History of Roudnice Castle

Roudnice Castle, which served as the Princely and Ducal seat of the noble Lobkowicz family, is perched above the Elbe River in the heart of historic downtown Roudnice nad Labem, approximately 50 km north of Prague. It is said to be the fourth largest castle in the Czech Republic.

Historical Origins

In the 12th century, on the site where Roudnice Castle now sits, a fortress-style castle was built by the powerful bishops of Prague. This castle served as a popular summer residence for Prague's bishops and archbishops and is said to be the place where Jan Hus was ordained a priest.

Gothic additions and alterations were made to the original Romanesque structure in the 14th and 15th centuries. The castle changed from religious to secular hands and eventually came into the Lobkowicz family in 1603, when Zdeněk Vojtěch, 1st Prince Lobkowicz (1568–1628) married then-owner of the castle, Polyxena Pernštejn (1566–1642).

In 1652, their son Václav Eusebius, 2nd Prince Lobkowicz (1609–1677) commissioned Italian architects Francesco Caratti and later Antonio della Porta to demolish most of the original structure and create in its place a masterpiece of the high baroque style. This grand 200-room residence included massive twin entry staircases, a stately clock tower, an elaborately decorated chapel and an elegant theater. Other outdoor buildings, such as the riding stables and the family administrative building, were subsequently developed on the castle grounds. Václav Eusebius’s major reconstruction also included the creation of magnificent formal gardens in the castle courtyard and on the surrounding grounds.

When construction of Roudnice Castle was completed, the rooms were filled with the finest works from the family's ever-expanding art collections. These included paintings by many of the greatest European artists, precious religious objects, specialized weaponry, and fine porcelain and decorative arts from Europe and the Far East. Additionally, the gardens and estate holdings flourished and the many rooms devoted to the library, which became known as the Roudnice Lobkowicz Library, were filled with important books, manuscripts and The Archive.

The collections at the Castle also included musical instruments and autograph manuscripts by many of the greatest composers of the 18th and 19th century, including Gluck, Mozart, and particularly Beethoven, who dedicated his 3rd (Eroica), 5th and 6th symphonies to his great patron Joseph František Maximilian, 7th Prince Lobkowicz (1772–1816). Many of these compositions were performed by the house orchestra in the Roudnice Castle theater, Jezeří Castle or in Viennese Lobkowicz Palace.

Significant Architectural Features

Preserved from the original Romanesque castle, below the northwest terrace of the present-day structure, is a section of peripheral wall, fortified by several small towers. Also preserved from this period and accessible from the present-day courtyard are a large vaulted hall and several smaller vaulted rooms, one of which contains the base of a 12th-century column.

Significant features from the baroque period include the chapel, which boasts magnificent frescoes by Giacomo Tencalla (1644–1692).

Many rooms also have unique architectural features, including 18th and 19th century ceramic stoves, ceilings decorated with frescoes and stucco work, and large balconies.

Recent History

With the onset of World War II, the Lobkowicz family was forced to flee Roudnice Castle and the country. Maximilian Lobkowicz (1888–1967), the Ambassador of Czechoslovakia to Great Britain, and his British wife, Gillian Somerville, lived in exile in London. Nazi troops occupied the Castle and confiscated its collections, using the building as an SS youth training camp. The library's specially-designed cabinetry was destroyed and its rooms were turned into communal latrines. In the final days of the war, bombs fell and severely damaged the theater in the castle's west wing.

After the war, Maximilian returned home and repairs to the damaged castle were initiated. Not long after, when the Communist government seized power in 1948, all the Lobkowicz properties and possessions were confiscated for a second time. The contents of the collections were evacuated from Roudnice Castle and scattered across the country. The greatest treasures were absorbed by the national libraries and museums.

For the next five decades, Roudnice Castle was used as a military music school and for military administrative offices. In 1965, the Castle Riding Hall became home to the Gallery of Modern Art Roudnice nad Labem, which remains there to this day. The Gallery has an excellent reputation for presenting high quality exhibitions and is an attractive destination for local visitors and tourists alike.

The Lobkowiczes were able to trace and reclaim much of their property, including Roudnice Castle, thanks to the enlightened restitution laws signed into effect by President Václav Havel. After restitution, the family continued to rent the Castle to the military music school, all the while using rental and other income to initiate improvements – such as restoring the iconic bell tower and replacing the roof. Funding for the military music school was recently terminated by the government, and the school was officially closed at the end of 2008.

Since 2009, the Lobkowicz family has undertaken a series of repairs to the Castle property and is actively seeking partners and alternative uses for the Castle and grounds.