I arrived at Baroque Jemniště Chateau for the third time during July of 2021. While I had traveled to the chateau by bus on previous visits, this time I came with a friend in a car. The chateau was an hour or so from Prague.
It was a place I wanted my parents to see, but both of them were in their eighties, and they weren’t about to travel here during the pandemic. I doubted they would ever return to Prague.
I already was familiar with the history of the chateau, which had come into existence during 1725. However, a fire destroyed it in 1754. The front section of the chapel, which included the main altar and a ceiling fresco, was the only part of the place that wasn’t reduced to ashes. Then two master artists took control of the reconstruction – Czech Baroque painter Václav Vavřinec Reiner and Baroque sculptor Matyáš Bernard Braun. They made the structure an architectural gem. I recalled Reiner’s dramatic painting at Duchcov Chateau, which I had visited for the second time the two years earlier, the year before the pandemic hit. How I missed those times! Braun was best known for his sculptural groupings on Prague’s Charles Bridge.
In 1868 Zdeněk Sternberg bought the chateau, and this family would own Jemniště for many decades. In fact, the Sternbergs currently owned the chateau, and Jiří Sternberg even lived there with his family. Filip Sternberg inherited Jemniště when Zdeněk died. A talented artist, he created renditions of children and horses that were exhibited in the chateau. He had been taught by the best Art Nouveau artist of the day – Alphonse Mucha. I recalled visiting the Mucha Museum with my parents, who loved Mucha’s art. I had also seen some of the Slav Epic canvases in the Municipal House and, years before that, in the chateau at Moravský Krumlov. The Sternbergs held on to the chateau until the Nazis took it away from them in 1943 because the family would not accept German citizenship. The Nazis gave the Sternbergs two weeks to move, and they were able to move original furniture. During Communism, Jemniště Chateau was controlled by the state. Jemniště wasn’t returned to the Sternbergs until 1995, six years after the Velvet Revolution that toppled the Communist regime.
We had about an hour before our tour so we walked through the charming park, which featured goats, a kangaroo, a donkey and exotic birds. It was tranquil. I found wondering if I would get back to the USA for a trip this year or if the pandemic would keep me in Prague. I wondered if there would come a day when I could show my parents Jemniště and maybe Kozel Chateau as well. While perusing the park, we did not have on our masks because we did not have to wear them outside. Inside, though, it was strictly forbidden not to wear a mask. I firmly believed that wearing masks inside was the right decision.
Then it was time for the tour. There were about 40 people there. I was surprised that so many people were allowed on the tour. Most chateaus I had visited during the pandemic had limited the number of participants on each tour. I was also surprised that the tour guide said that we didn’t have to wear masks. Only my friend and I wore them. Some of those on the tour were children under twelve, definitely unvaccinated. The Delta variant was gaining ground in the Czech Republic. I was dismayed that so many people didn’t seem to take the virus seriously.
I tried not to stand close to anyone, but it was not possible to social distance. Still, the tour was just as breathtaking as I remembered it. In the Sala Terena two of Braun’s statues portraying cherubs were a highlight of the space. The entrance hall featured watercolors of a castle and two chateaus that the Sternbergs own – Jemniště, Častolovice and Český Šternberk. I mused that I hadn’t been to Český Šternberk and Častolovice for some years and would like to go back there. The tour guide also mentioned that Franz Ferdinand d’Este and his wife Sofia Chotek had visited the chateau in 1909. I recalled the three impressive tours at Konopiště Chateau, where Franz Ferdinand d’Este had lived with his family before he and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo during 1914. In fact, Konopiště was the last chateau we had visited last year before more and more people came down with the coronavirus.
I liked the three painted windows in one Baroque room. They were painted across from three real windows, and it made for a pleasant contrast. In the Small Dining Room, I was entranced with the intarsia furnishings. A Delft tiled stove caught my attention in the Study. I would also be enthralled with miniature figures of furnishings in the Delft style later in the tour. The red upholstered chairs made the space look cozy and warm for a winter evening. Intriguing porcelain, including Meissen, was exhibited throughout the tour.
