U Zvonu

(Plzeň) Plzeň Východní Předměstí
GPS: 49.746665N, 13.380875E

The epicentre of the space called U Zvonu / At the Bell lies on a trapezium-shaped plot along the eastern border of the ring gardens encircling the historical centre. The northern boundary of the area is made up of the historical Prague route with the partially buried Pražský most / Prague Bridge reminiscent of the former look of Mlýnská strouha / The Mill Drain. This delta arm of the Radbuza River constituted the western edge of the plot until the year 1923, when it was filled in and replaced by a park (the present-day Křižíkovy sady).

Soon after the foundation of Pilsen, this place acquired a charitable function. Around the year 1320, the burgher Konrád of Dobřany decided to establish here, just beyond the city’s borders, a hospital with the mission of caring for the ill. In 1321, the hospital chapel was consecrated and on the 15th of August of the following year the hospital was handed over for management to the order of German Crusaders. The chapel being named after Mary Magdalene appears for the first time in 1331. The look of the building changed several times over the course of the centuries. The biggest changes probably took place after the Hussite Wars around the year 1500 and after the Thirty Years’ War.

In 1452, the hospital was extended, however the building burnt down in 1507 during a series of intentionally lit fires which struck the city centre at that time, and the hospital had to be rebuilt. Probably not long after the year 1546, the hospital was moved to inside the city walls – to the corner of Rajská (present-day Sedláčkova) and Dlouhá (present-day Veleslavínova) Streets.

During the night of the 19th of September 1618, U Zvonu was hit by fire yet again. This time all of the Špitálské Předměstí / Hospital Suburb was burnt down by the citizens of Pilsen themselves as a preventative act led by the military commander Felix Dornheim against the troops of Arnošt of Mansfeld besieging the city. The only building to survive the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War was the hospital chapel. It was, however, threatened during the construction of defensive bastions in the years 1639–1649. The east bastion which was to overlap the chapel was not built in the end. The following century saw the extension of the adjacent cemetery. This first took place in the middle of the 18th century and later in the years 1779–1780. The second extension practically delineated the present plot.

The chapel was abolished during the Josephinist reforms of 1783, and the cemetery the year after. Subsequently, the buildings were sold to the bell-founder Josef Perner, who turned the deconsecrated chapel into a Classicist residential building named At the Golden Bell after his trade (hence the present name). Further buildings were realised on the plot of the former cemetery, probably in the same period. In the years 1871–1873 the First Lieutenant František Wanka had an apartment complex built in the area. The construction of the largest apartment buildings of that time in Pilsen was carried out by Eduard Jahl.

In the year 1881, the prominent inventor, technician and industrialist František Křižík set up his workshop in House no. 2 on the north side of the area. His life and work in Pilsen has been commemorated by a plaque with a bust since 1936, which can be found on the inventor’s monument in Křižíkovy sady closer to the city centre. 

The city’s representatives considered buying the buildings at U Zvonu as far back as the late 19th century. The reason was probably the intention to establish a cultural institution here, on the edge of the newly-forming ring gardens. After a recommendation by the Building Authority, the buildings were purchased in the year 1918. However, the plans to build what was to be known as Hus House were abandoned.

House no. 2 was damaged by a stray bomb on the 20th of December 1944 and the block has never been fully reconstructed. In the year 1997, a new development study was prepared, examining the possible use of the plot – together with the existing buildings of the institution – for the needs of the Gallery of West Bohemia in Pilsen. 

The look of the place was fundamentally affected by the floods of August 2002. The structural stability of the apartment houses was damaged and they were torn down. A temporary park with plane trees planted out in a regular grid was established in their place as a reminder of the former buildings. As early as in February 2003, the city announced an architecture competition for possible uses of the plot. The winning entry, in line with the jury’s opinion, recommended for the place to be used by a public institution. 

In September 2009, the plot was leased to the Pilsen Region, which intended to build a new building of the Gallery of West Bohemia here. The ensuing architecture competition was won by the Kuba & Pilař Architekti studio with their design of a minimalist building with its façade perforated by a grid of circular openings fitted with LED lights. However, the building, which was to be finished by 2015, was put on hold indefinitely, the official reasons being lack of funding and the financial demands of removing contaminated soil. This environmental burden was caused by a petrol station operating on the border of Křižíkovy sady until the 1970s.



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