Kačina Chateau Diary

Kacina121

 

It only took an hour to get to Kutná Hora by train and then a short taxi ride to the sprawling white-columned, two-floor chateau of Kačina, sporting an elegant tympanum on its main façade. Unfortunately, there was not any public transportation from Kutná Hora to the Czech sightseeing gem, and I did not have a car, so I had to take a taxi a short distance.

The huge chateau – the biggest 19th century Empire style chateau in the Czech lands – boasts not only representative rooms in 19th century Empire, Biedermeier and Classicist styles but also a 19th century library, theatre and pharmacy plus an agricultural museum. An unfinished chapel is on the vast grounds as well. The chateau was built from 1802 to 1822.

The balanced Empire style hails from the early 19th century when symbols and decorations were influenced by ancient Greece and Rome. Biedermeier style, from 1815-1845, refers to furniture that is simple yet elegant with very little decoration. During this period ebony, cherry, ash and oak woods were often used. The Classicist trend can be defined as symmetrical, proportional and geometrical, taking its name from the style utilized in Classical antiquity and that of ancient Rome.  Architecture of this style is very well-organized with columns, pilasters, lintels, hemispheric domes and niches.

I was lucky that I had a guide who was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the place. Her zeal was contagious. She was exactly the kind of guide I wished I had had on every tour I had taken. The details of each room just spewed spontaneously from her mouth. She even took me to parts of the chateau that were usually off-limits to tourists.

First, we hit the representative rooms. The ground floor consisted of the spaces used for social occasions and guest rooms while the first floor, which cannot be visited, had been made into a family residence.

Kacina123The first room we walked into took my breath away. This hallway with a roundel or circular window that is 16 meters high was so light and airy yet elegant that it reminded me a bit of the Pantheon in Rome. We continued into a hallway with some hunting trophies and black-and-white British lithographs sporting hunting and horse-jumping themes.

The first three rooms, formerly guest rooms, gave background information about the chateau and explained the history of the Chotek family, who had chosen this chateau as their summer residence during the 19th century. Models of chateaus adorned each room, such as the blood red model of Veltrusy, destroyed by the 2002 floods, the chateau where the Choteks had once had their family residence. In a portrait Jan Rudolf Chotek, the founder of Kačina, looked as if he was harboring a secret he would never reveal.

First, you need some background about the Chotek family. Veltrusy Chateau was their family residence from 1716 to the 20th century. Jan Karel served the emperor as an armorer, and his youngest son Rudolf worked as the highest chancellor in the Czech lands. Because he did not have a son, his nephew Jan Rudolf took over in the 18th century. Jan Rudolf was a man of many achievements. He built the magnificent park in Veltrusy and Kačina chateau in the 19th century. He was responsible for the construction of many embankments and parks throughout the Czech lands.

His youngest son Karel spent 17 years as the highest Czech burgrave and built the highway between Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lážne. He even learned Czech from legendary historian František Palacký. He also established a residence at Velké Březno chateau, built from 1842-1854, in northern Bohemia – a green building that looks like a hunting lodge. I fondly recalled my trip to Velké Březno, where I had looked out the window at the park, suddenly feeling free of stress as if I had been cleansed of my worries. Ferdinand Maria Chotek, the fourth son of Jan Rudolf, was the Olomouc archbishop for four years. Žofie Chotková married František Ferdinand d’ Este, both of whom died during the assassination attempt during 1914.

The last male Chotek was Karel, who along with his wife Lívie became German citizens after World War II and emigrated to Germany. During the war the chateau was sold to the Germans, and the HitlerJugend resided there. The chateau was nationalized after the war according to the Beneš decrees, which gave property owned by Germans during the war to the state.  In 1950 the chateau belonged to the Ministry of Agriculture, and it became an agricultural museum. Now the chateau looks as it did when Jan Rudolf lived here. The coat-of-arms for the Chotek family shows a half wheel, a gold bear in a blue field and a black imperial eagle on gold.

The ladies’ wing was first, then the men’s wing. The Ladies’ Study boasted pink and grey decor with white ornamentation. Family portraits adorned the walls as did pictures of three summerhouses that once graced the park, founded as far back as 1789 and now composed of 20 hectares with 61 kinds of trees and 20 kinds of bushes. An oil painting depicted knights readying for a tournament on Chotek property. I gazed at a square, gold clock in a gold frame, positioned high on a wall. I was drawn to the geometric symmetry of the square design.