The Main Hall was a delight. Portraits of four Habsburg rulers dominated the walls. The gods of Olympus were displayed on the ceiling. Gods from antiquity and the three allegories of the four seasons were other painted creations that stunned viewers.
The last space we visited was Saint Joseph’s Chapel with its thrilling frescoes. Reiner was responsible for the fresco sporting the Holy Trinity. Another showed off allegorical figures. The main altar dazzled with gold décor, portraying Christ crucified as well as statues of the Virgin Mary and Saint John of Nepomuk.
After the tour, again I wished my parents could have joined me on this visit. I had taken them to many chateaus and castles, and they always enjoyed seeing an impressive chateau. I think my mom would have especially liked the porcelain and Delft objects. I wondered if my dad would have been most moved by the frescoes.
Soon, we left Jemniště Chateau and searched for a restaurant. We found a nondescript one after the railroad tracks, near Benešov. The food was excellent, but I wouldn’t remember this place for its food. My keys, in a padded container, dropped out of my rucksack.
When I got home, I realized I did not have my keys! Luckily, my friend had my extra set of keys in her car. One of the keys could not be copied. If I didn’t find them, it would mean a great deal of trouble for me financially and for my landlord, who would have to get new keys made. Luckily, the restaurant owner informed me that he had the keys when I wrote him a text message.
The restaurant was about an hour from Prague, so I asked them to send the keys to me cash-on-delivery. They sent them the next day by regular, standard mail not cash-on-delivery, so there was no receipt. It took eight days for the keys to travel from the Benešov environs to Prague. During those days, I was so stressed and panicked. I should have gone back there to get the keys in person. When they arrived, I noticed that the envelope was open, but the keys were still inside. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, editor and proofreader in Prague.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Franz Ferdinand and his family hunting, Image from treking.cz
The third tour, the one featuring Franz Ferdinand d’Este’s private apartments, lasted 90 minutes and was as enthralling as I had remembered it. We started off in the 70-meter-long hallway where over 800 of Franz Ferdinand’s hunting trophies were displayed. I especially noticed the razor-sharp teeth of an open-mouthed tiger. In another space I was drawn to a Nuremberg chandelier made with deer antlers and decorated with mythological figures.
Franz Ferdinand, Sophie and family, Image from stoplusjednicka.cz
My favorite part of the tour came next. We walked down a hallway lined with portraits of historical figures, such as Dante Alighieri, Titian and Christopher Columbus. Empress Maria Theresa’s likeness stood out as well. In another space, I noticed the delicate embroidery on Franz Ferdinand’s uniforms, such as his attire as a Russian general. The chest that traveled to Sarajevo with Franz Ferdinand and his wife made an appearance, too. The gigantic tooth of a whale was intimidating. Portraits of Emperor Franz Josef I dotted the apartments. Each time I saw one, I recalled the rigid conditions that Emperor Franz Josef had put in place while allowing the two lovebirds to marry. I also noticed the fine woodworking craftsmanship on the headboard of a bed.
Eventually, we came to a room where there were 1,307 hunting trophies. I remembered the space from one of my favorite films, featuring the fictional Czech legendary character Jára Cimrman, who was the focus of a small, intimate theatre in Prague’s Žižkov district. I noticed a lighter in the shape of a dog on a desk. In the Dining Room the tiled stove was enchanting. I loved seeing various styles of tiled stoves in chateaus.
I took note of a painting of Saint George killing the dragon, a theme featured throughout the chateau in 3,900 objects. Franz Ferdinand had wanted to impress King George with his collection and persuade him to visit Konopiště, but his dream was never realized because Franz Ferdinand d’Este was assassinated in Sarajevo.
