The Castle of Pardubice

Pardubice Castle

In this edition of Spotlight we take you to the east Bohemian town of Pardubice, the site of one of the most imposing Gothic and Renaissance Castles in the Czech lands, with roots that go back to the 13th century. We met with Josef Fischkandl, who has been guiding at Pardubice Castle for years and knows the site better than almost anyone else. He'll be our guide for today.

"You could say that the Middle Ages in this area were very dark. Here, at the confluence of two rivers, the Labe and Chrudimka, was a ford that was the only place where you could cross. It's known that a small fort was built to protect the ford in around 1250. Soon after that a nobleman's residence was built near the point where we stand now. Who its first lords were has been forgotten, but we do know the Lords of Dube resided there after 1318. They were subsequently followed by a number of different rulers - including the Lords of Pardubice who continued to expand the nearby town."

The early nearby settlement was not economically strong, but a toll was levied for those floating wood on the river to nearby Kutna Hora's silver mines. Several churches and monasteries were also built, and by 1340, the Lords of Pardubice had succeeded in obtaining town privileges for the settlement. But, just fifty years later they had lost the town in political controversy and their estate was then bought by the most powerful and wealthiest of Moravian nobleman, Vilem of Pernstejn. Josef Fischkandl again:

"Vilem of Pernstejn chose Pardubice as his Bohemian residence, the site to found a well-protected noble court. Under Vilem's orders the residence was transformed into a massive heavily-defended castle with thick walls protected by four corner towers, two of which still stand. The defence system saw further changes in the 16th century: the creation of massive earthen mounds that surrounded the castle, with earthen roundels raised on it corners where cannons were then placed."

A walk along these earthen ramparts today is highly recommended: they provide one of the town's most famous excursions. The earthen ramparts, long covered in grass, give a perfect view of the castle and the nearby town, and one will marvel at how just how well-defended the castle was.

Even then the earthen mounds were not the castle's last defence.

"A wide moat around the castle could quickly and efficiently be flooded with water from Chrudimka River, making the fortress unassailable. There was only one route of access: a single wooden bridge."

The character of the fortress ultimately had an impact on the town as a whole, which grew into a dwelling for an "army" of castle bureaucrats and castle administrators dependent on goods and foodstuffs from other regions. The town of Pardubice served the local castle, and the castle's own importance grew still more in the 16th century. By then, much of the residence had been rebuilt in the Renaissance style, and Josef Fischkandl says it was at that time that the site became a centre of important political significance.

"Jan of Pernstejn, son of Vilem, converted to Lutheranism and turned Pardubice Castle into a centre of Lutheran support, holding symposiums and meetings among Protestant supporters in the Czech lands."

Several splendid wall paintings in the castle date back to this time, including a magnificent piece influenced by the work of Lucas Cranach titled "Law and Grace". The painting features motifs from the Old and New Testaments, showing the Garden of Eden and the Original Sin, the Commandments handed to Moses, and the Saviour on the Cross.

Another painting, dating back to 1532, the oldest Renaissance wall painting in the Czech lands, depicts the legend of Samson and Delilah. Like Law and Grace, this piece cleverly depicts Protestant symbols clear for the knowledgeable to see.

"There is hidden symbolism in the depiction, for example, of Samson tearing apart a lion, which becomes clear when you recall that at the time Leo X was head of the Catholic Church, he was the Pope. Samson tears apart the lion but instead of leading the Jews, here he symbolically leads the Christians out from under the hegemony of Papal rule."

After 1620 - the year Czech Protestant forces were defeated by Catholic Habsburg loyalists in the Battle of White Mountain - such symbols of Lutheran belief became anathema in the Czech lands. After that estates and other properties were seized and even Pardubice Castle, for all its fortifications, fell into Catholic hands.

The paintings along with dozens of heraldic motifs were then purposely desecrated by tool-wielding minions, who attempted to scratch the works out of existence. Yet, despite this, they survived. Though damaged, plastered over, and hidden under countless layers of paint, the works survived to be rediscovered in the 1920s. No one had any idea they were there.

Since then they have been restored but the scars remain, historic testimony themselves. Even today, motifs in the walls continue to be found.

"We still find new wall paintings even today, hidden under the layers."

Pardubice Castle remains one of the Czech Republic's most imposing sites: a Gothic castle, a Renaissance palace with gorgeous paintings and ceilings, and outside: a magnificent park.

Along with elements that have been mentioned and other sites of interest such as the adjacent numismatic museum, the castle provides an enchanting visit any given day. Highly recommended even now: the castle is open all year long.