Žatec – the Hops Town

Date of Submission: 29/05/2007
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture
State, Province or Region:
Region: Ústí nad Labem
Coordinates: N50 19 43.67 E13 32 34.93
Ref.: 5153


The town Žatec is located in the northwest part of the Czech Republic, in the region geologically called the Žatec Basin. The natural conditions of the site are significantly influenced by the nearby mountains. Their slopes form a natural barrier against the western winds. They create what is called rain shadow, which markedly influences the climate in and around the town. The dry and relatively warm climate, combined with plenty of ground water, was found to be very favourable to the growing of hops. Hops have become a typical crop of this region and the good natural and climatic conditions are still used for hop growing. 

Most of the buildings and structures associated with the processing of hops are concentrated in the historic core of the town and, in particular, in its part called Pražské předměstí (‘Prague Suburb'). As a result, not only the huge towers of the dominant historic buildings - the Town Hall and the church - but in particular the slim chimneys of the historic hop drying houses characterise the distant vistas of the town. The tradition of hop growing and processing in and around Žatec dates back to the Middle Ages. Although the already prosperous hop industry suffered a setback in the 14th century and then again during the thirty-year war, it was restored to prosperity and at the beginning of the 18th century the Žatec hops became a famous commodity on the world market.  The 19th century saw a considerable upswing of the hop industry (in terms of both hop cultivation and hop processing technology) in the Žatec region. The inflow of capital and wealth to the town led to huge investments in the 19th century. Over several decades, practically the entire Pražské předměstí changed its appearance. Due to the hops trading boom, several dozens of buildings and structures related to hop processing were built, including stores, hop drying and and hop packaging buildings with the typical tall masonry chimneys that give the town its characteristic atmosphere. The large buildings associated with the processing and sale of hops are at present significant elements of the town's panorama. The significant and prosperous business activities - in particular the trading in hops - were reflected in the rich and imposing architectural morphology of the burgher houses in the historic core of the town as well as in the suburbs.

The historic core of Žatec consists of the burgher houses around the rectangular main square, spreading along the north-south axis. Adjacent to this square is a narrower area into which the main church of the town is inserted crosswise, splitting the area into two smaller squares. The northernmost ensemble of buildings in the historic core of the town is the Žatec brewery, which was built in the 18th century on the ruins of a Middle Age castle and is still functioning. Nowadays it is a symbolic dominant feature of the town historic core, closely connected with the commodity underlying the local economy. The historic core includes burgher houses, many of which have historic roofs with rows of dormers, reminding of the former function of the loft spaces of the houses: the drying of hops.

The number of the buildings and structures associated with the processing of hops have been preserved in Pražské předměstí, which is larger in terms of area than the historic core of the town. Unlike the historic core, this suburban part of the town has no regular ground plan: it was built along the Middle Age access roads leading to the town gates. The spontaneously developed mass of the built-up area includes groups of hop processing buildings (most of them built in the 19th and 20th centuries, including hop drying houses, hop packaging halls, storage buildings) and residential houses. This combination of functions gives the buildings the unique atmosphere of a business environment of the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. The individual small hop businesses developed as units in which the residential function was integrated with the operation of hop kilns, packaging rooms and stores. The actual structure of these units depended on the means of each of the entrepreneur families. Most of the buildings are built of stone and the more recent ones are of brick. Buildings with more than one above-ground storeys prevail. One building with historic storage and packaging facilities for hops, standing at one of the squares, is open to the public. The building accommodates a unique Hops Museum, which helps visitors understand the uniqueness of the building and the technical heritage of Žatec and the principles of hop-growing and hop-processing in general. The chimneys of the former hop dryings houses and the original historic hop storage facilities (some of them still in use for the same purpose) are characteristic elements of the town's atmosphere. These heritage properties whose history reaches back to the 19th century or the first half of the 20th century add to the importance of Žatec as a former metropolis of world hops trade and industry.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

A significant number of buildings in the historic core of the town as well as in the suburban area of Pražské předměstí still serve their initial function. This applies to residential buildings (burgher houses and blocks of flats), community buildings (the Town Hall, the church and the theatre) as well as the buildings functionally associated with hop processing and hop trading (drying, packaging and storing). Most of those buildings that were built in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century for purposes related to hop processing and trading have maintained their initial character and have not been altered to suit other functions, because they still accommodate active operations. Successful hop production will ensure that these buildings will remain as they are. Pražské předměstí comprises numerous buildings that still serve their hops-related purpose, including, for example, the functionally unique hop bale marking hall, where bales of hops are sealed to guarantee the commercial and export quality of Žatec hops.

In spite of many organisational and ownership changes that took place during the 20th century, it remains true that the position of hops as an important trade article has strongly supported the continuity of use of these buildings. Although larger and more modern facilities for hop processing and storage were built in other parts of Žatec in the second half of the 20th century, activities connected with hop trading has never been totally removed from the initial historic buildings.  

Comparison with other similar properties

The Czech Republic has a long tradition of hop growing and processing. It was already in the Middle Ages that breweries were built in almost all towns. Some of them earned world renown and all needed to be supplied with good hops. Žatec is most closely associated with the manufactory and industrial processing of hops and with hop trading. The high-quality Žatec hops are exported to many countries. At first the exports went to European countries but from the beginning of the 20th century hops have also been exported overseas. No other town in the country does have such a large complex of historic buildings associated with hop processing and trading.

A detailed comparative analysis will be provided with the nomination documentation and will refer, in particular, to sites in hop-producing regions with a long tradition such as Bavaria, Belgium and Southeast England. The town Žatec maintains twinning contacts with several towns in Europe where the tradition of hop growing or processing is still alive.