A miniature jewel case sporting the intarsia method caught my eye. In the Pink Salon I was captivated by one of many portraits. It showed a young Sophie Chotek, Franz Ferdinand d’ Este’s wife, with a wreath of flowers in her hair. I recalled that neither she nor her children could have the Habsburg title because she was not descended from a European ruling dynasty. I mused that their children could never become heirs to the throne as I stared at a huge portrait of the three offspring. They looked serious, pondering. In a bedroom with 20th century furniture there was a Madonna painting. I liked the tan-and-black color combination for the bedspread. I also liked the pale-yellow bedspreads in the room for Arnošt and Maximilián, the two sons. The model boats in the room were very detailed. A huge portrait showed the boys in the chateau park. I imagined them frolicking through the impressive park, carefree and full of joy. A photo showed them in sailors’ uniforms, standing with their father. In another portrait the two boys were dressed in girls’ clothes because this was the normal attire for young boys during that era. I tried to imagine the boys playing Indians, reading adventure books by Karel May or playing puppet theatre with a Saint George and the dragon theme. I also saw portraits of dogs, textbooks and collections of fairy tales. The guide showed us a magazine the children produced about music, dogs and birds, for instance.
Countess Sophie Chotek, Image from flikr
I also was shown the room where the children’s French and music teacher had slept. Franz Ferdinand’s children had kept in touch with her even after becoming adults. In the daughter’s room I especially liked the Venetian mirror and took notice of the delightful floral bedspread and floral upholstery of the furniture. In another space the Delft porcelain caught my eye. I thought of the Delft porcelain at Zákupy Chateau, where Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had wed. I had admired Delft porcelain in so many chateaus and palaces. A magnificent tiled stove in green, blue and yellow stood out, too.
We were in the chapel briefly. The biblical scenes shown in the stained-glass windows captivated me as did the many sculptures. The blue ceiling decorated with gold stars was my favorite feature of the chapel. This was definitely one of my favorite chateau chapels of all time, I mused. I could have spent an hour just perusing the chapel because it showed off so much precious decoration.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand d’Este and Countess Sophie Chotek in Sarajevo, Image from http://www.payne.cz
In another room there were black-and-white photos of the family’s travels to Japan, China and India, for example. I perused shots taken in Nepal and Calcutta as well as one of an elephant in Ceylon. While some pictures showcased the landscape, others focused on people. The hydraulic elevator with comfortable, upholstered seating had traveled a half-meter each second.
Finally, we came to a display case holding Franz Ferdinand’s and Sophie’s death masks and one of the bullets from Gavrilo Princip’s pistol. Such a small object had produced a fatal wound. Blood stained an otherwise dainty handkerchief. The delicate white dress and white hat Sophie had been wearing when she was shot were in full view as well. The white color of her attire somehow made her assassination seem all the more tragic.
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.
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.
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. . . .
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
This past year started with me looking forward to my trip to Milan, scheduled for May because I had had to cancel in November of 2019. I was assuming I would begin castlehopping around the country at the beginning of April. The last thing I expected was a pandemic. I never would have guessed that seeing people in face masks would become a familiar sight. I changed my trip to Milan to October, thinking the pandemic would be pretty much over by then. I would cancel for a third time, not feeling safe enough to fly or going sightseeing when a deadly virus was raging through the world.
During the first three weeks of the pandemic, I only went outside to take out the trash. I felt traumatized. I watched CNN International whenever I had a free moment as the network provided nonstop coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. On TV, I was constantly confronted with death – so many deaths. I was convinced I would die soon of the coronavirus as did many of those featured on TV, so I did not go out. Then one day I had to go to the pharmacy. I was hyperventilating because I was so anxious to be outdoors. Soon, though, I started walking to the nearby park and spending time sitting on one of my favorite benches with the most stunning views of lush green hills that looked like they belonged in Vermont.
It all changed at the end of May, when the castles opened again. The number of coronavirus cases were low. My friend and I started going on day trips once a week, giving me a welcome respite from my endless fretting and CNN’s constant portrayal of tragic suffering and death.
We started at the Gothic Křivoklát Castle, which harkens back to the 13th century. My favorite room in this castle is the well-preserved chapel that was built in the 1470s. The winged main altar of the crowning of the Virgin Mary hailed from 1490. Masterfully carved statues of the 12 apostles added to the impressive décor. Another space was devoted to Gothic art with altarpieces, statues and paintings. Of course, we had to wear masks and try to stay apart from each other. No more than 12 people were allowed on a tour. Still, it was crowded in some spaces.
