Lysice Chateau Diary

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When I first set my eyes on Lysice’s chateau and garden 10 years ago, I knew that someday I would be back. The two exceptional tours and extensive park enhanced by colonnades had captivated me.  I was certain that this chateau was one of the most underrated sights in the Czech Republic.

It had been a short bus ride from Brno, and the bus stop was near the chateau. As usual, I had written to administrators at the chateau, informing them that I would be arriving at 9 am on this Wednesday to take the tours and write about them. The woman at the box office greeted me warmly, and soon I was starting the first tour, guided by an enthusiastic, young man with a contagious smile.

ImageThe guide filled me in on the history of the chateau and its owners. Its history may go back as far as the 13th century, and there was a fortress at Lysice in the 15th century. It became an early Renaissance water fortress in the 16th century. At the end of that century, the country house there had been transformed into a castle with arcades in the courtyard and a terraced park.  Baroque changes had occurred in the 18th century. At this time a grotto had been created in the park along with allegorical figures representing the months of the year.

ImageWhen Antonia Piattis married into the Dubský  family, the Dubský dynasty at Lysice had begun. They owned the chateau from 1807 to 1945, when it was taken away due to the so-called Beneš decrees because the family had had Austrian citizenship during World War II. Count Emanuel Dubský was a significant member of the clan and made a name for himself in industry. His wife Matylda of Žerotín established the first children’s hospital in Moravia. It still exists today. Tragedy marked their lives as three of their sons were killed in military action, and another was murdered. Yet another died at the age of 45. Only Ervin, the second eldest, remained. He had distinguished himself as a Vice Admiral of the Austrian Navy. Ervin had also traveled all over the world. Many exhibits at the chateau came from his travels.

ImageThe interior of the chateau underwent much reconstruction in the 19th century under Emanuel’s guidance. In the 1830s the elegant colonnade was built in the park. Disaster struck at the beginning of the 20th century when, in 1902, the chateau theatre burned down. It was never rebuilt. After the chateau was confiscated by the state in 1945, much reconstruction took place. It became a national monument in 2001.

Now it was time for the tour to begin. First, we came to the Baroness Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach’s library, named after the prominent Austrian author who was related to the Dubský clan. She had been known for her psychological novels and was considered one of the most significant German-language writers of the late 19th century. The space established during the 1860s now housed many manuscripts of plays that had been performed at the chateau’s former theatre. There were impressive busts of artists on one wall. Those representing William Shakespeare, Alighieri Dante and Friedrich Schiller caught my attention immediately. The richly carved wood paneling of the veined bookshelves hid the 7,000 volumes in this Pseudo-Renaissance style room. I looked up at the ceiling, dizzy with delight. The carved cassette type ceiling was stunning, inlaid with silver and gold.

ImageThe Grand Dining Room flaunted Second Rococo style, and I was drawn to the wooden, gilt chandelier that could hold 30 candles. The guide instructed me to look down, too. The parquet floor was deeply inlaid with the intarsia woodworking technique that involved fitting together wood pieces to give a mosaic appearance and an illusion of depth. The Small Dining Room was Classicist in style with two exquisite, white marble tables.  Bohemian glassware and plates made of aragonite from Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) and Belgian marble stood out in the room. The Meissen candlestick that could hold four candles was an exquisite pink and white color combination.

ImageThe Grand Representative Parlor featured illusive stucco painting on the ceiling. Japanese and Chinese colorful vases in the space were souvenirs from Ervin Dubský’s travels. The Neo-Gothic chapel hailed from the 1870s, but the Baroque altar featuring the Virgin Mary and Jesus was from the beginning of the 17th century. A richly carved rendition of the Holy Trinity caught my attention. The portable Baroque organ weighed 100 kilograms.

The highlight of the Ladies’ Parlor for me was the large Meissen porcelain clock, featuring flowers that represented nature and dating from the second half of the 19th century. It represented human life and the transience of time. Gazing at the clock reminded me of how I had changed as a person since I had moved to Prague in 1991, when I had been much more extroverted and had taken more chances. Sometimes I wanted to go back to that time, when everything in what was then Czechoslovakia was new and fresh. Other times I was glad I was wiser and no longer naive.

