Manětín Chateau Diary

 

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I had wanted to visit the Baroque chateau Manětín, about 45 minutes from Plzeň by car in Western Bohemia, for many years, but for some reason I had been under the impression that it was closed to the public. Only while I was at Chyše Chateau did I find out that Manětín had been open to the public since 1997. Today I would finally see it with my own eyes, I told myself as I went by tram and Metro to the Zličín station at the end of the “B” line, my trip there taking me 45 minutes. Then I hopped onto the Student Agency bus to Plzeň, a ride that only took an hour. From Plzeň I went by car to Manětín. Buses ran very irregularly to Manětín, and it was not possible to go by public transportation during the times I needed to get there and get back.

When I arrived at Manětín, I was bewitched by the Baroque statues and a sculptural grouping of the Holy Trinity in front of the main square. A road led down to the Baroque chateau itself, situated behind the statues. At the small white church next to the chateau a group of six or seven musicians were playing funereal music on trumpets. People dressed in black walked solemnly into the church. I had read that the church was Baroque and that its main altar had been painted by Czech master Petr Brandl.

ImageIt was almost 10 am, and my tour began at the top of the hour. I had a few minutes to pop into the park. The Baroque and English park looked elegant and well-kept, very different than it must have looked between 1945 and the 1990s, when it was in a decrepit state. It had been restored in the 1990s to appear like it had during 1790.

Then it was time for the tour. The knowledgeable young man acquainted me with the history of the chateau that had been first mentioned in 1169. The chateau that had begun as a medieval fortress had been transformed into Renaissance style before 1600. After a devastating fire in 1712, it was reconstructed with a Baroque appearance thanks to the then owner, Marie Gabriela Lažanská.

The chateau had been confiscated several times.  Volf Krajíř z Krajku owned the place from 1544 to 1547, when it was confiscated because he had rebelled against Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I.  Following The Battle of White Mountain in 1620, which pitted the Protestant nobles against the Emperor and Catholic Habsburgs, the defeated nobles lost their property. The chateau was confiscated for the second time in 1622.

ImageThat was when Ester Mitrovská from Nemyšle, born Lažanská from Bukova, bought the chateau. When she died, the chateau came into the hands of her brother, Ferdinand Rudolf Lažanský. The Lažanský family would keep the chateau for more than 300 years. Times of cultural prosperity followed, especially when Václav Josef Lažanský and Marie Gabriela Lažanská manned the chateau.

After World War II, though, the chateau was confiscated for the third time, becoming the property of the state because two Lažanská women in charge of the chateau had married two Austrian brothers.  Thus, the chateau had been in part the property of the Austrian family. Due to the Beneš decrees that took away property from Germans and even expelled them from the country, Terezie Lažanská, one of the women who had married an Austrian, was deported to Austria. Some rooms were open to the public as early as 1959, and the chateau became a national monument in 2002.

ImageUpon entering the hallway, I was enthralled by the sculptures dotting the staircase as well as the ceiling fresco.  The four statues with putti on the staircase represented the four elements. One cherub was holding a fish, representing water. Another was depicted with a cannonball and decked in an old-fashioned fireman’s helmet that looked more like military headgear. This was Fire. Earth was portrayed by a cherub with a melon and snake, and Air was depicted by a putti flying on a bird. I could almost imagine the cherub whizzing through the cold, damp chateau air on the big bird.

A portrayal of what the chateau was supposed to look like in the 18th century took centerstage in the ceiling fresco. Allegories of architecture and painting also adorned the fresco as did the coat-of-arms of Marie Gabriela Lažanská, perhaps the most influential of the Lažanský owners. (The guide mentioned that Marie Gabriela had been addicted to card playing. In fact, more than once she had put the chateau at stake when she had made her bet.)