Kacina124Next was the Pink Salon. The original chandelier was second Rococo in style, gilded with gold and dominated by Czech crystal. An Empire style small black table with gold legs and a circular table with the same decoration got my attention. Pink and white porcelain dominated a circular table in the middle of the room. Corinthian columns were painted on the walls.

The Ladies’ Bedroom included some magnificent intarsia furniture. A picture with cupids was carved into a wooden bedframe.  I immediately took to the Empire style black-and-purple closets for accessories in the Ladies Changing Room. A light pink chair and couch complemented a Venetian mirror decorated with black and pink. The purple, pink and black colors went together superbly, I mused.

The Small Dining Room, still used for concerts, included an Empire style table and a Biedermeier side table plus a gold chandelier. The Dance Hall was 22 meters long, 12 meters wide and 16 meters high with fantastic roundels. A crystal chandelier captivated me. The brown parquets on the floor sported circular and diamond shapes. I noticed two unique, tall and narrow flower stands. From France, they were decorated with figures of two black women. For a moment we stood on the terrace and took in the vastness of the park land around us.

The Men’s Salon had a Baroque pool table, but it was the Renaissance brown tiled stove that entranced me. The unique feature of the room was the oak leaf motif. I recalled that oak was often utilized in the Biedermeier style. Wooden circles with oak leaf motifs decorated the ceiling and the tops of the walls. Frames were also covered in wooden oak leaf ornamentation. The couch and chairs were Second Rococo in style. I noticed that the armchairs where the Choteks sat when playing cards were very low.  I wondered what sort of conversations had taken place there while the Choteks had played cards. What had they talked about? What were their interests and worries? What events had brought them joy? Vienna porcelain and Czech glass also lit up the room.

The white stove in the Music Room had white décor and hailed from the Second Rococo period. I also noticed a Baroque bureau and two big portraits of Jan Rudolf Chotek and his youngest son Karel, both wearing prestigious golden medals around their necks. Jan Rudolf was holding a plan of Kačina in one hand while Prague dominated the background of Karel’s portrait. The ceiling with white wallpaper sporting green and pink flowers was not perfect; there was a space that got wet when damaged during the 1960s. Seeing the imperfection only made the room more real and more appealing.

The furniture in the Men’s Study or Smoking Room was captivating as well. The green couch and chairs were Empire style as was the chandelier. The desk hailed from the Biedermeier period. I notice a small statue of Empress Elizabeth, fondly called Sissy, on a desk top. I thought about how she had loathed the strict regimen of royal life and how she danced to the beat of her own drum. She had become a symbol of individual identity during her 44-year reign as the longest reigning Austrian empress. She had been so independent, traveling around the world. And she had had to deal with so many tragedies. A large portrait of her husband, Austro-Hungarian Emperor Frantisek Josef I, also hung here – in the painting he was a young man with many medals on his uniform. The young man in that painting would become the most respected and most beloved member of the Habsburg dynasty, ruling the Austrian Empire and then Austro-Hungarian Empire for 68 years, the third longest reign in the history of Europe.

Kacina1On another wall was a huge brown map of the Chotek property as of 1734. The guide pointed out that the fields were numbered. There was also a secret door to the south colonnade, but we went downstairs instead to see the former bathroom, which was a large hole in the dilapidated floor. The person taking the bath used to sit on a chair in the tub while servants poured water over him or her.

We trekked upstairs again, this time to the Men’s Bedroom. The prayer stool was made with intarsia, wooden with wood decoration. Paintings with religious themes also adorned the room. Plants made the room come alive. In the Men’s Changing Room there were small paintings of Italian towns on the walls. The chandelier hailed from the Empire period. The Hunting Salon was dominated by a polar bear rug. I noticed the animal’s sharp teeth. That is an animal I certainly would not want to come face-to-face with. A white tiled stove boasted white ornamentation with two female figures on its sides. Oriental chairs also made up the space. The furniture was Baroque and pseudo-Baroque and included a Baroque bureau.

The Big Dining Room featured a folding table that usually sat 24 guests during the Chotek’s days. The table was decorated with a green clover motif. Each chair had the coat-of-arms of the Chotek family with a crown on top. The rich wooden décor on the wooden sideboard got my attention. Ceramics and the Chotek coat-of-arms were displayed on the superb piece of wooden furniture. A Second Rococo mirror had a lavish gold frame with the coat-of-arms prominent at the top. The high walls were decorated with gilded wood, and an exquisite crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. There was also a secret door.

