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 :-)


Thud said...

Put me down for more,how could one not be interested in such an unknownsubject of such depth and history.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Oh yes, I'll second that. Having seen some of these ponds it would be wonderful to know more about their history and the people behind them.

Karin said...

Is it a proper term, third it? Yes, I third it! Love history, love the Czech Republic, love learning new things, and the people who provide info is much appreciated.

jaakko.thilman said...

I loved to read more. Have seen many of those ponds and can not stop wondering how clever they have. Once want to see the harvest at Olsina lake too. Sure

McCabeandco said...

Just watched an interesting Czech film (Conspirators of Pleasure). In it there is a scene of a Czech newsreader having her two big toes sucked by two carp in a barrel... These carp give the woman such pleasure... but we all know that Czechs keep them to eat them don't we!!

salamander said...

Mr Svankmajer the director of this and many other extraordinary films (heartily recommended to watch)is also an artist - I once saw at an exhibition of his and his wife's work a whole room of dadaistic devices for achieving sensual pleasures. Some of them most challenging! I wouldn't put it past him if the scene in the film you mention wasn't something he had previously experimented with :-)
But yes, I guess, sadly, that for most people the carp in baths are there to befriend briefly before their Christmas Eve sacrifice.