Next came Žleby, a chateau I had visited years earlier with another friend. I loved the romantic 19th century appearance. The chapel boasted of a Neo-Gothic 19th century style. The Knights’ Hall was a real gem with 16th century knights’ armor, hunting trophies and weapons. However, what I liked best about it were the 188 painted glass pictures covering one wall. They had been created from 1503 to 1749. My favorite feature of the chateau was the leather wallpaper, for instance in the Prince’s Study, the Rococo Salon and the library. The Red Room also dazzled with gold-and-red leather wallpaper. Of great interest were the elaborate tiled stoves, some of the most beautiful I had ever seen. The armory was another delight. And who could forget those Renaissance arcades on the exterior.
I also returned to the biggest 19th century Empire style chateau in the Czech Republic, Kačina. The representative rooms displayed 19th century Empire, Biedermeier and Classicist styles. But there was more. A 19th century library sported roundels with painted cupolas and stylized squares. The light streamed into the three sections. The small theatre was another treat, with two balconies of gold-and-black décor. The entrance room of the chateau had a 16-meter high roundel, which brought to mind the Pantheon in Rome.
We set off for West Bohemia to Nebílovy Chateau one weekday. It is comprised of a Baroque chateau with another building behind it. The structure in the background looked so dilapidated – as if it would fall apart before our very eyes. Yet both buildings were filled with great beauty inside. The Dancing Hall was the highlight with its idyllic ceiling and wall painting of palm trees, monkeys, birds and people. The Rococo designs amazed. Other rooms were stunning, too, with little details that made the spaces charming.
One beautiful morning I traveled to Průhonice Park with another friend. It included 250 acres of beauty with a Neo-Renaissance chateau. I admired the rose garden, the central lake with its stunning views, the open meadows dotted with haystacks, the waterfalls and the brook as well as the floral species.
I also paid a second visit to Mnichovo Hradiště Chateau, which featured rare 18th century furnishings. I loved the mural spanning three walls in the Italian Room. Naples and Venice loomed in the distance of the town represented. The Delft Dining Room proved to be a treasure. The porcelain from the 17th to the 19th century was all original and handmade. Giacomo Casanova worked in the library during the 18th century.
For some variety, we explored some caves about an hour from Prague one week. The Koněprusy Caves were discovered in 1950 and became open to the public nine years later. They measure 2,050 meters in length. The tour covers 620 meters and shows visitors part of the middle and upper floors. (There are three floors in all.) The middle floor is the longest, dotted with wide galleries and large halls. A special kind of limestone – Koněprusy limestone – has been mined from this area since the Middle Ages. In fact, one of the foundation stones for Prague’s National Theatre came from this quarry in 1868.
I loved the decoration of this cave system. The ornamentation was one of the most beautiful in the Czech Republic. It is formed by stalactite and stalagmite structures made from calcite.
I traveled to one chateau for the first time – all the other trips were return visits. Peruc had opened a month or so earlier after lengthy renovation. The elegant Rococo exterior had an interior that did not disappoint. The religious paintings and tiled stoves, mostly in Classicist style, were highlights of the tour. The outdoor toilets comprised of holes in the ground certainly were not very comfortable.
We made a lengthy journey mostly on country back roads to Manětín Chateau in west Bohemia. The ceiling frescoes delighted me. In the biggest room, a ceiling fresco from 1730 showed three figures representing Love, Strength and Fortune. The four seasons made appearances, too. Painted Baroque statues looked real. Mythological themes played central roles. The chateau was unique for its impressive collection of paintings of servants and clerks who had worked at the chateau. Thirty Baroque statues dotted the town, too.