Next came the library, my favorite part of the tour. Roundels or circular windows with painted cupolas and stylized squares allowed light to stream into the three sections, onto the colored shapes on the floor. The library from the turn of the 19th century reminded me of a structure out of antiquity. The fake grey marble columns gave the place a dignified air. Tall bookcases were crammed with books, some of which looked like they had golden spines. A gallery above held magazines and newspapers. The Chotek coat-of-arms was present on all 40, 000 volumes, the guide said. Mostly written in German, the books also included publications in French, Spanish, Italian and old Czech. Some of the volumes were older than 1500 – the oldest was a book of Russian psalms hailing from 1480.

Among the most significant in the space was the 18-volume complete set of the French Description of Egypt from 1809-1818, which consisted of encyclopedias that documented everything French military leader and political leader Napoléon Bonaparte had seen in Egypt, from plants to pyramids. There were only two other complete sets in the world: one was in the Louvre and the other in the King’s Library in England. These books were printed specifically for European rulers. 

The editions in the breathtaking space also included 398 handwritten manuscripts, 38 handwritten maps and 250 catalogues. Among the books, I saw downstairs in the first part were S. Dionysii Opera, a fat two-volume set and collections of Lumír magazine, established in 1851 and written by Czech patriots such as Karel Havlíček Borovksý, who is considered the founder of Czech journalism, satire and literary criticism. Tall medical books stood nearby.

The second part of the library was a study with small statues of Czech rulers and one of Michelangelo. Among the 19th century statues, I spotted the mythical Libuše who prophesized the founding of Prague; Jiří of Poděbrady, a Czech king who ruled from 1458 to 1471; Emperor and Czech king Charles IV, who reigned from 1346 to 1378 and was responsible for founding Charles University, the New Town in Prague and the Charles Bridge; and Holy Roman Emperor and Czech king Rudolf II, who was in charge from 1576 to 1611 and is known for his love of alchemy and cultural pursuits.

Kacina2Then the guide showed me the object that enthralled me the most during my visit. It was a globe put together in eight layers. There were top and bottom layers and then six layers representing the continents. On one side was a picture of a continent, and on the other side there was information about it. I spotted a polar bear on one picture. It seemed to me to be an excellent visual teaching aide for young students.

The third part was dominated by a huge vase with ornate décor. I could see Romulus and Remus with a wolf in relief on the exquisite object. Then the guide showed me an Empire style card catalogue, with a card for each book. The golden writing on the cards had been scribed in flowing, fancy script.

Then we went up a narrow staircase to the gallery, a part that was usually off-limits to tourists. I spotted editions of the newspaper Prager Zeitung and sheets containing information about new publications in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Illustrated magazines were also kept here.

The guide even led me through the back study rooms. Paintings adorned the walls, and I spotted a grey tiled stove with white ornamentation. Each painting hung in one space had been executed with a different technique. A display case illustrated the technology of painting and materials for painters, such as paraffin. In another display case I saw handmade paper and an ancient book made from handmade paper.

Yet another space featured brightly colored, dynamic scenes of Divoká Šárka Park in Prague, one painting for each month, though the set here was not complete. I was entranced by the green hills of the park I loved so much, where I felt so at home, one which reminded me a bit of Vermont. I was glad I lived so close to that park. It made me feel relaxed and worry-free.

Soon we came to the 19th century pharmacy. One exhibit showed how to dry herbs, another displayed various baskets. A machine for mixing syrup was on display, too. I saw a press for making fresh herbs and a press for making tablets as well. The jars behind the counter and old scale came in various colors. A large book about herbs dated from 1920. Ceramic jugs also decorated the room.

The theatre, on the opposite side of the chateau, hailed from 1851. It had never been open to the public. It was used only by the Choteks and their good friends. The Chotek family wrote the plays themselves in German and acted them out. Jan Rudolf’s 15 plays on then current themes are now in Prague’s National Museum. The group had even prepared plays by William Shakespeare, tailoring them to their own needs. How I would have loved to have seen those plays!

The stage was made of wood, but it was not original. The walls were made of imitation marble on the lower section while stylized painting adorned the upper half. A compartment seated four people in the middle of the back wall. The two balconies boasted gold and black decoration. There was an orchestra pit, and there were pulleys above the stage. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling that had been partially damaged by water during the 1960s. Some set designs had been saved. The gallery now contained wooden benches, but it had consisted of comfortable chairs back in the Chotek days. There were bleachers for standing room at the top level. On the relatively new ceiling I spotted the two bears holding a coat-of-arms.