In the Reception Room there were four paintings depicting soldiers during the Thirty Years’ War, which lasted from 1618 to 1648 and was set off by religious disputes. One held a spear, another a sword. The oldest piece of furniture in the chateau stood in this room as well; it was a 1640 bureau, dating from the Thirty Years’ War as well. I paid particular attention to the elegant, brown fireplace and gold with black clock and vases, all in lavish Rococo style. I liked the gold with black décor even though I suppose it was ostentatious.

The portrait of the young woman depicted in black was Terezie, who was killed in a hunting accident when she was 21 years old. (Note that this is a different Terezie than the one who fled to Germany.) But perhaps it hadn’t been an accident at all, the guide conceded. Some say she was killed on purpose so she could not get married. Supposedly, her lover hated the man she was engaged to.

In a corner of the next room, a window was painted onto the wall. The guide explained that there had been originally a window there, but it had been filled when new rooms had been added in the 19th century. An 18th century chaise lounge, a Venetian mirror made in Morano and a group of white, Viennese porcelain also adorned the room. On the ceiling there was a small fresco of part of a boat, dating from the first part of the 18th century; most of the fresco had been destroyed, though. I tried to imagine what it would have looked like if the entire fresco had been visible. A port with boats and nobility strolling along an embankment on a crisp afternoon? I wondered.

ImageI loved the way the porcelain cups were displayed on small black shelves set at different levels on the wall. In a round portrait Marie Gabriela, clad in a silver dress, appeared strong-willed and somber with a no-nonsense expression. A light wood, Baroque desk hailed from the 18th century while the tapestry covering one wall showed a scene from the Old Testament with Moses. The two dressers, both green with floral patterns, were intriguing, for their irregular, curving shapes and color. A view of Venice was painted on each one. I recognized the Doges Palace on one and thought back to the thrilling time I toured the palace during my first day in that magical city.

The next hallway was decorated with green pictures of castles, chateaus and various places – the pictures had been cut out of magazines. I recognized the chateau of Blatná, as two people rowed a small boat around it. Another scene showed woods in Karlovy Vary. Still others showed the castles Orlík, Točník and Žebrák. Then we came to a room with a hunting theme. Nineteenth century guns, petrified hawks and a woodpecker made up the décor. The Baroque desk, closet and dresser looked out of place.

In the room where the nobility had gathered, the paintings on the wall showed boats at sea and hailed from 18th century Holland. A black Baroque table and bureau from the same era also adorned the room. The glass chandelier caught my attention.  It was exquisite. Made in Venice’s Morano, the chandelier was decorated with glass flower buds that looked almost as if they were icicles taking on decorative shapes. There was also an Italian mirror with a simple, gold frame.

ImageDecorating another hallway were more green pictures of castles, chateaus and places. I saw Plzeň, a major city now, as a 19th century village and Roundice nad Labem before its chateau had become dilapidated. A room with a horses’ theme was decked with small paintings of horses, a clock with four, white columns, a desk with cards and a German newspaper dated 1859.

Then we came to a room with unique paintings on the walls. They did not depict the nobility, but instead the servants and clerks who had worked at the chateau. A rarity in chateaus, this collection included 13 portraits from 1716 to 1717 hanging in several rooms and in a hallway. They were painted by Václav Dvořák, whose life remains mostly a mystery. All the people portrayed in this room were dressed in black. Two carriage drivers next to a carriage wore tall, fluffy hats with big feathers. In one portrait a solemn-looking priest stared back at me. He had written a chronicle of Manětín in three languages, the guide said.

Objects in the next room proved to be rarities as well. The space boasted a complete collection of porcelain, plates with tea and coffee service sporting white with brown decoration. It was not often that a chateau had a complete collection; usually there were only pieces of a collection featured.  In the former Billiards’ Room, there was no table, but there were more paintings of servants and clerks. Three men donning large, white wigs gazed at me. There were also portraits of a doctor, the chateau’s caretaker and the priest who was also a historian. An elderly woman held keys in one hand; she was responsible for the keys to the chateau and to the food storage rooms. The yellow tile stove with squiggly brown vertical lines appealed to me. A small device that functioned as a bell was there, too. If you spoke into the hole, a person in the dining room could hear you.

