The journey was easy. It only took two and a half hours on a direct bus from Prague to get to this small town in the foothills of the Eagle Mountains, not far from Poland. It was sunny, almost too hot. From the stop I had to walk straight for about 10 minutes and turn left onto the large, impressive main square on which buildings of various architectural styles were erected. I noticed the remains of chiaroscuro decoration on the facade. Because I had been here 10 years earlier, I knew the interior was truly a sight to behold.
First, a little history about the chateau itself: Built during 1501 in late Gothic style, the chateau underwent Renaissance renovation thanks to the Stubenberg family owners during the second half of the 16th century. More renovation work took place during 1651 to 1660, when early Baroque style made its way into the chateau. A historical event took place here in June of 1812, as Russian Tsar Alexander I stayed at this chateau during his trip to meet with leaders of the Prussian and Austrian governments. (He wouldn’t be the only historical figure to spend the night in the chateau. During 1926 first democratic president of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk slept here.)
But it wasn’t until the chateau was bought by the Bartoň family that perhaps the most significant renovations were carried out. Slovak architect Dušan Jurkovič and Czech architect Pavel Janák did many renovations in Art Nouveau, Art Deco and functionalist styles in this chateau also known for its collection of Czech and Slovak art from the 17th to 20th centuries. While Jurkovič concentrated on Art Nouveau, Janák took over the Art Deco and functionalist styles, his last renovations taking place from 1940-41. Jurkovič also was responsible for redesigning the two-tiered chateau gardens. Though the Bartoň family emigrated to Canada in 1949, they got the chateau back in 1992 and are its present owners.
Before the tour I had time to visit the gardens and see Jurkovič’s outdoor masterpiece for myself. Terraces and flower beds punctuated the upper gardens while a quaint wooden bridge led me to the lower section. The sculptures of the stone dwarfs caught my attention immediately. They were the skilled work of famed Czech sculptor Matyáš Braun from the first third of the 18th century. I also noticed a statue of legendary Czech composer Bedřich Smetana and Baroque statues of the God Poseidon and the Goddess Demeter as well as two statues of bears. A Baroque fountain was situated in the garden, too. I felt like reading in the sun for a while here, but the tour was going to start soon and anyway, there was a wedding procession about to cross the wooden bridge and head in my direction. The gardens seemed to be the perfect place to bring a book and relax, occasionally glancing at the stone dwarfs and Baroque fountain.
One of the first places we visited on the tour was the Rising of the Holy Cross Chapel from the 17th century. The fresco on the ceiling and the white stucco decoration had me gaping in awe. But more about that later. Then, in the hallway, I was overwhelmed by a 15th century Gothic altarpiece as we walked toward the Winter Garden. It was absolutely exquisite, depicting Saints Peter and Paul with an icon of Jesus Christ.
The Winter Garden was one of my two favorite rooms, designed in the decorative style by Jurkovič in 1910. Plants abounded, and there was lovely white wicker furniture as well as many ceramics in the space. The walls looked to be made of rock inlaid with a tree design in brown. I thought how much I would love to sip a cup of green Eilles tea at the white table, surrounded by so many thriving plants and intriguing ceramics.
My other favorite was the Coffer Room, a Jurkovič masterpiece from 1913. The wine red carpet and dark brown leather and oak furniture contrasting with a light and airy ceiling made me feel comfortable. There was also leather wallpaper on the ceiling and a huge green and brown marble fireplace made of ceramic tiles. A brass chandelier decorated the room as well. An avid Czechoslovak history fan, I loved the portrait of former President Masaryk, set in a gold frame. The room, with all its couches and tables, appealed to me as a place I would like to come and read on a cold winter’s night, while sipping hot chocolate. I somehow felt safe there, away from the worries of my life and the world.
We also entered a room full of Cubist furniture designed by Janák. A hundred coats-of-arms of Czech towns were painted on the walls. On the ceiling I noticed pictures of the towns of Náchod, Český Krumlov and the Black Tower in České Budějovice.
Some of the other rooms that particularly impressed me included: The Baroque bedroom, redesigned by Jurkovič in 1913. Swirling patterns decorated the arched ceiling, and there were three circular Renaissance frescoes on the wall above one bed.
The Gentleman’s Study had an Art Deco interior forged by Janák in 1924. The central fresco was by František Kysela, who also painted many other frescoes in the chateau. Renaissance paintings hailing from the 16th century lined the walls. Textile art work and ceramics also punctuated the room. The space had a romantic flair, and I felt safe here. A sense of warmth exuded from the room. Dark wood mingled with a bright green color, with green upholstery on the dark wood chairs. The brown and white frescoes on the ceiling complemented the choice of furniture.
What caught my attention in the Zodiac Room or Summer Dining Room was the exquisite handmade carpet. Inside an orange and light blue circle was another circle, this one in blue and orange, showing a proverb for each month. This Art Deco room, a 1923 creation by Janák, with brown wood furniture also boasted frescoes by Kysela.
I had a ticket for the long tour, so I followed the guide, a tall, bespectacled man in his forties, to the second floor, where the frescoes in the rooms all showed scenes from Greek and Roman mythology. In the Hall of Victors, which was really a Baroque dining room, I noticed the neo-Baroque interior and Flemish tapestry from the 16th and 17th centuries. Still lifes also decorated the walls which were a light yellow color. The frescoes sported sea blue and dark green. The white and blue porcelain was ravishing.
I cannot leave out the St. Hubert Room or the Hunters’ Room. This 17th century bedroom also boasts a ceiling fresco of Hypnos, the god of sleep. I was impressed with the vibrant colors of the fresco. Neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance furniture from the 19th century contributed to the stunning look, too.
From the Oratory there was a fantastic view of the chapel. There were vibrant ceiling frescoes and white stucco decoration on the ceiling. The left-hand side of the altar was decorated with a painting of Saint Barbara, forged by the Baroque master Petr Brandl, one of my favorite Baroque painters. The black with gold columned altar was flanked by statues. The small size of the chapel gave it a sense of intimacy. What awed me in the Oriental Dining Room was its luxurious, long and sleek chandelier with the bottom shaped as a Chinese pagoda.
Before the tour ended, the guide told us the legend of the Black Lady, who haunts the chateau. From 1624 to 1629 Marie Magdalena was one of the owners of the place, and she was called “Evil Manda” for a very good reason. She was exceptionally cruel to animals, and the townspeople were fed up with her. They rebelled in 1628. Soldiers put down the uprising, though, and proceeded to treat the rebels cruelly. Many men were killed in a gunpowder explosion in the tower, leaving many widows and orphans in the town. “Evil Manda” died in 1633, but she still walked the halls at night because she was looking for the two or three bodies of the farmers who were never found after the gunpowder explosion. She wanted them to be buried. One could hear her footsteps at night, and sometimes paintings fell off the walls.
Then I left the chateau and went to a nicely decorated restaurant across the square. The restaurant was decorated in orange and yellow and had a cheerful appearance. It served good food as well, and I was able to eat my favorite food on my excursions – chicken with peaches and cheese plus a diet Coke.
Then it was time to get the bus back to Prague. When I made it to the stop about 20 minutes early, I was the only one there. Before long, about 10 people had joined me. We waited. And waited. And waited. The elderly women standing next to me grumbled to themselves about how it did no good to complain in this country. A teenager with hair dyed pink read a book on the bench. Finally, the bus arrived – 45 minutes late. The bus driver did not offer an excuse or an apology. I was just glad the bus came.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.