Miraculously, I made the train connection in Čáslav with four minutes to spare and not long afterwards found my way from the train station in the village of Žleby to the chateau. To say Žleby is majestic and romantic is a vast understatement. The chateau looks as if it has emerged from a fairy tale. I inspected the fountain in front of the chateau. It dates from 1860 and shows a member of the Auersberg family, who owned the chateau for over 200 years, grappling with a bison. As I bought my ticket, I was a bit disappointed, though. A 90-minute tour was available, but a third tour did not open until May. So, I would miss the chateau theatre and lower floor library, unfortunately.
While I waited for the tour to begin on that freezing April morning, I familiarized myself with the history of the chateau as described in a booklet I had purchased. Žleby was first mentioned in writing during 1289. The Lichtemburks owned Žleby until 1356, when Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV gave it to Markvart from Vartenberk. During the Hussite wars, which pitted the radical Hussites and Taborites against the moderate Hussites, Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, the Pope and others, the castle was razed, sharing the same fate as many other places in Bohemia during that bloody time period. Then Jiří from Dubé and Vizmburk restored the castle in Late Gothic style. It was changed into a four-winged Renaissance chateau with an arcaded courtyard at the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century under another owner. During the first part of the 18th century, Baroque renovations began.
In 1746, while the Schönfelds owned the chateau, their daughter Kateřina married Jan Adam from Auersperg. When Kateřina died, the Auersberg line took over ownership of the chateau, and the family would retain Žleby for 200 years. Baroque restorations continued, and the Auersbergs also designed Rococo interiors. Some years later, owner Vincenc Karel Auersberg and his wife Princess Vilemína Colloredo-Mansfield would become responsible for many changes that gave the place a romantic makeover as they were influenced by English architecture from the first half of the 19th century.
Thus, from the 1840s Žleby took on a more romantic air. The Auersberg couple wanted to give the chateau more of a Gothic character and added a prison and bastions. They fitted the interior with leather wallpaper, wood furnishings, weapons and historic furniture, all of which can be seen in the chateau today. In 1849 Vincenc bought land for the future park. In 1942 the chateau changed hands, and after the war it was nationalized.
The chapel was first on the list. Upon entering the tiny, quaint two-floor chapel, the narrow, high and oblong stained glass windows behind the altar of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary caught my attention. The windows bewitched me with their dynamic, bright colors. I then studied the main altar and was drawn to the bright red of an angel’s cloak. The chapel was the youngest part of the chateau, in 19th century Neo-Gothic style, the guide – probably a university student – explained. It dated from 1853 to 1858. Still, there were a few items that went back farther than the 19th century. For instance, a side altar hailed from the 15th century. The triptych showed the Virgin Mary with a sculptural grouping of a Pieta in the middle of two statues. I noticed the trickles of blood on Jesus’ crossed hands. The oldest item in the entire chateau was here – a 15th century richly engraved baptismal font. Statues of saints were positioned high on the side walls of the chapel. I spotted the flapping drapery of Saint Elizabeth.
Then we left the interior and walked through the courtyard with its breathtaking Renaissance arcades to another entrance. The inside hallway was dominated by a 16th century knight in armor on the model of a horse cloaked in red. The guide said that the knight weighed 40 kilograms, the horse 20 kilograms. On the walls were very wide moose antlers. I also noticed slits for eyes in some helmets, the shoulder boards and the neck guards of armor, a two-handed sword and a rapier.
As we made our way up the Renaissance stairway, the young man leading our group pointed out that the chateau had the second most weapons after Konopiště, a popular chateau located about an hour from Prague. Indeed, on the walls leading up to the next floor I saw many weapons. Ancient rifles covered one wall, and in another place I spotted a white ivory horn with detailed engravings, once used by Polish King Jan III. Sobiesky, who liberated Vienna from a Turkish threat in 1683.
We entered the Knights’ Hall, which was decorated with 14 knights’ armors from the 16th century, hunting trophies, pistols and swords – one with red and green gem decoration in the hilt caught my eye – as well as 188 painted glass pictures covering one wall. These glass paintings hailed from 1503 to 1749 and were decorated with allegorical figures, biblical scenes and coats-of-arms. I spotted the coat-of-arms of the Auersberg family above the doors. Three paintings from the beginning of the 16th century showed tournament and banqueting scenes. The ceiling featured stucco designs. An intarsia-designed credence was a delight, too.
We went through the Emperor’s Room with its white swirls and flowers on brown wallpaper and dark brown table with white swirl decoration on the top. Then we moved on to the bedroom, where a brilliantly colored triptych from the 15th century entranced me. The gold and red colors complemented each other. A huge Baroque bed featured columns and a canopy. On the white tiled stove I saw scenes in nature. I noticed the sea, cliffs and a castle in the landscapes. A black and gold jewel chest was riveting as was an intarsia brown table. The golden wallpaper made an everlasting impression on me. Made with leather, it showed flowers with greenery and golden grapes. Little did I know that even more fascinating leather wallpaper awaited me in other rooms.
