Peruc Chateau Diary

Perucext1

NOTE: No photography was allowed inside the chateau.

I was so excited to be visiting a chateau I had never seen before. Peruc Chateau had just opened to the public on July 1, 2020 after lengthy reconstruction. Now it was mid-August. I was entranced by the blue Rococo façade.

In the late 16th century, the Lobkowicz clan that owned Peruc turned the Gothic fortress there into a Renaissance chateau. After that, owners came and went. In 1673 Jan Jetřich of Ledebur purchased what was then a ruin, and the property remained in his family for more than 100 years. During the late 18th century, they transformed it into a Rococo chateau.

PerucPalackyfromVzdy Nahore

František Palacký, photo from Vždy Nahoře

In 1814, it became the property of František Antonín Thun-Hohenstein. During the 19th century, famous Czech historian, politician and writer František Palacký, nicknamed the Father of the Nation, frequented the chateau. I had always admired Palacký not only for his contributions to modern Czech history studies but also because he spoke 11 languages. Poet, prose writer, reporter and world traveler Svatopluk Čech spent much of his childhood in Peruc. He would go on to write one of the main science fiction books in Czech literature.

FrantisekPalackydejiny-narodu-ceskehoDatabazeknih

History of the Czech Nation by František Palacký, photo from Databáze knih

During World War II, the chateau was used as a depository for Leipzig University library, and the collection was transformed back to Germany in 1954. The chateau remained the property of the Thun-Hohenstein clan until 1945, when, according to the Beneš decrees, it was nationalized. Cubist painter, graphic artist and sculptor Emil Filla lived there in the late 1940s and early 1950s, composing mostly landscapes of Czech mountains. During World War II he had spent time in Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps, where he wrote theoretical essays and poems.

PerucSvatoplukCechfromKniznice

Svatopluk Čech, photo from Knižnice

In the 1950s, part of the chateau was used as a nursery school. During the 1960s, a prehistory exhibition of the National Museum was set up as was an exhibition to Svatopluk Čech. The town was also associated with a romantic story about Oldřich and Božena’s fateful meeting. During 1964 the chateau became a cultural monument. However, the building became dilapidated and soon was nothing more than a ruin.

PerucCechvylety-pana-broucka-fromDatabazeknih

Svatopluk Čech’s sci-fi masterpiece, photo from Databáze knih

The district was given the chateau after the 1989 Revolution, and they sold it, but it remained in a decrepit state. Finally, in 2015 a new owner came along and had the restoration done. The same person owned Dětenice Chateau, another favorite of mine. Now the chateau looked majestic and lavish, but, while on the tour, I would see pictures of the horrible condition before reconstruction.

Before the tour, I discovered that there were only dry toilets outside, with a hole in the ground instead of a flushing mechanism. I hadn’t used a dry toilet since visiting Kokořin Castle so many years ago.

Perucext2

Soon it was time for the tour. First, we walked up a statue-flanked staircase, where I saw sculpture representing allegories of architecture, construction and sculpture, for instance. They had been created by the workshop of Ignác František Platzer, the principle sculptor of the 18th century. The statue at the top of the staircase hailed from the 16th c. A stunning tapestry with a religious theme hung behind the monumental staircase.

Throughout the tour, I would be in awe of the many masterful religious paintings, including Madonnas and scenes from the Old Testament. The Břeclav Madonna was my favorite. Its gold background gave it a majestic appearance, and the semi-precious stone on one finger of the Madonna was a stunning feature.

Perucext3

The tiled stoves, mostly in Classicist style, were another delight. The one that I liked best was thin, about one-third of the width of a typical tiled stove in a chateau. It was white and sleek. I was drawn to it because it looked modern, and its design was simple rather than lavish.

Large portraits of Emperor Franz Joseph I, Empress Maria Theresa and Josef II could be found throughout the chateau. I especially liked one likeness of Josef II in which one of his hands seemed to stick out of the painting as if it were three-dimensional.

Perucext5

Some of the ceilings were beautiful. Several painted ceilings represented the Renaissance style while another depicted a blue sky. The Czech crystal chandeliers also made a notable impression. Large Florentine mirrors wish lavish gold frames captured my undivided attention, too.

I was particularly drawn to a black jewel chest with wine red drawers, made of ebony and ivory. A colored painting of a figure with a parasol and other people in what appeared to be a forest was the subject of a partition. Currently, the Blue Salon is being renovated. Its blue decoration is stunning. I noticed a blue castle on one wall.

Perucext6

I stopped by the nearby Museum of Czech Village Life twice, but it was not open. After seeing the chateau, we were famished. We didn’t fancy anything at the outdoor grill on the chateau grounds, so we got in the car, found a restaurant on the Internet and drove there with GPS. The navigation tool led us to an abandoned farmhouse in Slavětin. The only restaurant in the town didn’t open for almost four hours.

We went through many villages, and there weren’t restaurants in any of them. A lot of restaurants in villages had closed down due to the coronavirus lockdown, when they lost so much money because they weren’t allowed to be open.

Perucint3

The main staircase of the chateau

We came to a village where a friend of my friend lived, and my friend called her for advice. She mentioned that a village called Klanovice had a superb restaurant. We found Klanovice, but only saw a dirty bar where there was little choice of food. That surely wasn’t the right restaurant. We went back through the village several times and finally turned into a place where people could ride horses. To one side was an impressive-looking restaurant. The food was excellent, the atmosphere charming and rustic.

From there we found our way back to Prague. I was glad I had – after such a long time – been introduced to a new chateau and certainly would recommend it to my friends.

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

Perucintchandelelier

Chandelier above main staircase

Libochovice Chateau Diary

Lobochovice6
I discovered Libochovice Chateau in 2005 and wrote about it in an article describing chateaus in north Bohemia. It was published during October of that year in The Washington Post. Libochovice is certainly a hidden gem in north Bohemia. I recalled its dazzling displays, stunning tapestries, breathtaking ceiling frescoes and beautiful tiled stoves plus exquisite jewel chests. It is a shame there are not more foreign tourists making the trip there. It has so much to offer the curious castlegoer.
Lobochovicestatue
Before entering the chateau courtyard, I peered at the statue of Jan Evangelista Purkyně, who was born in Libochovice during 1787 and who became one of the leading scientists in the world, as he delved into the studies of anatomy and physiology. His father had worked for the Dietrichsteins, the family who had owned the chateau at that time. For two years Purkyně served as a tutor at Blatná Chateau, a remarkable sight in south Bohemia. Later, he made numerous discoveries in the scientific sphere, such as the Purkinje effect, Purkinje cells, Purkinje fibers, Purkinje images and the Purkinje shift. He also coined the scientific terms plasma and protoplasm. A crater on the moon and an asteroid are named after him.
Lobochovice3
Before my trip, I had read up on the history of the town and chateau. Located near the romantic ruins of Házmburk Castle, Libochovice was first mentioned in writing at the beginning of the 13th century. At that time, Házmburk Castle, then called Klapý and by no means a ruin, played a major role in the development in the town. A wooden fortress was built in Libochovice, and it was later replaced by a stone Gothic structure. During the Hussite Wars of the 15th century, the castle in Libochovice was razed, the town conquered.
Lobochovice4
The Lobkowiczs took over the properties in 1558, and they were responsible for constructing a Renaissance chateau with 28 rooms on the premises. When Jiří Lobkowicz revolted against Emperor Rudolf II in 1594, he was imprisoned, and his property was confiscated. That’s when the Sternberg family took control. Still, times were not rosy. The Thirty Years’ War did much damage, and during a fire in 1661, the chateau was destroyed.
Lobochovice1
When Václav Vojtěch Sternberg sold Libochovice to Austrian noble Gundarkar from Dietrichstein in 1676, a new era had begun. The Dietrichsteins would retain ownership until 1858. The chateau was reborn from 1683 to 1690, designed in early Baroque style. There were four wings with a courtyard decorated with Tuscan pilasters and arcades. A sala terrena on the ground floor led to the garden.
Lobochovicefresco2
Unfortunately, Gundakar died before the construction of the two-floor structure was completed. His daughter Terezie was then in charge of the chateau, and she had renovations made in the 1870s. More reconstruction occurred from 1902 to 1912. In the 19th century Johann Friedrich Herberstein added many objects of interest to the chateau collection. An avid traveler, he toured Egypt, Syria, Persia and India, for instance.
Lobochovicefresco4
During World War II the chateau’s history was bleak. That’s when Nazis took over Libochovice Chateau. Sixty-five residents of the town and surroundings revolted against the Third Reich and were beheaded by the Nazis. After 1945 the chateau was confiscated and nationalized because wartime owner Friedrich Herberstein had obtained German citizenship. More reconstruction took place throughout the decades, and in 2002 the chateau was declared a national monument.
Lobochovicesallaterrana
I was so excited about this tour. First, we visited the sala terrena, which looked like a richly adorned cave. The vaulted ceiling was incredible. I loved the sea motif as decorative seashells took the shape of a floral design. The reliefs of a sea monster also enthralled me.
Lobochovicefireplace
Next, we came to one of the highlights of the chateau, large Saturn Hall, where banquets, balls and concerts had been held. Above the fireplace a stucco sculptural grouping focused on Saturn. The Baroque chandelier, hailing from Holland, also captured my interest.
Lobochovicefresco6
From there, we continued to the Baroque section of the chateau. The ceiling fresco in the first room was breathtaking, displaying a mythological scene. A Renaissance chest gilded with ivory and a Baroque jewel chest inlaid with ivory and tortoiseshell were two delights.
Lobochovicetapestry2
I marveled at the tapestry, one of many I would see in this chateau, in the Big Gallery. It dated from the 16th century, and its theme was the Trojan War. The guide remarked that the tapestries were not put up for merely for show; they had also helped heat the rooms. A Baroque fireplace hailed from 1620. Still, that was not all this room had to offer. A jewel chest featuring carved reliefs hailed from the beginning of the 17th century.
Lobochoviceint3
The Study included an atlas from 1775 with pages of handmade paper. I wanted to turn the pages to find out what the handmade paper felt like. I recalled visiting the papermill in Velké Losiny, located in north Moravia, long ago, when I also toured the chateau there. It had been an enthralling experience, I mused. Then a jewel chest made with intarsia dazzled me. One tapestry in this room showed off a garden party while another sported a plant motif in an idyllic setting. The Baroque stove hailed from 1690. There were so many impressive Baroque stoves in this chateau!
Lobochoviceint7
During the 17th and 18th centuries in the Czech lands, there was much interest in Chinese and Japanese porcelain. The Chinese and Imari Japanese vases in the Oriental Salon reminded me of a trip to Dresden’s Porcelain Museum. The pieces in the chateau were so exquisite. Upon seeing an impressive French Baroque clock, I recalled the one I had seen at Loučeň Chateau a few months earlier. And how I loved jewel chests! This particular jewel chest was inlaid with ivory and tortoiseshell, featured intarsia craftsmanship and portrayed a hunting scene. Another thrilling tapestry was on display. I recalled the exciting tapestries at the Residence Palace Museum in Munich.

