Mariánské Lázně. Inspiration of classical authors
Mariánské Lázně, also known by its German name Marienbad, is a spa town in the West of the Czech Republic, near the German border. It is located in the Karlovy Vary region, and it is the newest of the triangle of the spa towns in the Western Czechia (the other two are Františkovy Lázně and Karlovy Vary). Population of the town is approximately 13 thousand.
There are 16 major mineral springs located within the town. And more than 100 springs are spread all over the area around the town. Unlike the famous Carlsbad springs, these springs are not hot – the temperature of water ranges mostly between 7 and 10 degrees Celsius (44 – 50 Fahrenheit). The springs are used to treat a wide range of diseases, including disorders of the kidneys and of the urinary tract, metabolic disorders, locomotive system disorders and many more.
A little bit of history
The history of the local water therapy goes well before the time when there was a town of Marienbad. In 1528, by the orders of the King Ferdinand, attempts were made to produce table salt from the springs. These attempts ended, when it became obvious that the salt acted as a laxative. The first known case of using the water for successful treatment of illnesses goes back to 1609. After that, the monastery which owned the land where the springs were, started doing certain efforts to clean the springs and provide easier access to them. By the middle of the eighteenth century attempts have been made to build a recreational facility with baths. The efforts have been marred by the mining authority (the place was used for mining tin), which had full legal control over the use of any local resources. Meanwhile, the mineral water had been carried over to the nearby settlements in barrels and then heated. More and more people were coming to the area to get healed. The first major breakthrough had been achieved by the monastery doctor Johann Josef Nehr in 1807, when he founded the first brick-built house for spa guests near the Cross Spring.
By 1823, the inhospitable, marshy valley had been transformed into a beautiful park town featuring neo-classical spa houses, pavilions and colonnades. Thanks to famous guests, such as Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Richard Wagner or Fryderyk Chopin, the town started gaining significant popularity. The golden era for the town of Marienbad was between 1870 and 1914. It had been visited by many famous guests, including the future king of England Edward VII, Johann Strauss, Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Franz Joseph I of Austria and many others.
Rapid development of the spa town had been halted by World War I. After the war, guests started coming back. However, shortly after that came an economical crisis that halted the development again. That was followed by World War II, during which the town did not suffer any heavy damages. And after WWII came communists, who made it really hard for foreigners to come to the town. Therefore, by the end of the 20th century, the town was in a rather pitiable shape.
The town offers a very relaxed atmosphere. The architecture is quite attractive. The place is full of parks. Marienbad is surrounded by forests and low mountains. Getting there from Prague will take somewhere from 1.5 to 2 hours by car, which makes it yet another great destination for a day trip from Prague.
The most significant sight of Marienbad is the Main Colonnade (also known as Maxim Gorky’s Colonnade – named after a Russian writer who lived there for 4 months between 1923 and 1924, or Cross Spring Colonnade). The Neo-Baroque colonnade was built between 1888 and 1889. With the length of 180 meters, it is the longest colonnade in the Czech Republic. The building is made of metal, and during World War II the colonnade was facing demolition, so that the metal could be used for production of weapons. Luckily, no damage had been done. The colonnade is decorated with numerous ceiling frescoes.
Near the Main Colonnade there is a music fountain, called the Singing Fountain. It is active during the high season (the first performance of a new season is on 30th of April at 9pm). There you can see spectacular performances, as the water flow and lighting are synchronized with various classical masterpieces.
Down the promenade we find another colonnade with two springs – Caroline’s and Rudolf’s Springs.
Down the road from Caroline’s Spring Colonnade we can see two magnificent Neo-Renaissance buildings. The first one is the Casino Cultural and Conference Center, built in 1899-1901. This is where the most spectacular social events, such as music concerts and balls take place. The interiors of the building are spectacular. Perhaps the most beautiful room is the Marble Hall, where the first International Film Festival took place. Later the festival had been relocated to the nearby spa town of Karlovy Vary – Carlsbad. The second building is a luxurious hotel called Nové lázně (literally translated as New Spa), built in 1828.
Earlier we mentioned Karlovy Vary (also known as Carlsbad, a more popular spa town located 30 kilometers to the North of Marienbad) and the International Film Festival, which is a leading film event in Central and Eastern Europe. It is held in Carlsbad’s Thermal Hotel – a large building, built during the communist era in a style of Brutalism. There were plans to build a similar structure in Marienbad. It was to be located by the Peace Square. The square once used to be a beautiful place. But, as the town has been witnessing a downfall after WWII, many buildings were falling apart. And between 1977 and 1979 a total of 11 buildings had been demolished. The corner stone for the new hotel (that was supposed to be called Arnika) had been laid in 1989, and that’s where it pretty much ended. The area is still empty to this day.
However, there are still many examples of beautiful architecture from the town’s golden era left by the Peace Square. The most eye-catching one is the Pacifik Hotel.
Another square worth taking a walk towards, is Goethe’s square with many beautiful houses. The biggest one of them is the former hotel Kavkaz (built in 1821 and called Hotel Weimar). It is currently abandoned, and in the beginning of 2018 a part of the building had collapsed.
The main street of Marienbad is called Hlavní třída (Main Avenue). Following it down from the Pacifik Hotel, you’ll find here many restaurants and cafes. Don’t expect to find any glamorous shops here, though. What you will find, however, is more parks and springs stretching along the Main avenue.
One of the parks that is certainly worth the visit is Boheminium park – there you will find numerous replicas of Czech Castles. https://www.boheminium.cz/en/
The are many parks in the town where you can enjoy long walks through nature. Every now and then you will stumble upon colonnades with springs, interesting sculptures and various buildings.
This sculpture is called Goethe and a Muse. It is a common misconception that the second statue depicts Ulrike von Levetzow, with whom the German poet allegedly fell in love when he was visiting Marienbad in 1821. At the time, he was 72 and she was only 17. The story is surrounded by rumors and gossips, and it is rather difficult to separate facts from fiction. Between the years 1821 and 1823 Goethe had been seeing Ulrike many times. Despite the popular belief, it was unlikely, however, that Goethe ever proposed to her. And it is not known for certain, whether he asked his friend, Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, to propose to her in Goethe’s name. One way or another, Goethe left the country in 1823 and never returned again. As he left, he wrote the Marienbad Elegy – a poem, that is considered to be Goethe’s finest and most personal – in which he reflects upon his feelings towards Ulrike. Ulrike died at the age of 95, and she had never been married.
Historical photos of Marienbad, provided by Marienbad’s city museum
You can find more practical information about the town on the official website