ImageI was also I was captivated by the copy of the Black Madonna of Saint Tome above the Baroque bed. Ervin Dubský had installed a ship telephone that one blew into. The Girls’ Room was dominated by stunning lithographic prints of Vienna and its surroundings. It soothed me to see pictures of Vienna. I felt comfortable there and always enjoyed my visits to the Austrian capital that reminded me a bit of Prague. I was intrigued by a doll of a nun on a shelf. I had read that dolls dressed as nuns were often devotional and given to young girls to try to convince them to take the veil when they grew up.

ImageThe highlight of the first tour was the Oriental Salon with its treasures from Turkey, Japan and China and other places. Four small Turkish tables were inlaid with pearls. I also saw Islamic prayer rugs plus Chinese and Japanese vases. Part of the display emphasized Japan. Imari porcelain was bright blue and orange, a pleasing color combination, I mused. A partition decorated with motifs of flowers and plants was made of silk on silk.

The Samurai armor intrigued me. I knew that armor plates were attached to cloth or leather and that it was considered to be lightweight. It looked like the armor had hand-woven, colorful cloth padding protecting its front and sides. The bright colors made it vibrant. A Chinese chandelier was exquisite, showing off painted scenes of everyday life in a home. What really grabbed my attention were the four black-and-white paintings by an unknown Chinese artist. The figures had such grotesque features and reminded me of commedia dell’arte characters.

We stepped onto the first floor outer hallway, from which I had a stunning view of the courtyard with its arcades below. I noticed the coats-of-arms decorating the walls facing the courtyard. We walked by frescoes celebrating hunting themes. Next on the itinerary was the armory, featuring a collection of weapons dating from the late Gothic era to World War I.  One sword was made of sawfish bone.  It was interesting that the execution swords had blunt points. There were also swords that had been used by the Swedish Guard in the Vatican. The oldest sword in the collection hailed from the 14th century and had been found near Lysice.

ImageThe Ervin Dubský Secession style library, the biggest space in the chateau, was impressive. Even though it was larger than the other library, it contained fewer books with 5,000 volumes, mostly concerned with military and nautical themes. I hovered over the miniature portraits in frames. Sailors had taken them on their journeys to remind them of the loved ones they had left behind. I was sure that behind each portrait there was an exciting story, perhaps for a short story or even a novel. Inspired by his navy days, Dubský had the cassette style ceiling built to look like a ceiling on a boat. Ervin had been not only a traveler but a painter as well. In the room Dubský had depicted himself on canvas as a wise man from the Renaissance period.

The second tour, covering the second floor, was next. The Hall Staircase had once been the theatre, the former home of the largest costume collection in Central Europe. I wondered what that theatre had looked like before it had burned down. On one wall I spotted an Oriental raincoat made of bamboo, something I had never seen before.

ImageThen we entered the private apartments.  I noted the low ceiling, which gave the spaces a more intimate feel. The Biedermeier furniture, which was the rage from 1815 to 1848, was exquisite. The style emphasized simplicity and elegance with minimal decoration. In the Count’s Parlor I was intrigued by a quill shaped as a green and white snail. The 19th century games in a display case included a wooden card shuffler. There was also a drawing of Pernštejn Castle, one of my all-time favorites, which I had visited last year.

I was drawn to the painting of Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican in the Gentlemen’s Social Parlor. Women had been banned from this room. I recalled spending my fortieth birthday touring the Vatican and Saint Peter’s. I remembered walking to Saint Peter’s on that wintry morning around 7:30 am, watching the sun come up. The sunrise had looked so romantic, yet I had been alone.

ImageThe Small Shooting Gallery contained 13 hand-painted shooting targets, the oldest ones hailing from the 18th century. One target had a butterfly in the middle, others were decorated with crowns and still others showed off landscape scenes. The Reception Room was another space featuring Biedermeier decor. I loved the paintings showing Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife, fondly called Sisi, at the celebration of their Golden Wedding anniversary. 

