Grottaglie Diary

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During the arsviva travel agency’s tour of Puglia, we stopped in the Ceramics Quarter of Grottaglie, a town famous for its superb ceramics made in artisans’ studios. What impressed me the most was the Museum of Ceramics in the 13th century Castello Episcopio. I loved discovering small, captivating museums during my trips. This museum only had three rooms, but they were three rooms with dynamic designs from the eighth century to the contemporary age. Creativity abounded.

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Some of the 400 objects were archeological while others were made of majolica. There were traditional ceramics on display alongside abstract constructions. Nativity scenes also held a prominent position in the museum’s content. Through these objects, I got a sense how ceramics played a role in life, how ceramics depicted the age in which they were made. I particularly liked one abstract work that reminded me of a sculpture by Alexander Calder, whose art was well-represented in the National Gallery of Art of Washington, D.C., near my hometown.

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That’s not all there was to see in Grottaglie, but we did not have time to see more of the town. The main church, Chiesa Matrice, was built in 1379. Princes and dukes once called the Palazzo Cicinelli home. Another palace, the Palazzo Urselli, sported a Renaissance façade and an impressive 15th century gate. The Monastery of San Francesco di Paolo was said to be a Baroque gem.

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

Bečov nad Teplou Castle and Chateau Diary

View of the chateau from the front gate

View of the chateau from the front gate


Part I

I waited and waited. The tram going to the Dejvická Metro station was late. I kept glancing at my watch. If it did not come soon, I would miss the 6:40 a.m. Saturday bus to Karlovy Vary. I had been looking forward to seeing the castle and chateau in Bečov nad Teplou again for some time. I had planned this trip so carefully. Where was the tram? There were always trams coming in the direction of the metro station. Why did I have to wait so long? Had there been an accident? Was there a problem with the tracks? My heart was racing. Where was the tram?

Some nerve-racking minutes later, the tram did come, and I made it the Student Agency bus just as the doors were about to close. During the two-hour trip to the famous Czech spa town, I fretted about whether or not I would make the train to Bečov nad Teplou. I only had 15 minutes to change, which should be enough if the bus was on time. Still, after the incident with the tram, I was worried….

It turned out that the bus dropped passengers off at the Karlovy Vary train and bus station at 8:30 a.m. rather than its 8:45 designated time. I had an entire half hour before the train departed. First, I waited in line at the only window for train tickets. There was a line of potential passengers, but no one appeared to be manning the window. After waiting an excruciatingly long 15 minutes, someone did come.
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The train was already on platform three. When I saw the Viamont train, I was surprised. It was new, clean and comfortable, not like those old red trains with uncomfortable seats that I had often taken to small towns for so many years. The stops were even announced and displayed electronically on a sign above the seats. I did not have to worry about getting off at the wrong stop – not this time anyway.

The train ride was scenic and relaxing. We traveled through woods and also past a golf course with ponds and a stream. I could see the Bečov nad Teplou chateau and castle on a high rock from the train stop in the valley. From there it was about a 15-minute walk through the small town with some narrow, steep side streets and a church on a hill. Passing a half-timbered house that seemed to belong in another century, I came to the picturesque square with its pensions, restaurants offering outdoor seating, antique store and souvenir shop.
On my way I noticed many Baroque or Classicist houses, which were in need of repair.

A view of the castle and chateau during the walk there from the train station

A view of the castle and chateau during the walk there from the train station


From the square I gazed at the pink Late Baroque chateau and headed directly to the box office. It was only 9:45 a.m. The chateau and castle opened at 10:00 a.m. Yet there was already a line of at least 10 people ahead of me, mostly seniors.

In the end there were about 20 people ready for the 10:00 a.m. tour, so they were split into two groups. One group started with the historic interiors, and the other group – my group – began with the Romanesque reliquary of St. Maurus, where fragments from the bodies of three saints – St. Maurus, St. John the Baptist, and St. Timothy– were kept. I had never been on this tour because the reliquary had opened to the public in May of 2002, and my first visit took place during March of that same year.

The small bridge featured two impressive statues.

The small bridge featured two impressive statues.


First, I crossed a small bridge decorated with the statues of John Nepomuk and the Jesuitical clergyman Jan de Gotto, both of which dated from 1753. I reached the front gate, framed in a 16th century Renaissance portal. Before going upstairs to the rooms dealing with the holy relic, we stood in a hallway decorated with portraits of soldiers riding horses off to battle. I noticed the plume on a soldier’s helmet and the castle in the lower left-hand side background of that portrait. The castle seemed so small and powerless against the mammoth soldier seated on a horse that seemed almost to bolt out of the canvas. I also was impressed by the elaborate saddle that the artist had rendered.

On the floor above the hallway, a display case in the first room dealing with the unique treasure featured a small Christ figure, a marquetry cross that appeared to be inlaid with gems and scapulars of the Beaufort-Spontin family. It also contained pictures of relics found in the richly decorated tomb box, such as small textile bags, bits of paper and small stones.

The chateau from the square

The chateau from the square


A map covered another wall. The guide pointed to Belgium and explained that the reliquary hailed from a Benedictine abbey in that state, from a city called Florennes. The reliquary dated from 1225 to 1230 and contained the remains of the three saints mentioned above; yet more recent DNA tests proved that there were the remains of five people in the chest, two of whom are men from the third century AD, according to the guide. He also explained that these sorts of shrines were important in society because people believed that they were the source of health-related miracles. He added that Saint Maurus was a sort of mystery man for scholars; it is only known that he was a saint and martyr in the first or third century AD, nothing more.
A look at the chateau

A look at the chateau


After surviving the French Revolution, the unique object was kept at St. Gengulf’s Church in Florennes. When Alfréd de Beaufort bought the reliquary in 1838 from a Belgian church council for 2,500 francs, it was in a decrepit state. He brought it to Bečov and had it repaired from 1847 to 1851. When his grandson had to flee in 1945 after the second world war because he had cooperated with the Nazis, he hid the reliquary in a backfill of a chapel in the castle here.

In the next room there was a reproduction of a partial mural from the castle chapel, which, along with the rest of the castle, was not open to the public. (Visitors were, however, allowed inside the chateau’s chapel.) The guide elaborated on the fascinating history of the treasure, which sounded like something out of a detective story.

The reliquary of Saint Maurus from www.svatymaur.cz

The reliquary of Saint Maurus from http://www.svatymaur.cz


The reliquary had remained hidden for 40 years. In 1984 an American named Danny Douglas wanted to buy an unspecified treasure hidden in the Czech lands during World War II and was willing to pay 250,000 USD for it. This was a financial offer that the Czechoslovak government could not afford to pass up. But the Czechs had to figure out which artifact he intended to purchase. During further talks with Douglas, the Czechs were informed that the object was oblong, the size of a conference table, hollow, made of metal and buried about 100 kilometers from Nuremberg, among other facts. Finally, they narrowed it down to the reliquary, which had to be buried somewhere in this chateau and castle.

A black-and-white video dated November 5, 1985 showed criminologists unearthing the chest in the chapel. I could not help but notice how dilapidated the façade of the building was, how different it looked from today. Of course, the Czechs would not allow the treasure to leave the country. In the end, the contract with Douglas was not signed.

The next room dealt with the restoration process. In display cases I saw tools and utensils used to fix the reliquary, such as chasers, a metal chiseller and engravers. The guide also mentioned that the statues on the exterior of the reliquary were made of silver tin and took 11 years to restore. Imagine that! Eleven years! When the criminologists found the treasure, it was damaged. The metal pieces were corroded, and parts of the figures and reliefs were no longer attached to the relic. Due to issues relating to property rights, restoration did not begin until mid-1993.

The guide also explained why the treasure with its fragile, small gilded silver statues took such a long time to restore. Restorers had to make miniature, detailed parts for the statues, hands and arms for example. The restoration of the 12 apostles and reliefs on the roof proved the most challenging. The young man conducting the tour mentioned that the restorers had to drill about 3,000 holes for nails to keep the object from getting damaged. Don’t overlook the fact that the chest included filigree with pieces of glass, precious stones and gems.

A closeup of the reliquary of Saint Maurus

A closeup of the reliquary of Saint Maurus from Wikimedia.org


Another display case featured the plaster casts for the circular reliefs on the chest, showing biblical scenes. In one Salome carried the head of St. John the Baptist. Another featured the dance of Salome. Plaster casts of saints were also displayed, including Saint Paul, Saint Jude Thaddeus and Saint Bartholomew. A large picture on one wall showed that the treasure was decorated with birds and mythological figures and inlaid with gems. No one knows how the gems were placed on the chest because not even a laser is capable of doing that kind of precise craftsmanship, and they certainly did not have microscopes back in Romanesque times.

In the fourth room I looked at the original oak box that had been found inside the chest. The restorers had to create a new wooden core for the object. The display cases along the walls showed various reliquaries. In one case I saw two gem-studded rings. I also gazed at a number of golden Baroque monstrances, so elaborate that they almost made me dizzy.

Another closeup of the reliquary of Saint Maurus from www.svatymaur.cz

Another closeup of the reliquary of Saint Maurus from http://www.svatymaur.cz


Then we finally came to the dark room containing the unique treasure. We only had five to seven minutes in the space. I noticed how Saint Maurus’ drapery seemed to flutter as he gripped a sword in one hand on the front of the chest. Christ was giving a blessing on the opposite side. On the roof were 12 large reliefs relating the life of Saint Maurus and of Saint John the Baptist. Small columns with floral decoration also decorated the chest. Apostles were shown with staffs; one gripped a cross. Saint John the Evangelist held a goblet. I noticed the precise curls in his hair as well as his flowing drapery. The detail in the saints’ facial expressions was also stunning.

Golden swirls and gems decorated the treasure as well. I noticed the precision of the inlaid gems and the precision with which the small hands of the apostles had to be made. My head was swimming. There was so much detailed decoration to take in at one time. I wanted to study the chest in small parts, truly appreciating the precision of the figures and reliefs. I knew I was staring at one of the most beautiful artifacts I would see in my life.

After a short time, we were ushered out of the dark room, and the first tour ended. In 10 minutes, it would be time for the tour of the interior rooms. I was enthralled by the first tour and excited about the second.