ImageThe biggest room was now used for weddings and concerts. The 1730 ceiling fresco boasted its original, vibrant colors and portrayed three figures showing God’s qualities in the center. I spotted the one in red with the heart as Love. The female clad in blue represented Strength. The third portrayed a girl pouring water from a jug onto a coat-of-arms. This was symbolic of Luck or Fortune. In the corners of the ceiling, the painted figures represented the four seasons.  Fall showed a naked girl with grapes and Bacchus, the god of wine. Winter had two symbols. One was Death as an angel, but there was also a woman in a black mask to depict winter as a time of social gatherings and parties. Summer was represented by a girl donning a big, straw hat and wielding a sickle as well as a woman holding a parasol. One girl pouring water while another held a parrot stood for spring.

Mythological events were also portrayed on the ceiling. I spotted Poseidon and a falling Icarus. There were two portraits of the Lažanský family in this room as well. One showed Marie Gabriela and her daughter along with a black servant. In the portrait of her husband with their sons, the painter put himself in the work, holding a palette and brushes.

 Painted Baroque statues flanked the doorway that led to the magnificent library, which held 5,000 books, many with golden spines.  Most were in German and dealt with economy, but books by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller also graced the shelves. There were also books in English, Italian and French, for example. Only two books in Czech were in the collection, and both described how to make beer. Topics of other books included fishing, fruit growing, history and theatre. There was even a Turkish textbook. Above me was a fresco of Zeus and his daughter Pallas Athena, the goddess of war. The ceiling had been reconstructed in the 20th century due to a fire that had erupted because a tile stove had not been closed properly.

I found the remaining two portraits of servants in the hallway. One showed a cook and woman washing dishes in the chateau kitchen. Another showed a woman pouring water into a basin. Since there was no hot or cold water back then, the water had to be boiled in the kitchen, the guide explained. The woman pouring the water was decked in a traditional folk costume.

ImageAfter the intriguing tour I went outside to take photos of some of the 30 Baroque statues that sprinkled the town and hailed from 1680 to 1780. I still could not enter the Baroque church next door. A simple, wooden coffin was placed in a black van, followed by a procession of people dressed in black, along with two decked in purple and white robes. I did not see the Church of Saint Barbara, either, though I later read it was Baroque in style and featured eight wooden statues of saints.

I went to the chateau restaurant and had my favorite excursion lunch of chicken with peaches and Cola light. Then I got back in the taxi and headed for the smallest town in Europe called Rabštejn nad Střelou, situated only nine kilometers away.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.

 

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Rájec nad svitavou Diary

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The train trip from Brno to Rájec nad svitavou took about an hour. I chatted with four young women from Vancouver during the short ride. They got off at Blansko, heading toward the Punkva caves in the Moravian Karst region. I recalled waiting for that same bus during my exciting journey to the most beautiful caves in the region. Other astounding caves were accessible by bus from Blansko, too. By now I had seen all 14 Czech caves accessible to the public. Today I was enthusiastic about visiting Rájec again. Ten years ago I had been bewitched by the chateau’s interior. I expected to be enamored again.

I found my way from the train station in Jestřebí to the chateau in Rájec without getting lost, for a change. One glance at the rectangular courtyard decorated with blossoming orange flowers, and I recalled my thrilling visit all those years ago. I saw flashbacks of the big library, Hall of Ancestors and the Big Dining Room. Then I gazed straight ahead at the three-winged, elegant building, its entranceway sporting a balcony passage. The chateau was crowned by a high mansard roof. A dormer window and a clock tour made up other significant architectural features. To my left was the chateau’s chapel.

I was psyched by the time I entered the box office. I introduced myself and told the dark-haired, frowning woman manning the computer that I was a journalist writing about the chateau, that I had set up a 90-minute tour by email and that I had sent a confirmation a few days earlier.

Her belligerent response caught me totally off-guard. “I don’t care if you are a journalist. You have to wait until there are 10 people interested in a tour before you can see our chateau,” she screamed at me. There were circles under her eyes. I wondered if she had gotten enough sleep the previous night. This woman clearly had anger issues she was not dealing with. An older, smiling woman stood next to her, and a teenage boy in a scruffy T-shirt and jeans organized some pamphlets behind the belligerent brunette, ignoring her outburst as if it was nothing new to him.

“But I reserved a tour. I contacted you a month ago and sent you a confirmation on Saturday. I will be happy to wait up to an hour, but it is customary for journalists to get private tours if there is no one else interested in a tour at that time.” I spoke calmly, careful not to make the woman angrier.

“I never got any email from you.” Her tone was aggressive, vehement even, as her eyes bore into me. The boy kept his back to her, and the round-faced woman with short, grey hair kept smiling.

“If you did not get it, why did you answer it?”

“I did not get any email from you. I certainly did not get any confirmation,” She said, skirting the question.

“I sent you the confirmation on Saturday. It is Wednesday. Surely, you have received the email by now.”

“I will go look at our computer and call the caretaker, even though she is on vacation. Give me your email address.” I wrote it down for her, and she left the building. I gathered it was not possible to look it up on the computer in the box office.

Her calm, forever smiling colleague said that of course everything would be all right, and I would get a private tour if no one else was interested in seeing the chateau now. I found the email confirmation on my mobile phone and showed it to her. The teenager, who I assumed was a summer tour guide, answered the phone next to the cash register and announced, “She already found your email. Everything is okay.”

If everything was okay, why did it take the woman another 10 minutes to return?

ImageFinally, she stood behind the computer, which once again became the imposing physical barrier between us. The smiling woman left the room as the chateau leader in her forties announced, “I did not get any email from you. I called the caretaker, and she knows nothing about you.” I showed her the email confirmation that her colleague had seen. I noticed that her hair looked unwashed and uncombed. The young man was placing brochures in a drawer.

“I never got any email from you.”

“Then why did you answer the email I sent you a month ago and write me that you were looking forward to my visit?” I persisted.

“I do not even know what publication you are writing for.”

“You just read the name and link two seconds ago.”

The calm woman had returned and dared to speak up, stating that the guide should give me a tour, but the belligerent woman interrupted her, yelling, “We have decided you can spend 60 minutes in our chateau, but no more. You cannot spend all day with our tour guide.”

 “I requested the 90-minute tour, and I do not want to spend all day with your tour guide. I just want the 90-minute tour.”

“Sixty minutes. That’s all.” She said, her gaze threatening me to challenge her.

I set off with the young man, disappointed that I would only get a 60-minute tour. We were both silent until he opened the main entrance. “What do you want to take pictures of?”

“I never said I wanted to take any pictures. I said I wanted the 90-minute tour.”

“Oh, then that’s different. I have to go back and ask them if that is possible.”

About to give up and return to Brno, I waited another five minutes for the scruffy teenager. “If you want the 90-minute tour, you need to wait 10 more minutes.”

Why not? I had already waited 30 minutes. What did 10 more minutes matter? I felt as if I was a character in an absurd play.

At the designated time, a small group gathered around the entrance, and the guide introduced himself. There were seven people in our group. The woman had told me that there had to be at least 10 visitors for a tour to take place.

I knew I should be angry. No one had spoken to me so rudely for a long time. No administrator of any monument I had visited during my 21 years here had treated me so badly. I inferred that the people running Rájec did not make an effort to encourage tourists to visit their chateau and did not care what impression they made on journalists. The entire experience was so Kafkaesque, so typical for this country.

I recalled other Kafkaesque experiences, such as when I had to go to customs in Prague to pay tax on a package my mother had sent me. She had written that the cat litter box liners cost 11 USD, and the customs officer was convinced it read 1,100.00 USD. While I was able to persuade her it was not that expensive, she still made me pay tax. Each time it became my turn at the five customs counters, the officers on duty went on coffee breaks.

