Litomyšl Castle
Litomyšl Castle
Cultural Czechia Europe And North America Pardubice Region

Litomyšl Castle is an outstanding and immaculately preserved example of the arcade castle, a type of building first developed in Italy and modified in the Czech lands to create an evolved form of special architectural quality. It illustrates in an exceptional way the aristocratic residences of central Europe in the Renaissance and their subsequent development under the influence of new artistic movements.

There has been a settlement since at least the 10th century at Litomyšl, which is located at an important communications junction on the main road between Bohemia and Moravia, with its fortified core on the hill where the castle now stands. A document of 1398 contains the first reference to an 'old palace' and castle at Litomyšl. Archaeological and historical investigations have revealed remnants of the medieval structure beneath and within the Renaissance castle. In 1425 the town was conquered after a siege by the Hussites. Restoration was undertaken at the end of the Hussite Wars by the new owners of Litomyšl, the Kostka family of Postupice. It was damaged by fire in 1460, in 1546 and it was almost completely gutted after a third fire, in 1560.

The ruined structure was granted in 1567 to the Vratislav family of Pernštejn, who received a royal grant to reconstruct it. Work began in 1568 under the supervision of Jan Baptista Avostalis (Giovanni Battista Avostalli), who was joined by his brother Oldřich (Ulrico). Most of the work had been completed by 1580. The architect František Maximilián Kaňka was responsible for considerable modifications from 1719 onwards in the High Baroque style. Major alterations took place in the interior in 1792-96, to the designs of Jan Kryštof Habich, but he was careful to preserve the fine Renaissance gables. Since that time there have been no changes of any consequence in the structure, design or decoration of the castle.

Litomyšl Castle was originally a Renaissance arcade-castle of the type first developed in Italy and then adopted and greatly developed in central Europe in the 16th century. Its design and decoration are particularly fine, including the later High Baroque features added in the 18th century. The castle is a four-winged, three-storeyed structure with an asymmetrical disposition. The western wing is the largest, whereas the southern wing is no more than a two-storeyed arcaded gallery to close the square second courtyard (a feature that is unique to Litomyšl). This groin-vaulted arcading continues round the western and eastern sides of the courtyard. The south-eastern corner of the eastern wing contains the castle chapel.

Of the features in the interior of the castle one of the most striking is the fine neoclassical theatre from 1796-97 in the western wing. Constructed entirely of wood, it can seat 150 spectators in nine loggias and its lower floor. The original painted decoration of the auditorium, stage decorations, and stage machinery have survived intact. The Renaissance main staircase of the castle is located in this wing, which houses some finely proportioned Renaissance rooms decorated for the most part in neoclassical style in the 18th century. The other two wings have comparable interiors, basically Renaissance in form and with lavish late Baroque or neoclassical ornamentation in the form of elaborate plasterwork and wall and ceiling paintings. The paintings simulate three-dimensional compositions with ornamental mouldings from Roman antiquity. The paintings are coordinated from one room to the next.

The buildings associated with the castle were all built or rebuilt during the course of the modifications that the castle itself underwent over time, and this is reflected in their architectural styles. Among the ancillary buildings, the most interesting is the Brewery, which lies to the south of the first courtyard. Originally constructed as a counterpart to the castle, with sgraffito decoration, it was substantially reconstructed after the 1728 fire and received what is its present appearance, which blends elements of high Baroque and neoclassicism, after the 1775 fire.