Another shot of the chateau

Another shot of the chateau


Part II

The tour of the historic interior rooms began, as did the last tour, in the hallway with the large wall paintings of soldiers on bolting horses. Then we went to a room displaying a model of the complex as it had looked in the 19th century, under the Beaufort family’s tenure. I admired the terraced gardens with pools and fountains. The guide pointed out the castle’s Chapel of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the tower, which was the oldest part of that building. (Only the chateau, not the castle, was open to the public.)

Donjon, taking its name from Early Gothic castles shaped like towers in southern France, had been a tower of four floors with toilets on every floor. The family had lived in this section of the castle. The Pluhovský Palace, still flaunting a Classicist style, was comprised of three houses. A watch-tower also had stood on the property, though it is only six meters high now, as it had been shortened and transformed into an observation terrace during the 19th century. The vibrant, pink Late Baroque chateau, built in the 18th century by the Kounic owners, was one dominating feature of the model.

The lovely and charming chateau

The lovely and charming chateau


The guide familiarized us with the history of the castle and chateau as I glanced occasionally at the portraits, maps and black-and-white landscapes on the walls. In the 14th century the village’s status was raised to that of a town. The castle remained the property of the Hrabišic of Osek clan until the beginning of the 15th century. From the 13th to the 16th centuries, the place prospered thanks to its gold, silver and tin mining. In fact, during the 16th century, Czech tin from the Bečov region was praised as the best in Europe. The manufacturing of pewter added to the town’s wealth.

But times changed as the Hussite army destroyed the castle during the Hussite wars that took place from 1419 to 1434 and pitted several factions of the armies of martyr Jan Hus’ followers against each other. The Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, The Pope and others joined forces with the moderate Hussites. The castle was also in decline after the Thirty Years’ War, and the town never again reached its former level of prosperity. During the 18th century the Kounic family bought the castle, adding the chateau and bridge.
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Then in 1813 Fridrich Beaufort-Spontini took over as the owner, which was a turning point in the buildings’ history. The Beauforts made many improvements to the castle and chateau. It was Alfréd Beaufort who created a Baroque style park with six levels of terraces. He repaired the castle and chateau, set up the botanical gardens, constructed an open-air theatre and brought the reliquary of Saint Maurus to Bečov. Because his grandson Heinrich collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, the property was confiscated. Objects in the castle were plundered. Townspeople stole some artifacts while other pieces of art and crafts were sold to antique stores.

After that, various owners were in charge of the castle and chateau. The castle became a school for workers while Pluhovský Palace was supposed to, but never did, become a museum. Reconstruction of the property took place from 1969 to 1996, when visitors were finally allowed inside the Late Baroque chateau. Back then a West Bohemian Gothic Art exhibition was housed in the chateau. Now the original furniture has been put back in the building, though the spaces are organized differently than they had been in the 19th century, when the chateau’s rooms had served a representative function, while the family had been living in the castle.

Another view of the chateau

Another view of the chateau


On the ground floor we entered the library, where each bookcase was decorated with four columns and had a triangular slanting roof culminating in a point. Reliefs of a female reading adorned the bookcases, which shelved 3,000 books for representative purposes. The chateau had another 14,000 books stored elsewhere.
From there, we went up the staircase with the oak balustrade that originated in the 19th century to a landing decked with hunting trophies, rifles and swords intertwined as well as a tattered Austro-Hungarian army cap. I was impressed with the vibrancy of the pink hue in one room that sported a pink couch, pink chairs and a pink tablecloth under a glass table. The gold décor on the white tea cups also caught my attention. I could see the tower from the window.

But the most significant part of this room was its graphics’ collection, hailing from the 17th century Netherlands, including one by Sir Anthony van Dyck. There were also four portraits of properties – three chateaus and one castle – owned by the Beaufort family when they had Bečov. Graphics of mythological figures and floral still lifes were on display, too. I also noticed how the female figures in several portraits sat so stiffly and how delicately flowers were handpainted on one vase.

A look at part of the park

A look at part of the park


The Red Parlor was next. A blood red couch and four armchairs gave the space its name. One painting from the 17th century Netherlands sported a music theme. Another painting showed nobles in an Italian park. My eyes darted to the brown and white marble columns in the foreground. There were two mistakes in the painting, the guide explained. Firstly, the trees depicted could not grow there. Secondly, through the summerhouse window it would not be possible to see a forest but part of the port and sea rendered next to it. We also saw a toilet with a keyhole. Only the person who had the key could use it. Lower-class nobles would have cleaned it. I also glanced at a portrait of an elegant lady with ruddy cheeks.

The Tapestry Parlor featured two huge tapestries pictorially narrating the story of David and Goliath. They were made in Brussels from 1620 to 1630. The Baroque table was intriguing as well. Its legs seemed to be decorated in the shape of some strange sea animal. It turned out that the animal depicted was a dolphin, but the artist had never seen a real one so he had used his imagination. On a dresser stood a Baroque clock complete with a realistic-looking giraffe.

Another tapestry hung from the wall in the next room as did several Spanish paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. In one a woman was crying over the death of the Spanish king and another woman was protecting a child.

A view of the park

A view of the park


Last but certainly not least we made our way into the chateau’s chapel. At the entrance stood two gold statues of what appeared to be griffins holding candlesticks. Saint Peter Chapel was built in Neo-Romanesque style around 1870. The gilded altar was simple with a painting of Madonna and the Christ Child. Mary held one hand down with her palm up as she looked straight at the viewer, challenging his or her gaze. Both the Madonna and Jesus sported golden halos. On the walls were 14 Stations of the Cross painted in white enamel on copper plates. I noticed how Christ was lugging a heavy, plain cross in one depiction. In another he was sprawled over Mary’s lap, dead, a halo over his head. A white tiled stove stood behind a secret door. What attracted me most, though, was the ceiling. The blue with gold décor on the ceiling made the room dynamic, made it feel almost alive, imbuing it with a distinctive power.

The guide let us into the terraced garden, Baroque in style. From the edge of the garden I got an excellent view of the surroundings, with homes in the valley and a forest beyond. I thought to myself that these last two hours had been well-spent.

The bench where I spent time relaxing after the tours

The bench where I spent time relaxing after the tours


I made my way to an outdoor table at a pension’s restaurant in the picturesque square not far from the museum of toys, motorcycles and bicycles. I sat in the sun, facing the cheery, pink chateau façade for almost two hours, eating chicken, writing postcards and reading. Then I climbed the hill to the town’s church. I tried all three doors but found it locked. I had read in a brochure that the interior was in Rococo style. It was a pity that I could not see the interior.

Walking past the half-timbered, derelict-looking house on Railroad Street, I retraced my steps to the train station, where I waited for the new, clean train back to Karlovy Vary. After another scenic train ride, I made the next bus from Karlovy Vary to Prague with minutes to spare and spent a relaxing two hours thinking back on my exciting day.

View from the park

View from the park

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

Herrenchiemsee Palace Diary

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I traveled to Herrenchiemsee on a full-day excursion offered by Gray Line in Munich, the city where I was staying. I had been so impressed with Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace that I longed to see more Bavarian castles. Herrenchiemsee’s location on an island made it sound remote and romantic.
First, we took two boats to the Island of Fraueninsel, also called Frauenchiemsee or Ladies’ Island, a tranquil environment of 38.8 acres with 300 inhabitants and no crowds. The church with the distinctive onion-shaped tower was constructed in the 11th or 12th century during Romanesque times. The archway around the door dated back to that era. Romanesque frescoes inside the church hailed from 1130. The interior also included Gothic and Baroque characteristics. During the 14th century the flat wooden ceilings of the three naves were changed into star-shaped and net rib vaulting. A new high altar was added during the Gothic period as well.

Even though fires broke out in the convent during 1491 and 1572, the damage was mostly confined to the exterior of the building. Two Renaissance altars were built in the 17th century. The Gothic altars were transformed into Baroque creations during the 17th century as well.

Church interior on Ladies' Island

Church interior on Ladies’ Island

The church has three naves, nine bays and 11 altars. There is a gallery with heavy Romanesque groin vaults. The round arched arcades are situated on rectangular pillars. The half columns have no capitals or plinths as well. The aisles of the main nave boast star-shaped rib vaults. The sacristy features Late Gothic vaulting and is two stories high. The altar stones are Late Gothic, but the altars’ upper structures are all Baroque in style. The high altar is High Baroque, created in 1694. In the middle of the 19th century the original altar was taken away, and a painting of The Risen Christ Appearing to His Mother replaced it. The upper part shows the crowning of the Virgin Mary. Saint Benedict, Saint John the Baptist and Saint George are a few of the holy characters who make appearances on the high altarpiece.

An altar in the church on Fraueninsel

An altar in the church on Fraueninsel

We did not go inside the monastery, but I knew it had been founded by Bavarian Duke Tassillo III in the 8th century, making it the oldest monastery in Bavaria. In 830 about 45 nuns lived in a convent on the premises. Perhaps the monastery’s most famous abbess was Irmingard, a great-granddaughter of Charlemagne, living in the 9th century. A reliquary of the abbess’ remains is located in the church. Her life is still celebrated on the island. The convent holds the distinction of being the oldest still existing convent in Germany. As of 2007, about 30 sisters resided in the monastery.

A picturesque cottage on Ladies' Island

A picturesque cottage on Ladies’ Island

We also saw the picturesque cottages on the island and the fishmongers’ stands. The island was so serene. It made me feel at peace with myself and with the world. I felt as though I could accept the joys plus the hardships life had thrown my way. I had a strong feeling of self-acceptance. If only I could take strolls around this island every day, my life would be so much more balanced and much less stressful!

A statue adorning a fountain in the garden

A statue adorning a fountain in the garden

Then we took another boat to the New Palace and Old Palace of Herrenchiemsee. Tourists, notably absent from the Ladies’ Island, had flocked to the New Palace. Created for “mad” King Ludwig II, Herrenchiemsee’s New Palace is a copy of Versailles, though it does differ in some respects.

A statue decorating a fountain in the garden

A statue decorating a fountain in the garden

King Ludwig II created his own fantasy world because he was dismayed that he could not be an absolute monarch. Ludwig II could not accept his royal post in a constitutional monarchy. He idolized French King Louis XIV, who led France for 72 years as the most powerful decision-maker in that realm. Soon after Ludwig became king, the government experienced a financial crisis, and Ludwig II withdrew from society, hiding in his own special, imaginative realm.

