Tough, industrial Plzeň (Pilsen) was built on beer and bombs. Founded in 1292, the city swelled in the nineteenth century when the Industrial Revolution brought an ironworks and an armaments factory, and diversified to cars and trams under Communism. Most tourists come to pay their respects to Plzeň’s beloved son, Pilsner Urquell. The town’s diverse architecture and unpretentious vigour are strong secondary attractions.
The main square, náměstí Republiky is dominated by the Gothic cathedral of sv Bartoloměj, with the tallest spire in the country (103m). Opposite is the Italianate town hall, built in the Renaissance but sgraffitoed last century. Nearby Velká synagogue, the third largest in the world, was once the heart of the town’s large Jewish community, decimated by the Holocaust, and now houses exhibitions.