Konopiště Chateau Diary

I had been to Konopiště Chateau at least seven times. The tours were always packed with 30 tourists or more, which could be a bit disconcerting. About 40 kilometers from Prague, Konopiště is a popular sight for day trips from the capital city and is usually swamped with tourists.

This time, though, there were only about five of us on each tour. It was during the coronavirus pandemic, at the beginning of September of 2020, when the situation was just starting to get worse. (It would be our last day trip during 2020 because of the steady increase in coronavirus cases.) The courtyard was almost empty. A few tourists waited on benches and fiddled with their cameras. No tour buses traveled there at that time because of the pandemic. We wore our masks and were able to social distance from each other on the tours.

By my 2020 visit, I knew the history of Konopiště well. The chateau of four wings and three storeys came into being as a Gothic fort with stellar defense features in the 1280s. The Šternberks took control of the castle in 1327, and it remained their property for more than 275 years. Konopiště survived the 15th century Hussite Wars without a scratch, a much different fate than so many other Czech castles that were plundered and even destroyed. Konopiště got a Gothic-Renaissance makeover during the late 15th century thanks to George of Šternberk. It became a Renaissance chateau when the Lords of Hodějov owned it in the 17th century. The Lords of Hodějov rebelled against the Habsburg monarchy in 1620, and the chateau was confiscated from them, placed in the possession of military leader Albrecht von Wallenstein.

While Konopiště had experienced good fortune during the Hussite Wars, the same could not be said about their fate during the Thirty Years’ War. The Swedes plundered it in 1648, and throughout the war, the chateau suffered serious damage. After Adam Michna acquired the chateau, the serfs rebelled against his repressive measures and conquered Konopiště in 1657. The Czech kingdom’s highest burgrave, Jan Josef of Vrtba, purchased Konopiště when it was in a decrepit state and transformed it into a luxurious Baroque chateau. Later, the chateau’s interior would also feature some Rococo elements.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand d’Este – Photo from Dotyk

During 1887 Franz Ferdinand d’Este purchased the chateau. He was the oldest nephew of Austrian Emperor Franz Josef and later would become the heir to the Habsburg throne. He made a multitude of changes to the chateau, reconstructing it as a Renaissance residence with North Italian features. One part of the chateau was remodeled to look medieval. Architect Joseph Mocker carried out the renovations between 1889 and 1894. The archduke founded the 225-hectare English style park with the exquisite rose glarden. He established what is today the third largest European collection of armory and medieval weapons. Perhaps what stood out the most was his impressive collection of hunting trophies that are seen in the hallway at the beginning and throughout the tour.

He also installed modern technical features, such as a hydraulic elevator, central heating and electricity. His vast collection of items dedicated to Saint George are located in the former orangery. After his assassination in Sarajevo during 1918, the First World War took place, and the chateau was plundered. During World War II the chateau served as a headquarters for the Nazis. It was nationalized in 1945, after World War II.

Franz Ferdinand d’Este and his wife Sophie Chotek – Photo from Pinterest.

To know the history of Konopiště, it is necessary to know more about Franz Ferdinand d’Este. The oldest son of the brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I, he became heir to the Habsburg throne after his cousin Crown Prince Rudolf killed himself and his father died. The Crown Prince, the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I, committed suicide along with his mistress, Mary Freiin von Vetsera, at Mayerling hunting lodge in 1889. Franz Ferdinand achieved much success in the military. However, he often disagreed with Emperor Franz Josef and was by no means a favorite of the emperor.

Sophie Chotek – Photo from Alchetron.

He was smitten by Sophie Chotek, a lady-in-waiting to Archduchess Isabella. The two were secret lovers for two years because Sophie was not descended from the Habsburgs or any other European ruling dynasty, something that caused much tension between Franz Ferdinand and Emperor Franz Josef. The emperor did eventually allow the couple to wed, but he set rigid conditions. None of their children could be heirs to the throne. Also, Sophie was forbidden to sit in the royal carriage or royal box.