A fountain at Herrenchiemsee Palace

A fountain at Herrenchiemsee Palace

Very few of the interior furnishings of Versailles were original; they had been destroyed during the revolutions of 1789 and 1848. Therefore, Ludwig II could not make replicas of the authentic interiors of Versailles. He traveled to Versailles on two occasions. Construction began on his new rendition of Versailles in May of 1878. (King Ludwig II would die under mysterious circumstances on June 13, 1886.)
First, I visited the ornate garden. The fountains with stunning statuary impressed me as did the parterre with ponds. I saw marble statues of animals, of gods Diana and Venus and of Fata and Fortuna. Curiously enough, the garden was not an exact replica of that in Versailles. In fact, the statues of Fata and Fortuna had been greatly influenced by the gardens at the Spanish royal palace of San Ildefonso, Segovia.

The Latona Fountain in the garden of Herrenchiemsee

The Latona Fountain in the garden of Herrenchiemsee

The Latona Fountain is based on the fountain at Versailles, though. Latona, who had given birth to Apollo and Diana, stood proudly in the center of the fountain. Below her were the farmers she had turned into frogs plus tortoises and toads. After giving birth to Apollo and Diana, Latona wandered around the land. She came upon a pond and was very thirsty. However, the farmers would not let her drink from the pond. So, she changed them into frogs. I loved the sculptures of the frogs and tortoises. The figures of the animals seemed so playful rather than merely majestic. They brought a smile to my face.

The New Palace from the garden

The New Palace from the garden

Then came the tour of the New Palace. The guide explained that there is nothing Bavarian in the palace. Everything was inspired by Louis XIV or Louis XV. We walked up a grandiose staircase that was a replica of the one at Versailles, the version that was destroyed in France during 1752. Stucco marble and statues, paintings, a crystal chandelier and a marble fountain showing Diana with two nymphs all added to the grandeur. However, there was an intriguing 19th century element – a glass roof that somehow complemented the classical characteristics. I was surprised that the skylight did not look out-of-place or mar the elegance of the staircase.

The parterre in the garden

The parterre in the garden

In the Bodyguard Room I saw copies of halberds from Versailles. The ceiling fresco boasted a mythological theme, showing the triumph of Mars as the god peers at a burning city while gripping a white-and-red flag. Stucco marble paneling gave the room a sort of charm. Notably, no guards had ever been stationed in the Bodyguard Room.
In the First Antechamber the white and gold paneling was stunning. The ceiling painting glorified Bacchus and Ceres, who was the goddess of agriculture and fertility, among other things. I was fascinated by the Cornet Cabinet made with the Boullete technique, which was a French way of sculpting. The cabinet was inlaid with dark brown tortoiseshell and showed off gilt bronze figures. The professional and eloquent guide opened the cabinet. I expected to see some ornate jewels inside. However, it was empty because King Ludwig II had never said what he wanted to store there.

The parterre in the garden

A beautiful fountain in the garden

The Second Antechamber included large bureaus, and the chandeliers seemed to enlarge the size of the room in a mirroring effect. Overall, there were 50 chandeliers in the palace, made of Bohemian lead crystal and gilded bronze. A bronze statue showed King Louis XIV on horseback. I was enamored by the detail of the horse’s mane and the riding boots. The draperies astounded with green silk and golden embroidery.
The State Bed Chamber was not a copy of the one at Versailles. It was, in fact, much more lavish than its French counterpart. The space featured a gold leaf gilded bed. Red velvet carpet with designs of suns covered the steps leading up to the bed. How I would like to sleep there! The red velvet textiles were made utilizing needlework and gold embroidering and boasted scenes of Venus and Cupid. However, King Ludwig II never slept there. He intended it to be only a copy of Versailles, not his personal bedroom.

The lavish State  Bedroom at Herrenchiemsee

The lavish State Bedroom at Herrenchiemsee

A life-size portrait of Louis XIV graced the Council Chamber or Conference Hall, carved in gold and white paneling. The Bourbon lily design was displayed on the carpet and curtains. The largest clock in the palace was in the room, too. There was at least one clock in every room in the palace. This particular clock, made with inlaid rosewood designs and gild bronze fittings, had been constructed for King Louis XIV. The ceiling painting portrayed the gods at Olympus. I took note of the white horses rearing up as though they were frightened of something.

The Conference Room

The Conference Hall

The Hall of Mirrors was impressive as well. The Hall of Peace and the Hall of War were copies from Versailles. They were overwhelming. Some 2,200 candles were in the rooms. It had taken 30 to 40 servants to light them. The space also featured 35 chandeliers. The ceiling frescoes were stunning, copies of frescoes from Versailles showing battles with the French in the Spanish Netherlands, which resulted in a peace treaty during 1678. Both the Hall of Peace and Hall of War were decorated in stucco marble of various hues, and each hall boasted the busts of four Roman emperors. The halls there measured in total 98 meters in length. They were six meters longer than the ones in Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors

Next we saw the private apartments built in the style of King Louis XV, but not totally faithful to the rooms at Versailles. The Second Rococo style of the rooms had been influenced by 18th century French and German palaces. King Ludwig II actually lived there from September 7 to September 16, 1885.

The Bedroom was decorated in blue, King Ludwig’s favorite color. I recalled that the elegant bedroom in Neuschwanstein was also decorated in this color. The bed was two meters and 40 centimeters long with a width of one meter and 80 centimeters. (Ludwig II stood one meter and 93 centimeters tall.) Statues of Venus and Adonis also featured prominently in the room. The ceiling painting dealt with mythological figures. When candles had been lit in this space, the blue globe light resembled moonlight. What an atmosphere that must have been! The space featured two secret doors as well.

A bedroom in the palace

A bedroom in the palace

The King’s Study was dedicated to Louis XV. I was enamored by the 1884 roll-top desk that was a replica of a desk that Louis XV had owned. How I would love to compose pieces on that! It was the most valuable piece of furniture in the palace, inlaid with 16 kinds of wood. Two astronomical clocks decorated the room. A half-ton chandelier was on display, too. Green velvet curtains showed off gold embroidery.

The captivating Meissen chandelier

The captivating Meissen chandelier

The King’s Dining Room featured the most expensive chandelier and floral décor. The 18-armed Meissen chandelier was breathtaking. It showed off flower buds in various colors and tiny birds. The chandelier had been assembled in the room from small pieces. It was one of the most original chandeliers I had ever seen. Below it were white flowers in a vase made of porcelain.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

The table was called a “Tischlein-deck-dich.” It could be lowered when servants needed to set it and then could be hoisted back up, so Ludwig II could dine alone without servants interrupting him. It reminded me of a similar sort of table at Linderhof Palace. White and gold paneling added to the room’s opulence. A porcelain cabinet in the corner of the room also proved intriguing. This space had taken its look from a room in the Hotel de Soubise in Paris.
Overall, King Ludwig II had planned for there to be 70 rooms in the palace, but only 50 rooms had been completed. The king’s private entrance was unfinished, too. I could hardly imagine the grandeur that would have pervaded if King Ludwig II had been able to build all 70 spaces.

Hadrian's Villa near Rome

Hadrian’s Villa near Rome

During the tour I thought back to my visit to Hadrian’s Villa in what is today Tivoli near Rome. Emperor Hadrian’s immense villa had imitated places and locations around the empire that he had liked the most. For example, there was a copy of the Nile at its estuary, two Greek valleys, several Athenian sites. In total, there had been 30 buildings, including temples, palaces, a theatre and libraries. I thought about how the architecture reflected his inner turmoil and how Herrrenchiemsee, Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace reflected Ludwig II’s troubles.

Hadrian's Villa

Hadrian’s Villa

Next I visited the Ludwig II Museum in the palace. In this museum I saw some intriguing artifacts. I was impressed with the long, blood red with silver trim wedding robes made for King Ludwig II and Sophie, Duchess of Bavaria. I could imagine them clad in those lavish robes if they had actually got married. Ludwig’s death mask was on display, too.
In the portrait of Ludwig as Grand Master of the Order of Knights of Saint George, the “mad” king looked devilish, angry even. Perhaps he had just been reminded that he would never have absolute rule in his kingdom. In the picture he was clutching a scabbard with one white-gloved hand.

A colorful tiled stove at Neuschwanstein Castle

A colorful tiled stove at Neuschwanstein Castle

I also spotted a tiled stove in playful, cheery colors. The stove was decorated in a mixture of green with yellow as well as gray with red and had been originally placed at Neuschwanstein, where I had set eyes on a similar tiled stove. I saw other ornate Meissen vases and sculpture as well. The models of stage sets exhibited Ludwig II’s passion for Richard Wagner’s music. In fact, there were many artifacts from Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace. One room boasted the original furniture from a bedroom at Linderhof. The original boat from Ludwig II’s winter garden that had been situated on the roof of the Residence Palace in Munich was on display, too.

A young King Ludwig II of Bavaria

A young King Ludwig II of Bavaria

Lastly, I visited the Old Palace – the Augustinian Monastery that was founded around 1125. The current monastery buildings dated from the Baroque period, though. The complex consisted of four wings with an almost rectangular courtyard and rose garden. Perhaps it was best known as the setting for the drafting of Germany’s new constitution in 1948, paving the way for Germany’s identity as a republic. Now there is a history museum dealing with the constitution on the premises, but all the placards were in German, so I did not understand it.

The Baroque hall in the Old Palace

The Baroque hall in the Old Palace

My favorite room was covered in Baroque frescoes, an array of dynamic figures in bright colors. Another space was Ludwig II’s Study with intriguing furnishings. While it did not compare to the New Palace in grandeur, the Old Palace had a welcome sense of simplicity and a variety of objects and furnishings on display, not adhering to one, specific theme.
I took a break and sat outside on that beautiful, sunny day and drank some water. There was no doubt about it. Herrenchiemsee was one of my favorite palaces (or castles, as it is often called) though I liked the romantic, 19th century Gothic style of Neuschwanstein even better. Herrenchiemsee definitely ranked up there with Czech castles and chateaus. I was overwhelmed by the beauty and elegance of the palace. I was very satisfied with the tour guide that led our group through numerous rooms. The articulate guide had spoken perfect English and had described each room with contagious enthusiasm. In fact, all the guides that had showed me Bavarian castles and palaces had been excellent, giving vivid descriptions and pointing out intriguing details.

