Mnichovo Hradiště Chateau Diary

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I had taken this train many times before, usually to Turnov, which was one stop further than today’s destination – Mnichovo Hradiště. The last time I had taken this route, the train had been furnished with new, comfortable seats, though the exterior had appeared dilapidated. This time, the seats were the usual ugly, red, vinyl kind divided into compartments that looked dirty. After riding the pleasant Viamont train to Bečov nad Teplou, I guess I had become a bit spoiled concerning train travel.

The trip took about an hour and 45 minutes, and it took another 15 minutes to walk through the pleasant town to get to the chateau. I remembered the chateau’s exterior from my visit here about 10 years ago, but it looked as if the walls had seen a few fresh coats of paint since my first time here. There were three parts to the tour – the Empire style theatre for about 50 or 60 spectators, the interior rooms with mostly 18th century furnishings and the lapidarium where 25 statues were kept in the church and chapel of a former convent.

The guide and I started with the tour of the theatre.  On the way there, we stopped in a hallway where I saw large portraits and Baroque bureaus. A huge painting traced the genealogy of the Waldstein family, the clan who had owned the chateau for generations. I picked out Vilém Slavata from Chlum and Košumberk in a long, red robe and big, red cap in one portrait. I had visited enough chateaus to know that this nobleman and writer had been thrown out a window of Prague Castle during one of Prague’s defenestrations. Thankfully, he had fallen on a heap of manure.  Passing the Hunting Hallway, I glanced at black-and- white graphics of various animals and noticed a depiction of a deer with one antler. Then we came to a machine that made the sound of wind. By turning a lever, the round, wooden contraption with a white sheet over it moved to produce the sound.

MnichovoHchateau6Then we entered the Empire style theatre. I took a seat on a bench that resembled the original seating. While the theatre was first mentioned in archival documents during 1798, it was renovated and given an Empire style appearance in the early 1800s on the occasion of the Holy Alliance negotiations, when Austrian Emperor Franz I, Russian Tsar Nicholas I and Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William discussed how to handle the revolts taking place throughout their lands, during 1833. The first play performed here was Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, performed in German and Czech by actors who came from Prague. Three theatre groups from Prague’s Theatre of the Estates gave performances here for three nights. In the second half of the 19th century, the theatre fell into disrepair and was used as a furniture warehouse. It was not open for the public until 1999. The curtain was restored in 2001.

 I was enthralled by the romantic landscape backdrop that was currently on display. It gave me a soothing, calm feeling. Some of the 11 plain, flat backdrops that the theatre possessed included a street view, a castle, a hall with columns and Prague Castle with the Lesser Quarter and Charles Bridge. The stage was 32 feet wide, 28 and a half feet deep and four feet high while the proscenium opening was 22 feet wide and 13 and three-fourths feet high. The theatre had one curtain and 54 wings, which were set at an angle to the stage instead of being placed parallel to it, as was the usual custom. The theatre did not use a mechanized wing system or wing trolley, either, but rather employed a groove system that utilizes upper and lower grooves to assure that the wings will stay upright. Also, the wings in this theatre were double-sided and therefore could be reversed easily. On the back wall behind the balcony a large genealogy painting of the Waldstein family, complete with cherubs, caught my attention. It celebrated the family’s pride of its heritage. The theatre is still on occasions used today.

The chateau had an intriguing history. It was built in the 17th century, during Renaissance times. The owner Václav Budovce of Budov joined forces with other nobles in a revolt against the emperor and was executed on Old Town Square in Prague during June of 1621. In 1623 the chateau was confiscated and subsequently bought by Albrecht Eusebius of Waldstein.  In 1675 Arnošt Josef of Waldstein purchased it and kept it until the middle of the 20th century. The chateau was given a Baroque appearance in the early 1700s, although some rooms were given a Rococo makeover around 1750.

In a hallway full of portraits, I spotted the pointed beard of Albrecht of Waldstein, the one who had bought the chateau in 1623. A large painting explained the genealogy of Emanuel Arnošt of Waldstein. The guide said that when the researcher could not find all the ancestors of the Waldsteins, he made them up. The large, grey, puffy wig that Maximilian of Waldstein was wearing caught my attention, too. I also noticed that Count Vincenc had only one eye open. There was also a room to the side, roped off. Leaning over the rope, I glimpsed a tiny chapel with a Baroque altar of Saint John of Nepomuk and a Madonna with child. The altar was flanked by black Corinthian columns with golden tops.

