on the square. The building existed before Valdštejn took possession of the city and he chose it as his palace; its current appearance is largely his doing. Today, the building is home to the Regional Museum and Gallery.

IMG_1187
Looking toward Valdice gate tower with Valdštejn palace on the right.

The Church of Saint Jacob was ordered built as a cathedral by Valdštejn in anticipation of establishing a diocese in Jičín. However, a diocese never was established and work on the building was halted after Valdštejn’s death. It was eventually completed as a church and consecrated in 1701.

Further along the line takes you to the 1.7 kilometre long Linden tree alley which leads fro the centre of the city to the Valdštejn loggia, summer house and associated park. The Linden tree alley was established in the early 1630s and is said to predate the gardens at the Versailles, in France, by around 60 years.

Finally, at the north east terminus of the line, is the former Carthusian monastery in Valdice. Valdštejn had it built with the intent that it would serve as a final resting place for himself and his closest family. Valdštejn’s plan, however, did not come to pass. His remains moved several times before coming to their final resting place in Mnichovo Hradiště, 32 kilometres to the west of Jičín. The monastery itself was closed in 1782 and eventually converted to a prison in 1857. It still serves as a prison today.

From an architectural standpoint, the buildings Valdštejn ordered show high degrees of early Baroque as well as Italian Mannerist and Classicism stylings. This is largely thanks to Valdštejn contracting the work out to prominent Italian architects of the day.

Meet Rumcajs and Family 

IMG_1201
Rumcajs, along with his wife, Manka, and their son, Cipísek.

On a much more contemporary timescale than Valdštejn, is Rumcajs and his family. They are central characters to a series of animated television tales set in the fictional Řáholec forest, near Jičín, and  you won’t avoid seeing them when you visit the city.

As the story goes, Rumcajs was working an honest life as a cobbler in Jičín when he was put out of business by the mayor.

The mayor was quite proud of his large feet and went to Rumcajs to have shoes made. When he asked if Rumcajs had ever seen feet so big, the mayor took it as a deep insult when the cobbler said he had seen bigger feet on someone in the nearby city of Hradec Králové. In response, the mayor promptly shut down the cobbler’s business “For insulting the mayoral feet” and banished Rumcajs and his family from the city.

To support his family, Rumcajs became a highwayman in Řáholec forest.

In the context of Czech popular culture, the Rumcajs stories were originally televised from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s, with a total of 39 episodes being made. The stories remain popular and can be seen with some regularity on Czech television today.

A Feel for the Place 

IMG_1292
Sunset on Valdštejn square.

In the main, Jičín is not a particularly touristy place beyond the Valdštejn related attractions. However, with the wonders of Český ráj on its doorstep, it doesn’t need to be touristy.

It’s the sort of place that serves well as a base for your travels further into the region. It’s well conected by rail and bus to a number of tourist attractions in Český ráj and will give you a quieter place to come back to and unwind after a day at busier places.

However, the city is clearly proud of its past and if you go there at the right time you’ll see costumed actors taking on the roles of Albrecht of Valdštejn or Rumcajs.

Jičín clearly exists for its own residents before anything else, so there isn’t really a nightlife and most places in the centre seem to close around 19:30 and 20:00 on weeknights.

It does offer a respectable selection of accomodation and amenities for visitors of a variety of travel styles. Several hotels, bed and breakfasts and  holiday rentals are available and the city has two good sized supermarkets near the centre for the self catering type travellers to stock up on supplies.

Visiting and Learning More

As it is a gateway to a major tourist region, Jičín is not a particularly difficult place to access by road or rail.

A visit to the city’s webpage will give you a fuller picture of what the city offers the visitor in not only sightseeing, but also other holiday themes:

http://www.jicin.org/en/