The Prince’s Study was next on the agenda. The velvet leather wallpaper, colored dark blue and decorated with flowers, also heated the room. An intarsia closet was exquisite. In the small Travel Room, historic clothes covered the small bed and also hung on a rack. I noticed the detailed embroidery on the shoulder of one shirt. Silverware was packed in a box that fit into a portable chest that could be lugged around during journeys. The bed itself was enthralling – it could be packed up, appearing as a closet with intarsia design. A travel toilet in a box resembled a crate.
The Rococo Salon was dominated by a tapestry featuring fountains, trees, apples, peacocks and well-dressed women taking a stroll through the idyllic scenery. Again, the wallpaper amazed me. This time it was decorated with flowers and birds. The leather wallpaper in this chateau brought to mind that fascinating leather wallpaper at Šternberk Castle in central Moravia.
Soon we came to the Small Men’s Study with its daiquiri tiled stove that boasted coat-of-arms – just one of many tiled stoves that would bewitch me with its beauty. I noticed a postcard of an Austro-Hungarian soldier on the desk that featured intarsia design. The leather wallpaper above the desk consisted of royal blue and brown swirls. I also peered at ancient books with delicate, brown and gold bindings. The Green Changing Room included a sink, bucket and towel rack that closed up into a table so one could take it on journeys.
From there we entered the representative rooms. In the hallway the chairs had carved, wooden figures in their backs, and the bench also had a finely carved back displaying coats-of-arms. In the Thirty Years’ War Room the walls were covered in Late Gothic carved wood paneling with swirls cut into the wood. Elegant, dark chairs complemented ivory rifles and swords as well as helmets. There were two secret doors in the room – one led to a dry toilet and the other to the downstairs library.
The upper floor library consisted of 6,000 books and 6,000 engravings. The big books had beautiful spines. Smaller books were set on shelves high on the walls. The Gallery enthralled as well. Engravings made up one display case. Paintings on the walls included those with animal scenes and a delicate still life of fruit. The leather wallpaper came from 72 deer. The walls were decorated with wood paneling featuring the geometric motif of the Auersberg “A”. There was also a Renaissance dagger that caught my attention. The coronation sword of Emperor Ferdinand I was compelling, too. A Baroque ebony bureau was made of ivory and tortoiseshell.
The Red Room, though, had the most enticing wallpaper, with its gold and red ornamentation. A painting on the ceiling showed fluttering cherubs. The Late Renaissance tiled stove from the 16th and 17th century featured Old Testament scenes in the upper part and New Testament scenes in the lower section. The green and brown colors made it attractive as well. The door with intarsia dated from the Renaissance, from 1573 to be exact, and used to be part of the Jihlava town hall. Above me was a beautiful, coffered ceiling.
The Tyrol Room boasted a Baroque tiled stove from the Tyrol region that was just as captivating as the one in the Red Room. The brown stove showed scenes from mythology in white relief. The swirling, white columns on the stove were complemented by the swirling, pine wood columns in the wood paneling hailing from the Tyrol. A wooden Rococo sleigh for children looked precious. A Delft fajan vase was exquisite, and on the walls were impressive fajan plates.
The stunning Blue Salon was decorated with the biggest tiled stove in the chateau, a blue, white and mustard yellow piece hailing from Bavaria and featuring grape harvest scenes from that region. A rare black desk was complemented by gemstones. A Spanish-Moorish bureau from the 17th century graced the room as well. A Baroque ebony cabinet hailed from 17th century Germany. The walls in the lower half of the space were decorated with light wood panels while the upper part included blue and gold leather wallpaper. The pool table hailed from St. Petersburg, Russia. I looked up at the wood, coffered ceiling. It was astounding.
The Knights’ Dining Room did not disappoint, either. The biggest space in the chateau included an intarsia closet and rare hand-painted goblets with colorful figures. Swords and hunting trophies covered the walls. Another bureau in the room was decorated with an ivory engraving of a man on a horse, spearing a boar.
Blue-and-white porcelain dominated the space where meals were prepared, and rare rose porcelain from Slavkov in Moravia was exhibited in the kitchen itself with its huge, astounding brickwork. Blue-and-white English porcelain was displayed on a table. A unique, 19th century, cylindrical grill stood out. The kitchen smelled like a bakery. Chateau employees in historic dress were baking bread. A boiling house and smoke house were attached, too. The stove dated from the 19th century.
After the 10 of us on the tour sampled some homemade Easter bread, the eloquent and enthusiastic guide said goodbye. I took a few more photos of the romantic, fairy tale façade with elegant gate before heading to the park. Then I walked down the street to a pub for a fattening, yet tasty, lunch of beef and dumplings. From the pub window I gazed at the chateau. I felt as if I was a trance. I was so drawn to the chateau. I knew that soon I would have to wake up from my trance and get on the train to Čáslav, where I would switch to a Prague-bound train. Looking out the window at the chateau, I decided that I had had a great day. I just wished that more tourists would visit the chateau that was located only 18 kilometers from Kutná Hora, a major attraction.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague, Czech Republic.