In the Bedroom I admired the spiral carved columns of the 17th and 18th century Baroque closets as well as the bed with canopy. A Rococo crucifix was also on display. The tapestry in this room featured King Solomon. I was enthusiastic because I knew there were even more tapestries to come.
Lobochovicefresco9
Rococo furniture from the 18th century decorated the Morning Salon. I mused that it must have been delightful to sit in this room and sip black or green tea. Two tapestries portraying the apostles adorned the space. And there was yet another ceiling fresco! This one showed Persephone venturing into the Underworld. I was especially drawn to the jewel chest with pictures of a town carved on its drawers. The attention to detail fascinated me.

In the Ladies’ Cabinet there was a Baroque commode with exquisite intarsia plus a Rococo table and desk also created with intarsia. The three tapestries took up themes of nature and architecture, offering a respite from the religious scenes that the tapestries often portrayed.
Lobochoviceint15
The Men’s Cabinet was decorated mostly with Neo-Renassaince and Second Rococo furniture. A large desk was Baroque. If I had not visited so many chateaus, it would have never occurred to me that the big bowl decorated with images of birds and floral motifs used to serve as an aquarium.
Lobochovicechapel2
Next came the chapel. While it was originally designed in Gothic style, the chapel now looks as it did after a 19th century renovation. I admired the stained glass windows. I love stained glass! The Neo-Gothic altar featured the apostles. What captured my attention the most, however, was a 16th century exquisitely carved altar showing off the adoration of the Three Kings. The woodwork was incredible, so detailed, so exquisite.
Lobochovicechapel1
The Big Dining Room took on Renaissance and Baroque characteristics. A carpet covered the large table, set for a feast. The tableware was made of pewter, typical of the Renaissance era. On the table there was a bowl that served as a washbasin for guests to clean their hands while eating. And more tapestries to behold! This time the two tapestries portrayed Alexander of Macedonia. Two paintings rendered scenes from antiquity. (The paintings throughout the chateau also are worthy of undivided attention.) Once again, I admired yet another ceiling fresco. This one centered around Aphrodite and Athena. In the corners four female figures in oval medallions represented the four continents. (Australia had yet to be discovered.)
Lobochoviceint10
I liked the Biedermeier furniture in the Small Dining Room. That style seemed to me to have such a sense of order and rationality. Yet I was enthralling by all styles of all eras. The colored decorative porcelain from Dresden and the pink-and-white Viennese porcelain service also caught my eye. The Baroque stove was quite a sight, too.

The Rococo Salon featured furniture of the Second Rococo style from the mid-19th century. The pink walls made the room feel quaint and inviting. Stucco adorned the ceiling fresco. Another Baroque stove and Meissen porcelain made appearances. In a flattering portrait, Terezie Dietrichsteinová – Herbersteinová, a former owner of the chateau, looked calm and content with life. I wondered if I was at a time in my life when I was calm and content. To some extent, yes. And traveling certainly played a major, positive role in my contentment.
Lobochoviceptng
The Empire Salon was decorated with furniture of that style from the 19th century. On the walls were pictures of Dietrichstein properties – Nové Město nad Metují Chateau, Kounice and Mikulov, all rendered masterfully by František Kučera. I liked the clock featuring a tongue that showed the time. The clock making time with its tongue brought to mind images of the living objects in The Beauty and the Beast. From the window there was a splendid view of the park.
Lobochoviceint16
The 19th century library was intriguing because it contained mostly books about natural science and travel, all printed in numerous languages. I had not heard of chateau libraries concentrating on only a few subjects. While about 2,500 books were on display, there were approximately 6,000 volumes in total. Objects that Josef Herberstein had brought back from his travels adorned the room, too. I saw African masks, an African crocodile and a Japanese sword, for instance. Another exquisite Baroque stove stood in the space.
Lobochoviceint18
The last room was the casino. A Russian pool table made in Prague dominated the room. I noticed that the card tables were made with intarsia. Portraits of the Dietrichstein clan hung on the walls. Josef, who loved traveling and hunting, was rendered in hunting attire, armed with a rifle and accompanied by a dog. I mused that he must have been a brave man to travel to such distant lands.
Lobochovicegarden2
Next I took a look at the park, which had been created in French style during 1683. Later, it got a Baroque makeover, and then it was changed into an English park. Now it is once again in French style, thanks to 20th century reconstruction. I loved the view of the chateau from the back, which sported floral adornment and a fountain. The chateau looked so majestic when viewed from that area.

I ate lunch at a nearby restaurant on the main square that was sleepy on a Saturday afternoon. Libochovice Chateau had dazzled me once again. The combination of ceiling frescoes, Baroque stoves, jewel chests and tapestries made the chateau unique and irresistible. The paintings also contributed to the majestic interior, where no object or piece of furniture failed to enthrall.
Lobochoviceint11
The interior had plenty to offer. I mused that there should be tours of the chateau offered from Prague. Libochovice deserved numerous accolades, and it was a chateau I would never forget, no matter how many chateaus I visited. The combination of artifacts and the design of the interior made Libochovice unforgettable, a place I could tour 100 times and not be bored. Every object spoke to me; nothing failed to capture my interest and curiosity. Yes, Libochovice is a special place, and my visit made my day a huge success.
Lobochoviceceiling
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Loučeň Chateau Diary

Loucen2
Waiting for the tour to start, I was excited that I would soon see the historical interiors of a chateau I had never before visited. Although Baroque Loučeň (also sometimes referred to as Lautschin) had been open to the public since 2007, I had heard about by chance only in 2015 via an article posted on Facebook. The place sounded magical. I knew I had to make a trip there. And soon. While there are many tours for children, I had opted for the classic tour of the interiors.

I was surprised that a settlement at Loučeň had existed as far back as 1223. A castle was in the town even during the Middle Ages, but a turning point in the history of Loučeň came in 1623 when Adam von Wallenstein became the owner. That is when the chateau was built in Baroque style, construction taking place from 1704 to 1713. Adam had a famous nephew: Albrecht von Wallenstein had made quite a name for himself in the military. He even held the post of supreme commander of the armies of the Habsburg Monarchy and was a major player in the Thirty Years’ War. The Wallenstein family tree died out in 1752.
Loucen3
In 1809 the Thurn und Taxis family came into the picture when Maxmilián Thurn und Taxis purchased the chateau. I had become familiar with this dynasty when I had visited Regensburg, where the family had had their main residence. I had toured their elegant palace and distinctly recalled the grotesque figures on the ceiling of the Conservatory, the Brussels’ tapestries in the Large Dining Room and the lavishness of the Rococo and Neo-Rococo Ballroom.

The family’s great influence on the postal system had left me in awe. The Thurn und Taxis family descended from the Tasso clan from the 13th century. During the end of the 15th century, Francesco Tasso created the first postal system going from Innsbruck to Brussels. It took a week for the mail to reach its destination. The key to its success was that the rider and horse were changed at each postal station. For his ingenuity, Tasso was given nobility status by Emperor Maximilian I and thus became Franz von Taxis in 1512. Before long the Thurn and Taxis family had the monopoly of the postal services in Central and Western Europe. By the end of the 18th century, the postal system was enjoying great success.
Loucen6
The Thurn und Taxis clan had some prominent members, that’s for sure. For example, Rudolf von Troskow established the law journal Právník, the first of its kind in the Czech language. He also created some legal vocabulary that is still in use today. His interests were not limited to law, though. He was a patron of the arts as well.

During 1875, when Alexander Thurn und Taxis, a violinist and patron of the arts, wed Marie von Hohenlohe, an amateur painter as well as friend and patron of Rainer Maria
Rilke, times changed at Loučeň, a place many well-known artists and politicians proceeded to visit. Rilke stopped by – not once – but twice. He even dedicated his Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge to Marie. Composer Bedřich Smetana lived nearby toward the end of his life and performed on one of the Thurn und Taxis’ pianos. Smetana was a friend of the family; he dedicated his composition Z domoviny to Alexander. Other prominent visitors included Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, his daughter Alice, Czech writer Eliška Krásnohorská, musician Josef Suk and American storyteller Mark Twain.

Alexander Thurn und Taxis was a man of many accomplishments. He gave his animal trophies to Prague’s National Museum and helped build the first railway in the region. During the tour I would discover the role he played in bringing soccer to Bohemia.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room


The Thurn und Taxis clan would lose the chateau at the end of World War II, when it became the property of the state. In 1945 the Soviet army and locals plundered the chateau. Under Communism the chateau’s history was not rosy, either. It became a recreation center for Ministry of Transportation employees. Later it was turned into a railway trade school. A landmark event occurred when the company Loučeň a.s. took over the chateau in 2000. Even some of the original furnishings were retrieved.

Our guide was a descendant of the Thurn und Taxis family. I had never been on a tour led by a member of a family that had had such a remarkable impact on the chateau I was visiting. It was a real treat. In Staircase Hall I was captivated by a large painting of Duino Chateau, a romantic structure perched on a cliff in Italy. The young man’s parents were there now, he said. The place had been the Thurn und Taxis’ property for centuries. Rilke had written his Duino Elegies there.
Loucenint6
In the first room there was a sleigh which had been used to move the mail through snowy terrain. It was painted black and yellow, and it was no coincidence that taxis often used the same shade of yellow. In fact, the word taxi derives from the name Thurn und Taxis. I also saw the huge winter boots that a postman would have worn delivering the mail in wintry conditions. A map of Bohemia from 1720 hung on one wall. I loved old maps! It made me think of the vedutas and maps of towns at Mělník Chateau. The family’s coat-of-arms was prominent, too. It featured a badger. (The original name of the family, Tasso, means badger in Italian.)
Loucenint7
I wanted to sit in the red, plush chairs at the dining room table and stare at the exquisite porcelain service. Overall, there were 600 pieces, but only a portion of them were on display. The fancy gold candlesticks got my attention, too. In the Chinese Salon I was impressed with the big Chinese vases, so colorful with superb designs. The white wallpaper featured pink flowers and green leaves and had a sense of fragility and intimacy to it.

