Since its foundation in the late 18th century, Františkovy Lázně
has been visited by many
Founded in the late 18th century, Františkovy Lázně started growing in the immediate surroundings of the František Spring, known until then as Chebská kyselka (Cheb Acidulous Water). The foundation of the spa is credited to Cheb physician, Dr. Bernard Vincenz Adler, and the hetman of the Loket Region, Count Filip František Kolowrat-Krakowský, who succeeded in gaining support from the emperor. The date of foundation of Františkovy Lázně is considered to be 27 April 1793. On this day, Emperor Franz I approved the construction of a "spa colony" of the town of Cheb according to the concept of Abbe Thobias Gruber, construction director of imperial country estates, and also consented to the spa and the most notable spring being named after him.
The original built-up area along Císařská Street, the present-day Národní Avenue was broadened by three parallel streets in the first half of the 19th century to form the layout of the spa centre preserved to this day. In its vicinity, various parks were founded from the very start. Prince Lobkowicz's gardener Martin Soukup was commissioned to work in Františkovy Lázně and his son Antonín later continued in his work by transforming the original French parks with hedges to more comfortable and then modern English-style parks. The rhododendrons creating romantic coves in the mature parks have been grown here since 1828.
Its period of heyday at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries when the spa visit rate reached up to 20,000 patients and almost 80,000 spa tourists was marked by the year 1865 when Františkovy Lázně, an independent municipality since 1852, became a town and was connected to the European railway network. During the first Czechoslovak Republic, the spa continued in rather modest development, especially in the period before the Great Depression. After World War II, the entire spa complex was nationalised and included among the assets of the national enterprise Československé státní lázně a zřídla (Czechoslovak State Spas and Springs).
In 1992, the town centre of Františkovy Lázně was declared an urban monument reserve and, hand in hand with privatisation o public property, a completely new chapter of the history of the spa town began.
When the Beautification Association of Františkovy Lázně commenced with its activities in 1881, the town's spa centre had already been surrounded by greenery. According to Gustav Wiedermann, however, these were mostly "English-style parks of a poor layout disintegrating them into separate groups of trees, bushes and grass fields intersected by winding paths with unsightly edgings". Františkovy Lázně lacked flower beds and more extensive greenery where spa guests could stroll and distract themselves throughout the five or six weeks of their spa stay without getting weary. Wiedermann was certainly not mistaken when he pointed to the fact that the upcoming period of economic blossom would require more effort from Františkovy Lázně since many other small towns were already modernising and beautifying their public spaces.
As town walls and moats were being transformed into parks in cities, Františkovy Lázně was to keep abreast of the times by founding a wide greenery belt around the spa centre. Thus, in compliance with the decision of the Town Council, the first task of the Beautification Association was to reforest municipal land in the southeast known as "Amerika". The planting of trees according to the design of wood-reeve Lorenz from Cheb began in 1882 and was completed in four years along with the land zoning. The objective was not only to plant trees but mainly to make the new stands accessible to spa guests. To allow the building of new paths, the Beautification Association started buying out suitable land from farmers in neighbouring villages in 1883, acquiring its own land property thereby. The result achieved by the Beautification Association in the first 20 years of its existence is breathtaking: a new alley leading to the cemetery was planted in 1884, a new alley leading to Dlouhé Mosty (then Langenbruck) was planted in 1889, the long-awaited promenade route from Dolní Lomany (then Unterlohma) via Amerika to Slatiny (then Schlada) was completed in 1890 and handed over to the town for the purchase price of the land. At the same time, land along both sides of the Salt Spring Colonnade was planted and thus, the cheerless view of the bare embankment of the railway to Cheb disappeared by 1887. In the 1890s, the so-called New Park was extended to the east all the way to the right bank of Slatinný Creek (then Schladabach) where later Emperor Franz Joseph's Park was founded. Another achievement of the Beautification Association is also the erection of Meteorological Column near the Gas Bath in 1882. An important part of the activities of the Beautification Association was to maintain and plant new stands for the purpose of which it founded its own forest nursery and hired a gamekeeper in 1882. Every year, the Beautification Association fought with inclement weather – young seedlings were regularly damaged by late frosts, persisting draughts or, on the contrary, unexpected floods as in 1889. Additional tasks included obtaining nutritious soil, building drainage and watering systems, taking measures against harmful insects, and repairing damaged park equipment.
