The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times

16 Aug 2020
  Pretty Houses in Cheb / Eger

I included an overnight stop in Cheb (also known by its German name Eger) on my way to Prague, for one because the town is the site of a 12th century palatine castle – which will get its own post – and because its proximity to other interesting places like Loket Castle and Karlovy Vary. Cheb also has a pretty town centre with historical houses, so I took a little walk with my camera.

Cheb (Eger), market square

Eger, situated in the borderlands between Germany and Bohemia, has been known by both names for a long time; a charte from 1374 mentions Egra in boemica lingua Cheb (Eger, which in the Bohemian language is called Cheb). The existence of the town – or settlement at that time – dates to a charte from 1061, then named 'Egire' for the river Eger at which is situated. In Czech, the river is called Ohře; the name Cheb may derive from a word for 'river bend'.

Market square from a different angle

There had been an old Slavic fortress on the promontory above the river, dating to 900 AD. After the land had been Christianised and colonised by German settlers, it became part of the Northern Shire (Nordgau) which belonged to Bavaria. Count Diepold II of Vohburg, Margrave of the Nordgau, erected a new castle on the old site about 1120. In 1167, the settlement of Eger and the Egerland came into posssession of the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa who turned the castle into a palatine seat (1179) and gave Eger the rights of a town.

Cheb castle, the chapel (left) and Black Tower (right)

Eger received the Nuremberg Rights in 1242 (a variant of special rights for towns; the towns in the north I blogged about usually got the Lübeck or Magdeburg Rights); in 1277, it became an Imperial city (Reichsstadt), a privilege that granted Eger Imperial immediacy, placing the town under the direct authority of the Holy Roman Emperor and not some feudal lord. Later, Imperial cities would become members of the Imperial Diet and held a vote there. Eger also also erected town walls at that time.

Old houses in Eger

For the next step in the history of Eger, we need to have a look at some geneaology again. With the death of the last male heir in May 1254, the rule of the Staufen dynasty as German kings and Holy Roman emperors came to an end; it followed a period of elected kings, most of them without much actual power and influence (1). One candidate that stood out was Henry VII of House Luxembourg who was elected king in 1308 and Holy Roman Emperor in 1312, ending the long interregnum (2). The Luxembourgians would found another dynasty that provided several German kings and Holy Roman emperors.

About the same time, the Czech dynasty of the Přemyslids endend in the male line with the assassination of Václav (Wenceslas) III in 1306. His father Václav II had chosen Eger as location for his marriage to Judith of Habsburg, the daughter of Rudolf I of Germany, in 1285; an attempt to end the feud between the houses of Habsburg and Přemyslid. Václav II also had granted the rights of coinage to the town of Kutná Hora and initiated the time of prosperity of the town.

The New Town Hall from 1722, Italian Baroque

Henry of Luxembourg did not succeed in having his son John (born 1296, † at Crécy in 1346) elected as his successor, but he succeeded in establishing the young man as King of Bohemia. John married Elizabeth of Bohemia, one of the daughters of Václav II, and was accepted as king by right of his spouse in 1310 (3). Henry died unexpectedly in 1313, which brought several candidates for the German kingship out of the woodwork. John decided to forego his own claim and supported Ludwig of Bavaria, of House Wittelsbach against his rival Friedrich of Habsburg.

As compensation (4), Ludwig pawned out the town of Eger to the Bohemian Crown, though the town retained its status as Imperial City and its rights (charte from 1322). When John's son Charles IV united the crowns of Bohemia and Germany (both 1346), and became Holy Roman Emperor as well (1355), there was no need to redeem the pawn, and Eger remained part of Bohemia.

View from town square towards the pedestrian zone

Eger joined the Catholic coalition during the Hussite Wars (details see link about Kutná Hora above) and sent troops to support them on several occasions. A Hussite army on their way back from Nuremberg broke part of the town walls and plundered the town, but could be bribed into withdrawal (1430).

