Thursday, 21 October 2010
More on carp harvest(s)
As I have already mentioned, the carp harvest is a kind of ceremony - a marking of passage from Autumn to Winter, eagerly participated in by the Czechs at the many ponds that criss-cross the South Bohemian countryside. Why? Because it is a wonderful spectacle, and because the Czechs are particularly partial to carp, the fish that will grace their Christmas Eve tables; a fish that has over the years become one of the most enduring symbols of Christmas. To give you an idea of the harvests' popularity, on the 10th October this year 37 000 spectators came to witness the harvest at Svet - the 214 hectare carp pond at the town of Trebon. The largest pond, Rozmberk (yet to be harvested), measures 647 hectares, and there are many more ponds where Trebon comes from!
Our pond, Olsina, is at some 170 hectares smaller by comparison, but still many people come, including schools and large parties of people from a wide surrounding area. There are blow by blow accounts of the Olsina 2008 harvest in my earlier blogs , also an account of why and how Carp at Christmas, and Potok's blog where she describes yesterday' s harvest in great and lovely detail - so this time I shall instead give a little more factual information for those who might be interested:
Fish farming in artificial ponds in South Bohemia goes back to the Middle Ages. The first ponds were built in the 14th century, when large parts of otherwise useless boggy landscape were transformed into a prosperous region by retaining walls to hold water in the valleys, and a complex web of channels and canals that connected these ponds. By default, these channels also powered mills and water-driven 'hammers', and they were used to transport wood from the surrounding forested mountains, as well as provided water to farms during hot dry Summers, even drinking water for the towns along their banks. The 'golden period' for the ponds and their canals was the Renaissance: the reign of the Rozmberk family who owned large swathes of Southern Bohemia. The Czechs have much respect for the feats of engineering that went into these massive works.Why, just the Rozmberk pond has a wall 2430 meters long, that is capable of holding 50 million cubic meters of water. And the 'Golden sluice', a 47,8 km long channel built in 1505-1520 to connect, oxygenate and protect several carp-ponds, is still fully functioning now, five hundred years later.
Every Czech child when asked to name a famous pond builder will immediately give you two: Štěpánek Netolický (1460-1539) and Jakub Krčín z Jelčan (*1535). It was Netolicky who built the Golden Sluice and started on the big works around Trebon that were continued equally brilliantly by his successor, Krcin. These two personalities - knights, inventors, alchemists, true Renaissance men - are the stuff of story and legend (which I shall blog about later).
The largesse with which the Rozmberks oversaw these enormous landscape works has come to an end with the Thirty Year War (17thC) after which the whole country went into a general decline for a long time. But the ponds remained. And so did their tradition. In fact, as I have been researching into the subject I am smitten by so much of the material, that I am determined to blog more about it - would be nice to have some feedback to see if anyone's interested :-)