CZECH REP.     Kutná Hora


The so called "Italian Court", site of the Mint (outlined in yellow),.                                         GOOGLEmaps

Kutná Hora – Italian Court
(Wikepedia)  A complex structural set of three-storeyed buildings assembled on an irregular oval layout. Perhaps an older fortified seat was used from the 1390s as the safe storage of silver ore in the then unfortified mining settlement. The oldest parts include the prismatic tower with barred passage, remains of the royal palace, chapel and passage with winding staircase. The remaining parts were constructed during restoration in 1893 - 98. (Wikepedia)

(www.kutnahora.cz)  Another monument in question was the once famous Italian Court; left by the mint and later also by the mining officers, it gradually became run-down to the extent that some of its parts threatened to tumble down any time. After complicated negotiations – involving even voices calling for wiping the building off the earth – it was decided that the Italian Court would be subject to general reconstruction, which was then carried out according to the project of Ludvík Lábler, co-author (with architect Mocker) of the reconstruction and completion project of St. Barbara’s Cathedral.

Shortly after 1300, Kutná Hora also became the seat of the central mint of the Czech lands, which was located in a small royal castle later called the Italian Court as a remembrance of Italian experts assisting with the planning and application of the minting reform. Mining of silver stood at one end of the manufacturing cycle, striking of silver coins (the so-called Prague Groschen and their parts – parvi) at the other one. Kutná Hora became the financial centre of the country.

Nonetheless, it was at the time of this important decision that the mining activities in Kutná Hora had to face first serious problems. Surface deposits were depleted and the descend under the surface called for more elaborate methods and techniques and more complicated technical equipment. Both mining and production of coins were inhibited for some time, which was immediately reflected in the quality of Prague Groschen.
 
The domination of German patriciate – descendants of the first settlers – governed the town’s attitude during the Hussite Wars. At the beginning, Kutná Hora stood firmly behind Emperor Sigismund. A series of Hussite triumphs in the course of 1421, however, deprived Kutná Hora of all hopes for keeping the warfare outside its limits. After the monastery in Sedlec was conquered and burnt down in May 1421, silver miners surrendered and anxiously awaited what was to come. The following period between 1422 and 1424 brought hard times to Kutná Hora, involving the expelling of some German miners and two devastating fires. Sinister consequences of those events brought all mining activities to a standstill that lasted until the last years of the reign of George of Poděbrady; then, in 1469, silver mining was restored to the extent that Prague Groschen began to be struck again in the Italian Court.

In the early decades of the 16th century, Kutná Hora was a flourishing town with seemingly inexhaustible wealth. Mining zones, especially the Osel zone, were still producing reasonable yields, however, what was alarming was the fact that the miners had to descend about 500 metres under the surface; in such a depth, the risk of being flooded by ground water was very high and the thickness of silver ore was decreasing. These crisis symptoms began to grow stronger in 1530s and resulted in reduction of mining activities in the main zones. A real shock for locals was the closure of the most famous Osel mining zone in 1543. The only possible remedy would have been mass investments, but there was a continuous lack of resources.
 
The production of Prague Groschen – traditional pride of Kutná Hora – in the Italian Court was terminated in 1547. The newly introduced Thaler coins were, unjustifiably, considered an allogene phenomenon and linked with the discriminating attitude of the Habsburg court. Despite all that, the overall climate of the town in the 16th century seemed favourable. Mining yields of the Kaňk zone remained fairly reasonable, the mint was working at full capacity partly due to the import of silver ore and the town in general appeared rich and prosperous.

The turn of the 18th century saw attempts to open new mines and restore the old fame of Kutná Hora as a mining town. But all hopes went down the drain. New silver veins were thin and their extraction consumed a lot of money, making them unprofitable. Such situation ended up in the closing of the mint in 1727. Although mining authorities still kept their seat in the Italian Court, the era of the mining town of Kutná Hora was definitely over. It still ranked among bigger towns in Bohemian context at the beginning of the 19th century – the number of inhabitants amounted to around six thousand in 1800 – but its significance was inevitably dwindling away and soon it was not able to keep pace with industrial revolution. (www.kutnahora.cz).


