Východočeské muzeum v Pardubicích, Zámek čp. 2, 530 02 Pardubice vcm@vcm.cz
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The history of the castle

Archeological surveys show that there was an aristocratic residence on the site of today’s castle from around the end of the 13th century. The original moated castle was rebuilt in the 14th century under the lords of Pardubice, but only fragments of this structure remain. The next rebuilding took place shortly after the Hussite Wars (in the mid-15th century), when new stone walls were built around the castle, including turrets at the corners as well as embrasures (gaps in the walls) enabling the castle’s defenders to fire hand-held guns and cannons.

THE Pernštejn ERA

In 1490 the powerful Moravian magnate William (Vilém) of Pernštejn purchased a large estate at Kunětická Hora, followed a year later by the Pardubice estate. Pernštejn was one of the most prominent figures at the royal court of King Vladislaus II. At the time, Pardubice was still a small and insignificant settlement, but William chose the town to be the centre of his modern estate, and he transformed Pardubice’s castle into the Pernštejn family’s main residence in Bohemia – a suitably grand and impressive home which met the family’s demanding requirements. William launched a complete reconstruction of the castle, creating a palace with four wings that provided sufficient space for the Renaissance lifestyle that was becoming fashionable among the wealthy aristocracy of the time. William also had massive fortifications built around the palace and the central open area (the bailey) with its various smaller functional buildings. No other castle of this type in Central Europe covers such a large area and has survived in such an intact form.

UNIQUE FORTIFICATIONS

The system of fortifications at the Pardubice castle represents the pinnacle of late Gothic military design. It consists of a tall earth embankment with roundels (circular fortifying towers) at the corners, where heavy artillery guns could be placed. The embankment was protected by walls with embrasures (gaps) allowing the castle’s defenders to use hand-held firearms. In front of the walls there was a wide ditch which could be filled with water to create a moat if danger threatened. The barbican (Příhrádek) was next to the town itself, and it was connected to the castle via a long wooden bridge (today’s embankment with its stone bridge dates from 1805).

After William of Pernštejn’s death (†1521), his sons Vojtěch (†1534) and Jan (†1548) continued the reconstruction project at the castle. The overall layout of the castle complex dates from this time, as do numerous architectural features and the remnants of early Renaissance murals in the castle interiors. A particularly remarkable feature is the décor in the knights’ halls, which boast some of the oldest surviving Renaissance murals in Bohemia. Two early Renaissance painted coffered ceilings are particularly valuable, as is the entrance to the castle; most of this entrance portal was carved in 1529 and installed in 1541. A stone bridge with decorative reliefs links the entrance portal with the castle courtyard.

THE LAST RECONSTRUCTIONS

In 1560 the Pernštejns sold Pardubice to the King, and the estate became royal property. The castle was no longer used as an aristocratic residence; instead it became the headquarters of the Pardubice estate, and monarchs visited it only rarely. The last major reconstruction was carried out in 1574–1579, supervised by Ulrico Aostali de Sala. The façades of the palace were decorated with sgraffito ornamentation, the gable over the entrance (part of the avant-corps, the section protruding outward from the main volume of the building) was remodelled, and a staircase was added in the north wing. There was also a Baroque remodelling in 1723–1726, supervised by František Maxmilián Kaňka, but these changes had no significant effect on the layout or the structure of the castle.

A BREWERY, MILITARY APARTMENTS, AND MORE

While under the control of the royal estate, the castle was increasingly viewed as a building to be exploited for commercial purposes. In the 17th century the castle became the site of a brewery, and in the 18th century it housed a textile warehouse and apartments for retired military officers. The original interior décor and fittings did not survive these changes. In the second half of the 19th century the castle came into private ownership.

A MUSEUM

The castle had not been used as an aristocratic residence since the time of the Pernštejns, so it gradually fell into disrepair. However, a turning-point in the castle’s history came in 1920, when the land reforms introduced by the government of the newly independent Czechoslovakia enabled the Pardubice Museum Association to purchase the site. (The museum had already been leasing parts of the castle as a tenant since 1892.) The large Renaissance-era interior murals were uncovered, and the castle was converted into an exhibition space to display the museum’s collections.

A PHOENIX FROM THE ASHES

In 1953, after the communist takeover, the castle was taken into state ownership. Restoration work was halted, maintenance was neglected, and the castle fell into such disrepair that in the late 1970s the ceilings on the second floor of the palace collapsed. A full reconstruction of the castle was launched, but work proceeded very slowly, and the derelict castle – which was closed to the public – was largely forgotten. A turning-point finally came in 1993, when the Museum of East Bohemia took control of the reconstruction process. The various extensions that had been added to the castle over the years were demolished, and both the clock tower and the north-east roundel (dating from the Pernštejn era) were restored to their original appearance. The sgraffito ornamentation on the façade was also restored. At the end of 1997, after a complete reconstruction lasting almost two decades, the castle was finally opened to the public once again.

THE PRESENT DAY

In 2001 the castle passed into the ownership of the Pardubice Region, which also acquired the barbican (Příhrádek) in 2016. The castle is still used by the Museum of East Bohemia; one of the former farm buildings (no. 3) serves as a depository and an exhibition space. The museum’s main building is the “U Jonáše” house (no. 51) on Pardubice’s main square (Pernštýnské náměstí). The barbican (Příhrádek) is now used as offices by the Pardubice branch of the National Heritage Institute.

In 2010 the castle (and its unique system of fortified embankments) was declared a National Cultural Monument of the Czech Republic.