My favorite Bavarian castle - Neuschwanstein

My favorite Bavarian castle – Neuschwanstein

The garden was outstanding, too, with fountains and sculptural decoration that enthralled me. The parterre was stunning as well. I could sit on a bench in this garden all day and read a good book, often gazing around me at the remarkable, calming scenery. I loved those tortoises and frog figures on the Latona Fountain most of all.
The magic of Herrenchiemsee would stay in my mind forever. Versailles had been so crowded when I visited some years ago on one unusually warm February day. It had not been possible to soak up the atmosphere with a throng of tourists elbowing me for positions to take the best photo. During the tour of Herrenchiemsee, I was able to appreciate the elegance of the rooms without fighting my way through crowds as there was only a fixed number of people allowed on each tour.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

The mysterious circumstances of Ludwig II’s death came to my mind as we waited for a boat to take us back to the bus. On trial on June 8, 1886, the king was declared mentally ill and legally incompetent to rule. The statements for his defense were not taken into consideration. His death was mysterious. It seemed to jump out of a Sherlock Holmes whodunit. Five days after hearing the verdict, Ludwig took a walk with his doctor. He did not have any of his guards accompany them. What happened next? Nobody knows. Later both bodies were found in the water. The mystery may never be solved as the Wittelsbach clan will not allow Ludwig II’s corpse to be exhumed.

 

The New Palace from the Latona Fountain

The New Palace from the Latona Fountain

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

Harburg Castle Diary

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While I was staying in Munich, I went on a Gray Line tour of Harburg Castle, a medieval Bavarian gem and then on to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one of the most picturesque towns in the world. I had been very satisfied with the Gray Line Munich tour I had taken to Palace Linderhof and Neuschwanstein Castle some months earlier.
Harburg Castle is one of the best preserved, oldest and largest castles in south Germany. In addition to the rooms open to the public, it houses the archives of the Oettingen-Wallerstein branch of the family that took control of the property in 1731. Spanning the 11th to 18th centuries, an art collection is on the premises, too, but unfortunately is not open to the public. Harburg Castle dates from the 11th century. It was first mentioned in writing during 1150.
Standing on the grounds, you can feel its history. Death penalties were carried out here, and bloody battles were fought here. The Oettingen Princes owned the castle for some 700 years. The Prince’s Building even goes back to the first half of the 10th century, where the archives are now located. The two towers were first mentioned in writing during 1150 but are actually much older, dating from 600 or 700 AD. The portcullis was built in 1752. Nailed behind it is the skull of a wolf, the last wolf ever shot in the region. The granary served judicial purposes from 1806 to 1852.

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A significant part of Harburg’s history began when Ludwig III von Oettingen gained Harburg in 1251. The Oettingens made the castle their home after 1418. The clan made a name for itself in the military and in politics. Construction of a two-storey hall took place in the late 15th century. In the early 16th century the Oettingens took up the Protestant faith as the Reformation greatly influenced the history of the castle.
The Schmalkaldic War, pitting the Catholic Habsburgs against the Protestants in their Lutheran Schmalkaldic League within the Holy Roman Empire, was fought from 1546 to 1547. The Imperial troops won, triggering devastation for the castle during 1547. Still, the teachings of Martin Luther had already spread throughout the lands and could not be stopped by force.
Things did not fare as badly during the Thirty Years’ War, when it was not heavily damaged, though the area was in ruins. The Oettingen-Oettingen line of the family were elevated to princes during 1674. There was much reconstruction in the 17th century. Pillaging occurred during the Spanish War of Succession from 1701 to 1704. The castle soon rebounded, though. More repairs were carried out in the early 18th century. That’s when the Banquet Hall was built and the church was given a Baroque appearance.

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In 1731 the Protestant line of the family ended, and the Catholic branch the Oettingen-Wallerstein line took charge. During the War of the Second Coalition, which was fought between the Austrians and Napoleon’s armies, much pillaging took place. In 1797 a military hospital was located on the premises. The Austrians were unable to protect the castle on June 24, 1800, when Napoleon’s troops captured the decisive victory. Even though there was much damage, that day is now celebrated at the castle as it was a blessing in disguise. Under French rule the 18th century was a time of imperial visits and reconstruction. Kaiser Franz II, the last Kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation paid it a visit in 1766. Napoleon even rode by the castle in a carriage during October of 1805.

We did not go inside the Castle Church of Saint Michael’s, but I read that its Baroque interior hails from 1720 and 1721. A Baroque pulpit and ceiling frescoes are a few of the highlights of this church. The tomb of the Oettingen-Oettingen line of the family has been under the pulpit since the 16th century. The church is still used for services. Now the church’s denomination is Lutheran. Take a good look at the well that is 450 meters deep. It took an hour to get water from its depths to the ground.
The castle featured many intriguing devices used during wartime. One loophole in its side was situated so that the defender could throw hot water on the enemy and burn him. Quicklime was often used, so that the opponent would go blind immediately. Another window in the wall had a beam to which a soldier could hook his weapon. Then there was a loophole that consisted of a wooden wall within a wall. It could swivel around so you could see in all directions. The hole was too small to be seen by the enemy.
We went inside and saw many richly decorated shields. Because people could not read or write, symbols of various clans decorated the shields. One featured the color red for blood and a yellow X for money. Three more showed a donkey, two wheels and a wooden shoe, which reminded me of an advertisement for L.L. Bean. A black shield with a red cow head symbolized the family of Cow Mouth, which would certainly not be a popular name in today’s world.

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Then we entered a room that featured a stunning chair that was 500 years old, symbolizing that the person who would sit in it was very powerful. The richly decorated ceiling was made for another castle in Italy in 1750, and the princely family bought it in 1920. The Habsburg clan is not missing from the castle, either. (They seem to be present in all the castles I visit.) Decoration of ladies’ portraits in circular frames showed off females from this distinguished clan.
The two family trees also caught my attention. One dated from the 17th century and was painted on linen. The other dated from the 18th century and was painted on cow skin. That one was made with one hair of a pig. I could not believe it was possible to design a family tree with one hair. What exquisite craftsmanship! I thought of my own family tree and how many questions it posed. If only I had all my ancestors accounted for as the Oettingens did on theirs. From where exactly in Bohemia were my Czech great grandparents? Who exactly were my Mareš ancestors, and from where in Moravia were they?

HarburgCastle10
Situated in many castles, life-size portraits also decorated the room. I recognized Charlemagne. The next room was in front of the first keep. Each wall was 2.5 meters thick, and below each wall it was three meters thick. The inside room was 9 meters deep. Because it was so cool there, it was possible to use it as a sort of refrigerator. A man went down to the fridge with a rope around his stomach and brought the food up. A dungeon was also below us. There’s no way I would want to be stuck down there. Other spaces featured weapons and hunting trophies. A beam was 1,000 years old while a middle pillar was 800 years old. A clock had a 24-hour face.
I was intrigued by the tour but disappointed that it was so short. It would have been nice to have seen at least four or five more rooms. The castle had such a fascinating medieval flair and some stunning objects, but people only got a glimpse of its character. Still, the castle was architecturally intriguing on the exterior and interior. It was worth visiting if you are combining it with a day trip somewhere else. It proved an excellent stop on the way to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Still, I considered Karlštejn Castle, Křivoklát Castle and Pernštejn Castle in the Czech Republic to be superior because you were able to take extensive tours and get a real sense of their medieval character. On the way to Rothenburg, our tour guide, an eloquent, friendly woman, told us that Michael Jackson at one time had tried to buy Harburg for 25 million euros. At the last moment, though, the deal fell through. I, for one, was glad. Who knows if he would have opened it to the public at all?

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

Gothic Churches in the Čáslav and Posázaví Regions Diary

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Čáslav

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Čáslav

I traveled with arsviva again, this time to Gothic churches in the Čáslav and Posázaví regions of central Bohemia. After the last trip spent seeing Romanesque and Gothic buildings in South Bohemia, I was psyched. We would have the same enthusiastic, informative, organized expert as our guide, too. During the last tour I had especially enjoyed visiting churches in villages because they played an integral role in the village’s identity and had helped me come to the realization that each village was unique, with its own story to tell.

 

My best friend ever

My best friend ever

I was not sure if I would be able to go on the tour when my cat, Bohumil Hrabal Burns, suddenly died of a tumor in his mouth two days before the excursion. I lived alone and did not socialize much, and he had been my best friend, who had gotten me through so many troubles and heartbreaks over the previous 15 years. He always sat on my lap when I wrote on the computer. He always relaxed on my chest when I read in the evening. Since I worked mostly at home, we were almost always together. I would never have children. I cared about him as I would for my own child. He and I were inseparable.

Bohumil Hrabal Burns, 1999 - 2014

Bohumil Hrabal Burns, 1999 – 2014

At times I felt bitter. Why did he have to die now? One day it became apparent that he had a tumor in his mouth, two days later he had to be put to sleep. He was supposed to be taking vitamins for his liver, and I was certain that his condition would be improving. It was so hard to see him so sick on my bed. He just wanted to die alone. He would not rest on my lap anymore. And it was the worst moment of my life when I had to take him to the doctor to put him to sleep, knowing he would never be coming back to the place he had called home, where he had shown me so much love. I couldn’t imagine life without him.

Český Šternberk Castle

Český Šternberk Castle

The tour began, and I was happy. I was glad I was on the excursion and excited about the day to come. First, we stopped at Český Šternberk Castle to take in the view and to use the bathroom in a pub. I had toured the castle last year and had written about it for a travel agency.
Perched on a hill overlooking the Sazáva River, Český Šternberk Castle dominates the Posázaví region with its imposing, massive Gothic exterior. It looked both protective and threatening at the same time. I recalled the eclectic collection of treasures from Renaissance chests to Rococo furniture inside the castle. The castle’s history began sometime before 1242. I remembered seeing the Sternberg clan’s eight-pointed star throughout the castle, which is currently owned by one of the family. I would see that star on the tour that day as well.

