Sokol turns 155

Slavic group is known for synchronized gymnastics

The athletic and exercise organization Sokol is celebrating its 155th anniversary. It was established Feb. 16, 1862, by Miroslav Tyrš and Jindřich Fügner. It took two years for the organizers to settle on the name Sokol, which means falcon. The original name was a bit less inspiring — Tělocvičná jednota pražská, or Prague Gymnastics Union.

The group not only promoted health through physical activity, but even though it was supposed to be above politics, it promoted a pan-Slavic agenda and to some extent Czech nationalism. As a result it as banned three times, during World War I, World War II and the communist era. It was re-formed after the Velvet Revolution.

The group still has a visible impact even though its current numbers are much lower than they had been at the group's peak. Most towns of any size and most urban neighborhoods have a Sokol building with exercise courts and sometimes a pool and sports fields. The buildings now usually serve as community centers.

Fügner financed the earliest Sokol buildings. He promoted members using informal grammatical greetings for one another and calling other members “brothers.” Tyrš came up with the motto “Tužme se,” roughly “Let's harden ourselves.” Both men shared similar views on civil liberties and social issues.

Tyrš came from a German-speaking family, but became involved in the early Czech nationalist movement when he was in school. Fügner also came from a German-speaking family.

Some contributions that Sokol made was to standardize Czech terminology for some sports and exercise. The group's early uniform that was a mix of Slavic and revolutionary sources such as brown Russian-style trousers, a Polish-style revolutionary jacket, a Montenegrin cap, and a red Garibaldi shirt. The Sokol flag was red with a white falcon. It was designed by writer Karolína Světlá and painted by Czech artist Josef Mánes.

The movement was known for large meetings with thousands of people performing synchronized gymnastics. The first all-Sokol gathering or “všesokolský slet” took place June 18, 1882 on Střelecký ostrov in Prague. Later ones in Prague were at the plain in Letná, and finally at Strahov Stadium, which opened in 1926 with wooden grandstands which were replaced by concrete ones in 1932. When it was built, the stadium was the largest in the world.

The Sokol movement peaked between the wars, and by 1930 had 630,000 members. The Sokols held their largest slet in 1938 with 350,000 members. The group was suppressed after that by the occupying German forces, and many leading members were killed.

After the Sokol movement was banned in communist Czechoslovakia, the synchronized gymnastics continued under a different name, Spartakiáda.

The movement also moved to Poland, Slovenia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Croatia. Emigrants also took it to the United States and other countries. There are Sokol buildings in New York City and the Midwest, for example.

Related articles

  • A Day Trip To Some Of The Best Castles by Shaun O'Banion

    The results are in and the most popular Czech castles (based on the number of visitors) have been announced by the Czech state.

  • Five of the Best Trails to Go Hiking in the Czech Republic by Erin Naillon

    Getting away from it all – out of Prague, away from the gridlocked traffic – is a great way to unwind after a hectic week. You can take your car (or the bus, or a train) to somewhere well outside the city and get out in nature. While the good weather lasts, it’s helpful for hikers and would-be hikers to know where they can find trails of varying difficulty to work off the tensions of the week.

  • Swimming in the Vltava River – Every Sunday from 10am by Caroline Marcela

    What better way to treat a Saturday night hangover than swim in the Vltava river on a Prague Sunday morning!

  • Take a Cycling Tour Through the Czech Republic by Erin Naillon

    Those wanting not only to get out into nature, but to experience it outside the confines of a car, have the option of taking a cycle tour from Prague to various destinations, even in other countries. For those intent upon long-distance cycling, the Greenways route runs from Prague to Vienna, with bicycle rental available at various points along the route (Prague, Český Krumlov, Telč, and Mikulov are just four of the cities where cyclists can rent bicycles).

  • The Best Outdoor Skating in Prague! by Shaun O'Banion

  • Celebrity Charity Football Game by Anelya Kadyrova

    A charity football match between Prague Raptors FC and the Supporting Charities Phoenix FC will be held on August 10th in Prague.

  • Send your kids to the Raptors…Football Academy! by Paul Lysek

    The Prague Raptors are starting their own football academy for kids aged 4-7. The first session takes place on August 20th and is completely free.

  • Prague Lions: Czech Bowl Champions by Paul Lysek

    The Prague Lions beat the Ostrava Steelers 29:23 on Saturday to win their first title in over a decade.

  • American Football Czech Bowl! by Micah Lembke

    The Prague Lions defeated the Vysočina Gladiators in the Paddock League Semifinal and earned a spot in Czech Bowl XXVI. 

  • American football: Playoff time! by Micah Lembke

    The Prague Lions have finished the regular season with 9 wins, one loss, and the top seed in the Paddock League semifinals. 

Facebook comments

The James Joyce Irish Pub

Best Irish Pub in Prague

Ristorante Casa de Carli

Authentic Italian cuisine in Prague

Pražské Benátky

Enjoy Prague from a different view

Prague Raptors Football Club

Multi-Cultural, Community Football Club based in Prague

Hugo Bike Prague

HUGO Bike Prague & Segwaytrip

Adventure Minigolf Hotel...

Outdoor Adventure Minigolf

Toboga Prague

Indoor Playground in Prague 5, Zlicin

Prague’s # 1 source for Czech news in English…

Digital lifestyle magazine platform promoting life in Prague.