This is an article from an older Issue. Click here to go to our latest issue

The Czech Republic’s ‘Go To’ Destinations

by Eva Munková

It takes a peculiar sense of humor to build a music pavilion above a row of tannery shops.

The tanners, at work dyeing leather with some of the most acrid substances known to man, might have welcomed the sweet music floating down from the castle.

But the same cannot be said of the gentry savoring those sweet minuets and sarabandes on the cliff above them. They must have had a rude awakening every time the wind changed.

In the middle of the marble floor, there is a hole, now covered by a brass grille. This is not for tedious guests, but for the orchestra.

The tannery shops are long gone, and a row of picturesque pensions, art galleries, shops, and cafes have lined the bank of the Nežárka River where leatherworkers once plied their trade. But the Renaissance Rondel at the castle and chateau in the South Bohemian town of Jindřichův Hradec is still there – and so is the music.

Throughout the year singers and musicians alike travel from all over the Czech Republic and abroad to get a chance to experience the extraordinary acoustics under the music pavilion’s small, bell-shaped dome. Perched on a spur of the Nežárka, the ornate pink and white rondel is an incongruous, though beloved, asset of the medieval chateau of the Lords of Hradec.

It was built between 1591 and 1596 by the Italian Architect Baltazare Maggi for Adam II of Hradec. He was a great patron of the arts, and the one responsible for giving the Gothic castle a Renaissance facade.

Watch out for The Lady in White

(One can only hope that the lovely music emanating from the Rondel gave comfort to the troubled soul of his great-great grandmother. The unfortunate Perchta of Pernštejn was also known as the White Lady of Jindřichův Hradec.  She was married to the cruel Jan of Lichtenstein, who, when she refused to forgive him on his deathbed, cursed her to forever haunt the several castles of her family – which she is happy to do to this day. She is frequently seen strolling among the arcades of the castle’s Third Courtyard.)

The Rondel was used for balls, concerts and receptions for honored guests. This is reflected in its ornate gold and white stucco interior, which depicts a plethora of seraphim, griffins, and other popular Renaissance characters.

In the middle of the marble floor, there is a hole, now covered by a brass grille. This is not for tedious guests, but for the orchestra. In olden days, musicians, who were on the same social level as servants, were not allowed to hob-nob with the noble party-goers, although their music was most welcome.

The gorgeous Rondel concert hall is a highlight of the estate

Monsignore Maggi solved the problem by designing a cellar underneath the rondel for the “players.” The glorious sound they made floated up to the high-born guests through the hole in the floor, which at that time was topped by a bottomless vase, shaped to enhance the music in the same way that an amplifier does today.

Alas, the glory of the Rondel faded, along with the rest of the castle, when the Lords of Hradec died out in the 18th century. In the 19th century, this rare gem of Renaissance musical architecture served as a pantry, woodshed, and even as a stable. It was finally restored to its original splendor during the general reconstruction of the castle in the 1990’s.

Today it again serves its original purpose: concerts take place here throughout the year, along with weddings and an occasional reception.

One thing has changed, however. The musicians are no longer hidden in a hole in the floor. They are allowed to produce their “glorious noise” in full view of the public and as equals.

And if you turn around quickly, you just might catch a glimpse of a lady in white … oo

Start Your Armchair-Planning Now:

Jindřichův Hradec State Castle and Chateau

  • It’s the third largest chateau in the Czech Republic after Prague Castle and Český Krumlov
  • The chateau was declared a Czech national cultural monument in 1996
  • The chateau offers 3 tours for visitors, Adam’s Building (open April-October), the Medieval Castle (open May-September), and the Apartments of the 18th and 19th centuries (open June-August). Visitors can climb the steps of the Black Tower dungeon by themselves (open daily, June-August; weekends, May and September).
  • The tours are held both in Czech and English
  • The first opera sung in Czech was “Der Freischütz” by Weber, performed here on the 26th of March 1855
  • The Jindřichohradecký Symfonický Orchestr offers concerts here, including an Advent Concert Dec 5.
  • – B.D.

Photo Credits: All Photos: Zuzana Pernicová

%d bloggers like this: