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.
The 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.
When 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
I 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Then 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.
The 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.
In 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.
Then 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.
The 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.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.