Next came the Countess’ Antechamber. Someone had installed a 20th century telephone and placed it on a Baroque bureau, a sight which vividly contrasted the two eras, so far apart in technology and time. A still life painting adorned one wall, and a laundry basket with an exquisite floral pattern and muted yellow background sat on the floor. The stunning green, blue and brown chandelier symbolized the four seasons. I noticed that grapes stood for fall.

The oldest painting in the chateau, showing an old lecherous man and a young woman whom I suppose was very naive, hung on a wall of the Countess’ Bedroom. I noticed how both figures had baby pink skin. Why a countess would want such a painting in her bedroom is beyond me. In the visitors’ book, a thick, red book on an ancient desk, I could read the names of nobility such as Schwarzenberg and Lobkowicz.

MnichovoHchateau4The Italian Salon enthralled me with its stunning mural spanning three walls. The painter had never visited the Italian town presented; rather, he had painted it from an etching. From the embankment of the town pictured, one could see Naples and Venice in the distance. Two men and a woman were talking in one section, nobles had gathered in another, and in yet another part two men manned the oars of a small boat.

The Study, which later became known as the Music Salon, featured a piano with the white and black keys reversed. I had never seen a piano with this unique trait. The Baroque white tile fireplace was decorated with two sea monsters that were supposed to be dolphins, as they slivered through the water with their heads pointed down.  Small portraits also adorned the Music Salon. One showed Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa dressed in black, mourning the death of her husband.

The small picture gallery was roped off, which disappointed me. I wanted to study each painting in minute detail, but only was afforded a side view of the three walls totally covered in art. I noticed a woman reading while holding a skull and other paintings boasting hunting themes.

Next came the Hunting Salon. The three walls were covered in a mural painted in shades of dark green and featuring a forest, dogs and hunters. I noticed that a backgammon game consisted of pieces with faces carved on them.  The ceiling fresco was devoted to Diana, goddess of the hunt. She held an arrow; one of her plump breasts was bare. The room also boasted a secret door.

The biggest room in the chateau was the Dancing Salon or Reception Salon, Rococo in style. A mirror sat flat on a round table that looked like a three-tier table for cakes wheeled around in luxurious restaurants. Porcelain figures decorated the three tiers while murals decorated two walls. I spotted this very chateau in the background of one part of the mural. Men clad in red with dogs were seen in a forest as a woman stood in the doorway, something having caught her sudden attention.

The Ladies Salon featured murals on four walls. They showed a countess posing in different professions. She was portrayed as a dancer, a flower-seller, a hunter, a fisherwoman and a traveler, among others. In the depiction of the countess as a flower-seller, I took note of the English park in the background and the flowers that decorated her hat. I was enamored by the backs of the chairs on which landscapes had been painted. The floral cushions were exquisite as well.

MnichovoHchateau2The most beautiful room in the chateau, in my opinion, was the Delft Dining Room that is immersed in blue-and-white Delft Faience porcelain from the 17th to 19th century, all original and handmade. I noticed some geometrically shaped vases and admired the wooden compartment ceiling, too. The Waldstein gold with blue coat-of-arms decorated the center of the Renaissance ceiling. I noticed some plates on a wall featuring windmills while a tray depicted a park with a fountain and statue.

The Oriental Salon was full of Japanese and Chinese porcelain. I admired the orange and blue swirls of one Chinese plate hanging on a wall. The table and chairs were made of bamboo. Four vases represented the four seasons. A Japanese painted partition also adorned the room.

The table in the Meissen Dining Room was set for breakfast with its blue-and-white porcelain taking center stage. Yet what astounded me about Meissen craftsmanship were the chandeliers. Hailing from the beginning of the 19th century, this particular chandelier featured floral decoration colored green, pink, yellow and orange.

Although the library was composed of three rooms, a gate with bars prevented visitors from entering. This was the library where Giacomo Casanova had served as librarian during the 18th century, the guide reminded our group. His letters and manuscripts made up a significant part of the chateau archives, as did material from the Thirty Years’ War. I wished I could see more of the 22,000 volumes inside the gate as the shelves were decked with fiction as well as specialized literature, such as legal and historical works. Many books focused on alchemy, too. They were written in a variety of languages, including German, Latin, Czech, Italian and Hebrew. Two big globes stood in the foreground while a smaller globe and telescope could be seen in the background of the closest room.

Walking through a hallway before descending the stairs, I spotted a large portrait of an armor-clad Albrecht of Waldstein on a gray, spotted horse. Then it was time to visit the lapidarium.