ImageIn the next room the guide drew my attention to a June 1906 issue of Simplicissimus magazine and showed me an advertisement for an operation to make ears smaller. I was surprised that such surgery had existed so early in the 20th century. The Tapestry Salon featured tan furniture with a pink and green floral motif. The room got its name from the tapestries used to upholster the furnishings that had even been used in the shooting of Miloš Forman’s legendary film, Amadeus. The furnishing had been transported to Barrandov studios in Prague for the filming.

The last room was the Big Shooting Gallery, where there were 40 targets along with figures. Most of the inscriptions were German or Latin rhymes or proverbs. Only one target had Czech writing on it. I noticed that on a figural target of a scantily dressed woman there was a bullet hole through her left nipple.

I had been totally enthralled during these tours. The guide said that many foreigners have visited the chateau, but very few of them were Americans. I thought it was such a shame that Americans did not take the time to come to such an amazing chateau. I would recommend that Americans stay a week or five days in Brno and take day trips to various castles, chateaus and caves. I was also glad that my tour guide had been so enthusiastic, interesting, energetic and proud of the chateau.

ImageThen it was time to see the terraced park that I had fallen in love with during my last visit. It had been drizzling earlier, but it was no longer raining. Since there were no guided tours at this time, I walked around by myself, dazzled by the flowers, colonnades and bridge that offered excellent views of the park and gardens. On the lower terrace I saw a romantic so-called kitchen garden, based on geometric patterns and hailing from the 19th century. I loved the sunflowers and pink roses, though in late August some were wilting. A pond was decorated with allegorical sculptures of America, Asia and Europe.

In the middle terrace I was bewitched by the colonnade, raised flower beds and terracotta vases that dotted the terrain. I took note of the paint-chipped columns making up the colonnade. If I were a millionaire, I would donate money to restoring castles and chateaus in the Czech Republic.

ImageThe romantic upper terrace hailed from the 19th century. Decorating a wall niche was a Madonna statue. I also discovered a grotto that hailed from the 18th century. I spotted sculptures representing the months of a year. I did not go into the castle hothouses and orangery this time, but I remembered how stunning they had been. This park was tied with the castle parks in Kroměříž and Opočno as my favorite, I decided.

I left the chateau hesitantly. I wished I had more time to spend in the park, but the bus back to Brno was to leave soon. I knew that someday I would be back again.

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

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Buchlovice Chateau Diary

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The bus from Brno to Buchlovice left me off on the highway. For a moment I panicked. Where was the underpass? I found it quickly, though, and soon came upon the magical chateau that immediately captured my heart. I loved chateaus most of all. Massive, Gothic castles were impressive but also cold and intimidating while chateaus had an intimate quality and a fragility that spoke to me.

Buchlovice Chateau was composed of separate lower and upper sections shaped as semicircles. The chateau flaunted the Baroque style, resembling an Italian villa from that period. Crowned by a cupola, the lower part incorporated the main building with representative rooms. The upper building hosted temporary exhibitions and was home to offices. I also was eager to explore the beauty of the garden with its stunning statues and flower species I had read about.

ImageAfter I bought my ticket, I took a few snapshots of the lower chateau and the fountain with an obelisk in the middle, situated in the courtyard. Then I joined the group of about 15 people on this sunny day in early July.

Buchlovice was built in the first half of the 18th century by Jan Dětřich of Petřvald for his wife Anežka Eleanora of Colonna-Fels. The Petřvalds owned nearby Buchlov Castle, too. Even in those days the lower chateau had been the most important structure, and back then the upper chateau had served as a farmstead.

After the Petřvalds, the Bertcholds gained the property, along with Buchlov Castle. The chateau was renovated in the 1920s. The Bertcholds held on to it until 1945, when the estate was nationalized under the so-called Beneš decrees that made it state property. The decrees stated that Germans, Nazi collaborators, traitors and others living in Czechoslovakia had to relinquish their Czechoslovak citizenship and property without compensation. The guide did not specify the reason why the Berchtolds had to give up Buchlovice, but I assumed it was because they had had German citizenship.