I tried to concentrate on the tour. First, the guide gave some insight into the history of the chateau. The community of Rájec was established during or before the 12th century while a stronghold was situated at the settlement probably from the 13th century, though it had not been on the site of the current chateau. The seat of the Lords of Rájec was destroyed twice – during the 14th century and again during the Hussite wars of the 15th century. 

The most significant clan to own the chateau was the Salm-Reifferscheidts, who obtained it in 1763. They would remain the owners until 1945. This chateau was built in 1769. The member of the family who would most influence the chateau was Count Hugo František Salm-Reifferscheidt, who became the owner in 1811 and was responsible for furnishing the interior. He expanded the library and the chateau gallery. However, dark days came to Rájec when the Nazis took control of the chateau during World War II – the reason why the state confiscated the building in 1945 under the so-called Beneš’ decrees. Now the chateau mostly flaunts the style of 19th century Romanticism.

ImageThe tour began. The Neo-Renaissance Dining Room featured a carved cassette ceiling supported by two Corinthian columns. I marveled at the colorful handsewn tablecloth sporting 126 coats-of-arms. The colorfully upholstered chairs also lent a certain charm and energy to the room. A closet from 1667 featured rich woodcarving.

After passing by impressive Oriental vases – there were a lot of them at this chateau -, we came to the Corner Room, which displayed the prince’s crown trimmed in white fur above a blood red color. It was given to the Salms on the coronation day of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II during October of 1790. The guide showed us the bronze door knocker featuring the god Neptune. This was the only furnishing in the chateau that hailed from its Renaissance days.

The Engravings Cabinet enthralled me. The wooden wall panels were decorated with engravings inspired by works of prominent artists, such as Peter Paul Rubens. Each wall showed off engravings with a different theme. I was especially drawn to the works dealing with life in the Vatican, though the ones focusing on French rulers also grabbed my attention. I was especially impressed with the 18th century Holland Baroque furniture with floral and plant motifs. I recalled admiring this style in the Český Šternberk Castle not far from Prague.

The stunning Hall of Ancestors contained 40 portraits of former owners and their families. I knew that each portrait told the story of a life, of dreams that did or did not come true, of love, of troubles and of pain. As I gazed around me at the portraits, I wondered what each person’s story was. I also noted the blue and white Meissen porcelain decorating the room. A jewel chest and two tables glittered gold.

The octagonal Ceremonial Hall featured Classicist illusive wall painting that covered the 18th century Rococo frescoes with mythological themes. I wondered what exactly the frescoes had looked like. A chandelier gave the illusion that it was gold.

The Rájec library, covering three rooms, contained 60,000 volumes, making it the largest chateau library in Moravia. Its possessions included medieval manuscripts pertaining to black magic. It dated back to the 1770s and was adorned in Empire style. What really caught my attention were the three standing skeletons in the second room. Two skeletons had one arm on each of their skulls. I wondered if they were scratching their skulls because they were puzzled by the box office brunette’s behavior.  The other skeleton was headless.

ImageNext we ascended to the first floor. The blue and white Meissen porcelain in the Dining Room was exquisite, and in the Big Hall I admired the detailed woodcarving on the gramophone from World War I. In a bedroom there were two intriguing maps – one showed Central Europe in the 1830s while the other was an administrative map of the Czech lands, delineating the different districts, from 1720. I was disappointed we did not get more time to peruse the maps.

In the study three African shields entranced me. On a desk from the 1830s there was a model of a hand that could be used as a paperweight. The Oriental Antechamber included a 17th century jewel chest with Chinese landscapes painted in detail on the drawers. In another bedroom I saw a tapestry decorated with 120 coats-of-arms and some seascapes with raging waves.

Last we visited the chapel, in another building. The Empire style painting of the Virgin Mary was the only intriguing piece inside. Otherwise, it was barren and depressing.

