Jindřichův Hradec – History
South-east Bohemia has its own distinctive charm. The landscape, interwoven by streams, rivers and especially ponds, rises here from the Třeboň basin to the wooded hills of Czech Canada in order to display its diversity in just a small area. And a true jewel lies in the middle of this natural beauty:
- A town above the Vajgar pond, whose surface mirrors the beautiful panorama of the Gothic castle and Renaissance palace, a mute witness of the past glory of its former aristocratic inhabitants;
- A town on the 15th line of longitude, which runs through the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary with a tall town tower, with views of the countryside far and wide;
- A town that used to be one of the largest in the Czech Kingdom until the mid 17th century;
- A town whose historic centre has been declared a Town Monumental Reservation due to its great historic, architectural and cultural value;
- A town popular with many tourists from the Czech Republic and abroad due to its exceptional monuments and the intact natural environment of its surroundings; a town of the “golden rose”: Jindřichův Hradec.
The beginning of Jindřichův Hradec is connected to the existence of a Slavic fortified settlement, located at a favourable position on the promontory of the Nežárka river and Hamerský stream, which was an administrative centre for its wide surroundings already from the 10th century and at the same time an important southern strategic point of the state headed by the Přemyslovec dynasty. At the end of the 12th century, South-east Bohemia became the destination of Vítek of Prčice, who divided this area among his sons. They became the founders of important South-east Bohemian aristocratic families: of Landštějn, of Stráž, of Ústí and the most powerful, of Rožmberk and of Hradec. All of these Vítkovec families used five-leaf roses of various colours in their crests.
The oldest preserved written report on Hradec is from 1220, when Jindřichův Hradec manor was owned by the founder of the lords of Hradec, Jindřich I, the oldest son of Vítek of Prčice. He built a Gothic castle at the place of the former settlement; and a town was created from the former crafts and trade settlement round the castle in the middle of the 13th century, which was named after Jindřich (in the Latin era it used to be called Nova domus, the German Neuhaus is derived from this; the town’s present name was documented for the first time in 1410). The crest of the lords of Hradec, a golden rose on blue background, complemented by two golden royal lions and the initial „W“ with a crown, a privilege from King Vladislav II from 1483, has remained in the town’s crest until this day.
The town’s development reached its peak during the rule of the last lords of Hradec in the 2nd half of the 16th century. At that time, original Gothic houses were reconstructed and new Renaissance burgess houses were built on the square and in adjoining streets; the so-called New Town spread out past the north ramparts. Burghers profited from the busy trading and crafts environment, especially from the production and sale of cloth. The town’s importance grew not only economically, but also due to the high position of the Vítkovec family of Hradec at the Czech court and later of Vilém Slavata in the country’s political life (the Czech kingdom’s highest chancellor from 1628 to 1652). When a list of citizens and houses was drawn up after the Thirty Years’ War in 1654, Jindřichův Hradec with its 405 occupied houses ranked 2nd in the order of Bohemian towns, immediately after Prague. However, soon after the town lost its important political position and from the end of the 17th century it was no longer the residential town of the manor’s new owners, the Černín family, and gradually its economic importance declined as well.
One of the most remarkable monuments in Jindřichův Hradec, the complex of the Church of St. John the Baptist with adjoining buildings of the former Minorite Monastery and hospital constructed later, is located in the north-east tip of the historic centre. The Gothic church, located on the site of an original Romanesque sanctuary, was gradually built from the beginning of the 13th century. In the following century, the Chapel of St. Nicholas was constructed, which is sometimes called a pearl of the high Gothic; and construction of the Monastery was begun. The original rich Gothic fresco decoration of the church, one of the most important expressions of Czech wall painting of the mid 14th century, was partly disrupted by a star-ribbed vault from the 15th century. Interesting architecture, numerous wall paintings, many tombstones (the most precious being the Gothic tombstone of Magdalena of Gleichen from 1492 made of red marble, and the Renaissance tombstones of lords Štěpánovský of Lisov from the 1st quarter of the 17th century) and the early-Baroque contents of the church create in the entire complex a unique monument of Middle European significance. The church, which is administered by the Museum of Jindřichův Hradec, was opened to the public recently; the monastery building is now also being reconstructed and will be open to the public in the next few years. The church is now used as a concert hall; the south aisle of the church is a museum for exhibitions.
At the corner of Svatojánská Street and Náměstí Míru square, there is the former hotel “U zlaté husy” (At the Golden Goose), where Karel Havlíček Borovský spent a night on his forced journey into exile, accompanied by a Jindřichův Hradec native, commissioner Dedera. The well-known Czech Baroque poet and composer, Adam Michna of Otradovice, was probably born in the house next to the former hotel (now the Concertino hotel) in 1600.
The centre of the historic part of Jindřichův Hradec is formed by the Náměstí Míru square with a former Gothic town hall, rebuilt several times (the first document on repairs of the stone town hall dates back to 1493), with the town crest attached to its front facade; and with the sculpture “Assumption of the Virgin Mary”, the most typical Baroque monument, created by the sculptor Matouš Strachovský in 1764 – 1766. The so-called Langer’s house attracts our attention on the north-east side of the square; this is a unique, originally Gothic building, later rebuilt in the Renaissance era, whose front facade is decorated with figural sgraffiti with biblical motifs; the arcade is arched by a diamond vault.