The Neo-Gothic interior of the Church of Saint Havel

The Neo-Gothic interior of the Church of Saint Havel

Then we were ready to devote our time to Gothic churches. The first was the Church of Saint Havel in Otryby. It had Romanesque and Gothic features, dating from around 1200. I was amazed at the portals before I entered the church. The side portal was French Gothic, dating from the 13th century. It never failed to amaze me that something that old could stand the test of so much time, so many centuries. I wondered who the people who had walked through that portal during the Middle Ages had been. Who were they, what had they done for a living? Had they been beggars, merchants or farmers? Maybe nobility?

The Neo-Gothic portal

The Neo-Gothic portal

The main portal was of a totally different nature, in 19th century Neo-Gothic style. The interior was Neo-Gothic, too, which strangely complemented the Early Gothic construction and the Romanesque apse. I liked the mixture of styles and have always been a fan of Neo-Gothic features, but I wondered what the entire church had looked like when it was pure Early Gothic or Romanesque style.

The Church of Saint Havel

The Church of Saint Havel

The Church of Saint George in Malejovice was next on the itinerary. It was typical of Early Gothic village architecture, dating from 1250 or earlier, but parts were much younger. The tower dated from 1886 and the main altar from the end of the 18th century. The windows were NeoRomanesque, hailing from the 18th and 19th century. It was intriguing to see so many styles in a relatively small space. The different styles offered a sort of a pictorial narration of the church’s history.
CASPOSMalejovice2
Church of Saint George in Malejovice
Then we stopped in a town with a busy outdoor market on the main square. It was called Ulhířské Janovice, named after Jan Sternberg, who founded a settlement there back in the 13th or 14th century. First we entered the Baroque Church of Saint Alois on the square. The church had been built in 1777, completed in 1792. Its main portal dated from 1784.

The painted main altar of the Church of Saint Alois

The painted main altar of the Church of Saint Alois

The intriguing feature of this church was that the altars were painted onto the walls. The guide explained that this was cheaper and quicker than decorating the church with real, three-dimensional altars and statuary. I recalled the spectacular painted main altar at Hejnice Basilica in northern Bohemia. You would not even guess that the altar in Hejnice was painted; it looked so real. What surprised me about the main altar in this church was that even the statues were painted on.

Uhlířské Janovice, Church of Saint Giles, ceiling panting

Uhlířské Janovice, Church of Saint Giles, ceiling panting

Nearby was the Church of St. Giles, which could not be more different. The church had a Romanesque nave and a 14th century Gothic presbytery and sacristy. The one-nave church was made out of quarry rock with sandstone. A Romanesque window adorned the north side. However, the church did not only boast Romanesque and Gothic styles. The altar was Rococo while the pulpit was in Empire style.
It was a typical Gothic construction with Gothic wall painting. These frescoes dated from the 13th or 14th century but were in poor condition. They depicted the martyrdom and celebration of Jesus Christ. Even though a fire ravaged the church in the early 20th century, the frescoes and the Gothic presbytery had been saved. The church was rebuilt four years later, but the frescoes were not discovered until 1895. They were restored in 1953. I thought about the Stalinization of the 1950s, when Czechoslovakia was under harsh Communist rule and was surprised that frescoes in a church would have been restored then.

Wall paintings in the Church of Saint Giles

Wall paintings in the Church of Saint Giles

In the frescoes it was possible to make out Christ being taken to Jerusalem, and I saw the gate of Jerusalem with a palm tree in the background. I could make out Christ with a halo above his head, but the scene of the Last Supper was hardly visible. King David and King Solomon were present in the paintings, too. It was difficult to see the Crucifixion scene. The frescoes I liked best were the stars on what had been a blue background and the Sternberg family coat-of-arms.

Košice, Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary

Košice, Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary

Then came the village of Košice, where the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary was located. As we entered the church through a magnificent Gothic portal, we saw an old inscription, but I am not sure what it said. The church had been originally built in Early Gothic style. The oblong nave and elongated square presbytery were Gothic, dating from 1300. The vaulting, which astounded me, hailed from 1563. One astounding feature of this church was its western tower, also going back to 1563. The tower had a Late Gothic portal and an inscription that dated from the year that the tower was built. The altar was much younger, from NeoBaroque days. I was so amazed that so much of the Gothic construction of this church remained. It was almost as if by walking through that Gothic portal, I had stepped into the Middle Ages.

The ceiling painting in Košice

The ceiling painting in Košice

I knew many castles, but I had never heard of the Sion Castle ruins. Located eight kilometers from the popular town of Kutná Hora, the castle had been constructed from 1426 to 1427 for Hussite leader Jan Roháč from Dubé as a representative seat rather than as a fortification. During the 15th century the castle had been the last stronghold of the Hussite revolutionary movement, when the followers of martyr Jan Hus took on several Catholic monarchs, including the King of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire. Hussite factions fought on both sides. The castle had then consisted of a triangular ground plan and a two-storey rectangular palace where Jan Roháč had lived.

A monument at the Sion Castle ruins

A monument at the Sion Castle ruins

It was conquered by Emperor Zikmund Lucemberk after a four-month standoff during September of 1437 and ended the Hussite wars. During the attack about 100 cannonballs damaged the castle palace. After the emperor’s victory, the castle was razed. Two days later Jan Roháč from Dubé was tortured in Prague and executed, most likely in Old Town Square. I tried to imagine the defeated Jan Roháč in red clothes and gilded restraints as he was hanged in public on my favorite square in the world.
The moat had been preserved. We had to walk over flimsy wooden planks to get over it. I looked at these foundations and was amazed at what a story these ruins told in a scene that so resembled a painting by Caspar Friedrich.

The Church of Saint Andrew

The Church of Saint Andrew

Then we hustled through a forest with steep inclines to get to a field where we could see the Church of Saint Andrew with its remarkable wooden bell storey in Chlístovice. We did not go inside because it was not open, but I read that the presbytery was polygon-shaped without supporting pillars, and it had a rectangular nave. While the church dated back to 1352, the entranceway was Baroque.

The Church of Saint Markéta in Křesetice

The Church of Saint Markéta in Křesetice

The next stop was Křesetice, the Church of Saint Markéta. This church had a rectangular presbytery with crisscrossed, ribbed vaulting. One Gothic window had been preserved in the presbytery. The Baroque high tower dated from 1680. Many features of the church hailed from NeoBaroque days. The wooden organ loft was probably NeoBaroque. The windows of the nave and the pulpit were NeoBaroque, too.
The church had been the home of a spectacular Late Gothic Madonna, but it was not on display there anymore, unfortunately. A marble portal dated from 1706. The ceiling painting did not seem to complement the NeoBaroque interior with Gothic elements. It was too modern, dating from 1946. The children and rainbow depicted on the ceiling jumped directly out of the 20th century and marred the interior, in my opinion.

The 1946 ceiling painting in Křesetice

The 1946 ceiling painting in Křesetice

Next we came to Čáslav, where I had waited for a train for two hours about eight years earlier. I did not know the town at all, though. Dominating the town, the deacon’s church of Saints Peter and Paul stood at 12 meters high with a tower that loomed 88.5 meters over Čáslav. Not surprisingly, it was listed as a cultural monument in the Czech Republic. Just one look at the massiveness of the exterior overwhelmed me. This was one of the most powerful churches I had ever seen. Its history goes back to the 12th century, even before the founding of the town.

The exterior of Čáslav Church of Saints Peter and Paul

The exterior of Čáslav Church of Saints Peter and Paul

It had been through some tragic times. Several fires had made rebuilding necessary, and it was plundered more than once during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. During the 18th century the interior was changed to Baroque, but during the 19th century, Neo-Gothic furnishings were installed.
One can still see Romanesque elements of the church. Originally, the Romanesque Church of Saint Michael had been located where the sacristy stands today. The Church of Saint Michael had boasted a rectangular nave with apse. A Romanesque portal that still exists had an intriguing tympanum. A Romanesque tower had been preserved with its bell storey and Romanesque latticed windows.

The exterior of the church in Čáslav

The exterior of the church in Čáslav

The Gothic style was also well-represented in this huge sacral building. It had a 13th century early Gothic presbytery and Gothic ribbed vaulting that overwhelmed me. I just stared at that vaulting, gaping. For some reason Gothic vaulting made me feel a deep spiritual connection. The organ loft also dated from the Late Gothic period. During the Middle Ages the presbytery had been covered in wall paintings. I tried to imagine the space with brightly colored frescoes giving it a certain vibrancy. Now all that was left of the wall paintings there was the head of Saint Christopher.

The vaulting in Čáslav

The vaulting in Čáslav

There were other frescoes in the church, though, but they were younger, from about the 15th century. These included the red Crucifixion of Saint John scene from the 1430s. The Virgin Mary was missing from the left-hand side. I wondered if she had never been painted or had been painted over.
The astounding church had features from the Renaissance period, too. In addition to Renaissance tombstones, there was a Renaissance holy water font as well as a pewter baptismal font from that era. The tabernacle was Rococo in style. The Chapel of Saint Anne was 17th century Early Baroque with stucco décor and cross-shaped vaulting. The main altar was Baroque, dating from 1794. In the front of the church stood Neo-Gothic altars.

The interior of the church in Čáslav

The interior of the church in Čáslav

I loved the way all these architectural styles came together to give each church its own personality. There was a little something of almost everything in this church that loomed protectively over the town and made me feel safe. This was one of the most monumental holy sites I had ever seen. And to think I had only been familiar with the train station before this trip!

The Crucifixion of Saint John wall painting

The Crucifixion of Saint John wall painting

To get to the Church of Saint Mark in Markovice, we had to walk down an overgrown path surrounded by high grass in a cemetery that must have been neglected for some time. Only the presbytery still existed, and it looked very modest from the outside as someplace one might easily overlook. Inside, though, were Gothic wall paintings, but the centuries had not been kind to them. It was possible to make out scenes from the martyrdom of Christ and to see Saint Peter in what used to be green drapery. Another part of the wall showed Moses accepting the 10 Commandments. The paintings were probably symbolic of the Old and New Testament.

