Southern Bohemia, its Ponds and the Schwarzenberg Canal
Southern Bohemia and the Bohemian forest are an example how nature and landscapes can be changed by human interference. This used to be a very unfriendly and poor region. It was swampy and heavily wooded, full of wildlife but with only few human inhabitants. There used to be important commercial routes connecting the Bohemian kingdom with its neighbours and the south of Europe. It was not always advantageous for the country. The low population made opportunities for dishonest people such as robber barons, and their welfare depended on the strength of the sovereign of the day. It is known that Charles IV defeated the robber barons and took great care of the safety of the routes.
In the 13th century the Rozmberk family settled here. They belonged to the most important, ancient, and influential Czech aristocratic families. They ruled for nearly three centuries and in their time their holdings increased considerably. They held the highest functions in the royal and imperial courts. They had the ability to pick capable officials – from chancellors and other heads of departments, down to rural magistrates. Their economic system was very successful and in due course they became the richest family in Bohemia, even the king was borrowing from them.
William of Rozmberk ruled here in the 16th century – his motto was “Festina lente” (it is better to go slow than to run). But his deeds were quite contrary to his motto. He was a fast worker full of good ideas and always found the best co-workers. The most important of these was Jacob Krcin of Jelcan and Sedllcan. He was ruthless and firm handed but under his rule the estate of the Rozmberk`s increased steadily. People found work and agriculture prospered. So did brewing. More or less by accident a system of ponds was started. It is unbelievable with what inventiveness the landscape, its geology and varying heights helped the foundation of the ponds. Superfluous water was drained and concentrated in large ponds. The most important of these are the Rozmberk and Svet ponds. The following details may be of interest.
Eight hundred workers were needed to build the Rozmberk pond, shifting 750,000 cubic metres of soil. In order to safeguard it a sophisticated canal was built called the New River which drained water from the Luznice to the Nezarka River.
The mighty dike of the pond with four rows of lime trees starts at 55 metres wide but narrows to 13.5 metres. It is 11.5 metres higher than the neighbouring plain and nearly 2.4 km long. The total size of the pond is 489 hectares. The maximum depth is 6.2 metres. The pond proved itself during various floods and partly saved Prague from flooding. It is not only the largest pond in Bohemia but is also the largest one in central Europe.
Great care was taken in importing fish for the ponds. Fish came from as far as China and is the ancestor of the “Trebon Carp” a well known Christmas delicacy.
The family Rozmberk became extinct in 1611 and the estate passed finally to the Schwarzenbergs another well known noble family. Although originally foreigners they adopted the Czech language and were always in the forefront of defending Czech interests. They were leading economists and always ready to improve their estates. They planted a number of forests rich in timber. Many of these forests were difficult to reach. There were few roads available and cars and lorries were not yet invented. Waterways were available but not always where they were needed. Charles IV had a plan of connecting the Vltava and the Danube but in the 14th century it was just a dream. It was the Schwarzenbergs who made it possible.
This exceptional project was planned and partially built by Joseph Rosenauer engineer to the Schwarzenberg estate. Jan Schwarzenberg was the builder. Work was started in 1789 and with various intervals carried on until 1822. After completion the canal supplied Vienna with firewood and timber.
The navigable part of the canal begins at the Czech /German border near the Northern summit of the Tristolicnik Mountain at a height of 916 m above Sea level. Up to the village of Jeleni where it flows through a tunnel of 389 metres its direction is mainly easterly. Near the village of Zelenka, the canal leaves Czech territory and enters Austria under the ruins of Vitkov castle. It returns briefly to our territory and then crosses the main European watershed and is absorbed by the river Mühl which is a tributary of the Danube.
The total length of the canal is 52 kms. The width of the channel is in the region of 3.5 to 4 metres. The average depth is 1metre. In the beginning the main freight was short lengths of wood which was used for heating domestic properties mainly for sale in Vienna. With the arrival of the railways this trade was no longer economic. The canal was improved, lengthened, connected to the Vltava. The curves were also straightened so that it was possible to transport trees up to 24 metres long. These were useful for use in the building industry. Parts of this technical work made 87 bridges, 80 sub canals, 78 tributaries, 22 sluices and a tunnel 389 metres long.
Originally only the Bishop of Passau was permitted to sell timber to Vienna but after completion of the canal the Emperor changed this privilege to apply to the Schwarzenbergs. After the connection to the Vltava timber could be transported to Hamburg. It was said that Hamburg was built by Czech hands from Bohemian forest timber I remember that as a child I saw giant rafts going down the Vltava in the direction of the Elbe.
Many hands were required to fell the trees and transport them down the canal. People moved here from all parts and made a living. The canal was supplied with water by brooks, rivers and lakes but in spite of that could not be kept filled for the whole year. It was used mainly in the spring and at high water. Two hundred persons were necessary to keep it going.
Eventually traffic was interrupted in various stages – first in 1891 then 1916 and finally 1962. In 1963 it was proclaimed a national technical relic. Between 1999 and 2001 13 kms were renovated. It is now run by the national parks of the Bohemian forest and the forestry commission. It has also been renovated on the Austrian side.
Southern Bohemia is the jewel in the crown of the Czech Republic. It has been changed completely by the work of seven centuries. Lovely landscapes, fine people and many historical objects.Marcela Šafaříková
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