From the Middle Ages to the railway - Pardubice from the 14th to the 19th century
Pardubice lies in the centre of East Bohemia on the confluence of the River Elbe and the River Chrudimka. The oldest preserved written reference to its existence dates back to the end of the 13th century, with Pardubice becoming a town sometime around 1340. Back then it was owned by the Lords of Pardubice, the most prominent figure of the line being Arnošt of Pardubice, the first Archbishop of Prague, advisor and friend to Emperor Charles IV, a distinguished European personality of that time.
It was some two hundred years later that the expression “Shine like Pardubice” became common in Bohemia, an expression that was certainly not over the top. Of course the best way to convince yourself to this day is to take a stroll through the historic part of the city, whose chateau, surrounding area and square ringed by picturesque streets make it somewhat unique in the world. There are few such examples of the skills and abilities of our ancestors still in existence.
The development of Pardubice from the Middle Ages onwards can be attributed to the Lords of Pernštejn. Vilém, who bought the town and surrounding demesne at the end of the 15th century, converted the water castle of that time into a late-Gothic residence and his sons Vojtěch and Jan continued the reconstruction work, this time in the spirit of Renaissance architecture. Today the chateau grounds in Pardubice and their fortifications are among only a few examples of the conversion from castle to chateau to have been preserved to this day. Vilém of Pernštejn also decided on the layout and the uniform style of the town, something that has been preserved to this day. The historic square in Pardubice is home to late-Gothic and Renaissance buildings that are organically complemented by structures from later years.
The prominence and renown of Pardubice began to wane after the Pardubice demesne passed from the hands of the Pernštejn family into the assets of the royal chamber in 1560, although the town did occasionally welcome monarchs and was a prominent stronghold until the 18th century. On the other side of the coin, it was often afflicted by wars and disease, whilst strict guild regulations curtailed the development of enterprise.
However, the mighty stronghold eventually succumbed to the gradual development of the town that accompanied the arrival of the railway. Indeed the man mainly responsible for planning this railway was a citizen of Pardubice named Jan Perner. The original tracks from Pardubice to Olomouc or to Prague soon began to spread in other directions after 1845 and preordained the position of Pardubice as a significant transport junction. The town’s ideal position in the very heart of Bohemia played a crucial role here.
Industry began to develop in Pardubice soon after the arrival of the railway. There were prominent enterprises such as the “Fanto Factories” (Fantovy závody, now the Paramo refinery) or “Prokop and Sons” (Prokop a synové, later a factory for mill machines), which ushered in the overall development of industry in Pardubice, primarily engineering and food processing.
Between dictatorship and democracy – Pardubice in the 20thcentury
The beginning of the 20th century in Pardubice is mainly associated with Jan Kašpar, a pioneer of Czech aviation who in 1911 made the first long-distance flight from Pardubice to Prague. It was at this time that the chemical and electronic industries began to thrive in Pardubice, with two major companies at the helm - Explosia (now Synthesia) and Telegrafie (later to become Tesla). The role of Pardubice as something of a regional capital was strengthened following the misery of the First World War and the creation of an independent Czechoslovakia in 1918.
Some 35 thousand people lived in Pardubice before the Second World War, the bravest of them becoming involved in the resistance movement in some way following the Nazi occupation. The Silver A parachutists had a major influence on the local resistance movement. Members of this regiment, Czechoslovak soldiers sent into the protectorate from England, found assistance and shelter in Pardubice and its surroundings during preparations for an attack on Reinhard Heydrich. After Heydrich’s death, however, the Gestapo took retributive action when between June 3rd and July 9th 1942 they put a number of Czech patriots to death at Zámeček on the edge of the city. Among them were residents of the nearby village of Ležáky, which the Nazis set alight to intimidate their enemies. Some 563 Jews were deported to concentration camps from Pardubice in December 1942. Then, in 1944, the city was bombarded in three separate air raids by Anglo-American air forces, which targeted the local refinery and airfield. Over two hundred and fifty people were killed as a result of the air raids and around a thousand buildings destroyed. After liberation in May 1945 most people longingly awaited a return to normal life, but the communist coup in February 1948 only brought the country another totalitarian regime.
Hopes of a return to freedom brought about by the Prague Spring some twenty years later were soon put to rest in August 1968. In contrast to other areas of Czechoslovakia, the events of that month passed off in Pardubice without violence or victims, undoubtedly thanks to the fact that the entire Pardubice area was first occupied by Polish and not Soviet forces. However, the communist era, 1968 aside, made its mark on Pardubice just as it did on all other places behind the iron curtain. Private ownership and private activity were both eliminated, the economy focused on heavy industry and the people were repressively intimidated and silenced under threat of prison, victimisation or losing their jobs. Most people found work in major production plants such as TMS or Synthesia whose production followed instructions from Moscow. In spite of this, industry in Pardubice managed to develop in its own way even during the socialist era: chemicals at Synthesia, engineering at TMS and electronics at Tesla were the mainstays of the economy at that time and later became the unwitting base for industrial development after the Velvet Revolution.
A time of gradual development - Pardubice at the beginning of the 21st century
Pardubice began to change for the better after the fall of the communist regime. Despite the transformation of the economy post-1989 bringing the end of a number of enterprises (Tesla, TMS) and many other companies restricting production and their numbers of employees (Synthesia), the level of unemployment in the town did not rise dramatically. This was mainly thanks to the far-sighted policy of the city, whose management came up with the idea of setting up a free trade zone close to the airport at the beginning of the 1990s. And so it was that a free customs zone, the only one in the Czech Republic, a place where production and commercial companies were offered assembly, storage and production facilities, was created over six hectares. We should just add that in the City Invest Czech 2000 yearbook Pardubice was the regional capital in the country considered the most beneficial for investment.
It is clear that the development of Pardubice and the surrounding area is no longer reliant on the railways, as was the case a hundred years ago. The city is also joined to the world by passenger and freight air transport. A motorway close to Pardubice was recently completed and there is still the option of making the River Elbe negotiable all the way to Pardubice, which would mean joining it to the European network of waterways.
Pardubice has genuinely flourished in recent years. The Old Town has been reconstructed, in particular the chateau, whose dilapidated ruins have been transformed into a beautiful historic monument. The buildings repaired in the city have been joined by a number of new-builds and there are concrete plans in place to build an entirely new square with complexes of residential, administrative and commercial buildings in the centre of the city. Even the oldest housing estate has begun to undergo reconstruction that should change it into a more colourful and cosy place in which to live. The city parks and woods have been newly treated and new children’s play parks built.
Economic prosperity has not only been brought to the city by the foreign investors already mentioned, but also by the application and creativity of local traders and entrepreneurs. Long before the Czech Republic became an official member of the European Union Pardubice had renewed old contacts with a number of European cities and built new ones and now strengthens these partnerships based on close cooperation on a range of different projects.
Virtual tour of the city:
Virtual tour (castle, expositions)