The Prince’s Study was filled with his souvenirs from two trips to Africa, including a crocodile. Paintings of horses also decorated the study. In one rendition a horse was jumping over a barrier in a Pardubice steeplechase race. (I would learn more about the Pardubice steeplechase when I visited Karlova Koruna Chateau a few weeks later.)
Loucenint9
In the Prince’s Bedroom I noticed a photo of Prince Alexander with his four cats, three of whom slept on the bed with him. Curled up on the bed were three stuffed animal cats. I thought that was an interesting touch. My late cat had almost always slept on my head during almost 15 years, and I thought of how much I missed him. I wondered what my five-year old cat was doing at that moment. She liked to sleep at the foot of the bed. I didn’t think I could live without cats in my life. Maybe Alexander had felt the same.

In the servant’s bedroom I saw something that really surprised me. At first I did not understand why there was an iron next to replicas of old banknotes. Then the guide explained. The servant ironed the prince’s money so that it would not be crumpled. That was not all. The servant also ironed the prince’s newspaper to prevent the color from fading and to keep it from getting dirty.

In the hallway I saw a vacuum from the 1930s and red buckets on one wall in case a fire would break out. A picture of the Loučeň soccer team from 1893 also hung in the hall. That team played in the first official soccer game in Bohemia, thanks to Alexander’s interest in the sport.
Loucenint8
An avid fan of classical music, I have always enjoyed visiting the music salons in chateaus. This time was no different. I tried to imagine Smetana performing on the piano in the room. On the piano was a red box of Mozartkugeln truffles. The music sheets were turned to Concertino for violin and piano by Leo Portnoff, who was born in Russia during 1875 and emigrated to the USA in 1922.) I wondered if Alexander had played the violin accompanied by Marie on the piano when performing this piece.

The Princess’ Salon was decorated with books by Rilke and an upright piano from the 18th century. The view of the park from the window here was very romantic and picturesque. There were 10 mazes and 11 labyrinths in the park. I would have to check it out later, I told myself. I loved the bright green painted walls and a nook in one part of the room. I wanted to relax and read, seated in that nook, losing myself in a mystery or art catalogue.

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary


In the Princess’ Bedroom I saw her ravishing pink-and-cream wedding dress, which she had donned at age 40. I marveled at how young she looked in photos. Crowns and lions adorned the light blue wallpaper. A piano made by Rudolf Stenhamer in Vienna stood in the room, too. I admired the richly carved patterns on the front and back of the bed. I also was interested in the personal items that had belonged to the princess. On display were fans, a crocodile handbag and beautiful necklaces as well as a jewelry bag. The Oriental carpet was a nice touch, too.
Loucenint11
The Children’s Room came next and then a small classroom for Thurn und Taxis children. It was very plain. There was a small bench for two students with small blackboards. On the desk were two books called Histoire de la Revolution Française. In the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary there was a real treat. The artwork over the main altar was made by my beloved Czech Baroque painter Petr Brandl. I recalled his altar paintings in the cathedral at Sedlec, which I had visited earlier that year for what must have been the fourth or fifth time. Still, his work never failed to amaze me.
The ceiling of the church

The ceiling of the church


The library consisted of a gallery and ground floor. One of the books prominently displayed was an English version of a fairy tale by Princess Marie – The Tea Party of Miss Moon. I would have been interested in reading it to get a sense of the princess’ writing style, but it was not for sale in the chateau shop. The most valuable book was the huge chronicle of the Thurn und Taxis family. Another enormous volume on a table tackled the theme of the romantic Šumava region in the Czech lands. The room was not without its distinguished family portraits, either.

I walked through the park a bit and then made my way to Nymburk, a town closely associated with my favorite Czech writer, Bohumil Hrabal. In Nymburk I did not have much time for sightseeing, though. I peeked into a Gothic church and had lunch before heading back to Prague, more than satisfied with the trip’s outcome.

View from Loučeň Chateau

View from Loučeň Chateau


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

Sychrov Chateau Diary

Sychrov115
I had visited Sychrov on two occasions. The Neo-Gothic façade never failed to captivate me. The exterior was so impressive, and I knew very well that the architecture and furnishings of the interior were just as stunning. Still, this time would be different from my previous visits because I was going on Tour B as well as Tour A. Tour B focuses on rooms decorated as they were during the First Czechoslovak Republic of the early 20th century and is only offered in July and August. Tour A takes visitors back to the end of the 19th century. While I was waiting for Tour B to begin, I studied the coats-of-arms painted on the walls facing the courtyard of the chateau and earnestly took photographs.
Sychrov715
I was already familiar with the history of the chateau, which had been owned by the Rohan clan of French origin for 125 years. Let’s start at the beginning: The village harkened back to the 14th century. A fortress was built there in the following century. The chateau, however, came into existence at the end of the 17th century, when French knights called the Lamotts of Frintropp erected a small, Baroque chateau with a high tower and park.
Sychrovcourtyard115
The Rohans had to leave France after the French Revolution. Austrian Vice Marshall Charles Alain Gabriel Rohan bought the chateau in 1820, and the family’s more-than-a-hundred year tenure would make the chateau the gem it is today. The Rohan dynasty hailed from the 10th century and got their name from a town in Brittany. It is said that their ancestors even went back to the founder of Brittany, Conan Meriadoc. Prestigious members of the Rohan clan included four cardinals serving as Bishop of Strasbourg during the 18th century. Other Rohans had enjoyed political and military success, too.
Sychroverb1
Henri, known as Duke of Rohan was successful as a writer as well as a soldier. His memoirs are considered to be one of the best by French nobility during the 16th and 17th centuries. He also penned descriptions of his travels and also published a historical account of war. As a soldier he was a leader of the Huguenots and also played a role in the Thirty Years’ War.
Sychroverb2
One member of the family even appeared in two of Alexandre Dumas’ novels – The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After. Marie of Rohan, also referred to as the Duchess of Chartreuse, had befriended the queen of France. She was blamed for the queen’s miscarriage and was subsequently banished from the court. Then she initiated many conspiracies against France. Exerting her political influence, she even encouraged foreign powers to take stances against France. An opera has been written about her, and several books about her life have been published.
Sychroverb5
The Rohans made many changes to the Baroque structure, transforming it into Classicist style. During 1834 and 1835 French King Charles X and his family resided there. The king had been forced to flee from France after the July Revolution in 1830, triggered by the four ordinances he put into effect. He began censoring the press, dissolved the newly elected chamber, made changes to the electoral system and demanded new elections in September of that year. First, journalists revolted and then many others joined them. During the winter of 1832 and 1833, the king in exile lived in Prague Castle, a guest of Habsburg Emperor Francis I of Austria. He is buried in a family crypt at Kostanjevica Monastery in Nova Gorica, Slovenia.
Sychroverb7
The chateau would undergo more changes. From 1847 to 1862, during the tenure of Kamil Josef Philip Idesbald Rohan, Sychrov became an architectural jewel in Neo-Gothic style, flaunting many romantic elements. In the 1850s the façade took on a Neo-Gothic appearance, and the two main chateau towers, the Austrian or Rohan Tower and the Brittany Tower, were built. One of the architects responsible for the Neo-Gothic designs was Bernard Grueber, who had also worked his magic on Prague’s Old Town Hall, Orlík Chateau and Blatná Chateau.
Sychrovint415
This period proved to be Sychrov’s golden age. After this architectural transformation, Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I visited the chateau, and his son, Crown Prince Rudolf, stayed there twice. The last Rohan owners were Dr. Alain Rohan and his Austrian wife, Margarita. They had five daughters, one of whom died young.
Sychrovint315
Because he had taken German citizenship, Dr. Alain Rohan lost the chateau, according to the Beneš’ decrees instigated by Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš. I was fascinated by the tour guide’s tale of how the seven Rohan women fled from Sychrov. When the Russians came to the chateau, the seven Rohan women crawled on the floors, so the Russians would not see them. Then they fled one night to Prague. From Prague they continued to Austria. In 1945 Dr. Alain Rohan was arrested, and his wife Margarita was told that he was dead. But he wasn’t. In reality, he walked from Dresden to Austria. It sounded like a plot for a Dan Silva novel. That same year the chateau was nationalized, and during 1950 six rooms were open to the public. More reconstruction took place later that century and during this century, too.
Sychrovchapel2
Soon it was time for Tour B to begin. First, we entered the Assumption of the Virgin Chapel. I was captivated by the main altar, made out of Carrara marble. Antonín Dvořák had played on the Neo-Gothic organ here. He often traveled to Sychrov to meet with his friend, the chateau’s caretaker. The pulpit was decorated with paintings of the four Evangelists and their attributes. The adornment of the stained glass windows focused on the life of the Virgin Mary. I noticed a rendering of the Annunciation in one window. The exquisite benches were made by carver Petr Bušek, who spent almost 40 years decorating the chateau with wood paneling, wooden ceilings and wooden furniture pieces during the 19th century. Also, two plaques commemorated the visits of Franz Joseph and Crown Prince Rudolf.
Sychrovint515
We walked down a hallway where there were pictures of 19th century German soldiers in various uniforms. Then we entered a room filled with snapshots of the trips that Dr. Alain and Margarita had taken. I saw them on a ship, traveling from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to New York and I saw them in Egypt, India and Italy. I saw pictures of them on horseback and on the tennis court that once was in the chateau park. In another photo they were skiing.
Sychrovint615
Then there were pictures of their five daughters, one of whom died young. In one photo the children were wearing masks, dressed in costumes while playing theatre. Five young girls were gathered on the roof of a cabin in a park. One photo showed a fat donkey named Muki. Yet there were not only pictures of the family in the room. When the family emerged from bad car accident unscathed, they wrote a thank you letter to the Pope. The Pope’s answer was on display.
Sychrovint915
I liked the room decorated with photos of the family. The owners and their children were no longer only names listed in the history of the chateau. They were real people who enjoyed traveling, playing tennis and skiing. I saw pictures of the daughters, happy and content. When I looked at the pictures from their travels, I thought about the valuable insights I had gained while traveling and how the act of traveling had made me a better person – the experiences had helped me grow as a person. As I learn about a new place, I learn about myself, too.
Sychrovint1015
Another space was shaped like a Turkish tent. The Rohans collected military tents, armor and weapons. Pictures showed the area surrounding the chateau at the end of the 19th century and the interiors as they had looked during that time period.
We entered a room with a staircase, and I was captivated by the richly decorated wooden ceiling, the masterful work of Petr Bušek. The hallway sported graphics of historical themes and mythology.
Sychrovint1115
Next was Tour A, which depicted the chateau as it had been in the second half of the 19th century. We came to Staircase Hall with the impressive statue of Jindřich (Henri) from Rohan, armed with a sword, with one hand leaning on the scabbard, celebrating his military successes. He had a small, pointy beard and mustache. Then we got our first taste of the Rohan portrait gallery, which included 242 portraits of French origin, mostly of the Rohan family but also of French kings and queens. It was the biggest collection of French portrait painting in Central Europe. The first portraits were made in the 16th century. In the Royal Apartment reserved for guests, there were portraits of French kings. We also saw the Neo-Gothic bedroom where Emperor Franz Joseph and Crown Prince Rudolf had slept. The bed looked small.