(www.euromint.net) The Italian Court was founded as a royal castle at the end of the 13th century, at the time when the town of Kutná Hora came into being due to silver mining in the area. In 1300 Bohemian king Wenceslas II carried out a major minting reform and centralised the entire coin production of the kingdom into the fortified Italian Court. It owes its name to Italian minting experts that were invited to assist with the beginnings of minting here. 17 smithies (little forges) were built for the purposes of coin production symbolising the 17 former mints transferred to Kutná Hora from all around the Bohemian kingdom. The Gothic royal palace and chapel were added in the late 14th century. In the 15th and 16th century, other operational buildings of the mint were built on the oval ground-plan layout and the Italian Court thus acquired its basic shape which survived until the present day. The production of silver Groschens, that were struck here since 1300 and that spread throughout all of Europe, ended in 1547. The production of thalers initiated in 1543 reached its peak in the second half of the 16th century, then it went into decline and only small denomination coins were struck. Simultaneously, the decline of silver mining was ever more serious. The focus of minting moved to Prague and the Kutná Hora mint was finally closed down in 1727. Later the Italian Court served as a seat of mining authorities, storehouse, military hospital, town hall, school etc. The building, however, was not kept up until it was close to fall down in the late 19th century. In 1881 the municipality of Kutná Hora bought the Italian Court and subsequently had the former mint reconstructed between 1893–1898. The courtyard with the smithies’ portals, the mint treasury, the royal chapel and parts of the royal palace retained their original shape. Nowadays, these premises are open to public while the rest of the building is used as the seat of the Municipality of Kutná Hora.

CURRENT USE:  Municipal Office, part of the building is open to public (guide services, Town Gallery of Felix Jenewein)

HISTORY IN DETAIL.   In the last quarter of the 13th century, after spreading of the news about wealthy deposits of silver ore on the lots of the Sedlec convent between the royal cities of Kolín and Čáslav, thousands of inhabitants, both German and Czech speaking, were coming to the area of present Kutná Hora seeking a share in the wondrous wealth. Without any planning, they established small and large mining colonies with wooden houses, chapels, spas and markets. South of the growing colonies, the then Bohemian king Wenceslas II had a fortified stone mansion built, later known as the Italian Court (Vlašský dvůr).

As the monarch, the King owned all mineral resources of the country, and to ensure this right (called the upper regal) and the right to shares from the mining (called urbur or “output shares”), it was necessary to establish an appropriate administrative organisation directly at the location of the sites. In 1300, because of the silver mining in Kutná Hora since the late 13th century, King Wenceslas II issued the Ius regale montanorum royal mining code, which amended mining laws in great detail. In the same year, the king adopted a minting reform, which caused the centralisation of all 17 existing mints into one central mint in the Italian Court. The mansion supposedly got its name (which first appears in writing in 1401) due to the presence of Italian experts in the mint, invited by the King from Florence.

In July 1300 the first Groschen were minted – “Grossi Pragenses”. Whether this took place in Kutná Hora or still in Prague is not entirely certain (operation of the mint is documented only from 1336). Undoubtedly, however, the relevant alterations of the Italian Court, necessary for the operation of the central mint of the Bohemian Kingdom, started. These alterations continued during the reign of John the Blind and were completed under King Wenceslas IV at the very end of the 14th century.
Wenceslas IV took a great liking to Kutná Hora, which stood faithfully behind him during his disputes with some of the nobility and his brother Sigismund, and he often resided at the Italian Court. Even after his death, the royal residence in the Kutná Hora mint was witness to many important meetings. In 1420 Emperor Sigismund moved here with his court and directed crusading armies in the battle for the Bohemian crown from this location. The following Hussite wars had a negative effect on mining in Kutná Hora and the city itself suffered several devastating fires and violent property movements. It seems, however, that the operation of the mint was never interrupted. In 1444 the later Bohemian king George of Poděbrady was elected the highest sheriff of the union of eastern Bohemian landowners, and in 1448 he became the land administrator.

The most famous event that took place in the Italian Court was undoubtedly the election of Polish prince Vladislav Jagello Bohemian king in 1471. The new sovereign frequently resided in Kutná Hora in the following years.
The reign of Vladislav’s son Ludvík, who resided at the Italian Court in the spring of 1523 and removed most mining officials for fraud against the royal treasury, concluded the Jagellonian period, which was so important for the history of Kutná Hora. After the last assembly in 1510, the Italian Court was never more to attain the level of the prestigious diplomatic centre that it had been in the previous century.

Ferdinand I Habsburg and his successors did not use their residence in Kutná Hora anymore, and in 1545 the neglected royal residence in the Italian Court was stated to be uninhabitable by officials. Another blow to the confidence of Kutná Hora’s citizens was the termination of minting of the Prague Groschen in 1547.