At the turn of the century, the land managed by the Beautification Association already formed a compact area intertwined with maintained paths and linked by uniform aesthetics. The immediate surroundings of Františkovy Lázně offered a new pleasant view of dark conifer forests or fair birch groves separated by well-maintained meadows with romantic shelters, benches and small bridges built from raw birch logs. Since 1899, visitors could rest at a new café for excursionists on the bank of the large municipal pond, and in 1928 an natural swimming pool was opened in Amerika. In 1905, tennis courts were built in the former Loimann's Park (today Westend Park) and a golf course was founded on the right bank of Slatinný Creek in 1905. Františkovy Lázně finally acquired beautiful surroundings that were maintained and improved by the local Beautification Association until World War II.
Gustav Wiedermann (* 24/ 08/ 1850 Františkovy Lázně, † 11/ 02/ 1914 Františkovy Lázně) was the Mayor of Františkovy Lázně for a rather short term of 10 years. Nevertheless, he influenced the character of the town to such an extent that already his contemporaries called him "the Creator of Modern Františkovy Lázně". Prominent town structures, green parks or numerous memorials bear his signature, as well as the best-known town scenery of the area around the František Spring with the Social House and the new colonnade. The renown of Františkovy Lázně as the "world's first peat pulp baths" preserved to this day is also merited to him.
Gustav Wiedermann was the son of Karl Wiedermann (*1816, †1893) who had established himself as a successful builder in Františkovy Lázně in the 1840s and whose company constructed most new buildings in the spa town. Thanks to his university studies in Prague, Graz and Munich, Gustav Wiedermann was able to become an excellent and artistically gifted architect. From the 1870s, he worked in his father's design office where he was able to further develop his talent. Among many other projects, Gustav Wiedermann designed the spectacular Conversation Hall at the Social House (1877), the Hotel Imperial building (1878), or a state-of-the-art balneological facility for its time in western Bohemia, which was opened under the name Imperial Bath in 1880. His outstanding achievements in the field of architecture are, however, outshined by three orthodox churches built in Františkovy Lázně (1889), Karlovy Vary (1898) and Mariánské Lázně (1901) that have made his work famous far beyond the borders of his homeland.
As he truly cared about his hometown, he had taken an active part in public affairs since his youth. Worth mentioning is namely his role in the Františkovy Lázně Beautification Association founded in 1881, of which he was the chairman between the years 1889 and 1914. In 1882, Gustav Wiedermann was first elected to the municipal assembly and two decades later, he was elected town mayor on 7 November 1900. His main objective was to uplift the standard of balneology and to boost the economy of the spa town. He succeeded, above all, thanks to his masterful strategy allowing the town of Františkovy Lázně to acquire all four balneological facilities, including all goods and property pertaining to them, at a very favourable price from private owners and the town of Cheb between the years 1902 and 1904. Františkovy Lázně thus became independent in all areas of municipal economy. This also resulted in the reorganisation of balneological operations, the capturing of new springs, and the systematic promotion of Františkovy Lázně. For this purpose, Gustav Wiedermann sought to draw the attention of renowned scholars to Františkovy Lázně. One of them was Dr. Rudolf Jaksch von Wartenhorst, a professor at the Prague university, who presented his groundbreaking lecture at a conference held in Františkovy Lázně in 1906, evaluating the spa town as "the world's best cardiologic spa". By these and other means, Gustav Wiedermann succeeded in doubling the number of visitors coming to Františkovy Lázně only in five years. To ensure the town's prosperity in future, he fought attempts to mine coal in the Cheb region and, at the same time, he engaged in a lengthy duel with Bad Elster in Saxony over the competitive mining of peat pulp in Soos and the municipal water-supply line from Schönberg.
When, in 1910, Gustav Wiederman voluntarily resigned from his office due to a disagreement with the local spa physicians, Františkovy Lázně was completely different from the town he had taken over a decade ago. Thanks to him Františkovy Lázně became a modern European spa town enjoying its best years. Unfortunately, this time of heyday ended in 1914 as did Gustav Wiedermann's life.