ImageBuchlovice was the seat of a significant meeting in European history at the beginning of the 20th century when the Czech lands belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Alois Lexa of Aehrenthal, the Austrian-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with Alexander Petrovich Izvolskii, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Russia. Leopold II Berchtold, as Austrian-Hungarian envoy in St. Petersburg, persuaded them to hold the talk there.

The two discussed the political turmoil in the Balkans, especially the push for independence of non-Turkish nationalities under Turkish rule. Neither politician wanted war. The Austro-Hungarian Empire aimed to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina while the Russians wanted their ships to be able to travel freely through the Dardanelles. However, Aehrenthal did not confer with the Council of the Empire in Vienna on the annexation issue of Bosnia and Herzegovina along with the Russian considerations. Emperor Franz Joseph I announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina during October of 1908.

ImageAs I entered the first room on the tour, I was dazzled by the delicate color scheme, exquisite furnishings and sense of intimacy. I felt as if I were stepping into the distant past, into someone’s home. I almost expected a member of the Petřvalds or Bertcholds to enter the space. The canopy bed captured my attention. The canopy was decorated in a pleasing pink, brown and white floral design. The wallpaper was stunning and cheerful, too, featuring pink flowers. A 17th century jewelry box from Spain had a special compartment for love letters. I wondered who had written to whom, and what exactly had been discussed in that correspondence. Did the recipient wind up marrying the writer? Or were the letters full of passionate goodbyes or passionate dreams that would never be realized?

Left with those thoughts, I continued to the Small Dining Room which featured Rococo furnishings. Even though it was lavish, I liked the flamboyancy and playfulness of the Rococo style. Yet I also appreciated Gothic and Renaissance styles, so strikingly different from Rococo. There was one unique object in the room. It was a small car that looked like a wheelchair with a steering wheel and headlights. I wondered if children played in it or if adults used it to get from room to room.

In one bedroom a painting of Madonna and Child proved a copy of a work by Raphael. The furniture was Baroque. I loved the pink and white theme in the children’s bedroom. The wallpaper featuring pink ribbons on a white background was exquisite. The Silver Salon featured silver on the wood paneling. Bright yellow furnishings brought cheer to the room. In a side room the motif of a peacock decorated the furniture.

ImageThe oval Music Hall was stunning with its frescoes. The room had two storeys divided by a gallery with gold-plated metal railings. The walls and cupola featured stucco decoration. The elliptical ceiling fresco showed the genius of the arts presenting the completed castle to Anežka, Jan Dětřich’s wife. Fortune showers her with flowers. At the top of the cupola were allegories of the personality characteristics of Anežka – justice, innocence, fortitude and love of the arts.  The frescoes of the four seasons were breathtaking, too. Then there were the four allegories of the elements. I was drawn to the angry, tall waves in the fresco depicting the allegory of water. I also noticed polychrome coats-of-arms and Corinthian columns in the majestic space.

In the library that housed Frantisek Palacký’s The History of the Czech Nation in Bohemia and Moravia as well as English, German and French books, I noticed a painting of Buchlov Castle above elaborate gold frames of portraits. I would visit Gothic Buchlov after wandering through the garden here. I knew it would be a totally different experience than the tour of this Baroque chateau.

ImageThe Big Dining Room featured red chairs with Hungarian porcelain. Two large, colorful Asian vases caught my eye. The chapel housed the oldest paintings in the chateau, dating from around 1600, and white stucco on the walls and ceiling. On the second floor I was enthralled by the bedroom of Leopold II Berchtold as the space was decorated in Napoleon style with the bed covered by what looked like a military tent.

The guide mentioned that Buchlovice was also home to an impressive collection of graphic art of the 16th to 19th centuries with 6,378 artworks. These renditions were situated in the depository, which was not part of the tour.

ImageNow it was time to explore the English style garden, created at the beginning of the 18th century. Sloping from west to east, the garden was divided into terraces. A bridge over a stream led to a large stairway with a vase-bearing balustrade. On the lower terrace I saw four statues of musicians and vases with masks of satyrs. Four statues featuring allegories of the continents also called the garden home. More than 800 species and varieties of fuchsias and numerous rhododendrons were also grown in the garden that contained exotic and rare woody species.