The bed where Emperor Franz Joseph and Crown Prince Rudolf slept

The bed where Emperor Franz Joseph and Crown Prince Rudolf slept


Sychrovintceiling115
Kamil Rohan’s study focused on botany, one of his hobbies. On his desk was a book about herbs, a globe and microscope. A large book about herbs from the first half of the 19th century was on a stand at one side of the room. The book contained handwritten drawings. I wished I could turn the pages and look at all the drawings closely.
Sychrovint1315
Sychrovintteaset115
In the Yellow Salon, used for unofficial visits, three yellow vases got my attention. I loved the color yellow because it looked so cheerful. It reminded me of my mother, always the optimist. We saw a narrow, spiral wooden staircase with rich woodcarving designs by Bušek from the 1850s. What masterful woodwork! It reminded me of the spiral staircase at Lednice Chateau, also Neo-Gothic in style, in south Moravia. I also gazed at paintings of the Rohan ancestors from the Middle Ages. Because the Rohans did not know what these ancestors had looked like, Czech painter Karel Javůrek used his imagination when rendering the portraits. In the Blue Cabinet there were exquisite figures of Viennese and Meissen porcelain. A black jewel chest with gemstones decorating the drawers got my attention, too.
Sychrovint1915
Sychrovintlibrary115
The Fireplace Room was impressive as was the Reception Room, which featured rich wood paneling and an impressive wooden ceiling. More impressive carving by Bušek! The library held about 7,000 books, including 1,614 prints dating before 1800 and a manuscript from the 15th century. A folding leather chair caught my eye, too. The Prague Salon featured authentic leather wallpaper. The Big Dining Room looked a bit like a Knights’ Hall from the Middle Ages. It featured large portraits of Rohan owners. In one portrait Kamil Rohan looked suspicious of the photographer. I loved the wooden chairs with the “R” gold monograms and richly decorated backs.
Sychrov6
After the tour I walked through the park and took a seat outside at the Neo-Renaissance Orangery, from which I gazed at the chateau and admired its two-arm monumental sandstone staircase. The park covered 26 hectares, and included many kinds of woody plants thanks to Kamil Rohan and his interest in botany. The many kind of trees included Dawn Redwood and oak-leaf beech. I had a piece of tasty cake and a cup of cappuccino. I reflected on how enriched my life had been thanks to travel and how grateful I was to have the opportunity to travel. In my mind I saw the photos of the Rohan family on their trips and wondered how travel had enriched their lives. I had lunch in the chateau restaurant, sitting outside on such a sunny day.
SychrovOrangery115
Then it was time to head back to Liberec, where I would get a bus to Prague. Sychrov had more than lived up to my expectations. I felt as if I had personally known Dr. Alain Rohan and his family thanks to the snapshots. The Neo-Gothic façade and interiors did not disappoint, either. What a skilled craftsman Petr Bušek had been! I loved the woodwork, especially the wooden ceilings and wood paneling. Again, it reminded me of Lednice Chateau, also one of my all-time favorites. Sychrov was certainly one of the most impressive chateaus I had seen.
Sychrovint2015
Tracy A. Burns is a proofreader, writer and editor in Prague.

Mnichovo Hradiště Chateau Diary

MnichovoHchateau3

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.

MnichovoHchateau1

Mníšek pod Brdy Chateau Diary

MnisekpodBrdy20124

 

I took a bus from Prague’s Smíchov train station to Mníšek pod Brdy, where the chateau was close to the main square. The ride lasted only a half hour. It was my second time here. During my first visit in 2004, only one tour had been available. Then, in 2011, the chateau began offering two routes. I was eager to see what awaited me on the new tour.

Because I had already been here, I knew the basic history. The castle was first mentioned in 1348. Jan Vratislav from Mitrovic became its owner during 1487, and Mníšek pod Brdy stayed in his family for 168 years. During the Mitrovic era the castle was turned into a Renaissance chateau. However, the history of Mníšek pod Brdy Chateau was not all rosy. The chateau was almost destroyed in 1639 during the Thirty Years’ War.

Luckily, when Servác Engel from Engelsfluss purchased it in 1655, he transformed the ruins into a Baroque masterpiece.  Several other clans claimed ownership before the Kasts took over. Because Baron Kast had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, the chateau was put in the hands of the state during 1945. Once utilized as an archive for the Ministry of the Interior, Mníšek pod Brdy Chateau was taken over by the Ministry of Culture in 2000. It was reconstructed in 2001 and opened to the public a few years later.

MnisekpodBrdy20125Even the entranceway did not disappoint. The knight’s armor on the wall hailed from the Thirty Years’ War. A Baroque closet, designed with intarsia, was charming. Portraits of family members who owned the castle during the 19th century also adorned the space.

The moment I set my eyes on the knights’ armor, I thought of my first visit here, with Pavel, whose job involved restoring artifacts in castles and chateaus in central Bohemia. He had proudly pointed out that he had repaired that suit of armor, and he had been the one who told me about this chateau in the first place. We had met at Frýdlant v Čechách Castle and Chateau a month earlier. He had explained that he had a girlfriend, but she did not really like visiting castles. So he often traveled alone. I was alone as well. I appreciated his friendship. Then he had showed me around Kutná Hora, his hometown. The next time we saw each other, we came here. We were captivated by the chateau and then had lunch in a pizzeria in Prague.

The Winter Dining Room was first on the itinerary. I admired a closet that hailed from the second half of the 17th century. The impressive ceiling painting also dated from that period. There were three sculptures in the chapel. An angel in a dramatic pose stood out on black, swirling columns. I was drawn to the landscape paintings on a wall in the Dining Room. I loved landscape paintings and how they depicted nature’s moods. Some works portrayed the land as idyllic while others emphasized that nature could be intimidating and even cruel. I also admired a jewel chest with intarsia. On one wall colorful plates with Oriental motifs dated from the 18th century. The chantry in front of the chapel was the work of legendary Czech artist Karel Škréta.

MnisekpodBrdy20127The Big Dining Room was only used for special occasions. Four huge paintings represented earth, water, air and fire, according to the enthusiastic guide with a contagious smile and strong voice. In the allegory of the earth, the man dominating the picture wielded an axe, looking quite intimidating. The white tiled stove shaped as a pyramid exuded the Classicist style. The bottom part of a closet was false, hiding a stairway. Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI made an appearance, too, in a painting depicting a moment in front of the Czech court, shortly after his coronation during 1722. Candlesticks sported designs of swirls and green leaves. I loved the details in objects found in castles and chateaus. The decoration on the candlesticks was just one example of those details that made the object unique and intriguing.

The Servery, where food was prepared, included a closet made in Baroque style at the beginning of the 20th century. Flowers and birds dominated wall paintings. The delicate porcelain on the table was created in Vienna during the first half of the 19th century. There was also an 18th century depiction of a big, white rooster with a colored face and brilliant feathers. The striking colors of the feathers caught my attention. This certainly was a piece that stood out. I had never seen a rooster portrayed this way. The wall flaunted a floral pattern on a tan background with the delicate flowers appearing in pink and blue hues.

The Great Salon was next. The furniture hailed from the first half of the 19th century. A picture above the door showed Mníšek and its surroundings with a church. The symbols of hunting were very pronounced: A bear, sword, horn and rifle, among others, adorned the landscape. Across the space, on the wall above the entrance to the clock tower, more scenery of Mníšek was portrayed, this time accompanied by medical symbols such as a mask, an arrow and birds. Above the door leading to the following room, I could see what Mníšek Chateau looked like at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the clock tower to one side of the space, there were four grandfather clocks. The one with red, black and brown decoration attracted me the most. The red complemented the black and brown colors and gave the clock a certain vibrancy. In the next room a jewel chest from 18th century Japan was captivating, designed with pictures of the countryside and birds. I marveled at the exquisitely painted drawers.

MnisekpodBrdy20128The stucco ceiling of the Smoking Salon had original plastic ornamentation from the 18th century. A pelican was one dominant figure. I do not think I had ever seen a pelican on a stucco ceiling of a chateau. I loved the surprises this chateau offered, first the rooster with the brilliant feathers and now a depiction of a pelican. I loved tours that held surprises for me. The dark crimson color of the walls was also appealing. A card table with indentations for money hailed from the first half of the 18th century. A still functional bright red gramophone dated from 1890.

Then we entered the Ladies’ Salon. The paintings on the wall were framed in Secession style. The décor on the walls showed putti as well as people relaxing in the countryside alongside red and green flowers. Meissen porcelain went back to the 18th century. A toiletry table intrigued me. If you turned up the central part, there was a mirror. Set down, it became a desk.

The library, with 2,000 books, hailed from the Kast family’s era in the chateau. The volumes were in English, French and German. The decoration on the ceiling captivated me. One section showed Venus’ engagement and the other portrayed Venus and Mars, accompanied by fluttering angels, with their son Eros. I loved how mythology was often represented in castle and chateau decorations. Greek and Roman mythology had intrigued me ever since I took a course on that subject at university. All the different attributes for the gods, the captivating stories and their morals – they fascinated me. A unique bell was also in the room. It was shaped like a round, pudgy woman.

MnisekpodBrdy20129We had a 20-minute break before the second tour. I wondered if Pavel had already been on the second route. He probably had, I mused. I thought back to our conversation in the pizzeria in Prague after we had seen this chateau. He told me that he had broken up with his girlfriend, and he had time to visit me every weekend in Prague.

I had valued our friendship, but I did not want to date him. He was much younger than I was and a bit naïve about the world. I stressed that I was only looking for a friend, not a boyfriend, and he was suddenly quiet as he picked at his lasagna.

How many times had a man I was interested in told me that he just wanted to be friends? Or how many times did a man I like express no interest in me at all? It happened to me all the time, and it was painful. But I could not lie to Pavel because I cared about his feelings.