With the decline of mining and the transfer of core mint production to Prague, one smithy after another ceased production, and in 1727 the entire mint was shut down. The operation areas remained abandoned and soon decayed. In 1784, the highest mintmaster’s office located here was abolished as well. The regional supreme court was newly established here, and later the location served as the mining sheriff’s office and the district mining office. Aside from these mining offices, which were a reminder of the lost splendour of Kutná Hora mining, the building was used for various purposes. During the Austro-Prussian wars under the reign of Queen Mary Therese, particularly after the battle at the nearby Chotusice in 1742, captives and the army were placed here and part of the building was altered to be used as a wheat storage room and armoury for the cannon brigade. At the end of the 18th century and during the Napoleonic wars, it was again the site of a military hospital. After the town hall on Palacký Square burnt down in 1770, the town rented part of the Italian Court for meetings of the town council and depository of the town archive, before the town hall was moved elsewhere in 1820. In 1787 Kutná Hora’s merchant Jan Krištof Breuer was permitted to establish a cotton mill in one part of the building, and in 1789 a basic school was located here. In the early 19th century, the Italian Court was even rebuilt to serve as a prison, but only until the construction of a new prison-house on Národního odboje Square in 1825. From 1850 the district sheriff’s office resided here, and in 1872 the general and burgher boys’ school was moved here. The burghers rented many of the smithies and cellars as storage rooms.

The Italian Court belonged to the state, but from the end of the 17th century it was investing nearly nothing into its maintenance, and from the end of the 18th century it was trying to sell the decaying building. After much negotiation, the municipality of Kutná Hora purchased the Italian Court in 1881. Reconstruction finally began in 1893 according to a project by the architect Ludvík Lábler, who was then directing the renovation of St. Barbara’s Cathedral in Kutná Hora. The reconstruction was completed in 1898.

The newly reconstructed Italian Court became the seat of the town hall and archives, and a girls’ general and burgher school was established in the wing facing St. Jacob’s Church in 1895. Today, the Italian Court serves as the headquarters of the Municipal Office, the Town Gallery of Felix Jenewein and guide services. Since 1962 it has been a national cultural monument.

EMPOLYEES AND OFFICIALS
In older times, the head of the mint was the mintmaster, who had overall supervision over the mint and minting of coins. In the second half of 16th century, the head became the highest mintmaster of the Bohemian Kingdom, the office of Kutná Hora mintmaster became an office effective throughout the Bohemian Kingdom.

The competence of the highest official with practical executive power in the Kutná Hora mint was then taken over by the mint executive. There were always several mint executives at a time, which supervised the entire process of minting.
The mint assayer or gvardejn participated during the receiving of silver from the burning room (prenárna) and copper from the graining room (kernárna). He also supervised in the foundry (gysárna), monitored the transfer of mint metal for minting, the purity and quality of the coins and he regularly monitored the weight. The mint assayer also administered the mint treasury.
The mint scribe recorded everything in writing that was related to minting. In particular, he kept records in the basic accounts, called the work registers.

The office of the mint bailiff was executed as needed by one or two people. He took care of the economic aspects of the mint and its material needs. He also ensured building repairs and, from the safety aspect, was always present where there was work with fire.

The stamp cutter was the die engraver, who prepared the dies for every mintage. In relation to that, there existed the stamper’s office, which was to keep the dies in custody.
The coin striking itself was carried out by minters in the so-called preghaus.

The mint naturally had its own gatekeeper, who took care of its proper guarding, and from time to time received and recorded coal brought into the mint; night watchman (called the town crier since the end of the 16th century) guarding the mint. There were also several helpers – varlets – according to current needs.

The employees of various professions found in the mint were associated into groups, communities or brotherhoods and guilds. For example, from the first half of the 14th century sources mention not only professional associations of forgers and colliers, but also smelters and minters. The associations always presented themselves individually and defended the common interests of their members. The members of the associations were divided according to their employment classification and social position into older associates – knap – and younger associates – robenec. Association councillors were elected as leaders. Individual associations represented their members in social, prestigious interests and executed a certain social function, particularly for elderly, injured and ill members and their widows. In order to enforce and maintain certain social priorities, the representatives of associations entered negotiations with the mintmasters and the King himself. For these official meetings and celebrations, the members of associations of mint workers, like members of the mining guilds, wore special costumes: white cloth shirts with a hood (called perkytle) decorated with wide embroidered belts. Since ancient times, we have evidence that in their negotiations, the associations used their own emblems on seals and flags. (www.euromint.net)

 

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