History of Roudnice Castle

Roudnice Castle, which served as the main princely and later ducal residence of the Lobkowicz family, is located about 50 km north of Prague, high above the Elbe River in the center of the historic part of Roudnice nad Labem. It is the fourth largest castle complex 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 bishops of Prague. The Prague bishops and archbishops used it as a favorite summer residence, and it is also associated with some important historical events. For example, on July 18, 1410, it was from here that Archbishop Zbyněk Zajíc of Hazmburk (c. 1376–1411) issued an anathema on Jan Hus and his followers.

In the 14th and 15th centuries the original Romanesque building was modified in the Gothic style. Later, the castle passed from the possession of the Church into private, secular hands. In 1575, the Roudnice estate was acquired by Wilhelm Rosenberg, under whom the castle was rebuilt in the Renaissance style. In 1603, Roudnice became the property of the Lobkowicz family thanks to the marriage of Zdenko Adalbert Popel of Lobkowicz (1568–1628) to the widow of Wilhelm Rosenberg (1535–1592), Polyxena of Pernstein (1566–1642).

In 1652, their son Wenzel Eusebius of Lobkowicz (1609–1677) commissioned the Italian architect Francesco Caratti (1620–1677) to rebuild the castle into a magnificent Baroque residence.  Caratti was later replaced by Carlo Orsolini (died 1667), while Antonio della Porta (1631–1702) had the greatest share in the final design of the castle and its surroundings. The result was a castle with more than two hundred rooms, a monumental double staircase, a clock tower, a beautifully decorated chapel, and a formal hall later converted into a theater. In addition to the main castle building, the Baroque complex also includes a monastery with the Church of St. Wenceslas, founded by Polyxena and Zdenko Adalbert Popel of Lobkowicz, farm and administrative buildings and a riding hall. The reconstruction also included extensive landscaping of the courtyard and the immediate surroundings of the castle.

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 in-tact from this period and accessible from the courtyard is a large vaulted hall and several smaller vaulted rooms, one of which contains the base and a part of shaft of a 12th-century column. Significant features from the Baroque period include the chapel, which boasts magnificent frescoes by Giacomo Tencalla (1644–1692). Some of the rooms also have unique architectural features, including 18th and 19th century ceramic stoves, and ceilings decorated with frescoes and stucco work.

19th and 20th century

At the beginning of World War II, the Lobkowicz family was forced to leave both the Roudnice estate and the Czech lands. Maximilian Lobkowicz (1888–1967) spent the wartime period with his wife Gillian Somerville (1890–1982) in London, where he served as an ambassador, and from 1942 as an ambassador in the service of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. Nazi troops seized the castle, including the family collections, and began using the castle building as a center for the education of Nazi youth (NPEA). The furniture, specially designed for the Roudnice library, was destroyed and part of the library halls were converted into lavatories. During the last days of the war, the west wing of the castle with the theatre hall was severely damaged during an air raid.

After the war, Maximilian Lobkowicz returned to the Roudnice estate and began repairs to the damaged castle building and began the process of consolidating and returning the family collections, including the library and archives, taken from the castle during the war. In 1948, however, the Communist Party took power in the country and Maximilian Lobkowicz was forced to leave the country again under the pressure of political developments in the country. All the family's property was subsequently confiscated again, and Roudnice Castle was handed over to the army in 1950.

After the construction was completed, the castle halls were furnished and decorated with precious artefacts from the ever-expanding family art collection. These included paintings by important European painters, liturgical objects, weapons, porcelain and works of decorative art from Europe and the Far East.  In 1657, the family library was moved from the Prague palace to the newly renovated castle, where it was then supplemented with more valuable prints and manuscripts over the centuries.  Gradually, the now very extensive family archive was also created here.

Over time, the collections also included musical instruments, printed editions of scores, parts of works by important 18th and 19th century composers such as Gluck, Mozart and Beethoven, whose Symphonies no. 3 (Eroica), no. 5 (Fate) and no. 6 (Pastoral) were dedicated to his patron Franz Joseph Maximilian, 7th Prince Lobkowicz (1772–1816). Many of these compositions were first performed by the Lobkowicz orchestra in the theater of Roudnice Castle, at Jezeří, or at the Lobkowicz Palace in Vienna.

The collections were dispersed from Roudnice to several places throughout the country, the most valuable of them to state museums, libraries and other institutions. The remaining furnishings of the castle were partly destroyed and partly stolen. The monastery complex and the church were used as warehouses, and thus also devastated.

For the next five decades, the castle's premises served first as a political school for army officers and, from 1958, as a military music school. In 1965, the castle riding hall became the seat of the Gallery of Modern Art in Roudnice nad Labem, which is still operating here today. The gallery organizes interesting exhibitions and attracts tourists as well as locals.

After the restitution laws were signed by President Václav Havel, the Lobkowicz family managed to recover most of the confiscated property, including the castle in Roudnice nad Labem. The castle remained rented to the military music school. The proceeds from the lease and other income were used to repair the building, especially the iconic bell tower and to reconstruct the roof. The military music school was closed at the end of 2008 by decision of its guarantor.