After some minutes, he smiled – a forced smile – and began talking about a chateau near Brno where he planned to go some time the following month. He did not invite me to go with him. I was so lost in thought that I did not hear the guide announce the beginning of the second tour. I was one of the last people to enter the first room.

MnisekpodBrdy20126The second route featured the private apartments of Theodorich Kast and his wife. Framed embroideries complemented small, family photos. I wondered if his family life had been complicated as were my relationships. The family photos had an idyllic quality about them. It looked like Kast had a happy family, free of worries or tension.

The guide showed us one intriguing invention. A doll with a wide dress could be placed over a kettle to keep the water hot. This was another pleasant surprise for me. I had never seen such an object before. Yes, Mníšek pod Brdy was full  of surprises. I noticed that the woman dressed in blue in one portrait closely resembled legendary 19th century Czech writer Božena Němcová with her fragile, round face. Like Němcová she wore a sad but resilient expression and had sorrowful eyes and straight, black hair. I had read Němcová’s The Grandmother several times and had seen the play by Brno’s Divadlo Husa na provázku and film versions as well.

The following room belonged to the husband Theodorich. A jumble of black-and-white photos decorated the walls. The old telephone had no numbers, only a receiver. A heart with a black outline was carved into the headboard of the wooden bed. This was another example of a detail that captured my attention. The heart decoration made the bed unique and exquisite.

The next room showed off photos and paintings of horses. I had never been enthusiastic about horses. I was afraid of them. I would never ride a horse because I would be too scared that I would fall off or be thrown off. I thought of a friend whose teenage daughter had been thrown from a horse and had died, only 15 years old. Yet I knew many people were enthusiastic about the sport and did not get injured. I focused on the tour again. Two small cases resembled hat boxes, but they weren’t. Instead, they were meant to be used on picnics. One hid a jug that could be kept warm while the other was really a chemical toilet.

MnisekpodBrdy20123The Children’s Room was decorated in white. Three dolls from the beginning of the 20th century sat on a children’s sofa. Two glass parrots that look like owls served as electric lamps above the desk. In a doll house I was drawn to the colorful decorative lamp shades. A model of a school could be seen in one corner of the room. Inside, I noticed wooden benches, a podium, a blackboard and pictures of animals on a miniature wall. I recalled how simple life had seemed when I had been a grade school student and how complex it had become when I had reached adulthood. Sometimes I longed for those simple days when the world was black-and-white, everything was good or evil. There were no gray areas to confuse or upset me.

The next room was meant for a mother and a small baby. I noticed another tea doll. Exquisite clothes for an infant were displayed on the crib. An 18th century Venetian mirror also made an appearance. I admired the simple gold design on the headboard of the bed as well as the gold decoration on a closet.

The Ladies’ Bathroom included not only a flushing toilet, bidet and narrow tub, but also a selection of women’s and children’s shoes. The purple women’s footwear stood out. I remembered my outing to the extraordinary shoe museum in Zlín in Moravia a few years back. I had never realized that footwear could be so fascinating. Hat boxes took up space on the highest shelf.

MnisekpodBrdy20122We left the rooms after passing by graphics in the hallway. Once again, I was charmed by the chateau with its modest, though extremely appealing, décor. Mníšek pod Brdy had a romantic flair. No object in the chateau really stood out from the others. All the artifacts complemented each other to give a breathtaking impression. I loved the small details on the artifacts. Mníšek pod Brdy Chateau was a place I would love to visit once a year, I decided.

It was a sunny, summer day. The weather was perfect. I was happy. I was even happy to be here alone. Part of me missed Pavel’s presence, but I realized that it had to have played out the way it did. At some point during the second tour, I had stopped wishing Pavel and I could have gone on being just friends and had accepted what was. It was fate. Suddenly, for a short time, life seemed simple. As simple as the life represented by the dollhouse and model of the school in the Children’s Room. If only life could always be this simple! I headed to the nearby main square, where I ate my favorite chicken with peaches and cheese before catching a bus back to Prague. Yes, I was happy.

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

Mnisek pod Brdy

Frýdlant Castle and Chateau and Hejnice Basilica Diary

P1080993

For the first time in a long while I went on a trip by car. Since my friend did not have a highway sticker that permitted her to drive on the highways, we had to take side roads that made the trip to northern Bohemia’s Frýdlant Castle and Chateau more than three hours long but much more scenic and intriguing.

I already was familiar with the history of the mammoth castle and chateau complex, as I had visited it eight years earlier.  The first reference to the impressive sight went back to 1278, when the castle was sold to the Bibrštejn clan who ruled here for 300 years. During the 15th century Hussite wars, the Hussites did not capture the castle, as it was spared the Hussites’ wrath that had destroyed so many sites throughout the Czech lands. The chateau came into existence at the beginning of the 17th century, when Catherine of Redern had it constructed with sgraffito decoration. She also was responsible for adding the exquisite church.

P1080996

Protestant noble Kryštof of Redern participated in the uprising against the Catholics during the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, and after the Protestants lost, Frýdlant was confiscated. Albrecht von Wallenstein, commander of the Habsburg armies and a major player in the Thirty Years’ War, bought the place during 1622. However, Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II started to distrust him and in effect gave him a pink slip. When the Protestants notched some victories over the Catholics, Ferdinand asked him for help again, and help he did. Yet, when in 1633 Wallenstein did not attack the enemy during a battle, he was accused of high treason. Unhappy with the way the emperor treated him, he had also been thinking about joining the Protestants. But he would not have the chance. Emperor Ferdinand II had Irish army officer Walter Devereux assassinate Wallenstein in Cheb during 1634.

P1080999

Then Wallenstein’s General Matyáš Gallas took over the castle. The Gallas family owned Frýdlant until 1759, when the Clam-Gallas family became the owners. The castle museum opened in 1801.  In 1945 Frýdlant was confiscated due to the Beneš decrees that ceded all property held by Germans to the state, and it was nationalized.

P1090084

As we approached the castle, it was impossible not to notice the high circular wall that had been built by the Swedes in 1647. After entering the front gate, we walked over the drawbridge to what was called the Swedish courtyard, taking its name from the 17th century occupation by the Swedish army. Then we came to the courtyard of the chateau and negotiated a steep path to the castle. In the castle courtyard we peered at a 13th century round tower and saw Renaissance sgraffito on part of the castle’s wing. One part of the sgraffito portrayed a deer hunting theme.

P1090020

I was glad that my friend and I were the only people on the tour. We went inside. What impressed me the most in the first room were not the huge portraits of the Redern family but rather the richly carved Renaissance chairs and the Renaissance chest. The green and white tiled stove also caught my attention. In the next room a portrait of Albrecht von Wallenstein showed a man with a serious expression, a small beard and moustache. One painting in the room depicted his assassination. In the dramatic rendition Devereux stabs the unarmed Waldstein in the stomach with a halberd.

P1090022

Next came the Portrait Gallery, which boasted of huge paintings of Gallas family members. The Baroque fireplace astounded me with the Clam-Gallas coat-of-arms, cherubs and golden crowns adorning it. In the museum part of the exhibition, the legendary Czech nobleman and Austrian Marshall Jan Radecký of Radče was featured in several displays. His light blue uniform was on display as was a circular portrait of Radecký with gray hair and a gray moustache. A picture of Emperor Franz Joseph I’s wife, Empress Elizabeth (Sissy), who was assassinated in 1898, decorated a cup. A likeness of Emperor of Austria and King of Bohemia Franz Joseph I adorned a silver medal.

P1090031

Then we entered a room featuring many uniforms for the servants during the 19th century. I was surprised that the summer clothing for the carriage driver was so warm and heavy. He must have been burning up inside that thick attire. The embroidery on the sleeves and shoulders for the estate’s clerks was detailed and exquisite as well.

P1090032

Following the guide, we saw a narrow, yellow women’s carriage. A Baroque sleigh was decorated with a dolphin that looked like a dragon – that was how the dolphin was rendered during those days. The Hunting Salon featured a table of 130-year old wood. In the Dining Room I saw a vibrant Baroque light green and yellow tiled stove. I particularly noticed the emperor’s eagle carved on the back of a black chair that also sported a golden crown.

P1090039

The armory was a treat for those interested in weaponry. Even I was enthralled by it, though weapons are certainly not my cup of tea. Helmets, cannons, spears and knights’ armor adorned the rooms. Some of the spears came from the 15th century Hussite wars; it was hard for me to grasp that I was looking at spears that were so old. Muskets also made appearances as did rifles from the 17th century Thirty Years’ War. What intrigued me the most in the spaces was not a weapon but rather the huge hat and large boots that couriers had worn. The hat was so big because the messenger needed to store the letters inside it in order to keep them dry when it rained.

P1090048

Soon we arrived at the exquisite, stunning chapel. The black and gold altar practically glimmered in the space. While the chapel was built in the 16th and 17th centuries, it now had a 19th century appearance. A gold Renaissance altar also greeted me with its ornate Renaissance pulpit. Saints were gathered around the Baroque altar. A stained glass window added even more ambiance to the room.

P1090050

Next we came to the attic of the chateau, where rooms were designed as they had looked in the 19th century. In the servants’ room the 19th century suitcases looked more like bulky chests. The children’s room was intriguing. It included a model of the castle and chateau plus wallpaper made from the comics section of old newspapers, reminding me of today’s wallpaper featuring the Czech Little Mole character or Disney figures.

P1090056

The space below was called the women’s floor, primarily decorated in blue because that was the color attributed to women during the 19th century. One room was fashioned after a military tent with a blue and white painted ceiling and wallpaper of the same design. A blue and white tiled stove also contributed to the atmosphere. A Baroque closet also adorned the space.

P1090066

The Small Salon featured blue and white floral decorated furniture and a display case with women’s hats from the 19th century. What intrigued me most were the two Baroque cabinets with painted drawers. One drawer was decorated with pictures of animals while two others flaunted countryside scenes. The toiletry area was unique as well. There was a lounge chair that reminded me of a chair at a dentist’s office. I had never seen such a piece of furniture in chateau, let alone in a toiletry space. From the space in front of it, I could see all the rooms in the women’s section all the way down to the exquisite Flower Salon at the end.

P1090070

The Flower Salon made me practically dizzy with its blue and white delights. The blue and white floral wallpaper complemented the blue and white striped armchairs, making for an intimate and cozy decor. A while tiled stove also stood in the room. The lovely tea set was Rococo, hailing from the 19th century. To give the room an even more dignified touch, a violin was set on a chair. The marble brown table with white ornamentation also entranced. Plants decorated the room, too, bringing it to life, so that it became more than a museum space.