Last but not least we visited the unfinished chapel, which was occasionally decorated with flowers and candles and used for weddings. What had been initially planned to be a crypt was only a hole because it was never completed. In the 1950s the floor had been cemented. Before that, it was made of earth. The cross-shaped structure was composed of rock with brick so it could be dry. I imagined how breathtaking the chapel would have looked if it had been finished in a simple and elegant Empire style, for instance.

Then it was time to say goodbye to one of the best guides I had ever met. I thanked her profusely and went back to the souvenir area and ticket office to call a taxi to take me to nearby Kutná Hora, where sumptuous chicken lunch awaited me. I walked briefly through the picturesque town, up the hill to Saint Barbara’s Cathedral and along the bridge flanked by statues. Soon, though, it was time to head back to the train station and return to Prague.

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

Kacina125

Kutná Hora Diary

A view of the town

A view of the town

I had visited to the medieval, former mining town of Kutná Hora back in 1992. I recalled exploring the mines, touring the awe-inspiring cathedral and gazing at the Italian Court.  I could not forget my visit to the creepy ossuary with shapes made out of human bones. Still, it had been a long time ago. So, in 2012, I decided to return to this special place that for some reason I had not made time for during so many years.

 I sharpened my knowledge of the town’s history during the one and a half hour bus ride on that perfect, sunny morning. Kutná Hora gained recognition thanks to its silver mines from the 13th to 15th centuries. At one time, the town’s mine in was the deepest in the world. There was an international demand for its silver, which was exported to one-third of Europe. During Kutná Hora’s golden days of the Middle Ages, the Prague Groschen, a significant currency in Europe, was produced here. Even after the turbulent years during the Hussite Wars in the 15th century and during the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, mining in Kutná Hora preserved. The mine was not even shut down from World War II to 1991.

Plague Column in Kutná Hora

Plague Column in Kutná Hora

I came to the downtown area and soon found myself at the plague column where impressive statues twisted and turned. Then I headed for Saint Barbara’s Cathedral, passing the art museum in the former Jesuit College that hailed from the 18th century. Unfortunately, I did not have time to peruse the art collection during that excursion, but I promised myself to make another trip there in the near future. Too many other sights awaited me on that day. I admired 12 statues of saints, forged from 1650 to 1716, on the way to the impressive cathedral.

A statue on the way to St. Barbara's Cathedral

A statue on the way to St. Barbara’s Cathedral

I could not help noticing the cathedral’s outer buttresses. The gargoyles and monsters on the neo-Gothic façade were imposing, defending their holy site from evil. (By the way, I love Neo-Gothic!) I had familiarized myself with the history of Saint Barbara’s. Its past had much to do with mining. The cathedral was even named after the miners’ patron saint, Barbara. Although construction started on the cathedral in 1338, it was not completed until 1905. The building was as I had remembered it  – absolutely stunning. Once again I marveled at the many Baroque works of art, including three Baroque chapels and a magnificent Baroque organ case.

 

St. Barbara's Cathedral

St. Barbara’s Cathedral

I was particularly drawn to the oldest piece in the cathedral, a statue of Our Lady Enthroned, hailing from 1380. Flanked by two angels in mid-flight, the gold-clad Our Lady gripped a golden orb. The stained glass windows did not disappoint, either. They were exquisite, dating from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. I spotted the cathedral in the background of two of the windows. I also noticed soldiers on horses raising their swords.

KHsvBarb10Then I came to the unique late Gothic frescoes focusing on the mining profession. I had not seen art with a mining theme anywhere else. In the Mint Chapel frescoes from the 15th century depicted miners making Prague Groschens, striking the coins with mallets. That made me think of how my favorite painter, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, portrayed people at their trades or in scenes from everyday life. A few weeks earlier I had visited the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, where I had feasted my eyes on 12 canvases by the masterful Bruegel the Elder.

 “The Battle between Carnival and Lent” came to mind. In this depiction celebrating humanity and peasant life, the artist set the scene at a market and church squares. Mass had just ended, and the churchgoers carried their chairs out of the holy building.  Crippled people begged for money in front of the church. A corpulent man dressed in pink and yellow stockings was playing a guitar and wearing what looked like a ceramic pot on his head. Bruegel the Elder’s “Seasons of the Year” cycle was another of my favorites. It focused on activities in the countryside. I thought of the depiction of winter, “Hunters in the Snow,” and the hunters in the scene that visually and poetically described man’s relationship to the last season of the year.