After a walk through the impressive garden terraces, I was eager to make my way to Buchlov. Peering at my watch, I wondered if I had enough time to walk through the forest paths to the Gothic gem and make the tour in time to return to Buchlovice for the bus back to Brno.

I would soon find out.

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

Hrádek u Nechanic Chateau Diary

HrádekuN2On a hot Friday morning in August, I went to one of my favorite chateaus, the small yet enchanting Hrádek u Nechanic, situated west of Hradec Králové, a major town in east Bohemia. Once again, I changed buses at Hradec Králové, a station I now felt I knew intimately.

When I reached the chateau, I was struck by its cheerful, romantic, dark orange façade that made it look like it belonged in a fairy tale. After getting my ticket, I walked to the back of the chateau and noticed that this part of the park bordered on a golf course. What struck me most, though, was how the back side was not a playful orange but a mundane grey that was badly in need of a paint job. It even looked a bit dilapidated. A wire fence was set up in front of this side of the chateau. To the far left, though, I climbed a few stairs that led up to the chateau as another wing was painted that dynamic dark orange.

At the beginning of the tour, the guide pointed out the lantern lamps hanging on the walls. They harkened back to the 16th and 17th centuries and had been created in Venice. Hunting trophies also adorned the walls. Then the guide acquainted the group with the chateau’s history. While the village dated back to at least the 14th century, the chateau was young, a 19th century construction built in the Neo-Gothic style of English aristocratic homes reminiscent of the times when Queen Elizabeth I and King James I reigned during the 16th and 17th centuries.  Count František Arnošt Harrach of the prominent Harrach family was responsible for building this intimate chateau in 1839. A patron of the arts, he also supported the construction of the National Theatre in Prague.

From the July 3, 1866 battle of Hradec Králové during the Prussian-Austrian war to November of that year, the chateau served as a military hospital for the Prussians and was subsequently heavily damaged. Tents had been set up outside the chateau.  In 1884 František Arnošt’s son Jan Nepomuk Harrach took over. A distinguished Czech politician, he also was keen on the arts, giving his support to Czech artists such as Karel Jaromír Erben and Bedřich Smetana.

When Jan died, the property was passed on to his brother Otto and then on to Otto’s son Jan, who lived there until 1945, when the Beneš decrees declared the property be handed over to the state. The controversial Beneš decrees declared Germans, Hungarians and collaborators living in the Czech lands and Slovakia would have to relinquish their Czechoslovak citizenship and property without compensation. Approximately three million ethnic Germans and Hungarians were expelled from the country from 1945 to 1947. The chateau was open to the public as early as 1953. It did not become a National Cultural Monument, though, until 2001.

After putting large slippers over my shoes, I followed the group into the Knights’ Hall, a small room that happened to be the biggest in the chateau. I noticed that the floor had a black-and-white diamond pattern. Coats-of-arms decorated the space above the two doors and just below the ceiling. Portraits of Harrach family members dotted the walls. I noted the exquisitely carved backs of the chairs – there were nine of them. I remembered how this entire chateau had always enchanted me with superbly and ornately carved wooden furniture. That was one of the reasons I liked it so much. I found the dark wood appealing, and it made the small rooms feel cozy, perfect for a cup of hot ginger tea on a windy, wintry night. This is definitely a chateau I would not mind living in, if it were not so far from Prague. In the center of the room stood a stone table from the 16th century, decorated with writing and coats-of-arms. Looking up again, I spotted the Lobkowitz family’s coat-of-arms just below the ceiling near the door we had come through. It boasted two black eagles complemented with red and white colors.