The church and chapel of the former Capuchin convent appeared to be plain, nondescript. The exterior was even dilapidated. What was inside, though, proved absolutely stunning and breathtaking. As we first entered the Church of the Three Kings that joined the Chapel of Saint Anne, I saw about six small statues in a dark, small space. This will be disappointing, I remember thinking to myself. Then we turned the corner, and the room came alive with 25 statues of Baroque, Rococo and Empire style twisting and turning, dynamic and vibrant, most made of sandstone.

Home to these statues since 1966, the lapidarium featured monuments that had been deteriorating in the outdoors. Our group stood in front of the headstone of Alburtus de Waldstein, the name engraved prominently on one wall in what looked like marble. Then I walked through the room, my head spinning from all the dynamic and expressive movement flowing from the statues. I inspected the altar of the Saint Anne Chapel and noticed that Saint Anne had a child on her lap as they were reading, cherubs fluttering above. Next to them a figure seemed to be holding a painting.

MnichovoHchateau5Then I took in the statues. In a sandstone work hailing from the third quarter of the 18th century, the Virgin Mary had her hands clasped to her breast. A Saint John of Nepomuk portrayal by Josef Jelínek the Elder, dating from the second quarter of the 18th century and made of polychrome wood, featured that saint as a sort of visionary, peering into the distance, determined and confident. I noticed the dynamic folds in his white drapery. It looked as if they were fluttering in the wind. Another statue, named the Angel with the Attribute of Christ’s Suffering, had been erected in the early 1720s out of sandstone. I was stunned by the angel’s huge wings as the angel seemed to be moving toward the viewer, about to trample him or her. I also noticed the angel’s crushed nose and wished the statues were in better condition. If I was a millionaire, I would donate money to preserving Czech chateaus and castles, so that fascinating statues such as these could be restored.

The Lion and Putto, by master Ignatius Francis Platzer, was made of sandstone and hailed from the 1750s or 1760s. Putto, clutching a shield, was riding on an enormous lion. Perhaps the best known statue in the collection was Matthias Bernard Braun’s Perseus, a sandstone work from the early 1730s. Perseus appeared calm, not at all tormented, and I took note of his fluttering drapery and twisting body. Then I walked over to Saint John of Nepomuk with Two Angels by Karle Josef Hiernle, a sandstone piece from 1727. John of Nepomuk was flanked by two angels. One angel lightly touched the sleeve of John of Nepomuk’s garment. An angel held a finger to his lips, while the other pointed toward Heaven. Cupid heads decorated the bottom of the sculpture. John of Nepomuk ‘s head was leaning to the right, his hands were clasped and his eyes closed as if he were meditating.

After thoroughly enjoying my inspection of the statues, I went to lunch, where I ate my favorite chicken with peaches and cheese. Soon afterwards, I took a bus from the main square directly to Prague. Once again, I was fascinated by everything that I had seen in the chateau, and I needed time to process all the information and all the beauty that had surrounded me.

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

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Opočno Chateau Diary

Opocnochateau3The trip went well. I changed buses at Hradec Králové after a little over an hour’s ride and then took another bus for almost an hour to the main square of the small town in called Opočno, where there is a chateau of the same name. I was in northeast Bohemia, near Poland, not far from the Orlické Mountains.  It didn’t take long to find the chateau as it was only 300 meters from the bus stop. After I bought my ticket, I walked through another courtyard and found myself staring at a façade with two-tiered light and airy arcades and a columned balcony on the third level. Flanking the arcaded façade were adjoining buildings of a pleasing red brick color complemented by white. Neatly trimmed circular hedges added color to the courtyard.

I had done enough reading about the chateau to know that the name Opočno conjures up a few intriguing stories connected with the chateau’s history. In the second half of the 15th century, the owner, Jan of Drslavic, protested against the legendary preacher and martyr Jan Hus being burned at the stake. Then he changed his mind and supported those who did Hus in. Jan Žižka, Hus’ successor with the Hussites, razed some of the surrounding villages and partially destroyed part of the chateau. Jan of Drslavic even hired a hitman to murder Žižka. He was unsuccessful.

When, during the 16th century, the Trčka family retained ownership of the chateau, Mikuláš Trčka Jr. not only reconstructed the chateau but also had his wife immured alive because she was unfaithful to him. Her lover was beheaded.

A significant historical event took place here as well. From June 16 to June 23, 1813 this was the setting for meetings dealing with the strategy to defeat French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Austrian Chancellor Klemens Wenzel, Prince von Metternich; Russian Czar and Emperor Alexander I; and the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III, were the main players in this historical drama.

Perhaps the 16th century is better known for the Trčka family’s work on the chateau. Jan Rudolph Trčka constructed a summerhouse and had built a garden and orangery with a Renaissance park and ponds. During the 18th century the façade took on a Baroque appearance.