The market square – Place of King George of Podiebrad (Náměsti Krále Jiřího z Poděbrady) – is named after the 'Hussite' king George of Podiebrad who succeeded the last king of House Luxembourg, Ladislaus. He was elected king by the Estates of Bohemia in 1458, the only king not of an ancient and powerful noble family, though he was a member of the civilian patriciate. Eger played an important role during the reign of King Podiebrad; he also was the last king to reside in the palatine castle.

In 1459, George Podiebrad ended a long quarrel between Bohemia and the duchy of Saxony; the borders then defined are pretty much the same as today. One result of the negotiations was the marriage of George's daughter Zdenka (Sidonie) with Albert III 'the Courageous', Duke of Saxony, which was celebrated in Eger. Albert had an eye on the crown of Bohemia, but he failed to gain it after George's death in 1471 (who had proclaimed Vladislav, the son of Casimir IV Jagiełło, his heir).

The Špalíček on the Market Square

One of the famous vistas of Eger is the Špalíček on the market square, a group of Mediaeval houses. It grew out of a cluster of market booths of bakers, butchers, chandlers and such, but also a goldsmith, which had been erected there in the 13th century. Those timber stalls, often becoming part of a family's heritage, were eventually expanded into houses with a stone basement and upper floors in half-timbered style, making up in height for the limited layout. Later, some of the houses were connected inside, creating larger entities, though the distinct facades remain.

The Chandler's Lane in the Špalíček

The two blocks are separated by the 1,60 narrow Chandler's Lane. The outer walls of the houses are still mostly Gothic, only the corner houses have been altered with some Baroque elements. Walking through that lane gives you a distinctly Mediaeval feel.

An engraving from 1472 shows three rows of those houses, but the third group was dismantled in 1809 due to its bad shape. The other eleven buildings have been restored in the 1960ies.

The Špalíček, seen from the side

Eger joined the Lutherian Reformation in Bohemia which brought it in conflict with the Catholic emperors Rudolf II and Ferdinand II of Habsburg (emperor since 1619) who were also kings of Bohemia. After the short intermezzo of the unfortunate 'Winter King' Friedrich V of the Palatinate and his wife Elizabeth Stuart, and the defeat of the Protestant party at the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620, the Counter-Reformation was introduced in Bohemia. By 1628, most Protestants had left Eger and other Bohemian towns.

Among those who left the town was the Lutherian major Alexander Pachelbel (he held the position 1620-1628) and his brother Wolf Adam. They were members of a patrician family; their father Wolfgang († 1620) had turned an old house in Eger, dating to 1390, into a fine Renaissance four wing residence with an inner yard. After the family left the town, the house came into possession of the – now Catholic – town council.

The Pachelbel House, the site of Wallenstein's assassination

The house became famous due to the fact that the Catholic general of Bohemain descent, Albrecht von Wallenstein, one of the most influential personalities of the Thirty Years War, stayed there several times during the various mannoeuvres of the war (in 1625, 1630, 1632 and 1634). Wallenstein was assassinated by minions of the Emperor Friedrich II in this house on February 25, 1634.

The house is a museum since 1873, but unfortunately, it was closed for renovation when I visited Eger. I was a bit sad, since Wallenstein is a character who has fascinated me for years and I would have liked to see the room where he was killed.

After Wallenstein's death, the house came into possession of the Jesuites until 1735, then it became the residence of the Austrian town commander. Wolf Adam of Pachelbel never returned to Eger, but he fought – in vain – for the town to regain Imperial immediacy during the negotiatins of the Peace of Westphalia. He died in 1649, only a few months after the Thirty Years War had ended.

More pretty houses: Gabler House (left) and Schirndinger House (right)

There are some more outstanding houses in Eger. The Gabler House (photo above; the one with the red decorations) has a pretty Rococo facade dating to the 18th century. It too, had been in possession of the Jesuits in the 17th century.