In the hallway of the Castellan wing, I noticed an engraving of Rome from the 18th century. I could see the Coliseum, which evoked fond memories of showing that sight to my parents a few years earlier. In the entertainment room hung two renderings of battles from antiquity.

P1090069

The Morning Drawing Room would not have been my ideal place to spend my mornings or any other part of the day for that matter, because it was decorated with hunting still lifes that featured dead birds. Birdwatchers would no doubt be enthused, though, as some of the dead birds portrayed were no longer found in the Czech lands. Another painting that did not impress me featured a dead deer. Certainly not my idea of how to start off the day.

But the Women’s Bedroom did not disappoint. The intarsia table, jewel chest and Baroque dresser with intarsia charmed me. Yet another room was decorated with furniture from the 19th century in Biedermeier style.

P1090077

Next was the men’s floor. The Men’s Bedroom featured a hidden door that led to the women’s floor above and a lovely Baroque closet. The leather wallpaper in the Smoking Salon was gold with green in a floral pattern. The next room was decorated with leather wallpaper and English style blue furniture. A red and blue carpet made the room cozy yet lively as well.

The Coat-of-Arms Salon enthralled me. The dark green fireplace with white columns had a dignified air. On the walls I saw the coat-of-arms of the families that had owned the castle and chateau from the Berka and Dub clan to the Clam-Gallas group. I noticed the blue and yellow wheel on the Redern dynasty’s coat-of-arms and the yellow and light blue stripes of the Gallas family’s coat-of-arms.

P1090079

The Dining Room was one of the last rooms on the tour. Velvet chairs with comfortable cushions and a red and blue carpet gave the space a lush appearance. The ornate green tiled stove was decorated with blue and yellow figures. Blue and white porcelain hung from the top of the walls. What I loved most about the space, though, was the richly carved wood paneling. The Baroque bureaus with intarsia greatly impressed me as well. In the still functioning large kitchen areas downstairs I was enamored by what was the largest collection of copper dishes I had ever seen, perhaps the biggest in the Czech Republic.

The tour took almost two hours. I loved long tours of castles! I would be happy to be on a tour that lasted four or five hours! I could spend all day in a castle or chateau. Thanks to our knowledgeable guide, we enjoyed the tour immensely.

P1080992

After visiting Frýdlant, we made our way to the basilica in a village called Hejnice, but we often got lost one-lane roads with two-way traffic. The scenery in the Jizerské Mountains was breathtaking.  At one point we were driving down a narrow road flanked by trees, yellow and green fields surrounding us. It was so peaceful and tranquil, just as I imagined the road to Heaven. So relaxing, putting my mind entirely at ease –until a truck came straight at us on the one-lane road. We moved over to the side, partially on the grass and let it pass us. Still, we did not get much of a warning on that winding road whenever a car would come at us from the other direction.

P1090091

Traveling through the Jizerské Mountains, I realized how devastated the area had been by the floods of the previous year. Whole villages had been practically destroyed, homes in ruins. Barriers put up along rivers were now bent and deformed. The roads were in awful shape, too. I thought back to the floods of 2002 in Prague and the devastation that the natural disaster had unleashed on the capital city.  I felt as if I was riding through an area that had just witnessed a war.

It brought to mind the damaged chairs and tables littering the sidewalks of Prague during 2002, so many homes and businesses destroyed. And thoughts of my good friend’s flat decimated in Prague’s Karlín district. It was still hard for me to believe that the flat where we had spent much time discussing anything and everything over cups of Earl Grey tea had been destroyed. I thought of the damaged theatres where I had worked, too. And I thought of the damage in my own flat because workers had been repairing the roof when the downpour had accompanied the floods. Mold everywhere, wet, wool sweaters destroyed, my cat traumatized – at least my home had survived in one piece, and most of my belongings had been saved. Riding through the destruction wrought by those floods in the Liberec region made me realize how quickly we can lose something precious to us and how we have to value each moment in life because drastic change can come at any time, anywhere.

P1090094

Hejnice Basilica seemed to magically appear in a village nestled in the Jizerské Mountains. The Baroque masterpiece used to be, back in the 13th century, a stone chapel with Gothic vaults. Ambulatories were built around the Gothic church in 1676. By 1725, the church was able to hold 1,000 pilgrims. Between 1699 and 1725 there were 1,381,176 people who came here to pray to Our Lady. After suffering a fire in 1761, the religious site was rebuilt during only 18 months. By the beginning of the 19th century, though, the church was plundered and all its valuable items stolen.

Interior of Hejnice Basilica

Interior of Hejnice Basilica

But restorations took place, and in 1936 the church was proclaimed basilica minor. After the war, however, Germans living in Hejnice were expelled from the country, including the Franciscans who lived in the church’s monastery. In 1950 all monks there were arrested and forced to leave the basilica, and the monastery became a concentration camp of sorts under the Communist government. Later, the monastery served as a school cafeteria and a kindergarten. Not surprisingly, the place that was once a glorious pilgrimage site found itself in ruins during the 1970s and 1980s. Thankfully, the church was renovated and restored after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

P1090098

One step inside and the frescoes and main altar enthralled me with their beauty and charm. I could hardly believe that the main altar was illusionary. An architectural feat, it was painted onto the wall rather than three-dimensional. The ground plan of the basilica took the form of a long cross. At the entrance I admired the two towers with a central convex buttress. In a niche I noticed the statue of the Hejnice Madonna.

P1090100

The vastness of the space awed me. The basilica is the biggest cathedral in northern Bohemia, measuring 50 meters long in its southward cross and 37 meters wide. The cupola is 35 meters high. The central cupola fascinated me. Supported by four Corinthian columns, it was decorated with frescoes portraying events in the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. Above the main cupola scenes depicting the crucifixion and the Assumption bewitch the viewer with a swirl of movement of angels along with clouds and sharp light. A group of Apostles filled with awe watch the Assumption. Some angels raise the lid of the coffin while others carry the Holy Cross to Heaven.

The main altar in Hejnice Basilica

The main altar in Hejnice Basilica

The main altar can be divided into parts. There is the fresco of the illusionary altar, which depicts allegorical figures representing belief, hope and love. In the middle of the altar, a large altar-piece portrays Saint Elizabeth and the Virgin Mother. The lower part is a stone altar that includes relics of saints and a tabernacle. A Madonna made from lime wood dominates, called the Mater Formosa or Sleek Mother. It was hard to believe that the Madonna hailed from as far back as the 13th century. I also took special note of the pulpit, dating from 1740. Along with evangelists there was a hand holding a cross with Christ. A large chandelier also hung from the rafters.

P1090105

Going back through the Jizerské Mountains, along the narrow lane flanked by trees and surrounded by fields, I admired the fantastic scenery that seemed to belong in a film. We made our way to Dubá, where we stopped at an intriguing church and then to Mělník and finally to Prague. It had been a fantastic day during which I had learned how important it was to appreciate what I had in life, to not take anything for granted.

The interior of the church in Dubá

The interior of the church in Dubá

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague. Some of the photos in this blog were taken by Lenka Hilbertová.

Žleby Chateau Diary

Zleby3

Miraculously, I made the train connection in Čáslav with four minutes to spare and not long afterwards found my way from the train station in the village of Žleby to the chateau. To say Žleby is majestic and romantic is a vast understatement. The chateau looks as if it has emerged from a fairy tale. I inspected the fountain in front of the chateau. It dates from 1860 and shows a member of the Auersberg family, who owned the chateau for over 200 years, grappling with a bison. As I bought my ticket, I was a bit disappointed, though. A 90-minute tour was available, but a third tour did not open until May. So, I would miss the chateau theatre and lower floor library, unfortunately. (I saw these during my 2020 visit by car.)

Zleby2020ext3Zleby2020ext5

While I waited for the tour to begin on that freezing April morning, I familiarized myself with the history of the chateau as described in a booklet I had purchased. Žleby was first mentioned in writing during 1289. The Lichtemburks owned Žleby until 1356, when Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV gave it to Markvart from Vartenberk. During the Hussite wars, the castle was razed, sharing the same fate as many other places in Bohemia during that bloody era. Then Jiří from Dubé and Vizmburk restored the castle in Late Gothic style. It was changed into a four-winged Renaissance chateau with an arcaded courtyard at the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century under another owner. During the first part of the 18th century, Baroque renovations began.

Zleby2020ext9Zleby2020ext27

In 1746, while the Schönfelds owned the chateau, their daughter Kateřina married Jan Adam from Auersperg. When Kateřina died, the Auersberg line took over ownership of the chateau, and the family would retain Žleby for 200 years. Baroque restorations continued, and the Auersbergs also designed Rococo interiors. Some years later, owner Vincenc Karel Auersberg and his wife Princess Vilemína Colloredo-Mansfield would become responsible for many changes that gave the place a romantic makeover as they were influenced by English architecture from the first half of the 19th century.

Zleby2020ext12Zleby2020ext33Zleby2020ext34

Thus, from the 1840s Žleby took on a more romantic air. The Auersberg couple wanted to give the chateau more of a Gothic character and added a prison and bastions. They fitted the interior with leather wallpaper, wood furnishings, weapons and historic furniture, all of which can be seen in the chateau today. In 1849 Vincenc bought land for the future park. In 1942 the chateau changed hands, and after the war it was nationalized.

Zleby2020int68

zleby2020int69-e1594564857806.jpg

Zleby2020int70

The chapel was first on the list. Upon entering the tiny, quaint two-floor chapel, the narrow, high and oblong stained glass windows behind the altar of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary caught my attention. The windows bewitched me with their dynamic, bright colors. I then studied the main altar and was drawn to the bright red of an angel’s cloak. The chapel was the youngest part of the chateau, in 19th century Neo-Gothic style, the guide – probably a university student – explained. It dated from 1853 to 1858. Still, there were a few items that went back farther than the 19th century. For instance, a side altar hailed from the 15th century. The triptych showed the Virgin Mary with a sculptural grouping of a Pieta in the middle of two statues. I noticed the trickles of blood on Jesus’ crossed hands. The oldest item in the entire chateau was here – a 15th century richly engraved baptismal font. Statues of saints were positioned high on the side walls of the chapel. I spotted the flapping drapery of Saint Elizabeth.

Zleby2020int35Zleby2020int37

Then we left the interior and walked through the courtyard with its breathtaking Renaissance arcades to another entrance. The inside hallway was dominated by a 16th century knight in armor on the model of a horse cloaked in red. The guide said that the knight weighed 40 kilograms, the horse 20 kilograms. On the walls were very wide moose antlers. I also noticed slits for eyes in some helmets, the shoulder boards and the neck guards of armor, a two-handed sword and a rapier.