Františkovy Lázně was visited by its founder Emperor Franz I only once. It was in 1812, when he was accompanying his daughter Marie Louise on her journey from Dresden back to Paris. In Dresden, the monarch and his daughter along with a number of other crowned heads of Europe attended a gala banquet given by Marie's husband Napoleon before his Russian campaign. In the afternoon on 5 June, they arrived at the spa in a carriage drawn by eight horses and stayed for the night. The same afternoon, they walked around the spa town and drank from the spring. The emperor later went to explore Komorní hůrka Hill. At half past five on the following morning, the imperial guests departed – the emperor to Vienna and Marie Louise to Paris.
The last Austro-Hungarian Emperor Karl I met his future wife Zita in Františkovy Lázně. in 1909, 17-year-old Zita came to Františkovy Lázně with her cousin Maria Annunciata for spa treatment. Karl was a first lieutenant then and he travelled from Brandýs where his dragoon regiment was stationed.
The meeting was orchestrated by Maria Annunciata's mother who wanted to join the two noble houses. The future bride and groom met at the Imperial Spa House. The following year, Karl came to the spa to visit "auntie" and he and Zita became so close that they were married in 1911.
Emperor Franz Joseph I visited Františkovy Lázně in 1847, still as an archduke then, along with his brothers Ferdinand Maxmilian, and Karl Ludwig.
In their honour, the spa held a sharpshooting event in the park and a celebration with fireworks. Later, already as the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Joseph I raised Františkovy Lázně to the status of a town.
Božena Němcová arrived in Františkovy Lázně on 17 July 1846. At the age of 26, she was a mother of four children living in a rather unhappy marriage with Josef Němec, a commissioner of the Imperial and Royal Financial Guard. In her first letter, which suggests that she felt more than well at the spa, she wrote: "From my room, I have a charming view of the mountains that remind me of my dear home." The stay at the spa offered her the opportunity to write. Němcová reflected her impressions of the unusual and socially interesting environment in three feuilletons written in the form of letters to her imaginary friend Marie. They familiarise readers with the spa society and excursion destinations in the surroundings. Their undertone provides a critical revivalist view of the state of Czech society: "You may see nations from all corners of Europe: a Russian, a Frenchman, an Englishman, a Pole, a Hungarian, an Italian and all those counted among Germans. At least that is what I have learned from the spa register. I am told that there are Czechs here as well, yet no matter how attentively I have listened to hear a word or two in Czech among all the different languages, I did not hear even a whisper in Czech."
Goethe's special relationship to Bohemia, which he affectionately called "my dear Bohemia", significantly influenced his literary and scientific works. And Františkovy Lázně were another place aside from Karlovy Vary and Cheb where he felt happy and where he always gladly returned.
During his first longer stay at the spa in 1808, he fell in love with 23-year-old Sylvie, the daughter of Court Counsel von Ziegesar. Goethe's love to Ulrike von Lewetzov had its overture in Františkovy Lázně, unfortunately, neither ended happily for the poet.
While staying at the spa, Goethe discovered the nearby Komorní hůrka Hill volcano and once again, he stirred up the scholarly debate over its genuineness, drawing the entire world of earth sciences into it.
Embosomed in his spa love affairs and excitement of research, Goethe felt more than well, he was fond of the family atmosphere of Františkovy Lázně where everyone gathered at the Social House for dinner and later for a promenade by the spring.
"I need to be more sociable here than in Karlovy Vary", he wrote to his wife and added: "It is one of the most beautiful places in the heart of Europe."
Johann Strauss accompanied by his wife Adele and daughter Alice visited Františkovy Lázně in 1884. He returned four times in the following years.
He stayed at the Windsor, Petersburg and Rome spa houses. Despite being strictly forbidden to do so by his personal physician, he continued in his work on the Gypsy Baron and Knight Pazman.
An unforgettable moment for the spa guests happened at an evening concert of the spa orchestra when its conductor Tomášek asked Johann Strauss to conduct The Blue Danube waltz himself. Strauss granted the conductor his wish and received a boisterous ovation in return.
Beethoven spent four months at Bohemian spas in 1811 and 1812. He arrived in Františkovy Lázně on 8 August 1812, he registered himself as a composer from Vienna in the spa guest register, and he found accommodation at The Two Golden Lions.
As we may learn from Beethoven's letters, his spa treatment lasted for an entire month and was unpleasant yet necessary. To his publisher he wrote: "It is a matter of necessity. You lack the title of a mass, while I have too much of many a thing – bathing, idleness, etc. I am exhausted by different inevitable occurrences and coincidences." Beethoven's spa treatment ended on 7 September and he left for Karlovy Vary.