The Schirndinger House is the only Gothic patrician residence in Eger that remained unaltered since the 15th century when the facade with the stepped gable and the portal was added. The house itself dates to the 13th century.

Closeup Schirndinger House

The house got a new layer of paint in autumn 2014. The colour has led to a vivid dispute, since the choice of that charcoal tone met with a fair amount of disapproval, being deemed too dark. The expert of the National Monument Institute, Jakub Chaloupka, said that old layers of cast had been discovered which all showed that almost black colour. But old postcards show the house with a paint that looks more a dark red, therefore critics assume that the black colour was caused by soot and weathering. It would be unlikely that a rich patrician chose such an unattractive colour to paint his house. Personally, I agree that a dark red might have been the more likely version (5), since it was a pretty expensice colour.

A smaller square in the old town

At the end of the Thirty Years War, Eger was occupied by a Swedish army which left after the peace. As result of the war, lands were redistributed and some borders changed. The crown lands of Bohemia remained with the Austrian Empire; Eger became a garrison town. A fired destroyed part of the town in 1809, including a number of Mediaeval buildings.

Baroque beauties: Limbeck House (the white one to the left), now Tourist Information, and Grüner House (the red one to the right; 6)

After WW1, Czechoslovakia was founded and Eger / Cheb became part of it; still with a large percentage of a German population. This was one of the reasons that the Egerland and the Sudetenland were adjudged to Germany at the Treaty of Munich in September 1938, and occupied by German troops. On April 25 1945, the 97. US Infantry Division conquered Eger; the understaffed German troops surrendered or 'disappeared'. Soon thereafter, the town was handed over to the Sovjet army as a result of the Treaty of Potsdam. After WW2, Cheb became part of Czechoslovakia; the German population was evicted.

Today, German tourists are welcome again.

Closeup of some fine half timbered work in the Špalíček

1) Among them was Richard of Cornwall, 1257-1272, a son of King John of England and brother-in-law to the Staufen Emperor Friedrich II, whose third wife was John's daughter Isabella of England, though they only had a daughter.
2) Some sources date the end of the interregnum to the election of Rudolf I of Habsburg as king in 1273, but Rudolf was never crowned as emperor.
3) After he ousted Henry of Carinthia who ruled – with little success – by right of his marriage to an elder daughter of Václav II, Anna, who died childless in 1313, thus ending any claim by Henry of Carinthia.
4) There were more details to the agreement, of course, like the support of the emperor re. the Bohemian claims to Silesia and the Polish Crown.
5) We had a similar discussion in Göttingen in the 1990ies when the decorations of a Mediaeval house were repainted with an old receipe including ox blood. The colour came out very different from what people had been used to for many years, but it has faded a bit now and looks less aggressively red.
6) The German writer and polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited the city councillor Josef Sebastian Grüner, who lived in the house in first half of the 19th century, several times during his many sojourns in western Bohemia. They shared an interest in geology and mining.

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The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.

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Location: Goettingen, Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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The Conquest of Danzig

Royal Dynasties

The Jagiełłonian Kings
Władysław Jagiełło and the Polish-Lithuanian Union


Royal Dynasties

The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
King Sigismund and the Hussite Wars

Other Times

Prehistoric Times


Neolithic Remains
Stone Burials of the Funnelbeaker Culture

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
Hutewald Project in the Solling
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen


Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Bronze Age / Iron Age
Clava Cairns
The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Their Function in Iron Age Society


The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd

Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)


European Nobility
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus


History in Literature and Music

History and Literature

The Weimar Classicism
The Weimar Classicism - Introduction

Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane
Short Biography of Theodor Fontane
(Some of Fontane's Ballads, translated by me)
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs
Sandstone Formations: Daneil's Cave
Sandstone Formations: Devil's Wall
Sandstone Formations: The Klus Rock

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations
Salt Springs at the Werra

Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite

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