Sychrov Chateau Diary

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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


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

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Lednice Chateau and Park Diary

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Lednice Chateau in south Moravia has always been one of my favorites because I love Neo-Gothic architecture. Just gazing at the exterior takes my breath away. The interior does not disappoint, either.

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I was visiting the chateau for the third time. Usually I came alone, but now I was with the arsviva travel agency with whom I had taken tours throughout the Czech Republic and abroad. I had never had time to visit the magnificent park as I was always hurrying to nearby Valtice Chateau to see two chateaus in one day. Now I would not be so rushed. I could enjoy my visit without worrying about catching the bus to Valtice.

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I already knew something about the chateau’s background. Lednice was first mentioned in writing as a Gothic fort in 1222. At the end of that century, the Liechtensteins took over Lednice, and they would hold on to it until 1945, for some 700 years. The Liechtensteins would make Lednice their summer residence. Lednice was transformed into a Renaissance chateau during the 16th century. In the following century, when the Czech Protestant nobles revolted against the Catholic Habsburgs, the Liechtensteins took a Catholic stance. Because they supported the Catholics, the chateau remained their property after the Protestants were defeated.

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The following years proved to be a golden era for the wealthy family. Lednice was turned into a Baroque masterpiece during the 17th century. It got its Neo-Gothic appearance, inspired by English Gothic architecture, from 1846 to 1858. Fortunately, the family was able to remove most of the furnishings during World War II, so visitors can see much of the original décor today. The Lednice and Valtice area was added to the UNESCO List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage sites in 1996.

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I had been on all tours of the interior, but this time our visit would focus on the representative rooms, which was my favorite tour. The other tour of the rooms concentrated on the princely apartments. There were also four tours of the park plus two others. We would see the park on one hour-long tour.
In the hallway we saw the biggest chandelier in the Czech Republic, made in Vienna. It had 116 arms and weighed 690 kilos. I also noticed the richly carved wooden staircase and banister, though I knew an even more impressive staircase awaited me. What I loved most about Lednice was its richly carved woodwork, the most impressive woodcarving in the country, in my opinion. It never failed to astound me. I could stare at it for hours.

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I was impressed by the Viennese porcelain in the Ladies’ Salon. In the Empire style Ladies’ Bedroom a 19th century Mexican cross captivated me. It was so exquisitely and richly decorated with such amazing detail. A splendid desk also took my breath away.
The small Chinese Rooms were two of my favorite spaces in the chateau. The wallpaper of the Oriental Salon was hand-painted, made with Chinese paper during the beginning of the 18th century. It featured an idyllic landscape with figures in a vibrant green color.

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Another space showed off medieval ceiling vaulting and richly carved wood paneling. I found the wood paneling to be comforting. It somehow made me feel safe, as if I were in a place where I could temporarily forget all my worries. I was so awed by the detail of the paneling decoration throughout the chateau. The view was idyllic, too. The room looked out on the garden and a pond. I would explore the park soon. I was psyched.

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The Big Summer Dining Room showed off a Gothic table with pewter dishes. The vaulting was Neo-Gothic, influenced by the Gothic style.
Then came my favorite room, the library. A voracious reader, I have always felt comfortable in libraries, but this one was extra special due to its richly carved oak, self-supporting, spiral staircase, the most exquisite example of richly carved wood I had ever seen. The architectural wonder was created in 1850. The rich blue furnishings and matching blue wallpaper complemented the wood ornamentation perfectly. Even the door boasted an intricate wood design. The library itself held about 2,000 volumes, including many books about architecture, art and travel. The astounding ceiling was made of oak. A 16th century Italian altar showed the genealogy tree of Jesus Christ.

The spiral, self-supporting staircase

The spiral, self-supporting staircase

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I loved the wallpaper throughout the chateau, but my favorite was the turquoise with green wallpaper in the Turquoise Hall. The wood furnishings were made from Canadian walnut wood. A copy of a painting by Raphael added to the charm as did an 18th century Chinese vase. Those Neo-Gothic chairs with detailed designs on the backs captivated me not only in this room but also throughout the chateau. The Red Salon or Smoking Salon boasted wallpaper the color of red wine. Coats-of-arms décor was situated high on the walls. Its chandeliers were splendid, too.

The Turquoise Hall

The Turquoise Hall

The Blue Hall was the biggest space in the chateau with crystal candelabras and a ceiling made from linden wood in Neo-Gothic style. I loved the wood ceilings in this chateau, this one especially. This ceiling was extra special because every motif on it was original – no motif was repeated. That made it one of the most impressive ceilings I had seen in chateaus in this country.

The greenhouse at Lednice

The greenhouse at Lednice

After touring the interior, it was time to explore the park. First, though, I went into the greenhouse to see all the stunning plants. The greenhouse was finished in 1845, restored in 1996 and renovated again in 2002. Yet it retained its early 20th century appearance. It was 92.6 meters long and 13.6 meters wide. Its decoration included 44 pillars showing off a bamboo motif. An elliptical pond was one of the highlights.