Zákupy Chateau

They were married at Baroque Zákupy Chateau in northern Bohemia, a place I had visited a few years earlier. I recalled the many portraits and pictures of members of the monarchy at Zákupy. Franz Joseph had used the place as a summer residence for some time in the second half of the 19th century. I remembered what I liked best about Zákupy’s interior. I loved the delicate, decorative painting of Josef Navrátil on the upper walls and ceilings of many rooms.  A fantasy-inspired painting of the four continents had also held my attention. The 17th century Baroque chapel was amazing with ceiling frescoes portraying scenes from the lives of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

Interior of Zákupy Chaptel
Interior of Zákupy Chapel

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had three children and were married for 14 years. The couple was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand terrorist group, on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo. Franz Ferdinand and his wife had travelled to Sarajevo because Franz Ferdinand wanted to oversee military maneuvers. Less than two months after their tragic deaths, World War I broke out.

Soon it was time for the tour. One characteristic that has always enthralled me is that the chateau has 96 percent of its original furnishings. So many original furnishings of castles and chateaus had been destroyed or lost. Photographs of Konopiště’s interiors from Franz Ferdinand’s ownership of the chateau made it possible to see the spaces as they really had looked during that time period.

As we admired the luxurious spaces on the first tour, I recalled that Franz Ferdinand and Konopiště were mentioned in Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the World War, an anti-militaristic, satirical novel sprinkled with anecdotes in which Švejk, a gung-ho soldier serving in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, appears to be an idiot. It is not clear if he is pretending to be an idiot. Originally published from 1921 to 1923, the book was never finished as Hašek succumbed to a heart attack while writing it. The Good Soldier Švejk, as it is often called, holds the distinction of being the most translated book in Czech literature.

Photo from booktook

The first tour showed off some 5,000 numbered hunting trophies, many of exotic animals, as Franz Ferdinand had travelled all over the world on hunting expeditions. Many trophies consisted of exotic animals. I saw bears, antelopes and wild cats, for instance. The archduke had also killed 12 Indian tigers. There was also a collection of 3,200 pairs of deer teeth. But Konopiště is much more than its seemingly ever-present hunting souvenirs.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand with his family – Photo from Franz Josef

One of the most impressive spaces is the Rose Room, which has an exquisite pink ceiling and shows off 19th century Rococo furniture. Its Czech crystal chandelier is another delight. I was especially drawn to an Empire style table adorned with gemstones. I loved the three Italian marble cabinets that sported drawers decorated with leaves, fruit, animals and birds. I noticed the delicate ruddy cheeks of Marie Antoinette in one portrait. The Grand Dining Room stood out for its Baroque ceiling that portrays the four seasons and a Czech crystal chandelier weighing 170 kilograms. The 15th century paintings in William II’s Bedroom caught my undivided attention. An exquisite Spanish tapestry of a forest with people on horseback hung in one room. A beautiful yellow, blue and white tiled stove stood out in the Guest Bedroom. A Venetian mirror showed off a picture of Saint George. Many artifacts on the tours were decorated with likenesses of Saint George.

The second tour of the chateau included rooms specifically meant for Crown Prince Rudolf, though he died before he could visit his cousin. Franz Ferdinand had been very close to the Crown Prince and had taken his death very hard. On this tour we learned many interesting facts about Franz Ferdinand’s life. The guide told us that Franz Ferdinand’s brother encouraged him to keep Sophie as a mistress instead of marrying her. Franz Ferdinand never spoke to his brother again.

I marveled at the 16th century Renaissance vaulting throughout the rooms. These spaces make up the oldest part of the castle. My favorite room was the chapel, one of my favorite chapels in the country. It was a place where I could have imagined having my wedding if I had found someone to marry. I was awed by the 19th century blue vaulted ceiling speckled with gold stars, symbolizing the sky. The 15th and 16th century sculptures also amazed. The main altar was Gothic, featuring the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Saint Hubert and Saint George (of course!) also made appearances. Instead of an organ, the chapel was equipped with a harmonium, and it still worked. I loved the bright colors of the chapel – they had such a distinctive vibrancy that gave off positive energy. Also, the small chapel had an intimate feel.

Even though I was not a big fan of weapons, the armory was very impressive. I saw 15th century weapons from the Hussite wars, executioners’ swords and complete armor for a horse and knight hailing from 1560. Renaissance armor for a musician from 1600 was exquisitely decorated with pictures of instruments. A rifle made of ebony hailed from the beginning of the 16th century. Cannons on display had been used during the Thirty Years’ War. Some shields were decorated with mythological themes. One showed a fighting Hercules. I also saw rifles and pistols made in the 16th and 17th century.