The wall paintings in Markovice

The wall paintings in Markovice

I tried to imagine it as it had looked at the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th century when it was founded. The place with wall paintings must have been stunning. I stared in awe at its original Late Gothic portal from 1531. I also admired the Gothic windows. An Early Baroque altar dated from 1667. The church had been repaired in 1531, when it served as the parish church. But when the parish was moved to nearby Žleby (where there is a spectacular chateau, by the way), this church’s condition began to deteriorate. Though it was renovated in the 17th century, it still was not in good condition.
Among the wild, high grass we saw the grave of Alois Eliáš, a Czech military leader, politician and supporter of the resistance during World War II, even though he had served as chairman of the Nazi Protectorate government from 1939 to 1941. The Nazis executed him for his resistance activities in June of 1942, when they were killing prisoners to avenge the assassination attempt and subsequent death of high-ranking Nazi Reinhard Heydrich.

A fragment of a wall painting in Markovice

A fragment of a wall painting in Markovice

The more I read about Eliáš, the more intrigued I was. He had made a name for himself fighting with the Czechoslovak Legion during World War I. He had spent part of his military career in Čáslav, not far from Markovice and had met his future wife in Čáslav. During the democratic First Republic Eliáš also advised Czechoslovak Minister of Foreign Affairs and future president Edvard Beneš. Although he was a member of the Nazi government during World War II, he was a symbol of the Czech nation to many Czechs living under the regime. He stayed in contact with underground organizations and the foreign resistance led by Beneš. One intriguing story about his resistance work concerned how he, his wife and his doctor murdered a pro-Nazi journalist by poisoning the bread they gave him.
However, his resistance work did not go unnoticed by the Germans. The Nazis put him on trial, and he received the death penalty. Eliáš languished in prison for a while, and then the assassination attempt on Heydrich took place. After that, the Nazis sent prisoners to concentration camps or to the execution grounds. He was taken to the Kobylisy execution area and shot during June of 1942.
Perhaps Eliáš’ grave had not been looked after for some time because during 2006 his ashes had been brought to Vítkov in Prague. Yet I had read his urn had to be hidden from the Communists because the totalitarian regime considered him to be a traitor. I wondered why he had a grave when his ashes had been in an urn all this time. Maybe initially he had been buried there, but then his wife had been allowed to take his ashes home. I also wondered why he had been buried in this long-neglected church cemetery, where the grass was seemingly never mowed.

An ancient portal in Okřeseneč

An ancient portal in Okřeseneč

The next stop was Okřesaneč, at the Church of Saint Bartholomew. The one-nave sacral building dated from 1300 and featured early Gothic construction. Yet there were Romanesque elements as well. The late Romanesque portal and three Romanesque windows enthralled me. While the sacristy on the north side and the nave were Gothic, the south side featured a Baroque side altar. The church also had a late Gothic tower with three floors. The cross-shaped ribbed vaulting in the presbytery was stunning. The interior was very modest. The church also included Neo-Gothic furnishings. The early Baroque altar featured Saint Bartholomew from 1680. Even though it had experienced Baroque and NeoBaroque reconstruction, the original core of the church was medieval.

The interior of the Church of Saint Bartholomew

The interior of the Church of Saint Bartholomew

Kozohlody was home to the Church of All Saints, constructed around 1300. There were Gothic wall paintings, but they were a bit difficult to decipher. The Last Judgment was pictured, but it was only possible to see Hell. At the top of the eastern side was the Escape into Egypt. Other scenes included the Birth of Christ and the Death of the Virgin Mary with two angels in the foray. On the south side I could barely make out Jesus Christ with Doubting Thomas, and behind the altar were fascinating though faded frescoes of the flogging of Christ. I tried to imagine these wall paintings full of vibrant colors. It was such a shame they had not been better restored and had not stood the test of time so well.

Church of All Saints in Kozohlody

Church of All Saints in Kozohlody

 

The paintings on the triumphant arch

The paintings on the triumphant arch

 

The wall paintings in Kozohlody

The wall paintings in Kozohlody

In Bohdaneč the Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary featured an original Gothic portal with a Gothic presbytery that boasted ribbed vaulting and a rectangular nave. The pulpit hailed from the 13th century. Tombstones in the church went back to 1350. The tower, though, was Baroque, and the benches were younger – from the 18th century. There were two remarkable chandeliers made from Czech crystal. They dated from around 1890.

The church in Bohdaneč

The church in Bohdaneč

In the entranceway I saw a plaque to the hometown victims of World War II and read names of people who had died in the Terezín and Mauthausen concentration camps. I was reminded of my most recent visit to Terezín, when I practically vomited from seeing the inhumane conditions in which prisoners were forced to live and die. Auschwitz had been even harder to swallow, but luckily, I somehow managed to get through both places without becoming physically ill. Seeing plaques referring to those lost in concentration camps certainly made me appreciate life more. Even with the death of my best friend, things were not that bad. The sun was shining, and I lived in a beautiful, democratic country.

The chandeliers in Bohdaneč

The chandeliers in Bohdaneč

The Church of Saint Lawrence in Zbraslavice had a Romanesque core, dating from the 12th century, though not much from that period survived. There was a Romanesque portal, though. The church had been reconstructed around 1300 into Gothic style. There was one spacious Early Gothic nave with an Early Gothic polygon-shaped choir plus a Gothic sacristy. The three-storey tower was of Late Gothic origin.

The main altar in Zbraslavice

The main altar in Zbraslavice

I loved the cross-shaped, ribbed vaulting in the presbytery. It somehow made me feel the presence of something or someone omnipresent. There had been Baroque and NeoBaroque reconstruction, and a lot of the furnishings were Neo-Gothic. Still, the medieval construction was very authentic. Once again, I felt as if I had stepped into a time period I could never know. For some minutes I felt such a strong connection to the distant past.

The Romanesque portal in Zbraslavice

The Romanesque portal in Zbraslavice

The Church of the Elevation of the Cross in Zruč nad Sázavou was first mentioned in writing in 1328. The Gothic portals were breathtaking. Again I wondered about the personal histories of all the people who had walked under those portals back in the Middle Ages. Their stories would never be told, but they must be fascinating. The church had a rectangular nave. The pewter baptismal font hailed from around the turn of the 17th century. The organ dated from 1861. The presbytery featured arched ribbed vaulting. The tower had a pyramid-shaped roof with a bell storey.

The Church of the Elevation of the Cross

The Church of the Elevation of the Cross

There was a Neo-Gothic chateau next to the church, and we had time to walk through the park. Since the town had prospered when a Bata shoe factory had been built there in 1939, the chateau featured a museum about shoe-making as well as an exhibition about dolls. It also offered two tours of its representative rooms. It had begun as a Gothic castle in the 14th century and had been changed into a chateau in 1547. It burned down in 1781, but various owners made repairs. Extensive reconstruction occurred from 1872 to 1878. In 1891 and 1892 it was changed into Neo-Gothic style with a stunning Neo-Gothic gate. There were also gazebos and garden terraces in the park.

The pulpit in the Church of the Elevation of the Cross

The pulpit in the Church of the Elevation of the Cross

It was fascinating to be able to visit so many Gothic churches that were normally closed to the public. I was glad I went on the trip and had been happy throughout the tour. Now it was time to go home to an empty apartment, without my loving and faithful Bohumil Hrabal Burns, who I had lived with for so many years. After visiting so many churches, I believed that it must have been his time to die. He had had a long life and would have died much earlier if he had not been on a strict diet. I was glad I was home when he died, that I hadn’t been on a trip when he was feeling so miserable. I realized that everyone had their time.

Zruč nad Sázavou Chateau

Zruč nad Sázavou Chateau

There were things I could not control as much as I wanted to, and in time I would be able to go back to an apartment filled with the joy and excitement of a new cat who got a chance to live a normal life rather than live in a cage in a shelter because of me. I had been necessary for all these generations going back to Romanesque days to believe in God to get them through their trials and tribulations. It was necessary for me to believe, too. Maybe not in God, but in something or someone who had a reason for taking my best friend from me.
I came back to Prague, happy. I was ready to enter my empty apartment, ready to welcome tomorrow as a new day, as a fresh start.

Another wall painting in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Čáslav

Another wall painting in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Čáslav

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

 

Romanesque and Gothic South Bohemia Diary

Albrechtice nad Vltavou church cemetery

Albrechtice nad Vltavou church cemetery

I went on another tour with the Czech travel agency arsviva at the beginning of May in 2014, this time concentrating on Romanesque and Gothic architecture in south Bohemia. We would explore many churches in villages, and I would finally see more than the bus station in Písek. After so many years in the country, I had seen all the most popular sights. I yearned always to always something new, something that would give me a new perspective on life and art, and I thought that traveling to Romanesque and Gothic churches in villages and visiting Gothic castles would be just the way to do that.
First we stopped in the village of Mirotice, which happens to have two main squares. Most villages have only one. The bus stopped across from the new town hall, which was only about 50 years old. We walked to St. Giles’ Church, Romanesque in style. There are not many churches in south Bohemia with Romanesque features. It hailed from the middle of the 12th century. I admired the lattice Romanesque window on the tower.

St. Giles' Church, Mirotice

St. Giles’ Church, Mirotice

The church had an intriguing past. In 1497 the worshippers had been of the Utraquist faith, who had been Hussites asserting that both the bread and wine should be given to worshippers during the Eucharist, but from 1664 to 1694 Catholics had prayed there. I recalled that the Utraquist branch of Hussites had triumphed over the radical Hussites during the 15th century Hussite wars.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to go inside (we would visit the interiors of most of the churches on our itinerary, though, thanks to our guide), but a Baroque makeover occurred in 1694. PseudoRomanesque reconstruction followed, from 1870 to 1872. I loved seeing elements of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. It amazed me how Romanesque and Gothic elements could survive so many centuries, through all the trials and tribulations of Czech history.
Then we meandered along some narrow cobblestone streets to a museum on the site of the former building where artist Mikuláš Aleš had been born. Aleš had made a name for himself as one of the top 19th century Czech painters and illustrators, among other accomplishments. It fascinated me that in such a small village there could be any intriguing sights, let alone two. I felt as if the village was revealing its secrets to me.