The main altar in the cathedral

The main altar in the cathedral

“Peasant Wedding” also showed the lower class at their trades. A servant was filling mugs with beer, for example. Rich in tradition, it depicted the bride without the groom, seated at the table with her head crowned in a small wreath. A child tried the creamy porridge, licking the bowl. Everyday people were engrossed in what were for them everyday activities, some profession-related, others focusing on leisure. The portrayal of the common man as a miner minting coins was, in my mind, connected to the Flemish and Dutch canvases celebrating everyday life. A statue of a miner appeared in the cathedral as well, which made the relationship with Dutch and Flemish works of art even more apparent.

The exquisite stained glass windows in the cathedral

The exquisite stained glass windows in the cathedral

In another Chapel the Smíšek family huddled around an altar. Saint Christopher carried a child on his shoulders in one large fresco. Then I meandered to the other side of the cathedral, where I saw a mural with a different theme:  Created in 1746, “The Vision of Saint Ignatius Wounded in the Battle of Pamplona” showed off angels fluttering through pink clouds. I was also entranced by the stone pulpit, built in 1560. The 17th century ornate wooden pews caught my eye, too.

Hrádek, a museum about the town, mining and silver

Hrádek, a museum about the town, mining and silver

After exploring the interior of the cathedral, I was hungry. I stopped for chicken on a skewer at a restaurant with outdoor seating in a courtyard on Ruthardka, a romantic and picturesque street cutting through the center of town. After lunch I stopped by Hrádek or The Small Castle and was eager to see the museum about the town as well as the history of mining and silver in Kutná Hora’s past. The entranceway was full of  teenage tourists enthusiastically chatting to each other. I did not want to visit the mines again – I was too claustrophobic – so I asked for the short tour. The man at the box office said he did not think there would be a short tour that day, but maybe he would have one around four p.m., when I had to be back in Prague. I was disappointed as I had read that the former royal residence was decorated with a Renaissance coffered ceiling from 1493 and consisted of halls featuring late Gothic ribbed vaulting. The medieval Saint Václav Chapel boasted wall paintings of Czech saints, I had read.  This museum would have to wait until another time.

I carried on to the Stone House, which harkened back to the era before the Hussite period of the 15th century, though it was last reconstructed at the turn of the 20th century. I was fascinated by its richly decorated Gothic façade, even though it dealt with the grim theme of death. I spotted Adam and Eve under a tree in the gable.

The Stone House

The Stone House

First, steep stairs led me down into the lapidary in the basement, which was part of the pre-Hussite structure. The collection boasted stone fragments from medieval times. I was especially enthralled by the pieces of the outer buttresses of the Cathedral of Saint Barbara, especially with the stone set in a fleur-de-lis pattern. I also saw pinnacles, finials and crockets. The angels that had originally decorated the cathedral entranced me, too.

Then one of the guides, a cheerful woman in her forties, gave me a tour of the first and second floors. Part of the first floor was devoted to objects representing the city’s former guilds throughout the centuries. This I what I liked about small museums. They often contained pleasant surprises.  I had never seen an exhibition dealing with guilds. One artifact looked like a griffin sticking his tongue out. Two lions and a crown represented another guild. The symbols of the guilds were intriguing.

A closeup of the Gothic facade of The Stone House

A closeup of the Gothic facade of The Stone House

In the hallway stood a painted wardrobe and chest with folk themes. I loved folk art, so rich in tradition. Another space featured Baroque and Biedermeier furniture as well as a forte piano from the 19th century. The Baroque desk and wardrobe from the 18th century caught my attention.

On the second floor relics from religious orders greeted me. A New Testament hailed from 1677. I also saw a silver reliquary and pewter altar vase. Especially intriguing was the small, woodcut relief of Madonna and Child from the 19th century. A Pieta scene from the 18th century captivated me as well. My favorite, though, was a sculpture of Saint Mary surrounded by miners. She wore a star-studded golden halo, her hands clasped in prayer. Bruegel the Elder also dealt with everyday people’s relationship to religion. I thought of the canvas featuring Carnival and Lent again.

The Italian Court

The Italian Court

I did not have time to go to the Italian Court that day, but I would come back again soon to visit it. I recalled its royal chapel in Gothic style with Art Nouveau decoration. The Italian Court, hailing from the end of the 13th century, had played a significant role in the town’s history. The Prague Groschen was first minted there. Kings of Bohemia had stayed at the Italian Court, and Vladislav of Jagollen had been voted King of Bohemia there during 1471.