Zleby2020int2Zleby2020int4

As we made our way up the Renaissance stairway, the young man leading our group pointed out that the chateau had the second most weapons after Konopiště, a popular chateau located about an hour from Prague. Indeed, on the walls leading up to the next floor I saw many weapons. Ancient rifles covered one wall, and in another place I spotted a white ivory horn with detailed engravings, once used by Polish King Jan III. Sobiesky, who liberated Vienna from a Turkish threat in 1683.

Zleby2020intKnightsHall2Zleby2020intKnightsHall3Zleby2020KnightsHall5Zleby2020KnightsHall11

We entered the Knights’ Hall, which was decorated with 14 knights’ armors from the 16th century, hunting trophies, pistols and swords –  one with red and green gem decoration in the hilt caught my eye –  as well as 188 painted glass pictures covering one wall. These glass paintings hailed from 1503 to 1749 and were decorated with allegorical figures, biblical scenes and coats-of-arms. I spotted the coat-of-arms of the Auersberg family above the doors. Three paintings from the beginning of the 16th century showed tournament and banqueting scenes. The ceiling featured stucco designs. An intarsia-designed credence was a delight, too.

Zleby2020int23Zleby2020int24Zleby2020int30Zleby2020int32

We went through the Emperor’s Room with its white swirls and flowers on brown wallpaper and dark brown table with white swirl decoration on the top. Then we moved on to the bedroom, where a brilliantly colored triptych from the 15th century entranced me. The gold and red colors complemented each other. A huge Baroque bed featured columns and a canopy. On the white tiled stove I saw scenes in nature. I noticed the sea, cliffs and a castle in the landscapes. A black and gold jewel chest was riveting as was an intarsia brown table. The golden wallpaper made an everlasting impression on me. Made with leather, it showed flowers with greenery and golden grapes. Little did I know that even more fascinating leather wallpaper awaited me in other rooms.

Zleby2020int78Zleby2020int82Zleby2020int90

The Prince’s Study was next on the agenda. The velvet leather wallpaper, colored dark blue and decorated with flowers, also heated the room. An intarsia closet was exquisite. In the Travel Room, silverware was packed in a box that fit into a portable chest that could be lugged around during journeys. The bed itself was enthralling – it could be packed up, appearing as a closet with intarsia design. A travel toilet in a box resembled a crate.

Zleby2020int14Zleby2020int16Zleby2020int20Zleby2020int21

The Rococo Salon was dominated by a tapestry featuring fountains, trees, apples, peacocks and well-dressed women taking a stroll through the idyllic scenery. Again, the wallpaper amazed me. This time it was decorated with flowers and birds. The leather wallpaper in this chateau brought to mind that fascinating leather wallpaper at Šternberk Castle in central Moravia.

Zleby2020int51Zleby2020int54

Soon we came to the Small Men’s Study with its daiquiri tiled stove that boasted coat-of-arms – just one of many tiled stoves that would bewitch me with its beauty. The leather wallpaper above the desk consisted of royal blue and brown swirls. I also peered at ancient books with delicate, brown and gold bindings.

Zleby2020int38Zleby2020int40

 

From there we entered the representative rooms. In the hallway the chairs had carved, wooden figures in their backs, and the bench also had a finely carved back displaying coats-of-arms. In the Thirty Years’ War Room the walls were covered in Late Gothic carved wood paneling with swirls cut into the wood. Elegant, dark chairs complemented ivory rifles and swords as well as helmets. There were two secret doors in the room – one led to a dry toilet and the other to the downstairs library.

Zleby2020int75Zleby2020int79Zleby2020int80Zleby2020int86

The upper floor library consisted of 6,000 books and 6,000 engravings. The big books had beautiful spines. Smaller books were set on shelves high on the walls. The Gallery enthralled as well. Engravings made up one display case. Paintings on the walls included those with animal scenes and a delicate still life of fruit. The leather wallpaper came from 72 deer. The walls were decorated with wood paneling featuring the geometric motif of the Auersberg “A”. There was also a Renaissance dagger that caught my attention. The coronation sword of Emperor Ferdinand I was compelling, too. A Baroque ebony bureau was made of ivory and tortoiseshell.

Zleby2020int91Zleby2020int94Zleby2020int97

The Red Room, though, had the most enticing wallpaper, with its gold and red ornamentation. A painting on the ceiling showed fluttering cherubs.  The Late Renaissance tiled stove from the 16th and 17th century featured Old Testament scenes in the upper part and New Testament scenes in the lower section. The green and brown colors made it attractive as well. The door with intarsia dated from the Renaissance, from 1573 to be exact, and used to be part of the Jihlava town hall. Above me was a beautiful, coffered ceiling.

Zleby2020int11Zleby2020int15Zleby2020int16

The Tyrol Room boasted a Baroque tiled stove from the Tyrol region that was just as captivating as the one in the Red Room. The brown stove showed scenes from mythology in white relief. The swirling, white columns on the stove were complemented by the swirling, pine wood columns in the wood paneling hailing from the Tyrol. A wooden Rococo sleigh for children looked precious. A Delft fajan vase was exquisite, and on the walls were impressive fajan plates.

The stunning Blue Salon was decorated with the biggest tiled stove in the chateau, a blue, white and mustard yellow piece hailing from Bavaria and featuring grape harvest scenes from that region. A rare black desk was complemented by gemstones. A Spanish-Moorish bureau from the 17th century graced the room as well. A  Baroque ebony cabinet hailed from 17th century Germany. The walls in the lower half of the space were decorated with light wood panels while the upper part included blue and gold leather wallpaper. I looked up at the wood, coffered ceiling. It was astounding.

Zleby2020int98Zleby2020int99Zleby2020int102Zleby2020int103

The Knights’ Dining Room did not disappoint, either. The biggest space in the chateau included an intarsia closet and rare hand-painted goblets with colorful figures. Swords and hunting trophies covered the walls. Another bureau in the room was decorated with an ivory engraving of a man on a horse, spearing a boar.

Zleby2020int100Zleby2020int101

Blue-and-white porcelain dominated the space where meals were prepared, and rare rose porcelain from Slavkov in Moravia was exhibited in the kitchen itself with its huge, astounding brickwork. Blue-and-white English porcelain was displayed on a table. A unique, 19th century, cylindrical grill stood out. The kitchen smelled like a bakery. Chateau employees in historic dress were baking bread. A boiling house and smoke house were attached, too. The stove dated from the 19th century.

Zleby2020int104Zleby2020int105Zleby2020int106

After the 10 of us on the tour sampled some homemade Easter bread, the eloquent and enthusiastic guide said goodbye. I took a few more photos of the romantic, fairy tale façade with elegant gate before heading to the park. Then I walked down the street to a pub for a fattening, yet tasty, lunch of beef and dumplings. From the pub window I gazed at the chateau. I felt as if I was a trance. I was so drawn to the chateau. I knew that soon I would have to wake up from my trance and get on the train to Čáslav, where I would switch to a Prague-bound train. Looking out the window at the chateau, I decided that I had had a great day. I just wished that more tourists would visit the chateau that was located only 18 kilometers from Kutná Hora, a major attraction.

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

Zleby2020int39Zleby2020int57Zleby2020int58Zleby2020int60Zleby2020int61Zleby2020int62

Rájec nad svitavou Diary

Image

The train trip from Brno to Rájec nad svitavou took about an hour. I chatted with four young women from Vancouver during the short ride. They got off at Blansko, heading toward the Punkva caves in the Moravian Karst region. I recalled waiting for that same bus during my exciting journey to the most beautiful caves in the region. Other astounding caves were accessible by bus from Blansko, too. By now I had seen all 14 Czech caves accessible to the public. Today I was enthusiastic about visiting Rájec again. Ten years ago I had been bewitched by the chateau’s interior. I expected to be enamored again.

I found my way from the train station in Jestřebí to the chateau in Rájec without getting lost, for a change. One glance at the rectangular courtyard decorated with blossoming orange flowers, and I recalled my thrilling visit all those years ago. I saw flashbacks of the big library, Hall of Ancestors and the Big Dining Room. Then I gazed straight ahead at the three-winged, elegant building, its entranceway sporting a balcony passage. The chateau was crowned by a high mansard roof. A dormer window and a clock tour made up other significant architectural features. To my left was the chateau’s chapel.

I was psyched by the time I entered the box office. I introduced myself and told the dark-haired, frowning woman manning the computer that I was a journalist writing about the chateau, that I had set up a 90-minute tour by email and that I had sent a confirmation a few days earlier.

Her belligerent response caught me totally off-guard. “I don’t care if you are a journalist. You have to wait until there are 10 people interested in a tour before you can see our chateau,” she screamed at me. There were circles under her eyes. I wondered if she had gotten enough sleep the previous night. This woman clearly had anger issues she was not dealing with. An older, smiling woman stood next to her, and a teenage boy in a scruffy T-shirt and jeans organized some pamphlets behind the belligerent brunette, ignoring her outburst as if it was nothing new to him.

“But I reserved a tour. I contacted you a month ago and sent you a confirmation on Saturday. I will be happy to wait up to an hour, but it is customary for journalists to get private tours if there is no one else interested in a tour at that time.” I spoke calmly, careful not to make the woman angrier.

“I never got any email from you.” Her tone was aggressive, vehement even, as her eyes bore into me. The boy kept his back to her, and the round-faced woman with short, grey hair kept smiling.

“If you did not get it, why did you answer it?”

“I did not get any email from you. I certainly did not get any confirmation,” She said, skirting the question.

“I sent you the confirmation on Saturday. It is Wednesday. Surely, you have received the email by now.”

“I will go look at our computer and call the caretaker, even though she is on vacation. Give me your email address.” I wrote it down for her, and she left the building. I gathered it was not possible to look it up on the computer in the box office.

Her calm, forever smiling colleague said that of course everything would be all right, and I would get a private tour if no one else was interested in seeing the chateau now. I found the email confirmation on my mobile phone and showed it to her. The teenager, who I assumed was a summer tour guide, answered the phone next to the cash register and announced, “She already found your email. Everything is okay.”

If everything was okay, why did it take the woman another 10 minutes to return?

ImageFinally, she stood behind the computer, which once again became the imposing physical barrier between us. The smiling woman left the room as the chateau leader in her forties announced, “I did not get any email from you. I called the caretaker, and she knows nothing about you.” I showed her the email confirmation that her colleague had seen. I noticed that her hair looked unwashed and uncombed. The young man was placing brochures in a drawer.

“I never got any email from you.”