The museum on the site where Mikuláš Aleš was born

The museum on the site where Mikuláš Aleš was born

The next church we visited was dramatically perched on a hill by itself rather than in the midst of a village. The Church of Saint James the Greater in Čížová boasted a ground plan with early Gothic masonry and Late Gothic supporting pillars. It had never had a tower, which was an oddity. Baroque decoration greeted visitors inside, but we did not have the chance to see this interior. The churches we were visiting were not open for the general public. It was difficult to obtain official permission, so that someone would open them for us. Just seeing the exterior was breathtaking enough. And later we would see many interiors.
There is another intriguing feature of the church as well. The tombstones of Knight Ludvík Lorecký and his two sons, who were murdered by serfs in 1571, are in the church. I wondered if the serfs had revolted because they were hungry or overworked. I wondered who the knight and his sons were. Did they hail from this village or did they just happen to die here? How did Lorecký become a knight? Were his two sons knights, too? How old were they when they died? I fascinated me how so many questions could arise from a church in such a small town.

The Church of St. James the Greater in Čížová

The Church of St. James the Greater in Čížová

I was very excited about the next stop, the town of Písek, where I had only been at the bus station. For many years I had wanted to explore Písek, but I just never had the time or had never made the time. Actually, I had been under the impression that there was not much to see except for the Stone Bridge that was the oldest bridge in the country, even older than the Charles Bridge in Prague. In Central Europe only Regensburg’s bridge was older. I fondly recalled my several days discovering stunning medieval architecture and visiting a lavish palace in Regensburg not that long ago.
Písek’s history may go back to the 12th century. There was a castle in Písek, built by Czech King Wenceslas (Václav) I, before the middle of the 13th century. The town was first mentioned in writing during 1243. During the Middle Ages, in the 14th century, Písek prospered because gold was found there. Wenceslas’ son Přemysl Otakar II continued to expand the town during the 13th century, and Písek also played a significant role in the Czech lands under Charles IV’s rule during the 14th century. Czech kings often stayed in Písek.
In the 15th century, during the Hussite wars which were fought between various branches of Hussites, with monarchs helping out the moderate Hussites, Písek was controlled by the Hussites, followers of Bohemian priest and reformer Jan Hus who were battling against the moderate Hussites and other world powers, until 1452. The town flourished during the 16th century, becoming very wealthy.
During the Bohemian Revolt from 1618 to 1621, the town supported the Protestants, who lost to the Catholics, so Písek was severely punished. (Some of the Protestant nobles had protested when the staunchly Catholic Ferdinand of Styria became King of Bohemia, triggering the revolt.)

Buildings on a square in Písek

Buildings on a square in Písek

The 18th century brought the plague while during the 19th century there were more positive developments, namely the National Revival, a cultural movement promoting the Czech language, Czech culture and Czech nationalism. More Czech cultural groups and Czech schools were built during that golden age.
Písek focused on industrialization during the second half of the 19th century and even holds the honor of being the first Czech town with permanently installed electric public lighting. While Písek experienced rosy days during the democratic First Republic, the tragic era of Nazi rule followed. On May 6, 1945, the US army liberated Písek. Under Communism factories dotted the town. Písek was badly damaged during the 2002 floods that ravaged the country.

Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

First, we visited the deanery’s Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, which hails from the second half of the 13th century and was constructed as a pseudobasilicia with three naves and a five-sided presbytery. Its tower reaches 72 meters. Inside there was an astounding 18th century Baroque chapel dedicated to John of Nepomuk, a Bohemian saint who drowned in the Vltava River, murdered on the order of King Wenceslas in 1393. Above the altar in this chapel I saw vedutas of the town.

The Church of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The Church of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The main altar of the church was Neo-Gothic, from the 19th century. A copy of the statue referred to as the Písek Madonna was located on a side altar. The original, dating back to the 15th century, was stolen in 1975. The pulpit hailed from 1887, and its six-sided cover featured sculptures of five angels. I noticed that one was holding a harp and another was playing the flute. The organ loft went all the way back to the beginning of the 16th century, while the organ was much younger, dating from the early 20th century. I also admired the richly carved 17th century Baroque candelabras. The pewter baptismal font was in Renaissance style, from 1587.

An altarpiece at the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

An altarpiece at the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary

There were many Gothic characteristics of the church as well. It boasted sturdy, early Gothic ribs and portals. The presbytery, the northern tower and the three naves hailed from the second part of the 13th century, and the sacristy dated from around 1300 while the southern tower could be traced back to 1489. One of the windows was forged in the 13th century. The Gothic wall paintings were spectacular. I could hardly believe that they dated from around 1270. I peered closely at the 13th century rendition of a suffering Christ with figures of angels carrying a cross, nails, scourge and a crown of thorns. The triumphal arch was painted during the first part of the 14th century.

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

Some participants followed the guide to the castle, but I joined a group of women to get a bite to eat. We found a basement pub with cozy wood paneling. After lunch we walked through the town for a short while. I noticed a small Renaissance church with amazing sgraffito on one of the three main squares. It was called The Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross and had a very short tower. The church was all that was left of a monastery founded at the same time as the town itself. It had been destroyed in 1419 during the Hussite wars, when Písek was full of Hussite supporters. Unfortunately, it was not possible to walk through the church; we had to look through a grille. Still, the interior was more than impressive.

The Renaissance Church on a main square in Písek

The Renaissance Church on a main square in Písek

The Plague Column nearby hailed from 1715 and was crowned by a statue of the Virgin Mary with a total of nine saints making appearances. The town hall was Late Baroque, built from 1740 to 1750. We did not have much time before we had to meet at the Holy Trinity Church in the cemetery park, but we did get a quick look at the medieval castle, now a museum with a variety of exhibits. I tried to imagine what it must have been like when, so many centuries ago, King John the Blind (Jan Lucemberský) declared Písek a free royal town at this very castle. (By the way, there was nothing wrong with John the Blind’s sight. The term “the blind” refers to “fighting blindly” or not giving up.)

The castle in Písek

The castle in Písek

We had time to walk through the exhibition about the Písek countryside during the 19th century and then went downstairs to the space with the larger-than-life portraits of Czech rulers. Oddly enough, the painter had depicted all the Czech leaders with the same serious expression, nose and chin. The original sculptural groupings from the Stone Bridge were kept here as well. I had trouble taking my eyes off them. They were astounding.

Statuary on the Stone Bridge in Písek

Statuary on the Stone Bridge in Písek

A statue on the Stone Bridge in Písek

A statue on the Stone Bridge in Písek

Then we left the museum and crossed the Stone Bridge over the Otava River. The oldest bridge in the country was like a miniature Charles Bridge with evocative statuary. The town cemetery had been founded in 1549, and the deceased were buried there until 1950. It was changed into a park during 1975. The Holy Trinity Church, mostly used for concerts, had a very different sort of interior than the others we had visited. It was decorated with brightly colored, abstract wall hangings and a new organ, donated by the 20th century world traveler and author, Jiří Hanzelka, who was best known for his travels to Africa and South America. There was also a remarkable pulpit with intarsia.

The ceiling of the church

The ceiling of the Holy Trinity Church

The holy place had become a concert and exhibition hall during the 1980s as the Communists had stripped it of its Renaissance identity, destroying the main altar and other furnishings, including the Renaissance organ loft. This destruction was just one example of the Communists’ lack of respect for religion and art. I am so glad I had not had to live through totalitarianism. Later, thankfully, the church’s Renaissance wall paintings had been restored.

The pulpit with intarsia in the Holy Trinity Church

The pulpit with intarsia in the Holy Trinity Church

In the bell tower we saw tombstones from the 1300s. Renowned Czech historian August Sedláček was buried in this cemetery, too. He compiled the 15-volume work Castles, Chateaus and Fortresses in the Czech lands, which was published at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
The next stop was Putim, probably most famous for being mentioned in Jaroslav Hašek’s mammoth, early 20th century, anti-militaristic novel, The Good Soldier Švejk, featuring soldier Josef Švejk, who exhibits passive resistance and may or may not be an idiot. Scenes from the 1957 film based on Hašek’s satirical masterpiece set during World War I in the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been shot in this town that was founded in 1205.

The church in Putim

St. Lawrence’s Church in Putim

But that was not Putim’s only claim to fame. The 1908 film Jan Cimbura was based on the life of a Putim farmer by the same name. I saw his modest but impressive grave from 1898. The movie, adapted from a novel by Catholic priest Jindřich Šimon Baar, takes place from 1848 to 1898, examining 50 years of the life of a good Christian and farmer in south Bohemia.

Jan Cimbura's grave in Putim

Jan Cimbura’s grave in Putim

In St. Lawrence’s Church I admired a Gothic window, wooden Gothic vaulting, Gothic masonry and a 13th century portal. The furnishings were much younger, though. The main altar was probably created around 1650, and the other parts of the interior most likely were made around 1700. The impressive tombstones inside the church dated from approximately 1600. One of the bells, called St. Andrew, was original and hailed from 1553.
This church had a characteristic that I had never seen anywhere else. It had two main altars with different seating arrangements for each altar. It fascinated me how it appeared to be two churches built into one. I read that one part of the church had been for Catholics while the other part had been designed for Utraquists, It certainly had an intriguing ground plan.

The interior of St. Lawrence's Church

The interior of St. Lawrence’s Church

St. Giles’ Church in Heřmaň also boasted Early Gothic construction. The western tower dated back to the beginning of the Middle Ages. While the village was first mentioned in writing during 1227, the church was founded in 1254 as it was originally late Romanesque. The furnishings were much younger, though. The interior was Baroque from 1720 to 1721. Two elegant white columns framed the painting at the main altar, Classicist in style, dating from the 1800s.

The pulpit in St. Giles' Church in Heřmaň

The pulpit in St. Giles’ Church in Heřmaň

St. Giles' Church in Heřmaň

St. Giles’ Church in Heřmaň

The organ of St. Giles' Church

The organ of St. Giles’ Church

Then our itinerary took us to the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec, which also had experienced a Romanesque birth. On what is now the sacristy was originally a Romanesque church with apse from the 11th century. There was a Gothic window, too. What impressed me most were the Gothic frescoes on the walls and the vaulting of the sacristy. They dated from 1340 to 1350. In the presbytery Hell was pictured with a burning tower and the devil, and Heaven made an appearance, too. On the north side the life of Saint Catherine was depicted. I loved the stars and angels on the ceiling.