The Golden Hall next on the list was the most riveting space in the entire chateau. Its gold-plated leather wallpaper that featured golden swirls on a dark red background astounded me. The marble fireplace weighed 11 tons, and the tableware was 16th century, from Italy. What looked like a roll-up desk was revealed to be an upright piano. The guide lifted the lid to reveal a keyboard. Opening the two doors above the lid revealed the piano strings. But that was not the only object in that room that amazed me. A figure of a black eagle with a crown had a golden clock on its breast. It used to be able to wave its wings, too. This was the clock of Emperor Leopold I from the 17th century, the one a Russian tsar had given him. It is one of two in the world; the other graces the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

I was also entranced by the chandelier in the Breakfast Room. It featured a figure with a head and body. Its legs had been replaced by antlers that branched out to all sides. It reminded me of a creature from a fairy tale, one that was on the side of good rather than evil. Again, I admired the richly carved backs of the chairs.

The Dining Room featured plates and ceramics situated on high shelves around the walls. They hailed from 16th and 17th century Italy and Germany. What looked like a brown and white water fountain once had been used to pour wine on tap. Predictably, in the Billiards’ Room there was a big pool table. Yet the holes had been covered over. A brown with gold décor grandfather clock hailed from 18th century Berlin. The dominant 16th century painting “Celebration in the Spa” by Dutch artist Lucas van Valckenborgh featured hills and a forest dotted with people. The picture was so detailed that if you looked closely, you could see a couple holding hands far in the background.

I marveled at the next room, the library, which housed an impressive collection of 19th century Czech and Slovak books. Usually chateau libraries held few, if any, books in Czech, and I had not heard of any carrying works in Slovak. The room was also home to many publications in English, French, Latin and Greek. There was even one book in Hungarian. But the books were not what caught my undivided attention in the library: The portraits hanging high on the walls did. There were 12 portraits of people’s faces, all with various diseases that resulted in deformities. I had to turn away when I saw the swollen warts on one man’s neck. Another had evil, demented eyes, his mouth open as if screeching in pain and anguish. The portraits also reflected the anti-Semitism and racism of those times by portraying an Arab, a black man and a Jew with diseases. I was relieved that society no longer condoned such revolting prejudices. At the same time, I knew that society still had far to go in the anti-Semitism and racism departments.

Now on the first floor, we came to the Count’s Hall. The gold, blue and green leather wallpaper immediately caught my eye. The guide pointed out a faded pink armchair that was adjustable, able to move up and down. When the back of the chair was in the down position, it looked like a coffin. It so happens that František Arnošt died in that chair.

The Count’s Study featured a chandelier from Murano and a Renaissance desk. The guide showed our group what looked like a golden miniature telegraph but was really an alarm clock. Even the trash can was elaborate; it was made of carved wood.  How I would love to have a garbage can like that!

We continued to a bedroom with an icon from the 15th century, the oldest object in the chateau. I liked its bright colors; it had a distinctive vibrancy.  The guide showed us a chandelier that was electric; electricity had been installed in the chateau in the early 20th century. It hung from a flexible band that could be pulled up and down.

We walked through the guest rooms, where historical personalities such as Czech ethnographer and patron Vojta Náprstek had stayed. The exquisite carving on the doors also drew my attention.  On one wall I noticed the black-and-white engravings of an ancient city’s ruins – was it Rome? I saw a lovely, light blue bed frame with floral decoration in one of the rooms as well. Finally, we entered the Family Halls. Landscapes covered one wall. I noticed an impressively carved jewelry box with detailed wooden drawers. On the walls were black-and-white engravings of portraits of Habsburg generals. One of the earliest digital clocks was on display, too. It had a white square and a number in black on top of one other. The top number read two, the bottom one 59.

Almost last but certainly not least was the Oriental Hall. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the ornate, detailed craftsmanship of the wooden furniture from China. I could not recall being more impressed by any other wooden furniture in all of the chateaus I had visited.

The chapel was dedicated to Saint Anna, who was depicted reading to a child in the altarpiece that consisted of lively, red, blue and tan colors. The stained glass windows were also a sight to behold. The men’s oratory was made of finely carved wood.

The tour ended as a thunderstorm ensued. I wanted to take refuge in the cozy rooms of the chateau with dark wood lining. Yes, this chateau was still one of my favorites. I ventured outside and into the downpour, unable to get the images of all that exquisitely carved wooden furniture and lovely leather wallpaper out of my mind.

 

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