The project Historic Towns Atlas of the Czech Republic, realized by the Institute of History, Czech Academy of Sciences, was launched in 1994 as part of the European Historic Towns Atlas project for comparative history of cities, prepared under the auspices of the International Commission for the History of Towns.
A distinctive feature of Historic Towns Atlas of the Czech Republic is its transdisciplinary character. The Atlas summarizes and presents the history of towns/cities in historical, urban, economic, regional, demographic, political and cultural contexts via reproductions (facsimile) of old maps and plans, reconstruction (thematic) maps, iconographic material, and text. The authors work with the results of archaeology, settlement history, historical geography and other disciplines and workflows, all with the use of historical cartographic sources and digital cartography. They open up rather unconventional slits into the life of medieval, modern and contemporary town and the development of the area. The processing of the individual volumes of the Atlas also supports the development of regional and historical local research. At the same time, it combines basic and applied research.
Developing Historic Towns Atlas of the Czech Republic is an undisputed asset for studying the process of urban development in the Czech lands as well as that of the history of municipalities. It allows for applying comparative approaches within the scope of both domestic and European regions as concerns their size and value and their diversity. All that can be at the same time not only primarily viewed from the perspective of historical demography, as it has hitherto been customary, but also in connection with the transformations and mutual interactions between particular urban municipalities and landscapes. Already now, the project’s range facilitates comparative researching the process of urbanization as it progressed in the Czech lands, Central Europe and, thanks to other historical atlases of European countries, in selected parts of the European continent from the Middle Ages to the present. The units involved represent a set of municipalities of varied extents, types of their establishment as well as varied topographies, including their rich history and the eventful fates of their inhabitants. A special attention is paid to the Prague urban agglomeration and the cities listed as historic monuments by UNESCO. A distinctive feature of Historic Towns Atlas of the Czech Republic is its transdisciplinary character. Atlas summarizes and presents the history of towns/cities in historical, urbanistic, economic, regional, demographic, political and cultural contexts through reproductions of old maps and plans, reconstruction (Thematic) maps, iconographic material and text. The authors works with the results of archeology, history of settlement, historical geography and other disciplines and workflows, all with the use of cartographic historical sources and digital cartography. They open the unconventional slits into the life of medieval, modern and contemporary town and the development of the area. The processing of the individual volumes of the atlas also supports the development of regional and historical homeland research. At the same time it combines basic research with applied research.
Detailed research of sources, which always precedes the preparatory works on each volume of Historic Towns Atlas of the Czech Republic, allows for correcting some traditional misapprehensions and at the same time for interpreting some established facts within new contexts. One of the most topical research subjects at offer is the symbiosis, competition and conflicts between the individual cities (municipalities) and monasteries. One of the other subjects is the issue of relations between the cities and the nobility (while the most recent research carried out at selected sites shows that the aristocratic house ownership had significant share in the majority of cities, which resulted and revealed an array of other levels of contacts in everyday life). The issue of visualization and representation via architecture and its expressive means, which has recently also been intensely studied both in the Czech Republic and abroad suggests that similar range of questions can be asked about the local cities, and thus enrich the interpretations of representative buildings – whether those financed by municipalities or ambitious individuals – with new contexts.
In the field of applied research, the individual volumes of Historic Towns Atlas can be systematically employed in monument preservation, active protection, reclamation and formation of landscape and in its sustainable development. (The latter especially concerns landscape planning, protection of historic landscapes, creation of urban space in landscape, restoration of historic roads and greenery, and landscaping aimed at the redevelopment of the ex-mining areas.) Members of local governments and municipalities not only appreciate Historic Towns Atlas of the Czech Republic as a suitable and valuable presentation of their cities but also as the basis for designing land-use plans and for other practical issues of urban planning and architecture. Departing from the public awareness about the particular issues of the Atlas, its working group provides numerous consultations on the history of cities and urban landscapes and makes the sources from the Map collection of the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic available.
The implementation of the project was made possible within the 2015 grant project of the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic [GA ČR], Historical Atlas of the Czech Republic (consequently, grants Nos. 404/94/0883, 404/97/0651, 404/00/1706, 404/03/1081, 404/06/1260, 404/09/0897, 13-11425S). Minor financial contributions came from the respective cities included. Some cities also provide the cartographic and iconographic sources from their own records and collections for use free of charge. The repute of Historic Towns Atlas of the Czech Republic is not only documented by the interest of local authorities, but also by the fact that the cities of Chomutov and Plzeň (Vols. Nos. 16, respectively 21) decided to draw from their own sources for paying for the atlas. Volumes No. 26 – Most and No. 29 – Nový Bydžov (the latter currently under preparation) are parts of urban studies carried out by the Historical Geography Research Center (grant GA ČR No. P410 / 12 / G113, joint project with the Faculty of Sciences of the Charles University in Prague for the period 2012–2018). By 2015, 28 volumes were published. Volume No. 29 (Nový Bydžov) will come out in 2017.
The editors and main authors of the individual volumes of the Atlas – Eva Chodějovská, Eva Semotanová, Robert Šimůnek, Aleš Vyskočil, and Josef Žemlička – are members of the Historical Geography Working Group active at the Institute of History of the Czech Academy of Sciences. They moreover cooperate with many other experts. The Atlas can help raise the prestige of the field of regional history and facilitate wider knowledge about the development of municipalities. It encourages wide public and students to study maps and plans. Further cooperation is also developed on the institutional basis, i.e. between the Academy on one hand and both local and foreign universities, archives, museums and other bodies on the other hand. External collaborators include cartographers, photographers, translators and the staff of graphic design studios. They complete list can be found on the website http://www.hiu.cas.cz/cs/mapova-sbirka/historicky-atlas-mest-cr.ep/
The project Historic Towns Atlas of the Czech Republic won the 2004 Award of the Minister of Education, Youth and Sports for Research (granted in the same year), and the prize Map 2004 in the category Atlases, Files a Map Series, awarded by the Cartographic Society of the Czech Republic (granted in 2005). It was again nominated at the latter prize in 2014.
The content of the Atlas’ individual volumes is subject to slight changes since new methods, especially in the field of digital cartography and digital landscape models, have continuously been applied. In the course of solving the project, the members of its team have established a range of new professional contacts in the Czech Republic as well as abroad – especially in Germany, Ireland, Poland and Italy, but also in other countries, which are members of the European Commission for the History of Towns. The Atlas was presented at several conferences held both in the Czech Republic and other countries.