The old town is dominated by the Provost Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary with a tower; the 15th line of longitude runs through its corner. The originally Gothic church was built in the 2nd half of the 14th century; it was repaired 100 years later and expanded by the so-called Špulířská chapel, with its interesting circular ribbed vault with figuratively decorated apex stones and animal decorations from the very beginning of the 16th century. The remains of St. Hippolytus, the town’s patron, were kept in the chapel. The 65m-tall tower from the 15th century acquired its present appearance, similarly as most of the town’s architecture, after a devastating fire in 1801, in which 318 houses were burnt down and 30 lives were lost. In summer, the tower, with its wonderful view of the town and its surroundings, is accessible to the public.
The western section of the historic part of the town was affected by the construction activities of the Jesuits, which were summoned to Jindřichův Hradec by Adam II of Hradec at the end of the 16th century. Spurred on by his wife, Catherine de Montfort, he established a college for the Jesuits; and the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalena is attached to the early-Baroque college building with Renaissance sgraffito facade. The interesting Chapel from the 1st half of the 17th century, whose interior contains unique stucco decorations, was reconstructed recently and is now used for exhibitions and concerts. The Jesuit grammar school, one of the oldest in Bohemia, was attended by the first students in 1595. The best-known teacher was Bohuslav Balbín, a renowned historian; the adjoining square bears his name. The Renaissance former Jesuit seminary from the 1st half of the 17th century is located on this square; today it is the Museum of Jindřichův Hradec. The Gothic Nežárecká Gate, later rebuilt in the Renaissance style, is next to the seminary; it is the only preserved town gate of the original three.
An interesting Empire building from the 1820’s is directly opposite the museum; it was the Landfras printing works, from which thousands of books of folk literature, fair and funfair songs, prayers and prayer books, and also textbooks and books about Bohemia, later including regional newspapers, were distributed for over a 100 years. The Landfras printing works with plants in České Budějovice and Tábor was one of the most important publishing houses outside Prague in the 19th century.
The complex of the former manorial brewery is connected to the Renaissance building of the Museum on its southern side; Bedřich Smetana lived here in 1831 - 1835 and he also composed his first opus here, called Galop in D Major.
The vast complex of the Gothic castle and Renaissance palace is undoubtedly Jindřichův Hradec’s unique cultural and historical monument, built over many centuries on the rocky promontory between the Nežárka River and Hamerský stream, where today’s Vajgar pond was built. The originally early-Gothic palace with circular tower was expanded during the reign of Oldřich III of Hradec in the 1st half of the 14th century; the truly unique wall paintings illustrating the legend of St. George, the knight’s patron, popular at that time, are from 1338. After another expansion of the castle in the 15th century, the manor of the lords of Hradec went through the greatest reconstruction in the following century. The originally medieval castle was enlarged by an opulent Renaissance palace with large and small arcades and a unique Rondelle, which is the supreme expression of masterful Italian Renaissance construction.
The palace’s fortifications are best preserved above the Nežárka valley and continue as the town’s fortifications with the Nežárecká Gate. Well-preserved tanners’ houses with typical mansard roofs, providing plenty of space for drying leather, still stand in Pod Hradem Street, which winds between the river and the ramparts. In 1954, the well-known tapestry workshop of Marie Teinitzerová moved to one of these houses below the palace.
The transport axes of the historic part of Jindřichův Hradec are Rybniční and Panská Streets. Rybniční Street used to lead from the square to Rybnická Gate and to a bridge that was decorated with the Baroque sculpture “Crucifixion” and a statue of St. John of Nepomuk by Matouš Strachovský in the 2nd half of the 18th century. The Gothic hospital church of St. Elisabeth was established at the end of the bridge at the end of the 14th century, now rebuilt into a hotel. The Gothic cemetery church of St. Wenceslaus is located on the southern hillock; the Jewish cemetery is on the town’s border above the Nežárka valley. The once sought-after Rudolfov garden restaurant is located behind the town on the opposite bank of Nežárka; it was built according to a project by Josef Zítek, architect of the National Theatre.
Panská Street connects the old town centre with the New Town Square (today called Masarykovo), which adjoins a park built on the site of the former castle moat. The town ramparts are brought to mind by a single round tower, later rebuilt in the Classicist style. The park contains a monument of John Huss and a terrace with a view of the palace and Nežárka River, where another park has been built in its valley. Stations of the Cross are preserved past the river, and lead all the way to the neo-Gothic church of St. Jacob.
Klášterská Street leads from Masarykovo square to the Franciscan Monastery with the Church of St. Catherine. The original Gothic church was built at the end of the 15th century; it acquired its present appearance after fires in 1669 and 1801. The church is connected to the opposite building (the so-called Little Monastery), which was reconstructed as a widow manor for Hradec aristocracy from the original Gothic hospital. Jarošovská Street leads to Masarykovo square parallel to Klášterská Street; a small park (former cemetery) is situated on the street, with a Renaissance Trinity Church from the end of the 16th century. The Jindřichův Hradec Faculty of the Prague University of Economics is located next to the park.