I took a bus from Prague’s Smíchov train station to Mníšek pod Brdy, where the chateau was close to the main square. The ride lasted only a half hour. It was my second time here. During my first visit in 2004, only one tour had been available. Then, in 2011, the chateau began offering two routes. I was eager to see what awaited me on the new tour.
Because I had already been here, I knew the basic history. The castle was first mentioned in 1348. Jan Vratislav from Mitrovic became its owner during 1487, and Mníšek pod Brdy stayed in his family for 168 years. During the Mitrovic era the castle was turned into a Renaissance chateau. However, the history of Mníšek pod Brdy Chateau was not all rosy. The chateau was almost destroyed in 1639 during the Thirty Years’ War.
Luckily, when Servác Engel from Engelsfluss purchased it in 1655, he transformed the ruins into a Baroque masterpiece. Several other clans claimed ownership before the Kasts took over. Because Baron Kast had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, the chateau was put in the hands of the state during 1945. Once utilized as an archive for the Ministry of the Interior, Mníšek pod Brdy Chateau was taken over by the Ministry of Culture in 2000. It was reconstructed in 2001 and opened to the public a few years later.
Even the entranceway did not disappoint. The knight’s armor on the wall hailed from the Thirty Years’ War. A Baroque closet, designed with intarsia, was charming. Portraits of family members who owned the castle during the 19th century also adorned the space.
The moment I set my eyes on the knights’ armor, I thought of my first visit here, with Pavel, whose job involved restoring artifacts in castles and chateaus in central Bohemia. He had proudly pointed out that he had repaired that suit of armor, and he had been the one who told me about this chateau in the first place. We had met at Frýdlant v Čechách Castle and Chateau a month earlier. He had explained that he had a girlfriend, but she did not really like visiting castles. So he often traveled alone. I was alone as well. I appreciated his friendship. Then he had showed me around Kutná Hora, his hometown. The next time we saw each other, we came here. We were captivated by the chateau and then had lunch in a pizzeria in Prague.
The Winter Dining Room was first on the itinerary. I admired a closet that hailed from the second half of the 17th century. The impressive ceiling painting also dated from that period. There were three sculptures in the chapel. An angel in a dramatic pose stood out on black, swirling columns. I was drawn to the landscape paintings on a wall in the Dining Room. I loved landscape paintings and how they depicted nature’s moods. Some works portrayed the land as idyllic while others emphasized that nature could be intimidating and even cruel. I also admired a jewel chest with intarsia. On one wall colorful plates with Oriental motifs dated from the 18th century. The chantry in front of the chapel was the work of legendary Czech artist Karel Škréta.
The Big Dining Room was only used for special occasions. Four huge paintings represented earth, water, air and fire, according to the enthusiastic guide with a contagious smile and strong voice. In the allegory of the earth, the man dominating the picture wielded an axe, looking quite intimidating. The white tiled stove shaped as a pyramid exuded the Classicist style. The bottom part of a closet was false, hiding a stairway. Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI made an appearance, too, in a painting depicting a moment in front of the Czech court, shortly after his coronation during 1722. Candlesticks sported designs of swirls and green leaves. I loved the details in objects found in castles and chateaus. The decoration on the candlesticks was just one example of those details that made the object unique and intriguing.
The Servery, where food was prepared, included a closet made in Baroque style at the beginning of the 20th century. Flowers and birds dominated wall paintings. The delicate porcelain on the table was created in Vienna during the first half of the 19th century. There was also an 18th century depiction of a big, white rooster with a colored face and brilliant feathers. The striking colors of the feathers caught my attention. This certainly was a piece that stood out. I had never seen a rooster portrayed this way. The wall flaunted a floral pattern on a tan background with the delicate flowers appearing in pink and blue hues.
The Great Salon was next. The furniture hailed from the first half of the 19th century. A picture above the door showed Mníšek and its surroundings with a church. The symbols of hunting were very pronounced: A bear, sword, horn and rifle, among others, adorned the landscape. Across the space, on the wall above the entrance to the clock tower, more scenery of Mníšek was portrayed, this time accompanied by medical symbols such as a mask, an arrow and birds. Above the door leading to the following room, I could see what Mníšek Chateau looked like at the beginning of the 20th century.
In the clock tower to one side of the space, there were four grandfather clocks. The one with red, black and brown decoration attracted me the most. The red complemented the black and brown colors and gave the clock a certain vibrancy. In the next room a jewel chest from 18th century Japan was captivating, designed with pictures of the countryside and birds. I marveled at the exquisitely painted drawers.
The stucco ceiling of the Smoking Salon had original plastic ornamentation from the 18th century. A pelican was one dominant figure. I do not think I had ever seen a pelican on a stucco ceiling of a chateau. I loved the surprises this chateau offered, first the rooster with the brilliant feathers and now a depiction of a pelican. I loved tours that held surprises for me. The dark crimson color of the walls was also appealing. A card table with indentations for money hailed from the first half of the 18th century. A still functional bright red gramophone dated from 1890.
Then we entered the Ladies’ Salon. The paintings on the wall were framed in Secession style. The décor on the walls showed putti as well as people relaxing in the countryside alongside red and green flowers. Meissen porcelain went back to the 18th century. A toiletry table intrigued me. If you turned up the central part, there was a mirror. Set down, it became a desk.