After visiting Manětín, we drove to nearby Rabštejn nad Střelou, which was once the smallest town in the country and possibly at one time the smallest town in Europe. It featured a Baroque chateau, a castle ruin and timbered houses that belonged in another century. The town was a quaint place, but since my last visit, many tourists had discovered it. During my first visit, I was one of the only people exploring. This time the town was crowded with Czechs taking advantage of the nice weather and low number of coronavirus cases.
One of my favorite trips was to Lnáře Chateau. We ate at a restaurant where three stray cats begged for handouts. The black one received some of my macaroni and cheese. Then we headed to the 17th century chateau with an elegant courtyard boasting of arcades. Inside, the wall and ceiling frescoes were Baroque, and many dealt with mythology. The Baroque Chapel of Saint Joseph hailed from the middle of the 17th century.
What my friend and I loved most about Lnáře Chateau was the Cat Museum. We saw figures of cats, paintings, drawings and coats-of-arms of towns symbolized by cats. A two-meter high copy of an Egyptian goddess represented by a cat stood in one space. I also adored the cheerful painting of a feline by one of my favorite Czech artists, František Pon. It was one of my happiest days of the summer, and I often think back to that day when I want to capture that feeling of utter joy.
Our last venture out of Prague was to the ever-popular Konopiště Chateau, known to most as the former home of Franz Ferdinand d’Este and his wife Sophie Chotek, who were assassinated in Sarajevo, an event that triggered World War I. The couple lived there for 14 years. What I liked best was not the collection of hunting trophies that people always talk about but the chapel with its Gothic statues and Renaissance paintings. The light blue vaulted ceiling was studded with stars. Red designs also added to the elegance of the small space. I remembered my first visit here in 1991. I had imagined getting married in this chapel someday. Alas, I would never get married but would find happiness in being single. The first tour concentrated on the luxuriousness of the chateau furnishings while the second tour revolved around accounts of Franz Ferdinand’s family and how they had influenced his life as we explored intriguing furnishings.
A museum addict, I enjoyed visiting the Saint George Museum with 808 paintings, statues, ceramics, glass and altarpieces sporting Saint George fighting the dragon. Franz Ferdinand had amassed an impressive collection. The Shooting Hall was unique with moving targets painted in detail.
Perhaps the best thing about that day was that there were only five or six people on each tour. Normally, there are 30 or more on a tour at Konopiště. It was wonderful to be there without the crowds. I had a three-scoop sundae in the chateau restaurant, a fitting end to our escapades for the year. By then coronavirus cases were increasing, and it was becoming dangerous to travel.
I did manage to make it to one art exhibition this year. Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Man exhibition took place in Kinský Palace on Old Town Square. The portraits and self-portraits spoke to me as Rembrandt evoked the soul of his subject and knew how to reveal the deepest depths of his own soul in his self-portraits. Modern work inspired by the great artist was on display, too.
I missed going to restaurants and eating indoors, something I won’t do during a pandemic. I missed going to the theatre, going to concerts, taking the Metro and tram often and just feeling free to go wherever I wanted to without being concerned about catching a deadly virus. I really missed not being able to fly to the States and see my parents because it was too risky, and part of the time the borders were closed. And I missed spending time in foreign countries, exploring new places such as exciting art museums. I missed Italy specifically. I hope that, by the spring of 2021, I will be able to, at the very least, take trips to castles and chateaus around the country.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
The shooting hall is located in the former stables of Konopiště Chateau, about an hour from Prague. It hails from the time when Franz Ferdinand d’Este, an avid hunter, resided there. He 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. His penchant for hunting is well-documented as the chateau shows off 4,500 of his hunting trophies and 3,000 deer teeth.
The shooting hall includes painted moving targets of various figures rendered in great detail. One man holds out an open umbrella to fend off an angry dog. Another man brandishes scissors in one hand as if about to use them as a weapon against people gathered in front of a bank. There are targets of various animals, too. The shooting hall includes a section with many hunting trophies, too. Its meticulously portrayed painted scenes are unique, to be sure. This part of the chateau is free if tourists buy a ticket for any of the four tours of the interiors.
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 there were strict conditions. The couple’s three children could never be heirs to the throne.
