Looking at Tábor now, it's hard to believe that this was once a counterculture utopia and fortress. Lucky for visitors a few centuries later, the town has retained all this turbulent history in its design and buildings.

In the 15th century the town began as an encampment for religious reformers centered on the teachings of the anti-Catholic firebrand preacher Jan Hus. After Hus was burned at the stake in Constance, his followers came here by the thousands to build a society opposed to the excesses of Rome and modeled on the primitive communities of the early Christians. Tábor quickly evolved into the Hussites’ symbolic and spiritual center, and along with Prague served as the bulwark of the religious reform movement.

The 1420s in Tábor were heady days for the reformers. Private property was denounced, and the many poor who made the pilgrimage to Tábor were required to leave their possessions at the town gates. Some sects rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation (the belief that the Eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ), turning Holy Communion into a bawdy, secular feast of bread and wine. Other reformers considered themselves superior to Christ—who by dying had shown himself to be merely mortal.

War fever in Tábor ran high, and the town became one of the focal points of the Hussite Wars (1419–34), which pitted reformers against an array of foreign crusaders, Catholics, and noblemen. Military general Jan Žižka led the charge fairly successfully, but the Church proved to be stronger and wealthier. Many of the reformists’ victories were assisted by the strategic location of Tábor, which with its hilltop position and river boundary made it virtually impregnable. And what nature didn’t provide, the residents did. The town was well fortified and there was an ingenious system of underground tunnels (whether they were used to hide in or to store food in is disputed). The streets were purposely laid out in a crooked and confusing manner to thwart invaders. Glimpses of this past can still be seen, and make Tábor one of the more interesting places to visit.

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