The walking trail sets off from the Hotel Praha, a distinguished new building from the period, situated on the most important thoroughfare in this part of town. It takes you first to Tyršova Street. Here the new buildings were situated up to the line of the street, as per regulations, and sprang up in the years from 1904 through to the outbreak of WWI. The ornamental design on facade of the building at Tyršova 353 is conceived in the spirit of the decorative currents of Czech modernism – or late Art Nouveau – and together with the facade at no. 354, they are some of the most interesting examples of this current, and not just in the context of this street. Also compelling, and unique within the architectural context of Jičín, is the attic gable on the building at 331 Tyršova Street. The only building in the street not the work of local contractors, again with a remarkable facade, is no. 250, designed by the Prague architect Rainer Grossmann (1904). The walking trail continues into Svatopluka Čecha Street and on into Vrchlického, where there was space for villas and detached homes situated along the street line. The homes here were put up during the first decade of the 20th century. On the eastern part of Svatopluka Čecha we find a blend of progressive examples of Art Nouveau, and a remarkable example of the surviving vogue for historicising features – even now at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. Besides a series of villas with glazed verandas, corner turrets, and richly decorative Art Nouveau facades, Vrchlického Street also boasts a building with imitation timberwork, executed in Art Nouveau stylised crosses, which has no equivalent elsewhere in Jičín. From the intersection of Vrchlického and Husova, the trail makes a detour out to another unique building – a Protestant chapel, built as part of the villa of the entrepreneur Bohuslav Mareček (Konecchlumského 289). The way back to the centre follows Husova Avenue, where our gaze is directed to building no. 322 with its sgraffito decorations by Bedřich Kavánek, and in particular the Hotel Praha. On Božena Němcová Street you will see today the still well-preserved building of the municipal baths, continuing to serve its original purpose. Two further branches of the walk take you to Smetanova Street and especially out to the suburb of Letná, behind Kníže Pond, where the villa built for Theodora Němcová according to a design by Dušan Jurkovič catches the eye. Neighbouring it is the Jakubec villa, one of few buildings to have been erected in the first two decades of the 20th century to have entirely escaped the slightest whiff of Art Nouveau or any historicising style.
Jičín at the dawn of the 20th century
In the latter half of the 19th century and the beginning of its successor, Jičín was characterised by its institutions of local authority, its co-operatives and associations, and its educational institutions. The town was the unofficial capital of the Podkrkonoší region, the venue for holding, among other events, traditional markets. A vibrant social life existed within the town whose effects were felt not only on countless local political decisions but even more so in the rich cultural and sporting lives of Jičín’s inhabitants. During this time, the town also became an important tourist destination, the gateway to the newly opened-up Prachov Rocks, which boosted the incipient tourist trade and the infrastructure that attended it. Noticeable, too, was the presence of students. They flocked to the secondary schools, the most important of which occupied recently built Neo-Renaissance buildings. Foremost among these were the traditional Grammar School, the Real Grammar School, and the Teacher Training Institute. And it is from among the ranks of secondary school teachers, who represented the town’s elite, alongside the higher civil servants, that we find the clients who commissioned an array of detached homes and villas built in the period shortly after 1900. Jičín’s contractors of the boom period also included entrepreneur builders and property developers. They snapped up land and used the plots to build their own houses, which were subsequently sold on to cash-rich interested parties.
By 1910, Jičín had 10,200 inhabitants to its name, a number that had barely risen over the preceding decades. The town’s distinct sense of being densely populated was augmented not only by the previously mentioned student population, but also by a garrison, whose new barracks were strung along the lime-tree alley. This complex of new buildings was the largest construction undertaken in Jičín in the years leading up to the close of the century.
Industrial development had largely passed the town by. The most successful and largest enterprise was the Knotek factory, manufacturing agricultural machinery. Like many another successful entrepreneurs whose manufacturing plants were changing the face of their host towns, František Knotek became the political leader of his community, taking the helm of Jičín as mayor (1903–1907). His term in office saw the introduction of gas lighting, the public water supply, plans for a sewerage system, the opening of the municipal baths, and the modification of a new section of the cemetery, with a morgue and chapel. Periods of rapid development were succeeded in turn by long periods of tranquillity under the leadership of moderate local politicians.
The office of municipal engineer was held for many years by Bedřich Pek. The author of the town’s 1890 Regulatory Plan had very conservative views. In matters of urban development, Pek’s interventions into municipal affairs were primarily guided by a concern for sanitary and safe housing. He adhered to regulations prohibiting attic living quarters due to fire hazard. This was a frequent source of contention with builders, another was the obligation to lay a pavement in front of their newly completed buildings. Sections of pavement were still missing in the 1930s. Pek expressed his skepticism toward the new aesthetic trend – and no doubt voiced the feelings of many in the town – when he commented on Dušan Jurkovič’s study for Theodora Němcová’s prospective home with the words: “Today, in the age of Art Nouveau, any effort to speak out against the façade we see designed here would be entirely futile.”
The extent of the town’s development at the beginning of the century is illustrated by a plan from 1903. New housing development largely took the form of single-family houses. These were built as part of a contiguous development of multi-storey urban dwellings – terrace houses – with frontage along the line of the street (Tyršova Street), as well as detached houses – either along the street line (Vrchlického Street, and the eastern ends of Svatopluka Čecha and Smetanova streets), or set back with a front garden (Revoluční and Maršála Koněva streets).
In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Jičín was transformed by local building contractors – experienced artisans, but without formal architectural qualifications. As far as their skills allowed, and guided by the wishes of local clients, they cautiously applied in their small-town setting the hallmarks of the modern Art Nouveau, which were often blended with historicism. During this period, almost no public buildings were erected. There is no evidence of direct inspiration having been sourced from specific buildings in larger and more dynamically developing towns. It is interesting to observe how current trends penetrated the provincial environment of Jičín, such as in the work of the Holečeks, both father and son (e.g. how the design of the frontage for Tyršova 357 is adapted over time, where the purely Neo-Renaissance design of Antonín Holeček was converted to a historicising Art Nouveau in the later version of the façade created by his son František). Wherever the information is known, it seems that building work and craftsmanship was also done by local artisans.