I had wanted to walk through the forest from Buchlovice Chateau to Buchlov Castle, but I did not have enough time before my bus back to Brno left from Buchlovice. I went to the information office and asked if there was any way I could get to Buchlov and have enough time for the 90-minute tour. The young, blond woman suggested I call a local man who gives rides back and forth. Since the information office recommended him, I thought it would be safe. The stout, bearded man came within 10 minutes, and soon massive, Gothic Buchlov loomed above me, overpowering me with its sheer size and strength.
First, the guide, a lanky man wearing a T-shirt that pictured the castle, explained that the history of Buchlov went all the way back to around 1300, when it was first mentioned in writing. At that time, Buchlov was royal property, but Moravian noble families were put in charge of it. The design of the Early Gothic chapel, forged in the 1370s, was inspired by Sainte-Chapelle Chapel in Paris. Unfortunately, it was mostly destroyed by Hungarians in an attack during 1468 and later abolished. The first private owners of the castle were the Lords of Žerotín, who took it over in 1520. Their tenure at Buchlov was short-lived, however, and the Zástřizly nobility called it home for 100 years, from 1544 to 1644. During this era Renaissance reconstruction took place.
In 1644 the Petřvalds came and would own Buchlov until 1800. The Petřvald family made some Baroque changes in the 17th and 18th centuries. From 1800 the property was transferred to the counts of Berchtold, who would become major players in the castle’s history. The two half-brothers Leopold I Berchtold and Dr. Bedřich Berchtold had been world travelers, and many of the souvenirs they had collected on their trips were displayed in the castle. Dr. Bedřich had another claim to fame: he had been the co-founder of the collection at Prague’s National Museum. The older brother, Leopold I, was known for setting up schools and a poor house, among other achievements.
The family kept it until 1945, when the so-called Beneš decrees made it state property. The Beneš decrees stated that Germans, Nazi collaborators, traitors and others living in Czechoslovakia had to relinquish their Czechoslovak citizenship and property without compensation. The guide did not specify the reason why the Berchtolds had to give up the property, but I guessed it was because they had had German citizenship. Much reconstruction took place during the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century.
An intriguing legend is associated with the linden tree situated in front of the Dancing Hall, home to 18th century furnishings and Baroque portraits. According to the legend, some 400 years ago the tree was planted with its roots upward and its crown in the ground. It was said to be proof that a man sentenced to death for poaching was really innocent.
After passing through a gate hailing from the middle of the 16th century, our group arrived at the third courtyard. In the black kitchen I marveled at the oldest architectural feature in the castle – the Late Romanesque arch dating back to 1340s. The pots and utensils were copies of those used in the Middle Ages.
The armory offered an intriguing perspective on the battle-ridden history of the castle. Some weapons dated back to 1421, when the Hussites tried to conquer Buchlov, and others hailed from the 17th century Thirty Years’ War when the Swedes did much damage. Buchlov survived that war only because a ransom was paid. There were weapons from all over the world – from Asia as well as Central and South America, for example.
On the first floor we entered the Baroque library, which was home to about 10,000 volumes. Books that promoted Protestantism were removed after the Thirty Years’ War Battle of White Mountain in Prague during 1620. The Bohemian Protestant rebels were defeated by the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, who was devoutly Catholic, and the German Catholic League.
In the early 17th century the majority of the Bohemian nobility had been Protestant. When die-hard Catholic Ferdinand II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, it meant serious trouble for the Protestants. After the Battle of White Mountain, the Czechs would find themselves under Habsburg rule, and German would become the prominent language of the lands. The books in Czech mostly came from the Czech National Revival, an 18th and 19th century movement that strived to promote the Czech language, Czech culture and national identity.
I saw an intriguing architectural detail of an Early Gothic portal where the chapel from the 1370s was situated, now an empty space with spectacular views of the countryside. Then we came to the Buchlov Madonna, whose expression seemed to be asking, “Is this kid mine?” The statue dated from the first half of the 14th century. Another Madonna appeared to be trying to keep her son from wriggling away. There was also a rendition called “The Last Supper of the Lord,” a double-sided painting, part of a winged altar, which is composed of a central panel and two side panels. It dated from the end of the 15th century. It always astonished me that artifacts from the 14th or 15th century could survive to the present day. It fascinated me how they were tangible connections with the distant past.
The Knights’ Hall featured cross vaulting and reticulated vaulting. These architectural elements were decorated with the coats-of-arms of significant Moravian clans. Then we came to a room decorated with an ornate tiled stove that flaunted cherubs and floral motifs in brown, green, yellow and white. A complete knight’s armor from the 16th century weighed 30 kilograms. I could not imagine wearing it. I do not think I would even be able to stand up in that armor. I was intrigued by the calendar from the Middle Ages. I learned that February of 1693 had had 31 days.
The next section was the castle museum. It had been opened by Count Zikmund I Berchtold in 1856. Zikmund I had revolted against the Habsburgs in Hungary during 1848 and 1849. The rebellion was unsuccessful, and he got the death penalty. The court reduced his sentence to house arrest for life, so he organized the family museum. I saw plumed helmets, weapons of American Indians and the skins of a zebra, polar bear, grizzly bear and alligators. There were also human skeletons and a collection of shoes ranging from sandals to boots. In a jar was an embryo of a baby pig with eight legs and two tails. It made me think back to the revolting human embryos that Peter the Great had collected, now gathered in Saint Petersburg. My stomach had violently churned when I had seen them during that freezing April morning several years ago.
Then the guide explained that after the Battle of Slavkov in 1805 the nearby Buchlovice Chateau had been used as a hospital where military personnel and civilians had received free medical attention. Leopold I Berchtold caught typhus there and died at the relatively young age of 50. On the wall was a picture of a woman in the third stage of syphilis. She had large empty sockets for eyes, and her nose was black. Her teeth made her look sinister and dangerous. It was absolutely horrifying. She looked like a monster, not like a human being. I thought of people with cancer and how the horrible disease could make people look so emaciated. I felt lucky that I did not have cancer and that my father had survived two bouts with the terrifying illness. I knew I would keep the image of that woman, stripped of human dignity, in my mind for a long time.
The next room was totally different. It featured an Egyptian mummy in a coffin made of cedar wood. It was about 2,300 years old. The illusive wall painting dated from the first half of the 19th century and made me feel as though I was inside an Egyptian tomb.
Last, we climbed the tower and saw astounding views of the south and east Moravian countryside. I could also see the church where the family tomb of the Petřvalds and Berchtolds was located, but it was not nearby, and we did not go there. We descended many steps and came to the locked door. For a moment I was disoriented and lost sight of the guide. Then he appeared and opened the door with one of his many large keys. We all filed out, into the sunshine. When I turned around to thank the guide, he had disappeared.
My driver came for me, and soon I was back in Buchlovice, standing at the bus sign on the highway as car after car sped by me. The bus did arrive on time, though, and before long I was back in Brno.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor living in Prague, Czech Republic.