Beer is omnipresent in Plzen. A place to perfectly immerse yourself in the brewing activity of the city is the historical underground of Plzen. Guided tours start regularly in the building of the Brewery Museum and take you into the cellar corridors of the city.
With the founding of the city in 1295, tunnels began to be dug into the soft subsoil. At first, mainly food was stored here. Over time, a labyrinth of underground passages developed, connecting the houses with each other, some of which went down several stories into the earth. The corridors are said to be up to 20 kilometers long. In addition, the Plzners drilled wells in the corridors that supplied the city with water. For me, this is an almost unimaginable achievement, considering the tools that were used.
In times of wars, the cellars additionally proved to be a real blessing for the city. Here you could not only hide your belongings, but also find shelter yourself.
Today, the corridors are not only beneficial. Sure, they are one of the tourist attractions of the city. But they also make the ground very unstable and heavy new buildings could lead to the collapse of the corridors. The city had to spend a lot of money to rehabilitate and stabilize the corridors. Of the approximately 20 kilometers, 800 meters are now open to visitors to the city.
Today, the basements in the first basement are used by homeowners as cellars. Thus, many areas are walled up or equipped with doors. The second basement is owned by the city of Plzen. Many power lines and pipelines run here.
Historical underground of Plzen- a guided tour
We took part in a guided tour of the historical underground and learned a lot about Plzen and its beer.
The tour starts in the courtyard at the Brewery Museum. Equipped with hard hats and due to the current protective measures with mouth-nose protection, we went with a small group deep under the city.
You should also wear non-slip shoes, the paths are somewhat damp and sometimes slippery! The humidity in the cellar corridors is very high at over 90%, so no wonder that the water flows down the walls. It’s also quite cool in the cellar, so a sweater wouldn’t hurt even in the nicest summer weather. The tour lasts a good 60 minutes and that can be a bit chilly.
So what does the cellar labyrinth have to do with beer in Plzen?
The Bohemian king granted the brewing rights to the burghers’ houses in Plzen in 1295. This allowed each owner to sell home-brewed beer in his own house. For a time there were about 270 of these breweries in Plzen. Everyone stored the beer in the cellar and hoped that it would keep there for as long as possible in the low temperatures.
Unfortunately, the quality of the top-fermented beer was often poor and it happened that one barrel tasted once and the next barrel was undrinkable. It happened often enough that the guests complained about the quality of the beer. It is also said that some brewer would secretly take the poor quality beer to the cellar of another brewer. The latter then served the bad beer to his guests without knowing it. At that time Plzen was the city with the worst beer.
In 1838, a “beer riot” occurred. The citizens took 36 barrels of the breweries’ beer, which did not taste good, out into the daylight and poured the beer onto the street and into the river.
The citizens of Plzen were not discouraged. They wanted a quality beer and so came up with the idea of appointing a Bavarian brewmaster to brew good-tasting beer. But that is another story …
What can you discover during the tour?
Stairs lead down into the winding, often very low corridors. The corridors are for the most part well developed and secured, you do not notice during the tour that you are almost 12 meters underground. A really “beautiful” corridor can only be seen in one place.
You pass individual cellars and about 20 wells. In the wells, during excavations, many objects from the everyday life of the Middle Ages were found. A small part of them can be seen in showcases.
During the tour you come to an ice cellar. It is located on the top floor of the cellar. For many years, natural ice was stored here for cooling. When the ice melted, the water flowed into the lower fermentation and storage cellars and cooled them.
A highlight of the tour is the replica of a large water wheel from the historic water tower. The historic waterworks of Pilsen dates back to the 16th century and is now a technical monument. Besides the water wheel, you can also see parts of the pumping equipment from 1847, chambers for the water columns and the gallery for the water supply.
During the whole tour through the historic underground you get told a lot about the city, the beer, the art of brewing and the corridors. Our tour was in German, so there were no problems with the language for us. I found it very interesting and exciting, especially because it was not our first visit under a city. In Merseburg, Zeitz and Nuremberg we heard partly very similar facts about the origin.
A beer to end the day?
When you constantly hear something about beer during the tour, you also get a hankering for a beer. There is a voucher for a 0.3l Pilsner Urquell for every participant over the age of 18, which can be redeemed in the Na Spilce, U Salzmannů restaurants or in the Na Parkánu pub.
The voucher is valid for a few days and we went to the U Salzmannů at a later date and enjoyed the freshly tapped beer.
301 00 Plzeň 3,
The times for the guided tours in the desired language should be checked online and reserved in advance.
Adults: 150 CZK
Discounts are offered.
Disclosure: The excursion into the historical underground of Pilsen was part of a research trip to the Czech Republic.