They only enjoyed 14 years residing in the chateau. Their tenure was abruptly cut short when, during the summer of 1914, as Inspector General of the Army, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie oversaw military maneuvers in Sarajevo, Bosnia. This region, 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.
People usually pop into the shooting hall for a quick look but the skillfully made moving targets deserve more attention.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
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.
A little over an hour on a fast train and a ten-minute walk was all it took to get to Karlova Koruna Chateau, which I had seen for the first time about 10 years ago. It was high time for a return visit.
Karlova Koruna Chateau, in English “Charles’ Crown,” is named in honor of Emperor Charles IV who visited there after his coronation in Prague during 1723. (He would visit a second time as well.) It was constructed for František Ferdinand Kinský from 1721 to 1723. During the Thirty Years’ War the imperial army, the Saxons and the Swedes took turns occupying it. When the castle was inherited by Václav Norbert Oktavián Kinský, he made it his main residence and built greenhouses there. This count was responsible for obtaining the services of architect Jan Santini Aichel and builder František Maxmilian Kaňka in 1721, when construction on the chateau began.
I was a big fan of Santini’s architecture, and this was no exception. I had even toured Santini’s dazzling structures in east Bohemia and Moravia earlier in 2015. The architectural design of the building was unique. I enthusiastically took snapshots. In the middle there are two stories in a cylindrical shape, and three one-floor wings are connected to them. Both floors divide into 10 main areas. I saw three-layered gables above a cornice. The chateau had a central composition, which reminded me of the Shrine of St. John of Nepomuk on Green Mountain (Zelená hora). Karlova Koruna also brought to mind the Gothic Parish Church of Saint Wenceslas in Zvole, in the Vysočina region, which was reconstructed by Santini from 1713 to 1717. I recalled my visit there in October. Its roof was shaped as a crown in honor of the Czech patron saint Wenceslas.
I had always been enthralled with Santini’s Baroque Gothic style. I loved Santini’s penchant for mathematical symbolism and geometric forms. I thought his designs were rational yet radical. The outbuildings dated from the early 20th century, and the orangerie was designed in Empire style during the 19th century. The nearby Chapel of Saint John the Baptist had a hexagonal shape, but it was not possible to go inside.
I was familiar with some of Kaňka’s designs in Prague and outside the capital city.
Like Santini the builder Kaňka, who also worked as an architect, excelled at his field. He had reconstructed many palaces, chateaus and churches, mostly in Bohemia. One of his most famous works was Konopiště Chateau, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had lived. In the early 18th century he designed parts of the Clementinum, including the Mirror Chapel, where I had been to many concerts had viewed illuminated manuscripts that had been on temporary display. He also did renovation work on Prague’s Karolinum. He even worked on St. Vitus’ Cathedral. I knew that he had built Loučeň Chateau, which I had recently visited.
The church at Karlova Koruna
I brushed up my knowledge of the Kinský family history in Chlumec. General František Josef Kinský, who became a colonel at age 29, greatly influenced the development of hunting and horsebreeding at the chateau during the 18th century. He began to have hunts called in Czech “parforsní hony,” taken from the French expression “par force.” In this type of hunting, the animal was hunted until it was exhausted and then killed. However, after the Napoleonic Wars, in 1836, a new type of hunting, inspired by the British, came about at Chlumec, thanks to Oktavián Kinský. This type of hunting did not involve killing the animal, which was usually a deer. The rider on horseback would have to overcome natural barriers to catch the deer. Then it was returned to the forest.
The first long steeplechase took place in Chlumec in 1846, a mere nine years after the first one ever in Liverpool. The famous Pardubice steeplechase has its roots in Chlumec. Zdeňko Radslav Kinský won the Big Pardubice steeplechase. And he would not be the last Kinský to nab first place there. Rudolf and Karel Kinský also triumphed at the race. The niece of Oktavián Kinsky, Lata Brandisová, was the first woman to win this event, in 1937. Count Karel Kinský even won the Grand National race at Aintree, England in 1883. Many famous Kinský horses participated in this race.
