Manětín Chateau Diary

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Velké Meziříčí Chateau Diary

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The direct bus from Prague to Velké Meziříčí – believe it or not – arrived early: It got in at 8:45 instead of the scheduled 8:55, and on a weekday, too. Almost two hours from Prague, the south Moravian town is on the bus routes to Jihlava and Brno.

Dating back to the 1330s, the chateau boasts some intriguing legends and is connected with some significant historical events. According to one legend, a week before the 1723 fire that ravaged the town and chateau, at noon the chateau clock tolled 102 times instead of 12 times. A week later 102 buildings had incurred damage from the fire, including the town hall. Another legend concerns one of the former owners of the chateau – Duchess Marie Eleanora from Guastalla and Sabionetta. After dying tragically in a horse riding accident, she began to haunt the chateau as its so-called “White Lady.”

Historical events also took place here.  In August of 1415, chateau owner Lacek of Kravaře ushered Moravian nobility to the chateau, trying to convince them to sign a protest against the incarceration of legendary Czech priest, philosopher and reformer, Jan Hus, who had been accused of heresy against the Catholic Church.

The chateau went through several renovations. It was Jan the Younger from Meziříčí who changed it from a Roman Gothic castle to a Renaissance chateau in the 16th century. Later, in 1733, Baroque elements were added. Owner Rudolf Lobkowicz gave the chateau a Neo-Gothic flair.

ImageOther former owners made their mark in the chateau’s history as well. For example, Marie Eleanora Liechtensteinová also served as Lady of the Bedchamber for Holy Roman Empress and Sovereign of Bohemia Maria Theresa of Austria. She became a close friend of the Empress’ daughter, French Queen and Navarre Queen Marie Antoinette, who also was the Archduchess of Austria. During the 18th century French Revolution, Marie Antoinette gave her good friend her exquisite, wooden desk. The chateau also obtained Empress Maria Theresa’s unique, black glass funereal necklace, which she had worn after her husband, František Štěpán Lotrinský, died. I was enamored with both items in the former Dancing Hall.

Former owners Rudolf Lobkowicz and František Harrach were world travelers, bringing back souvenirs from Asia, for example. These are displayed in the Oriental Salon. Some objects from Japan that caught my attention included a black and gold wardrobe, a jewelry box for traveling and a red chest. I also saw silk-topped paintings. The picture of a pagoda was exquisite. A precious Baroque table was decorated with a picture of the town.

Known as a collector, traveler, poet, press editor and economist, Harrach was also an aide to Archduke Ferdinand Karl Joseph of Austria-Este, better known as Archduke Ferdinand d’Este. In September of 1909, Harrach hosted d’Este plus Emperor of Austria and King of Bohemia Franz Joseph I and German Emperor and Prussian King Wilhelm II as well as other historical figures during military field maneuvers. The bedroom where Emperor Franz Joseph I slept was one of the many highlights of the tour. I marveled at the ornate wooden décor of the bed frame and gazed at Emperor Franz Joseph’s portrait hanging nearby.

But perhaps Harrach is better known for his participation in one particular historical event. When Archduke Ferdinand d’Este was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, Harrach was sitting next to him but escaped injury. Harrach swabbed blood from Ferdinand’s fatal wound with his handkerchief, and at the chateau I saw the blood on a white background in a black frame marked with the date and year of the tragedy. That was the most impressive feature of the Serbian Salon, which also was home to many photos of Archduke Ferdinand d´Este and Emperor Franz Joseph I.

When Harrach died, his daughter Josefa inherited the chateau, but she was forced to emigrate in 1948, after the February Communist coup. The chateau was nationalized and served various functions in the 20th century – it has been and still is a museum; it also has served as a state archive and a maternity hospital. In 1995 the chateau was returned to the family. Now Josefa’s three sons look after it.

ImageOther items that particularly impressed me were the life-size portraits of nobles on the landing. I felt as if the portraits could swallow me up. Three coats-of-arms with Baroque golden frames also enriched the landing. The Men’s Salon featured an exquisite brown tapestry of leaves, fruit and branches as well as a jewel box made of tortoise shell and silver. A unique stand for cigars also decorated the room. The chandelier was unique as well – it was made out of deer antlers and brass.

The former Dancing Hall held more treasures than Marie Antoinette’s desk and Maria Theresa’s necklace. I also saw Rococo furniture and a Baroque black closet decorated with ivory. The Rococo Dining Room was light and airy and used for concerts. The frescoes on the walls showed Czech streams, bridges and cottages, a sort of idyllic country life. Another fresco portrayed the chateau in Baroque style and still another depicted a town celebration. I gaped at the Venetian chandelier. It had diamond-shaped glass pieces. I loved Venetian chandeliers!

Then I came to the museum section of the chateau. I was impressed that the museum hosted a very eclectic collection of items. With displays ranging from Cubist furniture to town life during the last 600 years, every room held a different surprise.

In the hallway there was an intriguing sculpture exhibition by Velké Meziříčí native Jiří Marek, who lived from 1914 to 1993. His large wooden figures twisted in agony. I could almost feel the pain portrayed in the sculptures. The pain was almost tangible. In one sculpture Marek had created a limp hand so realistically. His figures reminded me somewhat of those created by legendary Czech sculptors Frantisek Bílek and Franta Uprka.

ImageIn the Velké Mezíříčí town exposition the uniform top of the Pioneers Communist youth organization from the 1980s got my undivided attention.  In a display case was a light blue shirt with a red scarf that I have come to associate so well with the Pioneers’ organization. Because I hadn’t experienced Communism, the uniform shirt captivated me. I wondered if the parents of the child who had worn these clothes had actually believed in Communist ideology or if they had dressed their child this way out of fear.

The exposition also showed what kind of clothes townspeople wore during the 19th century and what sort of furniture could have been found in their homes. Tapestries depicting scenes from town life hung on the walls.

Soon I came to the Cubist rooms – a Cubist living room in one space and a bedroom of that style in another. The Cubist furniture was designed by well-known architect Pavel Janák and the famous Artěl group in Prague for a prominent Czech mathematician and physicist. Janák’s box with a top, its black stripes on white almost hypnotizing me, was in one display case. What impressed me the most was the Cubist couch. The back was composed of three triangular shapes, the middle one at a different angle than the outer two.

ImageThen I made my way to the Jewish synagogue, which was strongly advertised on the town’s Web pages. (Later I found out the advertised synagogue was a different one, which is now used as an exhibition space.) The red brick façade was beautiful, but the inside was a disappointment. Vietnamese sold their goods in the interior, as row upon row of cheap clothing littered the spaces. I saw a straw hat with the words The Czech Republic written on the brim and packs of underwear as well as backpacks hanging from a wall. I had expected that this synagogue would be a sort of museum open to the public, possibly with tours and information about Jewish life in the town. I soon left the synagogue and continued toward the main square.

On the main square there was a quaint church, an impressive town hall and stunning sgraffito on the façade of several buildings. I ate lunch – turkey in some gross-looking but thankfully tasteless sauce – in a garden restaurant where the service was slow.

Then I headed back to the bus station to get the one o’clock back to Prague. I was the only person at the stop, which made me wonder if I was standing in the right place. I became nervous. When the bus didn’t show up by 1:10 pm, I was worried. It did come, though, at 1:20 pm, and soon I was on my way home, with fond memories of the chateau’s representative rooms and the diverse displays of its museum.Image

 

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