A look at the countryside around the chateau

There was even more to admire on that tour. An electric elevator with plush seats looked like a small, luxurious train compartment. Franz Ferdinand had equipped the chateau with the most modern technology of the time period. I liked the ashtray made of part of an elephant’s foot. In the Smoking Salon, a 16th century tapestry portraying King of Macedon Alexander the Great caught my attention. Also, the 17th century monumental fireplace adorned with figures of lions and coats-of-arms was carved from rare Italian Carrara marble. Toward the end of the tour, we saw a stuffed bear that had lived in the chateau’s moat until 2007. Now another bear, named Jiří (George), resided there, though I hadn’t seen him when I had looked over the moat during this visit.

We didn’t have a chance to go on the third tour, but I had been on it during previous visits. It consisted of Franz Ferdinand’s private apartments. Furnishings of various styles exuded charm and luxury. A hunting theme dominated the décor.

Museum of Saint George in the former orangery

I also visited the Shooting Hall in the former stables, which hailed from Franz Ferdinand’s time at the chateau. I was impressed with the astounding detail of the painted moving targets of various people and animals.  The museum of 808 objects depicting Saint George killing the dragon in the former orangery was another delight. Franz Ferdinand had collected these paintings, statues, ceramics, glass and altarpieces with the hopes that one day Britain’s King George would visit the chateau. That dream was cut short by Franz Ferdinand’s death.

Target in the Shooting Hall

Then there was the vast park, which we only had a little time to visit. The rose garden had always been my favorite part of the park along with its numerous Italian sculptures. I also had an affinity for the greenhouse and its intriguing plants. I had been at the park during the spring and summer previous years, so I had seen it in full bloom.

Chateau park

Then it was time to eat. We were the only customers in the cozy chateau restaurant. I had chicken and couldn’t resist a large sundae for dessert. I loved treating myself to ice cream on my day trips. It made them even more special. I would remember this sundae more than others because it would be my last at a chateau for the season. I can still savor the vanilla and chocolate. . . .

My last dessert at a chateau restaurant in 2020

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

Saint George Museum at Konopiště Chateau

This museum is located in the former orangery of Konopiště Chateau, about an hour from Prague.  Franz Ferdinand d’Este bought the chateau in 1887 and carried out repairs from 1889 to 1894 so that the architecture resembled a Renaissance chateau in North Italian style with a partially medieval appearance. It is known for its 4,500 hunting trophies, a chapel with 15th and 16th century paintings and sculptures, a bear residing in its moat and an armory that holds the distinction of being one of the largest in Europe.

Franz Ferdinand collected paintings, statues, ceramics, glass and altarpieces, among others, sporting the theme of Saint George killing the dragon because he dreamed of hosting King George of England at the chateau and of surprising him with his vast collection. Alas, no such visit took place.

According to legend, Saint George slayed the dragon that was going to devour a princess whom Saint George saved. It was a popular literary theme during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Supposedly, the event took place in Libya. The legend appears in writing for the first time in a Georgian document from the 11th century. The story has been rendered in famous paintings, such as those by Peter Paul Rubens and Salvador Dali. It is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Richard III and in King Lear.

Franz Ferdinand was the eldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, the brother of Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef I. After his cousin Crown Prince Rudolf killed himself and his father passed away, Franz Ferdinand found himself heir to the Habsburg throne.

The emperor strongly frowned upon Ferdinand marrying Sophie Chotková because no one in her family was a descendent of a European ruling dynasty. Finally, the couple was allowed to marry, but their three children were forbidden to be heirs to the throne.

During the summer of 1914, as Inspector General of the Army, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie went to oversee military maneuvers in Sarajevo, Bosnia, which, along with Herzegovina, had been annexed by Austria in 1908. On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, an assassin affiliated with the Black Hand terrorist group, shot and killed the Archduke and his wife while they were in their car. Less than two months later, World War I began.  They were buried in the crypt of their country home at Artstetten Castle in Austria.

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

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