“Then why did you answer the email I sent you a month ago and write me that you were looking forward to my visit?” I persisted.

“I do not even know what publication you are writing for.”

“You just read the name and link two seconds ago.”

The calm woman had returned and dared to speak up, stating that the guide should give me a tour, but the belligerent woman interrupted her, yelling, “We have decided you can spend 60 minutes in our chateau, but no more. You cannot spend all day with our tour guide.”

 “I requested the 90-minute tour, and I do not want to spend all day with your tour guide. I just want the 90-minute tour.”

“Sixty minutes. That’s all.” She said, her gaze threatening me to challenge her.

I set off with the young man, disappointed that I would only get a 60-minute tour. We were both silent until he opened the main entrance. “What do you want to take pictures of?”

“I never said I wanted to take any pictures. I said I wanted the 90-minute tour.”

“Oh, then that’s different. I have to go back and ask them if that is possible.”

About to give up and return to Brno, I waited another five minutes for the scruffy teenager. “If you want the 90-minute tour, you need to wait 10 more minutes.”

Why not? I had already waited 30 minutes. What did 10 more minutes matter? I felt as if I was a character in an absurd play.

At the designated time, a small group gathered around the entrance, and the guide introduced himself. There were seven people in our group. The woman had told me that there had to be at least 10 visitors for a tour to take place.

I knew I should be angry. No one had spoken to me so rudely for a long time. No administrator of any monument I had visited during my 21 years here had treated me so badly. I inferred that the people running Rájec did not make an effort to encourage tourists to visit their chateau and did not care what impression they made on journalists. The entire experience was so Kafkaesque, so typical for this country.

I recalled other Kafkaesque experiences, such as when I had to go to customs in Prague to pay tax on a package my mother had sent me. She had written that the cat litter box liners cost 11 USD, and the customs officer was convinced it read 1,100.00 USD. While I was able to persuade her it was not that expensive, she still made me pay tax. Each time it became my turn at the five customs counters, the officers on duty went on coffee breaks.

I tried to concentrate on the tour. First, the guide gave some insight into the history of the chateau. The community of Rájec was established during or before the 12th century while a stronghold was situated at the settlement probably from the 13th century, though it had not been on the site of the current chateau. The seat of the Lords of Rájec was destroyed twice – during the 14th century and again during the Hussite wars of the 15th century. 

The most significant clan to own the chateau was the Salm-Reifferscheidts, who obtained it in 1763. They would remain the owners until 1945. This chateau was built in 1769. The member of the family who would most influence the chateau was Count Hugo František Salm-Reifferscheidt, who became the owner in 1811 and was responsible for furnishing the interior. He expanded the library and the chateau gallery. However, dark days came to Rájec when the Nazis took control of the chateau during World War II – the reason why the state confiscated the building in 1945 under the so-called Beneš’ decrees. Now the chateau mostly flaunts the style of 19th century Romanticism.

ImageThe tour began. The Neo-Renaissance Dining Room featured a carved cassette ceiling supported by two Corinthian columns. I marveled at the colorful handsewn tablecloth sporting 126 coats-of-arms. The colorfully upholstered chairs also lent a certain charm and energy to the room. A closet from 1667 featured rich woodcarving.

After passing by impressive Oriental vases – there were a lot of them at this chateau -, we came to the Corner Room, which displayed the prince’s crown trimmed in white fur above a blood red color. It was given to the Salms on the coronation day of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II during October of 1790. The guide showed us the bronze door knocker featuring the god Neptune. This was the only furnishing in the chateau that hailed from its Renaissance days.

The Engravings Cabinet enthralled me. The wooden wall panels were decorated with engravings inspired by works of prominent artists, such as Peter Paul Rubens. Each wall showed off engravings with a different theme. I was especially drawn to the works dealing with life in the Vatican, though the ones focusing on French rulers also grabbed my attention. I was especially impressed with the 18th century Holland Baroque furniture with floral and plant motifs. I recalled admiring this style in the Český Šternberk Castle not far from Prague.

The stunning Hall of Ancestors contained 40 portraits of former owners and their families. I knew that each portrait told the story of a life, of dreams that did or did not come true, of love, of troubles and of pain. As I gazed around me at the portraits, I wondered what each person’s story was. I also noted the blue and white Meissen porcelain decorating the room. A jewel chest and two tables glittered gold.

The octagonal Ceremonial Hall featured Classicist illusive wall painting that covered the 18th century Rococo frescoes with mythological themes. I wondered what exactly the frescoes had looked like. A chandelier gave the illusion that it was gold.

The Rájec library, covering three rooms, contained 60,000 volumes, making it the largest chateau library in Moravia. Its possessions included medieval manuscripts pertaining to black magic. It dated back to the 1770s and was adorned in Empire style. What really caught my attention were the three standing skeletons in the second room. Two skeletons had one arm on each of their skulls. I wondered if they were scratching their skulls because they were puzzled by the box office brunette’s behavior.  The other skeleton was headless.

ImageNext we ascended to the first floor. The blue and white Meissen porcelain in the Dining Room was exquisite, and in the Big Hall I admired the detailed woodcarving on the gramophone from World War I. In a bedroom there were two intriguing maps – one showed Central Europe in the 1830s while the other was an administrative map of the Czech lands, delineating the different districts, from 1720. I was disappointed we did not get more time to peruse the maps.

In the study three African shields entranced me. On a desk from the 1830s there was a model of a hand that could be used as a paperweight. The Oriental Antechamber included a 17th century jewel chest with Chinese landscapes painted in detail on the drawers. In another bedroom I saw a tapestry decorated with 120 coats-of-arms and some seascapes with raging waves.

Last we visited the chapel, in another building. The Empire style painting of the Virgin Mary was the only intriguing piece inside. Otherwise, it was barren and depressing.

I took a short stroll through the English park, established in 1767, with ponds and a waterfall. I was still puzzled by the anger the woman had unleashed at me as I walked on a narrow path, thick with trees. I pondered on how all my life I had always taken the path less traveled by, the path to adventure, the path that would lead me to get to know myself better as a person. Growing up I had played baseball and ice hockey with boys, for instance.

At a university in America shortly after the Velvet Revolution, I had become enamored by Czechoslovak theatre and the life and works of playwright-turned-president Václav Havel. After graduation I moved to Czechoslovakia, with a modest job teaching English, not knowing the language and not knowing anyone in the country. So much had changed since then. I was not even the same person anymore.

Then I wondered if my memory of this chateau would forever be associated with the rude remarks of that nasty woman at the box office and the Kafkaesque absurdity associated with it. Most probably it would, unfortunately. I remembered reading one travel blogger’s post about how unfriendly and cold Czechs had been to her in Prague. She ended the article by stating she would never return to the Czech Republic. I hoped that someday I would return here, have a positive experience and be full of the enthusiasm I had felt when I first visited this chateau some years ago.

I noticed dark clouds hovering in the sky and glanced at my watch. It was time to head back to the train station.

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

 Image

 

Rabštejn nad Střelou Diary

Image

After visiting the chateau in Manětín not far from Plzeň in west Bohemia, I had to go by car to get to nearby Rabštejn nad Střelou, the smallest town in the Czech Republic and allegedly the smallest in Europe. As I entered the town, I noticed a pub on the right-hand side. I think every town in the Czech Republic has at least one pub. I had tried to visit the town the week before, but the only road to the town had been closed due to construction work.

I expected to see four or five houses, maybe one church, but it was bigger than that. There was a yellow and white church on a hill and next to it a chateau behind a gate. A sign stated that it was private property. The façade was impressive and the lawn meticulously well-kept.  Situated next to the site of a former castle hailing from around 1260, the chateau was built in Baroque style in 1705. The castle originally had a high cylinder tower and walls around it but was severely damaged in the 16th century. Now some of the walls and the foundation of the tower are all that is left of the castle.

ImageThe road dipped down suddenly, and I came to the main square. About five men were struggling to put up a maypole as the May 1 holiday approached. Branches flaunted fluttering, colored ribbons. There was a decrepit building behind me and another one with an old, battered sign above the doorway in German. It read “LIEDFELDERHOF.” I wondered what it meant and if it hailed from World War II or even from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Later I would find out that the word stood for “Sorrowfields’ Inn,” with “sorrowfields” probably being the surname of the innkeepers.

The sign in German attested to the influence that Germans had had on this town since settling in the region during the 12th century. Even the name of the town derived from the German words “rabe” for raven and “stein” for stone. The town was the property of Germans for many centuries. In 1631 military leader and politician Albrecht von Wallenstein became the owner. Wallenstein played a major role in the Thirty Years’ War, allying himself and his army with the Holy Roman Empire. Under the rule of the Habsburgs, he became supreme commander of the Habsburg armies. Wallenstein was assassinated in the west Bohemian town of Cheb after quarreling with Emperor Ferdinand and considering allying himself with the Protestants.

After World War II, when the Beneš’ decrees came into effect, most of the Germans were banished from the country, and Czechs came to live in the town. In 1930 Rabštejn had a population of 344. By 1950 it had dwindled to 77.

ImageI also wondered what the town had looked like in the Middle Ages. I was impressed that the history of this town could be traced all the way back to the 13th century. I had read that in medieval times two rows of houses surrounded an irregularly-shaped square. How had people lived long ago? I knew that in the past inhabitants had taken up making handicrafts, weaving, painting playing cards and glass as well as producing roof slate.

ImageFarther down were several timbered cabins, one painted black with green, another mostly white with black. They looked like they belonged to another century. It was strange when I saw a man open the door of one of these homes and go inside. It was as if a person from the 21st century was entering another time period.

ImageAt the end of the town was a restaurant with picnic tables outside. Seven bikers were sitting there, drinking beer while engaged in animate conversations. There was an old stone bridge, dating most likely from 1335-1340. Under it flowed the Střela River. The body of water meandered through a forest, gurgling softly. A thick forest made up the background. It appeared as if this could be the backdrop for a landscape painting, as if I were looking at a canvas rather than real life. The forest was romantic, but it felt comforting and dangerous at the same time.

ImageI had read about a former brewery that only put out 700 hectoliters of beer during a year, but I did not see anything resembling a brewery. I did not see a former monastery, either, but there had been several in this town over the centuries. One dated back to the end of the 15th century but was destroyed in 1532. A new one was built in the 17th century, but it was abolished in 1787. There were several churches in the town during the 19th century, and legend has it that one of them was damaged in 1856. Workers had to dismantle the cross from the top of the church and reinstall it. While they were doing this, people celebrated below.  The workers drank some wine in the tower and threw a wine glass down. It fell but did not break.

 Image