The library, with 2,000 books, hailed from the Kast family’s era in the chateau. The volumes were in English, French and German. The decoration on the ceiling captivated me. One section showed Venus’ engagement and the other portrayed Venus and Mars, accompanied by fluttering angels, with their son Eros. I loved how mythology was often represented in castle and chateau decorations. Greek and Roman mythology had intrigued me ever since I took a course on that subject at university. All the different attributes for the gods, the captivating stories and their morals – they fascinated me. A unique bell was also in the room. It was shaped like a round, pudgy woman.
We had a 20-minute break before the second tour. I wondered if Pavel had already been on the second route. He probably had, I mused. I thought back to our conversation in the pizzeria in Prague after we had seen this chateau. He told me that he had broken up with his girlfriend, and he had time to visit me every weekend in Prague.
I had valued our friendship, but I did not want to date him. He was much younger than I was and a bit naïve about the world. I stressed that I was only looking for a friend, not a boyfriend, and he was suddenly quiet as he picked at his lasagna.
How many times had a man I was interested in told me that he just wanted to be friends? Or how many times did a man I like express no interest in me at all? It happened to me all the time, and it was painful. But I could not lie to Pavel because I cared about his feelings.
After some minutes, he smiled – a forced smile – and began talking about a chateau near Brno where he planned to go some time the following month. He did not invite me to go with him. I was so lost in thought that I did not hear the guide announce the beginning of the second tour. I was one of the last people to enter the first room.
The second route featured the private apartments of Theodorich Kast and his wife. Framed embroideries complemented small, family photos. I wondered if his family life had been complicated as were my relationships. The family photos had an idyllic quality about them. It looked like Kast had a happy family, free of worries or tension.
The guide showed us one intriguing invention. A doll with a wide dress could be placed over a kettle to keep the water hot. This was another pleasant surprise for me. I had never seen such an object before. Yes, Mníšek pod Brdy was full of surprises. I noticed that the woman dressed in blue in one portrait closely resembled legendary 19th century Czech writer Božena Němcová with her fragile, round face. Like Němcová she wore a sad but resilient expression and had sorrowful eyes and straight, black hair. I had read Němcová’s The Grandmother several times and had seen the play by Brno’s Divadlo Husa na provázku and film versions as well.
The following room belonged to the husband Theodorich. A jumble of black-and-white photos decorated the walls. The old telephone had no numbers, only a receiver. A heart with a black outline was carved into the headboard of the wooden bed. This was another example of a detail that captured my attention. The heart decoration made the bed unique and exquisite.
The next room showed off photos and paintings of horses. I had never been enthusiastic about horses. I was afraid of them. I would never ride a horse because I would be too scared that I would fall off or be thrown off. I thought of a friend whose teenage daughter had been thrown from a horse and had died, only 15 years old. Yet I knew many people were enthusiastic about the sport and did not get injured. I focused on the tour again. Two small cases resembled hat boxes, but they weren’t. Instead, they were meant to be used on picnics. One hid a jug that could be kept warm while the other was really a chemical toilet.
The Children’s Room was decorated in white. Three dolls from the beginning of the 20th century sat on a children’s sofa. Two glass parrots that look like owls served as electric lamps above the desk. In a doll house I was drawn to the colorful decorative lamp shades. A model of a school could be seen in one corner of the room. Inside, I noticed wooden benches, a podium, a blackboard and pictures of animals on a miniature wall. I recalled how simple life had seemed when I had been a grade school student and how complex it had become when I had reached adulthood. Sometimes I longed for those simple days when the world was black-and-white, everything was good or evil. There were no gray areas to confuse or upset me.
The next room was meant for a mother and a small baby. I noticed another tea doll. Exquisite clothes for an infant were displayed on the crib. An 18th century Venetian mirror also made an appearance. I admired the simple gold design on the headboard of the bed as well as the gold decoration on a closet.
The Ladies’ Bathroom included not only a flushing toilet, bidet and narrow tub, but also a selection of women’s and children’s shoes. The purple women’s footwear stood out. I remembered my outing to the extraordinary shoe museum in Zlín in Moravia a few years back. I had never realized that footwear could be so fascinating. Hat boxes took up space on the highest shelf.
We left the rooms after passing by graphics in the hallway. Once again, I was charmed by the chateau with its modest, though extremely appealing, décor. Mníšek pod Brdy had a romantic flair. No object in the chateau really stood out from the others. All the artifacts complemented each other to give a breathtaking impression. I loved the small details on the artifacts. Mníšek pod Brdy Chateau was a place I would love to visit once a year, I decided.
It was a sunny, summer day. The weather was perfect. I was happy. I was even happy to be here alone. Part of me missed Pavel’s presence, but I realized that it had to have played out the way it did. At some point during the second tour, I had stopped wishing Pavel and I could have gone on being just friends and had accepted what was. It was fate. Suddenly, for a short time, life seemed simple. As simple as the life represented by the dollhouse and model of the school in the Children’s Room. If only life could always be this simple! I headed to the nearby main square, where I ate my favorite chicken with peaches and cheese before catching a bus back to Prague. Yes, I was happy.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.