The most significant changes, though, probably came about when Rudolph Joseph Colloredo-Mannsfeld became the owner in 1807. A greenhouse was built, and the English style park was filled with ponds and many types of plants, some of them exotic and rare. In 1896 the family moved their impressive picture gallery to the chateau.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Joseph Colloredo-Mannsfeld transformed some interiors into Rococo style.

His successor, though, was not so lucky. The Nazis overtook the chateau and grounds in 1942. After the war the chateau became the property of newly independent Czechoslovakia. The chateau underwent much restoration during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but disaster hit in 1998, when floods ravaged the park. It took two years to clean the mud out of ponds, bridges had to be rebuilt, and rare species of plants had to grow anew.

Although the Colloredo-Mannsfeld family asked for the property back during 1992, they did not get their wish granted until 2003. Some legal disputes have yet to be settled, though.

Opocnochateau1It was soon time for the tour. The first room I entered was the Ethnographic Hall, where I saw various objects from Sudan, Egypt, Central Africa, and South America. There was an Arabic sword and breastplate armor as well as a tonton drum.  Arabic furniture and the apparel of the Sioux and Apache Indians were also on display. The Central American Indians were also represented.

Swords, shields and armor from the 16th to 19th century adorned the staircase as did paintings of the chateau as it had appeared at the beginning of the 18th century. Colloredo-Mannsfeld family portraits also hung here.

The Chapel of Saint Anne, dating back to the early 18th century, took up two floors. It was adorned with a fresco showing the coronation of the virgin, a painted ceiling showing swirling figures and also images of patrons of the Czech Lands. It boasted rich wooden décor.  It was breathtaking to look up at all those swirling figures. I felt gripped by their beauty.

The Study boasted Italian commodes from the 16th to 17th century and a Neo-Renaissance wardrobe. One painting, called “The Twelve-Year Old Jesus in the Temple,” was executed by a follower of Hieronimus Bosch around 1550. The bright pink robe of one of the rather static figures caught my eye.

In the Smoking Room I was impressed with the glass – there was a collection of Venetian glass from the 16th century as well as Czech cut glass. German guild goblets, German pottery and Empire style Viennese porcelain also made the room intriguing. I spotted an ashtray shaped as a horn and made out of brown leather. I especially liked the hand painted vases and the glasses sporting coats of arms. I recognized pictures of Dobříš Chateau, near Prague, and Opočno Chateau on two glasses.

A Hapsburg dynasty portrait gallery called the Dining Room home. I spotted Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in a blue dress as well as Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Leopold I and his first wife, Margaret Theresa of Spain. I had visited enough chateaus to know that the pair was considered the ugliest and most faithful couple, according to legend. Somehow the curly, long black hair and moustache didn’t suit Leopold I’s disproportionate face, only making him more displeasing to the eye. Elaborate candlesticks were 200 years old, dating from the 18th and 19th century.

The chateau park

The chateau park

Flemish tapestries and hunting trophies from North America and Africa dotted the Game Room, which was also fit with a pool table. While I was always entranced by Flemish tapestries, I did not like hunting trophies, as I do not approve of killing animals for sport.

The Changing Room was distinguished by the 18th century Flemish tapestries with a hunting theme as well. Baroque still life paintings also adorned the walls. The guide told us that during the 18th century women could not show their ankles because it was considered the most erotic part of the body.

The Ladies Bedroom had a small bed because women remained in a sitting position while asleep so they wouldn’t mess up their elaborate hairdos. That was how the guide explained it. But I had also heard on many tours that people back then were afraid they would die if they lay down at night. I was particularly drawn to one black-and-white painting showing Empress Maria Theresa of Austria with 13 of her 16 children. Why only 13? Because three had already died before the painting was executed. The colorful chandelier made of Venetian glass will fall if an unfaithful man steps under it, the guide told us. I hoped there were no unfaithful men on the tour.

The Guest Rooms exhibited various styles of furniture, from Renaissance, Early Baroque and High Baroque to Classicist and Empire. In the Classicist room I noticed an intriguing stand for candles with three-tiers, one with figures of people, another with ravens and a third with what looked like cherubs.

Then we came to my favorite rooms, the small and large picture galleries. There were so many swirling Baroque figures in the paintings that it was overwhelming. I was dizzy with awe. The paintings were side-by-side, so close to each other. The small gallery featured Italian paintings of the Venetian and Ferraro Schools, to name a few, ranging from the 16th to 18th century while the large gallery was dominated by the work of the Neapolitan School and others during the 17th and 18th centuries. Three large paintings also depicted the history of the Italian town Mantova. I noticed a rendition of a hilly landscape, in calming blue and green, with a man in the foreground kneeling in front of some water. In the large gallery some seascapes caught my eye. One painting depicted a man with six toenails. On a hall there was a map of the area around Opočno with a legend of various places depicted on the painting. Yet another showed a battle scene with ruins in the background.