I took a short stroll through the English park, established in 1767, with ponds and a waterfall. I was still puzzled by the anger the woman had unleashed at me as I walked on a narrow path, thick with trees. I pondered on how all my life I had always taken the path less traveled by, the path to adventure, the path that would lead me to get to know myself better as a person. Growing up I had played baseball and ice hockey with boys, for instance.

At a university in America shortly after the Velvet Revolution, I had become enamored by Czechoslovak theatre and the life and works of playwright-turned-president Václav Havel. After graduation I moved to Czechoslovakia, with a modest job teaching English, not knowing the language and not knowing anyone in the country. So much had changed since then. I was not even the same person anymore.

Then I wondered if my memory of this chateau would forever be associated with the rude remarks of that nasty woman at the box office and the Kafkaesque absurdity associated with it. Most probably it would, unfortunately. I remembered reading one travel blogger’s post about how unfriendly and cold Czechs had been to her in Prague. She ended the article by stating she would never return to the Czech Republic. I hoped that someday I would return here, have a positive experience and be full of the enthusiasm I had felt when I first visited this chateau some years ago.

I noticed dark clouds hovering in the sky and glanced at my watch. It was time to head back to the train station.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.

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Lysice Chateau Diary

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When I first set my eyes on Lysice’s chateau and garden 10 years ago, I knew that someday I would be back. The two exceptional tours and extensive park enhanced by colonnades had captivated me.  I was certain that this chateau was one of the most underrated sights in the Czech Republic.

It had been a short bus ride from Brno, and the bus stop was near the chateau. As usual, I had written to administrators at the chateau, informing them that I would be arriving at 9 am on this Wednesday to take the tours and write about them. The woman at the box office greeted me warmly, and soon I was starting the first tour, guided by an enthusiastic, young man with a contagious smile.

ImageThe guide filled me in on the history of the chateau and its owners. Its history may go back as far as the 13th century, and there was a fortress at Lysice in the 15th century. It became an early Renaissance water fortress in the 16th century. At the end of that century, the country house there had been transformed into a castle with arcades in the courtyard and a terraced park.  Baroque changes had occurred in the 18th century. At this time a grotto had been created in the park along with allegorical figures representing the months of the year.

ImageWhen Antonia Piattis married into the Dubský  family, the Dubský dynasty at Lysice had begun. They owned the chateau from 1807 to 1945, when it was taken away due to the so-called Beneš decrees because the family had had Austrian citizenship during World War II. Count Emanuel Dubský was a significant member of the clan and made a name for himself in industry. His wife Matylda of Žerotín established the first children’s hospital in Moravia. It still exists today. Tragedy marked their lives as three of their sons were killed in military action, and another was murdered. Yet another died at the age of 45. Only Ervin, the second eldest, remained. He had distinguished himself as a Vice Admiral of the Austrian Navy. Ervin had also traveled all over the world. Many exhibits at the chateau came from his travels.

ImageThe interior of the chateau underwent much reconstruction in the 19th century under Emanuel’s guidance. In the 1830s the elegant colonnade was built in the park. Disaster struck at the beginning of the 20th century when, in 1902, the chateau theatre burned down. It was never rebuilt. After the chateau was confiscated by the state in 1945, much reconstruction took place. It became a national monument in 2001.

Now it was time for the tour to begin. First, we came to the Baroness Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach’s library, named after the prominent Austrian author who was related to the Dubský clan. She had been known for her psychological novels and was considered one of the most significant German-language writers of the late 19th century. The space established during the 1860s now housed many manuscripts of plays that had been performed at the chateau’s former theatre. There were impressive busts of artists on one wall. Those representing William Shakespeare, Alighieri Dante and Friedrich Schiller caught my attention immediately. The richly carved wood paneling of the veined bookshelves hid the 7,000 volumes in this Pseudo-Renaissance style room. I looked up at the ceiling, dizzy with delight. The carved cassette type ceiling was stunning, inlaid with silver and gold.

