The Liquid Treasure of the Želivy Monastery
The Prague citizens and monks in the Želiv monastery have one thing in common – the Želivka River. Since the 1970s it has supplied the Czech metropolis with potable water. The same water that the Premonstratensian monks have been using for brewing beer for centuries. The monastery in Želiv is worth a visit, not only because of the traditional production of beer.
King Soběslav I invited monks to Želiv in 1139. Originally, the Benedictines were supposed to settle there, but they were replaced by the Premonstratensian monks after ten years. The monastery brewery was probably founded in the 14th century. The production stopped after the Hussite wars when Želiv was plundered and then given to the Hussite family of Trček from Lípa. When the estate was returned to the Premonstratensians during the Thirty Years’ War, the brewing tradition was also renewed – and it lasted until the destructive fire in 1907.
The beer production returned to the monastery after a hundred-year-long break and its main brands, named after the most prominent abbots, are well received by leading beer experts. You can also assess the skill of the Želiv brewer. A guided tour will inform you of the history of brewing beer and the process of its production – the tour also includes a degustation, during which you can taste some less common types of top-down fermented beers, such as ale. If you are a true fan, then you should book a weekend stay, during which you can experience the beer production first hand and brew your own batch.
The Želiv monks renewed the production of beer after ninety-six years, and they now focus on special types of beer named after the former monastery representatives. The first beer that left the walls of the monastery in 2010 was Gotšalk, a 15-degree beer named after the first abbot from the 12th century.
However, before you start tasting local beers and pleasantly numb your senses, have a look around the abbey, which is the work of one of the greatest Baroque architects – Jan Santini Aichel. He is also the author of the Church of St. Jan of Nepomuk near Žďár nad Sázavou, a site registered on the UNESCO list of world heritage.
However, the life of monks was not exclusively dedicated to the production of beer, even though it was an important part of the management of the monastery. Their service to God and regular prayers in the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary were much more important. It was reconstructed by Jan Santini Aichel – and when you stand under his vaulted ceiling, you will understand why his architectonical approach is called “a journey to the light”.
Remnants of Hitler’s Highway The Švihov dam, often called Želivka because of the river that flows through it, has several peculiarities. Near the municipality of Hulice, there is a strange strip of concrete running into the dam, which is the torso of an unfinished bridge of a highway built between Brno and Prague during WWII. It was supposed to be used during the construction of the D1, but it was only two metres above the water level when the new dam was filled up. Modifying the bridge so that it would not affect the quality of water in Želivka would be too expensive, and so the highway bridge was built a bit further away. And now Bohemian Vysočina also has an unfinished bridge, just like Avignon.
Like many other water dams, the nearby Švihov dam (often called Želivka) also has several quiet witnesses of the old times on its banks. In addition to the remnants of the municipality of Zahrádka, of which there is a little church on the bank of the dam, there is also the torso of a highway bridge that was only two metres above the water level when the dam was filled.