The greenhouse

The greenhouse

Next we visited the park made up of the natural park and the regular garden. More than 600 types of woody plants now appear in the park. The park harkens back to the 16th century when Lednice was a Renaissance chateau. At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, the park took on a Baroque and Classicist look. At the end of the 18th century, exotic plants were added to the park, which has been open to the public since the end of the 18th century. A Chinese pavilion was added by Austrian architect Josef Hardtmuth in 1795, when the park was expanded.

A tranquil stream in Lednice Park

A tranquil stream in Lednice Park

Hardtmuth had served as the prince’s court builder and architect for the Liechtenstein family. He was responsible for the design of many objects in the Lednice – Valtice area. But architecture was not Hardtmuth’s only talent – he also was a skilled inventor, and he came up with the idea of the modern pencil. He even founded a pencil manufacturing company in the late 18th century.

The pond with the Minaret in the distance

The pond with the Minaret in the distance

We gazed across a pond to the Minaret, which was under reconstruction at that time, so there was scaffolding on the lower levels. Built between 1797 and 1804, the Minaret featured a pseudo-Oriental style. It was designed by Hardtmuth as well, and he received much acclaim for his design.

The Minaret was under renovation during my visit.

The Minaret was under renovation during my visit.

Architecturally, the Minaret was composed of a square ground plan that opened with triple axial arcades on the ground floor. The upper floor consisted of eight rooms. The tower was three storeys high, measuring about 60 meters. The Minaret was crowned by a helmet with a half moon. Now the Minaret is the only structure that dates back to the Baroque and Classicist appearance of the park. I wish we had been able to climb to the highest gallery, where it is said that one can see St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.

Jan's Castle

Jan’s Castle

Then we took a rickety boat ride to Jan’s Castle, a 19th century copy of Romantic castle ruins created on the banks of the River Dyje, according to Hardtmuth’s design. Inspired by Gothic architecture, it had four wings and three gates. The Knights’ Hall was on the first floor, and banquets had been held there. The southern tower had two floors with a balcony. It exemplified the transition from Classical Romanticism to Early Romanticism that was popular in the 19th century. The castle looked like something out of a Gothic novel. The book Valerie and her Week of Wonders by Vítězslav Nezval came to mind.

Statue at the Border Chateau

Statue at the Border Chateau

We saw other structures in the Lednice – Valtice area as well. The Border Chateau, created from 1826 to 1827, was situated near the historical border between Austria and the Czech Republic. The historical border of the two countries was a brook that flowed through the vase of a sculpture of a reclining nymph. Then it went under the chateau and into a nearby pond.

View from the Border Chateau

View from the Border Chateau

It was inspired by Palladian architecture, a style inspired by the designs of 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. The Venice native had focused on symmetry and the characteristics of the formal classical temple from the architecture of the Greeks and Romans in antiquity. This style was often used in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The facade of the Border Chateau

The facade of the Border Chateau

The inside of the chateau featured some Cubist style rooms. The pavilions were connected to wings with a terrace offering spectacular views. It was so harmonious with the nature that surrounded it. Architecturally, it seemed to respect its natural surroundings.

The Rajsná Colonnade

The Rajsná Colonnade

We also saw the Colonnade at Rajsná, which combined a triumphal arch with a colonnade. It was located near the present Austrian and Czech border. You could even see the border buildings from Communist times, and there was an Iron Curtain Museum located there. (Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit it.)

A spectacular view from the Rajsná Colonnade

A spectacular view from the Rajsná Colonnade

Inspired by architecture from Roman and Greek antiquity, this Classicist structure was built from 1810 to 1823 by Hardtmuth and Josef Kornhäusel. The sculptural decoration, designed by Josef Klieber, showed off motifs of triumph and meditation. Reliefs portrayed the allegories of science, art and work. The figures in Roman togas represented the Liechtenstein nobles. The roof terrace offered spectacular views of three countries –the Czech Republic (specifically Moravia), Austria and Slovakia.

The view from the Rajsná Colonnade

The view from the Rajsná Colonnade

The Classicist Diana’s Temple, created from 1810 to 1813 by Hardtmuth, also greatly impressed me. Dedicated to Diana, goddess of the hunt, it looked like a triumphal arch but was really a hunting lodge. Inspired by Roman architecture from antiquity, it had a terrace that must have offered splendid views. Allegories of hunting were portrayed on reliefs. I was surprised how the building was in harmony with nature. It complemented its natural surroundings instead of intruding upon nature.

The Diana Temple hunting lodge

The Diana Temple hunting lodge

There were more structures in the park that we did not have time to see. For instance, there was an obelisk, a fountain, more temples, manor houses and a chapel that all belonged to the Lednice – Valtice area. It would take a visitor days to see everything.

The Diana Temple

The Diana Temple

We went by boat to Břeclav and then took a bus back to Prague. The trip was splendid. Our tour guides were excellent and enthusiastic about their work. I was so glad that I was able to devote so much time to the Lednice -Valtice area as opposed to seeing only the interior of the two chateaus that left me in awe every visit. This part of south Moravia was certainly a special and magical place.

Lednice Chateau from the park

Lednice Chateau from the park

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