The interior of the church in Myšenec

The interior of the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec

Gothic paintings in the Church of Saint Havel

Gothic paintings in the Church of Saint Havel

In the small sacristy there were more Gothic wall paintings. The figure of a prophet had been rendered on an arch. On part of one wall there was a pictorial narrative of the legend of Saint Markéta along with the figure of the devil. Arcades and pillars appeared in the renditions, too. Our guide, who had extensive knowledge of Gothic and Romanesque architecture, explained that the paintings in the sacristy had not been created by the same painter who decorated the presbytery. I wondered if there were even more than two contributors to the artwork, who they had been and how they had come about to decorating the church’s interior.

Gothic wall painting at the Church of Saint Havel

Gothic wall painting at the Church of Saint Havel

That was not all there was to see in Myšenec. Between homes 54 and 8, we gazed at the remnants of a castle and the arch of a gate. The castle had been established by the Přemysl dynasty in the 13th century. I wondered what it would be like to have part of a 13th century castle ruin joined to one’s modern house. It reminded me that history was so connected with the present and how ancient history made up such an important part of each village’s identity. It was fascinating how the two different architectural styles of modern and Gothic played off each other. The Gothic walls and arch looked like an odd extension of the house. They were certainly unique.

Gothic painting in the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec

Gothic painting in the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Albrechtice nad Vltavou was a real gem, perhaps my favorite, if it was possible for me to choose one sight over the others. The church was originally Romanesque from the 12th century and still boasted Romanesque masonry. The tower was Romanesque in style, too. The Romanesque wall painting inside was incredible, dating from 1200 or earlier. On the triumphant arch there were frescoes of The Last Judgment with Hell and Paradise. You could see pictures of Christ rising from the dead. The wall painting was restored during the Nazi Occupation, from 1941 to 1942. I hadn’t been aware that any reconstruction occurred in churches during the Protectorate. There were small, exquisite Gothic paintings in the church, too.

The wall and ceiling painting in Albrechtice

The wall and ceiling painting in Albrechtice

But that was not all the church had to offer. It was surrounded by 85 small chapels behind each gravestone. Each one was unique. They jumped out at the viewer with their bright colors and vitality. Parish priest Vít Cíza, who served there from 1819 to 1854, had had the innovative chapels built. The first chapels were erected in 1841 and took five years to complete. Renovation took place in the middle of the 19th century. I had never seen a cemetery that actually looked cheerful. By erecting these chapels, it was as the cemetery was celebrating the lives and the individuality of the people rather than merely mourning their loss. This was the first time I had visited a cemetery and had not been depressed.

The murals at Albrechtice

The chapels at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Albrechtice

The small chapels at Albrechtice

The small chapels at Albrechtice

Next we visited Zvíkov Castle, which I had seen several times during my long-time stay in the Czech lands. I was glad to have the opportunity to visit it again as I had not been there for at least 10 years. Like the castle in Písek, Zvíkov had a royal palace, four wings and an inner arcade in the courtyard. The crown jewels were even stored there until Karlštejn Castle was finished under Emperor Charles IV’s rule during the middle of the 14th century.

The arcades in the inner courtyard of Zvíkov Castle

The arcades in the inner courtyard of Zvíkov Castle

Set on an island, Zvíkov was first mentioned in writing during 1234. King Wenceslas (Václav) I started to build it in the first part of the 13th century. Construction on the Royal Palace began around 1250. Emperor Charles IV had it renovated during the 14th century. After that there were several owners, including the notable Rožmberk and Švamberk clans. Then came darker days. It was conquered during the Thirty Years’ War, and then Zvíkov was used as a warehouse. It was not until the Schwarzenbergs took control of it in 1719 that renovations occurred. In the 19th century the castle became dilapidated again, but reconstruction in 1880 put Zvíkov back on the Czech castle map.

The Gothic paintings in St. Wenceslas Chapel

The Gothic paintings in St. Wenceslas Chapel

Wall painting at St. Wenceslas Chapel

Wall painting at St. Wenceslas Chapel

I was most mesmerized by the bright, vibrant Gothic wall paintings in Saint Wenceslas Chapel. They dated from 1480 to 1500. There were also exquisite 15th century frescoes in the Dance Hall. They showed a festive, dancing scene below pictures of the four electors of the emperor, including the Czech king. I admired the Lombard chairs, seating with high decorated backs, in the Knights’ Room. That furniture hailed from Renaissance days, and I thought it looked so distinguished. The Gothic altar was also very impressive.

A Gothic altar at Zvíkov Castle

A Gothic altar at Zvíkov Castle

The 15th century wall painting in the Dance Hall

The 15th century wall painting in the Dance Hall

Our last stop was the Holy Trinity Church in Čimelice, which had Gothic masonry but was furnished in the Baroque style of the 18th century. However, the stunning Gothic Madonna on a side altar dated from the second half of the 15th century. The ceiling was from the Renaissance era, resembling the ceiling of the cemetery church in Písek. The tower had been erected in Empire style during 1821. The altars and sculpture hailed from the second half of the 18th century. The Baroque Chapel of Saint Barbara was stunning, going all the way back to the first half of the 18th century. Then we were in for a real treat. The man in charge of the church played the 15th century organ for us. Its rich, colorful sound filled the holy space.

The main altar in Čimelice

The main altar in Čimelice

The Gothic Madonna in Čimelice

The Gothic Madonna at the Holy Trinity Church in Čimelice

The ceiling in Čimelice

The ceiling at the Holy Trinity Church in Čimelice

We also saw a chateau and pond belonging to the Schwarzenbergs, but the chateau had not been restored or was not open the public. The red and yellow colors of the façade reminded me of the magnificent exterior of Dobříš Chateau near Prague.
I had found this tour fascinating. I had learned so much about the Czech lands as well as about Romanesque and Gothic architecture and art, thanks to our remarkable guide, who was so knowledgeable and well-organized. I had never realized that villages had so much history. Each village had its own character, its own identity, its own story to tell. It amazed me that the history of these villages was rooted in Romanesque or Gothic eras. I have lived in the Czech lands for more than 20 years, and it still is difficult for me to fathom that Gothic and Romanesque art and architecture could survive so many centuries, so much turbulent history, so many wars.

The chateau in Čimelice

The chateau in Čimelice

During the tour I was most impressed with the Gothic wall paintings, especially in Zvíkov’s Saint Wenceslas Chapel, in Myšenec and in Albrechtice nad Vltavou. I also was enamored by the stunning arcades and vaulting at Zvíkov Castle. I was enthralled with the stunning arcade chapels on the cemetery walls at Albrechtice. I could not believe that a cemetery could be so full of life. I also was glad that I had seen parts of Písek other than the bus station. Písek really was a charming town.

A Madonna statue in Myšenec

A Madonna statue in Myšenec

During my many years in the country, I had seen the major castles and sights in south Bohemia – Hluboká nad Vltavou Chateau, Český Krumlov Chateau, Třeboň Chateau, Vyšší Brod and Zlatá koruna monasteries and others. But I had never explored the villages. I had never even thought they were worth exploring, to tell the truth. Now I knew that every nook and cranny of the country had its own rich history, its own secrets to reveal.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Arcades at Zvíkov Castle

Arcades at Zvíkov Castle

 

Hukvaldy Castle Diary

The breathtaking view from Hukvaldy Castle

The breathtaking view from Hukvaldy Castle

A bus took me directly from Frýdek Místek to Hukvaldy, where I embarked on the uphill, demanding 20-minute walk in the scorching heat. The moment I reached the entrance to the castle ruin in northern Moravia, I was beside myself.

The castle ruins

The castle ruins

The views to the gentle, green Beskydy Mountains, which loomed in the distance, were magnificent. Supposedly, one could even sometimes see as far as the Jeseníky Mountains and Praděd Mountain in the Jeseník region. I saw picturesque, romantic villages in undulating valleys, the lush green of the mountains surrounding the dots that made up the small towns.  I wondered if I could see the Polish or Slovak border.

The views from the castle ruins are breathtaking.

The views from the castle ruins are breathtaking.

Another breathtaking view

Another breathtaking view

Upon entering the castle ruins, I was in for an even bigger surprise. The castle ruins were just as romantic and picturesque as were the views from the wall at the entrance. The music of Leoš Janáček, a native of this village, kept racing through my head. All those compositions inspired by Moravian folk music, the unique melodies and specific, repeating motifs. Before I came to the castle, I had stopped at the local school, where Janácek was born, the ninth child out of 13, on July 3, 1854.

The castle ruins

The castle ruins

The castle dates from the 13th century.

The castle dates from the 13th century.

I skimmed over a brochure about the castle’s history. The monument dates from around 1285. Olomouc bishops gained ownership of the castle in the middle of the 14th century, then the castle changed hands several times before King Jiří of Poděbrady bought it during 1465 in order to return it to the bishops. From that point on, the Olomouc bishopric and later archbishopric were almost continually the owners of Hukvaldy until it became state property in 1948.

The ruins even have their own ghosts.

The ruins even have their own ghosts.

The castle became a ruin in the 18th century.

The castle became a ruin in the 18th century.

The once vibrant castle became a ruin in 1762, when a fire broke out after lightning struck the fortress. Yet the Chapel of Saint Ondřej remains almost untouched since its construction during the end of the 17th century. Decorated with statues of Jan Nepomuk and František Xavier, it is a real, though small, gem.

Hukvaldychapel1

Hukvaldychapel2Hukvaldy even has its own ghost named Světlík, who was killed by a hejtman that wanted to marry his beautiful daughter. Světlík refused to let him do so. The castle had a famous prisoner, too. Philip Dambrovsky was accused of poisoning four Olomouc bishops.

A view through the ruin

A view through the ruin

Another view of the ruin

Another view of the ruin

As I walked through the gates and courtyards, strolled around the bastions, peeked into the cellars and took note of the destroyed buildings that were once occupied by the burgrave, I felt energized from the power that was emitted by the stone walls and fragments, as if this place had a significant story to tell and was telling that story as I stepped through its magical gates.

Hukvaldy is, indeed, magical.

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

You can almost hear Janáček's music coming from the ruins.

You can almost hear Janáček’s music coming from the ruins.

A statue of a fox commemorating Janáček's opera, The Cunning Little Vixen.

A statue of a fox commemorating Janáček’s opera, The Cunning Little Vixen.

The views of the mountains in the distance are sure to amaze.

The views of the mountains in the distance are sure to amaze.

The magical countryside

The magical countryside