ImageThe Grand Dining Room flaunted Second Rococo style, and I was drawn to the wooden, gilt chandelier that could hold 30 candles. The guide instructed me to look down, too. The parquet floor was deeply inlaid with the intarsia woodworking technique that involved fitting together wood pieces to give a mosaic appearance and an illusion of depth. The Small Dining Room was Classicist in style with two exquisite, white marble tables.  Bohemian glassware and plates made of aragonite from Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) and Belgian marble stood out in the room. The Meissen candlestick that could hold four candles was an exquisite pink and white color combination.

ImageThe Grand Representative Parlor featured illusive stucco painting on the ceiling. Japanese and Chinese colorful vases in the space were souvenirs from Ervin Dubský’s travels. The Neo-Gothic chapel hailed from the 1870s, but the Baroque altar featuring the Virgin Mary and Jesus was from the beginning of the 17th century. A richly carved rendition of the Holy Trinity caught my attention. The portable Baroque organ weighed 100 kilograms.

The highlight of the Ladies’ Parlor for me was the large Meissen porcelain clock, featuring flowers that represented nature and dating from the second half of the 19th century. It represented human life and the transience of time. Gazing at the clock reminded me of how I had changed as a person since I had moved to Prague in 1991, when I had been much more extroverted and had taken more chances. Sometimes I wanted to go back to that time, when everything in what was then Czechoslovakia was new and fresh. Other times I was glad I was wiser and no longer naive.

ImageI was also I was captivated by the copy of the Black Madonna of Saint Tome above the Baroque bed. Ervin Dubský had installed a ship telephone that one blew into. The Girls’ Room was dominated by stunning lithographic prints of Vienna and its surroundings. It soothed me to see pictures of Vienna. I felt comfortable there and always enjoyed my visits to the Austrian capital that reminded me a bit of Prague. I was intrigued by a doll of a nun on a shelf. I had read that dolls dressed as nuns were often devotional and given to young girls to try to convince them to take the veil when they grew up.

ImageThe highlight of the first tour was the Oriental Salon with its treasures from Turkey, Japan and China and other places. Four small Turkish tables were inlaid with pearls. I also saw Islamic prayer rugs plus Chinese and Japanese vases. Part of the display emphasized Japan. Imari porcelain was bright blue and orange, a pleasing color combination, I mused. A partition decorated with motifs of flowers and plants was made of silk on silk.

The Samurai armor intrigued me. I knew that armor plates were attached to cloth or leather and that it was considered to be lightweight. It looked like the armor had hand-woven, colorful cloth padding protecting its front and sides. The bright colors made it vibrant. A Chinese chandelier was exquisite, showing off painted scenes of everyday life in a home. What really grabbed my attention were the four black-and-white paintings by an unknown Chinese artist. The figures had such grotesque features and reminded me of commedia dell’arte characters.

We stepped onto the first floor outer hallway, from which I had a stunning view of the courtyard with its arcades below. I noticed the coats-of-arms decorating the walls facing the courtyard. We walked by frescoes celebrating hunting themes. Next on the itinerary was the armory, featuring a collection of weapons dating from the late Gothic era to World War I.  One sword was made of sawfish bone.  It was interesting that the execution swords had blunt points. There were also swords that had been used by the Swedish Guard in the Vatican. The oldest sword in the collection hailed from the 14th century and had been found near Lysice.

ImageThe Ervin Dubský Secession style library, the biggest space in the chateau, was impressive. Even though it was larger than the other library, it contained fewer books with 5,000 volumes, mostly concerned with military and nautical themes. I hovered over the miniature portraits in frames. Sailors had taken them on their journeys to remind them of the loved ones they had left behind. I was sure that behind each portrait there was an exciting story, perhaps for a short story or even a novel. Inspired by his navy days, Dubský had the cassette style ceiling built to look like a ceiling on a boat. Ervin had been not only a traveler but a painter as well. In the room Dubský had depicted himself on canvas as a wise man from the Renaissance period.