Opocnopark3I would like to point out some of the paintings that particularly enthralled me. In Luca Cambiaso’s “The Holy Family,” I took note of how Mary gazed so lovingly at the baby Jesus as she tickled his foot. The darkness contrasting with light caught my attention in Francesco Trevisani’s “The Assassination of St. Wenceslas.” While angels congregated in the light sky above, a helmeted man decked in blue gripped a dagger in the lower portion of the painting, almost complete darkness enclosing him as he was ready to strike an almost lifeless, chained Saint Wenceslas. Rays of light streamed into the darkness at a right angle. In “The Battle,” by a follower of Salvatore Rosa, one fighter on horseback shoved his sword into his foe, who began to slide off his horse. The wounded lifted up one hand toward Heaven as if asking God to stop time. I was moved by the helplessness of such a gesture.  The atmosphere was totally different in Giacomo Po’s “Victor’s Apotheosis II,” as I saw a swirling figures and horses carried out in Baroque style. The clear, light blue sky melting into the horizon and the dark green color of the trees in the foreground had a calming effect on me in Jan Frans van Bloeman’s (known as Orizzonte) “Landscape in Campagna.”

The library became another of my favorite rooms as I was entranced by its rare books. Martin Luther’s German 16th century translation of The Bible was here, and I knew how much that book had influenced the evolution of the German language. There was a French encyclopedia dating from 1765, too. Altogether there were about 7,000 books, bound in what looked to be gold, written in languages such as Latin, French and Italian. The subjects ranged from religion to history to linguistics to philosophy. One manuscript was called The Czech Chronicle of the World – this was my favorite – and it had been printed before 1423 in Nuremburg. I loved old, fragile manuscripts. The ancient, crisp paper with the neat, careful, fancy script always caught my eye. Each page seemed to have a life of its own, to tell its own story. To me such manuscripts seemed magical.

I wasn’t keen on weapons, but the three rooms – the Asian Armory, the Hunting Hall and the Knights’ Hall – were impressive, no doubt about it.  The Asian Armory featured weapons from the Near East and Far East, from countries such as Turkey, India and Japan.  Perhaps the highlight of the room was the 2,000-year old small bronze drum from the Dongon culture of what is today North Vietnam.  I took note of a sword from Thailand with beautifully carved handles. What intrigued me the most, though, was one object from Japan. It consisted of poles with spikes that had been used to catch the kimonos of thieves in the market.

The Knights’ Hall portrayed the development of weapons and armor from the 15th to 18th century, some pieces harkening back to the 15th century Hussite Wars and the 17th century Thirty Years’ War, for example. The guide showed us one sword that had no sharp point because it was used for executions. A Roman helmet was 2,000 years old and found in what is now Moravia. Another unique object that caught my attention was a painting of Opočno. It looked nothing like the chateau because the painter had never been there

Opocnopark1After the tour I went to the park. It was a very hot, sunny day. I sat on a bench not far from the entrance, under a tree in the shade and stared at the pond and leafy trees that looked like enchanting scenery from a postcard. This was my favorite park, I was certain. I felt so at ease here. I couldn’t exactly explain why. I didn’t need to go to the sea to relax. I just needed to go to Opočno’s chateau park. When I first visited Opočno 10 years earlier, I had thought that I would like my wedding to be here, so I could walk with my new husband through this park, through this fairy tale of natural wonders. Ten years later, still with no husband, I sat on the bench and read The Death of the Beautiful Deer by Czech author Ota Pavel. I stayed there for about two hours, content, not wanting to leave. But I had to get something to eat before I caught the five o’clock bus back. The closest restaurant was reserved, so I found a pub with attractive seating on the main square and chose my favorite – chicken with peaches and cheese plus a diet Coke.

I got to the bus stop on the main square about 20 minutes before five o’clock. According to the schedule on the Internet, the bus was supposed to come a little after five. I wanted to check it on the schedule on the bus stop, but I couldn’t. It was June 12, and the bus schedule changed June 13. Tomorrow’s schedules were already posted; today’s had been taken down already. I could only hope my information from the Internet was right. Then two teenage girls showed up at the stop. The bus came about 10 minutes before five o’clock.

I had been lucky. In early August, when I looked up the times of buses from Hradec Králové to Opočno, according to the web site, no such connection existed.

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

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