Oktavián Kinský also had played a significant role in Karlova Koruna’s history. He was a talented horse breeder. He had bred a unique gold-colored horse that he called isabela but would be later referred to as the Kinský breed of horse. It was the best horse for sport in Europe, lauded for its talent at steeplechasing, fox hunting and show jumping. While many are gold-colored, others have bay or chestnut hues. Otkavián started his own studbook, which is still in use today. Another unique breed at Chlumec was the dun horse or buckskin.
When Zdeňko Radslav inherited the property, he made Karlova Koruna his main residence. He had two sons, Norbert and Radslav and a daughter named Genilda. He was ardently against the Munich Agreement and in 1939 signed a declaration against the Nazi Occupation. As a result, Karlova Koruna and his other properties were taken over by the Nazi administration. Disaster came to the chateau when a fire broke out in 1943. I saw an article about this disaster in the hallway on the way to the women’s restroom. The roof of the chateau caved in, and the chateau was destroyed. It was rebuilt, though.
Zdeňko’s oldest son, Norbert, was forced to work in the Reich, but he managed to flee and ride his bike back to Bohemia. After some negotiations, he was allowed to work as an interpreter at Orlík Chateau. In February of 1948, Norbert left his motherland for Italy, where he married Anna Marie dal Borgo-Netolická, an Italian who had spent her childhood at Kost Castle, which I had also visited earlier that year. When Norbert’s parents came to Italy for their son’s wedding, the Communists took stripped them of all their property. Penniless, they wound up staying in Pisa. Genilda and her two sons made a daring escape across the border, finding shelter in several refugee camps. Finally, they came to Pugnana, and then Genilda continued to Switzerland.
Only Zdeňko’s son Radslav stayed in Czechoslovakia. He was allowed to work at the State Stud Farm, the famous breeding ground for Kinský horses. He is credited with keeping the Kinský horse alive during the Communist era. The Kinský horse was a dominant breed through the middle of the 20th century. Now, however, Kinský horses are very rare. At the time Radslav lived in a very small and claustrophobic space at Karlova Koruna. In 1958 he was allowed to travel to France and did not return to Czechoslovakia. Instead, he studied at the Sorbonne and later taught in Tunis, Algeria and Morocco. He died in 1975.
His son Dr. Norbert Kinský was given the property back after the Velvet Revolution of 1989. When he became a member of the Knights of Malta, Dr. Norbert Kinský gave his property to his two sons, who established the company Kinský dal Borgo, which now takes care of Karlova Koruna, Kost Castle and other properties. Radslav Kinský lives in Žďár nad Sázavou, where he owns property.
Now it was time for the tour of the interior that I remembered as dazzling from my first visit here so many years ago. In the central area that breaks off into three wings, I saw 12 exquisite armchairs and antler hunting trophies on the wall. Paintings on the walls featured Slovak motifs. Because my ancestry was part Slovak and I had a soft spot in my heart for Slovakia, I was interested in the paintings.
In the first room I saw the Kinský coat-of-arms – three silver boar horns on a red field. I recalled finding my Burns’ family coat-of-arms in Scotland. It featured a boar sticking out its tongue. I liked the Kinský coat-of-arms better. The guide explained to us that the Kinský dynasty could be traced back to the 13th century. I wished I could trace my Czech, Slovak and Scottish ancestors back to the 13th century. I was fascinated by an intarsia-made bureau forged with seven kinds of wood. A French gilded clock also caught my attention. In the next room I saw a Venetian mirror, and I was surprised to find out that it had not been manufactured in Venice. Rather, it hailed from Sloup in the Czech lands.
The Dining Room showed off distinguished portraits of the Kinský family as well as portraits of Emperor Joseph II and Emperor Leopold II. Another space boasted elegant Viennese porcelain. I loved the exquisite chairs, some of which were decorated with green roses on the tops of the backs. Those sporting the roses were designated for women while the ones without floral adornment were meant for men.