The second tour, covering the second floor, was next. The Hall Staircase had once been the theatre, the former home of the largest costume collection in Central Europe. I wondered what that theatre had looked like before it had burned down. On one wall I spotted an Oriental raincoat made of bamboo, something I had never seen before.

ImageThen we entered the private apartments.  I noted the low ceiling, which gave the spaces a more intimate feel. The Biedermeier furniture, which was the rage from 1815 to 1848, was exquisite. The style emphasized simplicity and elegance with minimal decoration. In the Count’s Parlor I was intrigued by a quill shaped as a green and white snail. The 19th century games in a display case included a wooden card shuffler. There was also a drawing of Pernštejn Castle, one of my all-time favorites, which I had visited last year.

I was drawn to the painting of Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican in the Gentlemen’s Social Parlor. Women had been banned from this room. I recalled spending my fortieth birthday touring the Vatican and Saint Peter’s. I remembered walking to Saint Peter’s on that wintry morning around 7:30 am, watching the sun come up. The sunrise had looked so romantic, yet I had been alone.

ImageThe Small Shooting Gallery contained 13 hand-painted shooting targets, the oldest ones hailing from the 18th century. One target had a butterfly in the middle, others were decorated with crowns and still others showed off landscape scenes. The Reception Room was another space featuring Biedermeier decor. I loved the paintings showing Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife, fondly called Sisi, at the celebration of their Golden Wedding anniversary. 

ImageIn the next room the guide drew my attention to a June 1906 issue of Simplicissimus magazine and showed me an advertisement for an operation to make ears smaller. I was surprised that such surgery had existed so early in the 20th century. The Tapestry Salon featured tan furniture with a pink and green floral motif. The room got its name from the tapestries used to upholster the furnishings that had even been used in the shooting of Miloš Forman’s legendary film, Amadeus. The furnishing had been transported to Barrandov studios in Prague for the filming.

The last room was the Big Shooting Gallery, where there were 40 targets along with figures. Most of the inscriptions were German or Latin rhymes or proverbs. Only one target had Czech writing on it. I noticed that on a figural target of a scantily dressed woman there was a bullet hole through her left nipple.

I had been totally enthralled during these tours. The guide said that many foreigners have visited the chateau, but very few of them were Americans. I thought it was such a shame that Americans did not take the time to come to such an amazing chateau. I would recommend that Americans stay a week or five days in Brno and take day trips to various castles, chateaus and caves. I was also glad that my tour guide had been so enthusiastic, interesting, energetic and proud of the chateau.

ImageThen it was time to see the terraced park that I had fallen in love with during my last visit. It had been drizzling earlier, but it was no longer raining. Since there were no guided tours at this time, I walked around by myself, dazzled by the flowers, colonnades and bridge that offered excellent views of the park and gardens. On the lower terrace I saw a romantic so-called kitchen garden, based on geometric patterns and hailing from the 19th century. I loved the sunflowers and pink roses, though in late August some were wilting. A pond was decorated with allegorical sculptures of America, Asia and Europe.

In the middle terrace I was bewitched by the colonnade, raised flower beds and terracotta vases that dotted the terrain. I took note of the paint-chipped columns making up the colonnade. If I were a millionaire, I would donate money to restoring castles and chateaus in the Czech Republic.

ImageThe romantic upper terrace hailed from the 19th century. Decorating a wall niche was a Madonna statue. I also discovered a grotto that hailed from the 18th century. I spotted sculptures representing the months of a year. I did not go into the castle hothouses and orangery this time, but I remembered how stunning they had been. This park was tied with the castle parks in Kroměříž and Opočno as my favorite, I decided.

I left the chateau hesitantly. I wished I had more time to spend in the park, but the bus back to Brno was to leave soon. I knew that someday I would be back again.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.