The castle and chateau complex is connected to the town by the Red Gate. This gate, just like the castle stairs, will bring you to the 1st courtyard. This vast area once functioned as the agricultural area of the castle as well as an enclosure for animals. This is apparently the reason for its earlier name, the Rejdiště, or “animal romping grounds”. The courtyard is bordered by a series of buildings. At the bottom, just behind the gate, stands the Gothic Salthouse. Today this houses the castle information center, and once served as a granary and malt. The Lapidarium is located in the large stable building, today serving as a depository and installation for the castle‘s original Baroque statues. One of the more important buildings in the 1st courtyard was also the pharmacy.
The connecting element between the 1st and 2nd courtyards is the bridge over the moat. Bears have been kept here since 1707. Bears have apparently been kept in the castle, however, since the mid-16th century. Their presence is due to Vilém of Rožmberk‘s attempt to maintain the legend of a kinship between the Rožmberks, through the Vítkovci, and the Roman noble family of the Orsinis (the word Orsa means she-bear in Italian). The “author” of the legend was apparently Oldřich of Rožmberk (1403-1462). The purpose of this legend was to place the origins of the House of Rožmberk to the glorious days of ancient Rome, thus enhancing their own superiority over the other noble families of Bohemia.
Directly above the moat rises the mighty castle tower. This, together with the adjoining palace called the “Hrádek”, is the oldest part of the entire castle and chateau complex. Other buildings have been connected to the Hrádek through the ages. One of them is the four-storey baroque building, the former Mint, on the 2nd courtyard. Its present form comes from a reconstruction in 1731, but it never served its intended purpose of minting coins, having only functioned for accommodations. Today it houses the central ticket office for castle tours. The New Burgrave, standing opposite, is from approximately the same period. This building is remarkable for its Renaissance facade decoration, created using a dusk-grey technique, relatively rare in Bohemia, called chiaroscuro. In the middle of the courtyard stands a Baroque fountain from 1641.
The second castle courtyard had the same name as the Guards. The barracks on the ground floor of the New Burgrave was used to house the Schwarzenberg grenadier guard, located at the castle for more than 200 years – from 1742 to 1948.
In the left corner of the courtyard, next to the Mint, you will find the entrance to the Castle Tower and the Castle Museum.
At the end of the 2nd courtyard, the facade and gable of the Dairy is worth noting. This Renaissance building was created by modifying an earlier Gothic tower from the upper floor of which led a drawbridge to the Upper Castle. The bridge spanned the second moat, later filled, and both parts of the castle were joined by a vaulted passage. The Dairy, as its name suggests, was used for the preparation of dairy products for the needs of the castle. The upper floor of the building now houses the Gallery of Czech Culture, while on the ground floor you can visit an old Bohemian style restaurant.
Pass through a steep windy hallway, its size rather suggesting a vehicle passageway, and you find yourself in the 3rd courtyard and thus into the area called the Upper Castle. This newer and higher-positioned part of the castle is formed by buildings of a palatial character with grandiose aristocratic interiors. The palaces have been preserved in nearly their original Renaissance appearance from the 16th century during the reign of Vilém of Rožmberk. The Renaissance character is emphasized by the rich facade decorations from the late 16th century. The author of the frescoes on the 3rd courtyard was the Rožmberk court painter Gabriel de Blonde, while the decorations on the 4th courtyard are a little older, probably from the year 1588, but their author is unknown.
The underground area under the 3rd and 4th courtyards is remarkable. Known as Wenceslas‘ Cellars, this is a labyrinth of the foundations of the high palace buildings throughout three floors. It is formed by massive columns and arches based on hewn rock. These unique spaces, accessible from the corridor between the 4th courtyard and the Cloak Bridge, are also the site of an exhibition of contemporary ceramic art.
The hallway from the 4th courtyard opens onto the bridge called “Plášťový”, or Cloak Bridge. This bold structure spans the deep ravine, artificially deepened in the Middle Ages, between Upper Castle and the 5th courtyard. The bridge was built in several stages from the late 17th century until the mid 18th century and replaced the original wooden footbridge. It is passable through three floors – above the accessible open part below there are two more indoor corridors, located one above the other. The lower links the Masquerade Hall with the Baroque Theatre, while the upper allowed the gentry to pass unhindered from the gallery to the castle garden.
This area, and the buildings occupying it, was originally mainly economic in nature. In 1681, the castle theatre was built by Johann Christian I of Eggenberg. In 1766, the Schwarzenbergs reconstructed it into the form in which it exists today. The theatre building is connected to the Renaissance House which was once part of the castle fortifications. The fifth courtyard and the entire castle area are closed off by an iron gate with its original gatehouse.