The next section was devoted to the Kinskýs’ love of horses as numerous pictures of horses adorned the walls. I saw dun horses bred at the Kinský’s studfarm and English horses. Other renditions showed horses from the Spanish Riding School. Paintings of horses jumping over barriers in steeplechase races also decorated the walls, and the guide proudly told us that the Pardubice steeplechase originated here. Other paintings showed horses and dogs going on hunts. A saddle hailed from World War I. I would never ride a horse because I would be too scared that the animal would bolt. Also, large animals frightened me, even big dogs. I knew many people who loved riding, but my fear did not allow me to share their excitement. I had not been very interested in horseracing or horsebreeding until I came here and learned about the Kinskýs’ passion for horses. They had certainly played a major role in horsebreeding.
In the next room I saw Oktavián Kinský on the clan’s best horse, and other works featured representations of the isabela or Kinský beige horse. Another space featured paintings of hunts. The guide told us about the two types of hunting in which nobles had participated here – the French “par force” style during which the animal was killed and the English style during which the animal was returned to the forest. In paintings I saw the hunters sporting red jackets, black hats and white riding breeches. There was more than art featuring horses here, though. I marveled at a desk made with intarsia, hailing from the 18th or 19th century. A Venetian mirror also caught my eye.
In the third wing we learned about Zdeňko Kinský and his family of nine children while we gazed at black-and-white engravings of horses. One large, long painting got my undivided attention. It showed horses in motion as they raced. The artist had really captured the moment in the way a photograph would. That the painting was made of 12 pieces of deerskin intrigued me.
Bookcases held volumes in various languages, such as Hungarian, French and German, but there were only a few books in Czech. The Kinskýs had spoken numerous languages. Laura Kinská, whose portrait was in the room, had managed to learn nine languages. In the portrait her expression looked gentle, but somehow I sensed an inner sadness as well. Gazing at a portrait of Tereza Kinská, I admired her beauty. It was sad to learn that she had died young and childless. A small painting showed two Kinský women without their wigs or elaborate hairstyles. I had never seen such intimate portraits of female nobility.
In the next room the guide talked about how the Kinský family had been enemies of the Germans during World War II and how the chateau had been used for the Nazi administration. He explained why Norbert Kinský stayed in Italy after coming there for his son’s wedding and said that after Norbert’s wife died, he had joined the Knights of Malta. Since Norbert had to give up his property, he passed it on to his two sons. In one photo Norbert sported his red Knights of Malta uniform.
After touring the three wings, we went upstairs to the Marble Hall. It was so elegant that I was speechless. The two lavish fireplaces were made of real marble, while most of the other marble in the large space was imitation. An exquisite chandelier was 2.2 meters high. The floor was decorated with geometric shapes, and I was reminded of Santini’s fondness for mathematical symbolism.
In the gallery above the Marble Hall I saw pictures of the chateau and its surroundings from the 1930s. I spotted a photo of Karel Schwarzenberg on a horse in 1934, Zdeňko Radslav Kinský in a historic uniform and the Kinský family playing tennis on the courts that were once on chateau grounds. The pictures brought the family to life. They were not merely names spouted out by the tour guide or found in a brochure about the chateau, but rather real people who skied, played tennis and went rowing. The photos of the interiors of the chateau from that time period were also intriguing. I wondered what it would have been like to have lived in Czechoslovakia during the 1930s with the democratic era of the Second Czechoslovak Republic as well as the threats that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party posed.
A fireplace in Marble Hall
I ate marinated chicken at the chateau restaurant. I was seated outside, even though it was scorching hot. I recalled the days when I could almost always find my favorite food on Czech menus – it was chicken with peaches and cheese. How many years had it been since I had seen it offered at a restaurant? After lunch I went for a stroll in the park with its exotic species of woody plants and then wanted to read on a bench, but it was sweltering hot. I wound up going back to Prague in an uncomfortably hot train. Luckily, it was not a long ride back to the city I considered home. When I set foot in Prague’s main station, I smiled. Despite the heat and humidity, I had had a superb day and had a new appreciation for horseracing and horsebreeding.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.