A chandelier made out of human bones

A chandelier made out of human bones

I knew that the 12-sided stone fountain was under reconstruction, so  I headed for the suburb of Sedlec , where there was an ossuary and cathedral. A 20-minute walk took me to the ossuary with a cemetery, hailing from the 13th century, the resting place of many plague victims and fallen soldiers from the Hussite wars.

The ossuary in Sedlec

The ossuary in Sedlec

The ossuary in the All Saints’ Chapel went back to the 14th century.  I remembered the space being bizarre and morbid yet fascinating at the same time. The Schwarzenberg clan had purchased the ossuary in 1784. They arranged the 40,000 bones and skulls into various shapes. Before that, architect Jan Santini Blažej-Aichel had renovated the space in his unique Baroque Gothic style, which I deeply admired. I gazed at the bones forming a huge chandelier, a Gothic tower and a chalice.

 

The Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms

Another decoration in the ossuary

I was enamored with the Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms. Bones depicted a severed Turk’s head and a raven. The chandelier was my favorite, though. I also gazed in wonder at the skulls from soldiers during the Hussite wars of the 1420s in one display case. I could hardly believe that I was looking at skulls that were so many centuries old, skulls that had once been heads of living human beings.

A chalice made out of human bones

A chalice made out of human bones

Last but not least I visited the oldest cathedral in the country. The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist has been a UNESCO site since 1995. It was constructed from 1282 to 1320 and got a makeover in Baroque Gothic style by the brilliant Santini Blažej-Aichel.

The cathedral flaunts Baroque artworks

The cathedral flaunts Baroque artworks

I was astounded by the seven chapels and the renderings of saints. I was very excited to see three paintings by my favorite Czech Baroque painter, Petr Brandl, whose works evoked such strong emotions in me.

An impressive chapel

An impressive chapel

I admired the Baroque confession booths, hailing from 1730. Saint Vincent’s and Saint Felix’s relics, donated by Pope Benedict XIV in 1742 on the 600th anniversary of the monastery, were also fascinating. The Chapel of the Virgin Mary of Sedlec was impressive with its elaborate Ionic columns and plump putti with angels. The statues originally on the west front of the building intrigued me, too. My favorite was a haloed Saint Benedict gripping an open book. I thought of how literature had opened up new worlds for me, especially the Slovak writings of Václav Pankovčín and his penchant for magic realism.

Once again, Kutná Hora had cast a magical spell on me. I had strolled down medieval streets, toured two cathedrals, visited an ossuary and a museum- all delightful  and inspiring experiences. Now it was time to catch the bus back to Prague. One thing was for certain:  I would definitely be coming back here. Soon.

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

A picturesque street in Kutná Hora

A picturesque street in Kutná Hora

Žleby Chateau Diary

Zleby7

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

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

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

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

Zleby5The chapel was first on the list. Upon entering the tiny, quaint two-floor chapel, the narrow, high and oblong stained glass windows behind the altar of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary caught my attention. The windows bewitched me with their dynamic, bright colors. I then studied the main altar and was drawn to the bright red of an angel’s cloak. The chapel was the youngest part of the chateau, in 19th century Neo-Gothic style, the guide – probably a university student – explained. It dated from 1853 to 1858. Still, there were a few items that went back farther than the 19th century. For instance, a side altar hailed from the 15th century. The triptych showed the Virgin Mary with a sculptural grouping of a Pieta in the middle of two statues. I noticed the trickles of blood on Jesus’ crossed hands. The oldest item in the entire chateau was here – a 15th century richly engraved baptismal font. Statues of saints were positioned high on the side walls of the chapel. I spotted the flapping drapery of Saint Elizabeth.

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

Zleby1As we made our way up the Renaissance stairway, the young man leading our group pointed out that the chateau had the second most weapons after Konopiště, a popular chateau located about an hour from Prague. Indeed, on the walls leading up to the next floor I saw many weapons. Ancient rifles covered one wall, and in another place I spotted a white ivory horn with detailed engravings, once used by Polish King Jan III. Sobiesky, who liberated Vienna from a Turkish threat in 1683.

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

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

Zleby9The Prince’s Study was next on the agenda. The velvet leather wallpaper, colored dark blue and decorated with flowers, also heated the room. An intarsia closet was exquisite. In the small Travel Room, historic clothes covered the small bed and also hung on a rack. I noticed the detailed embroidery on the shoulder of one shirt. Silverware was packed in a box that fit into a portable chest that could be lugged around during journeys. The bed itself was enthralling – it could be packed up, appearing as a closet with intarsia design. A travel toilet in a box resembled a crate.

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

Zleby10Soon we came to the Small Men’s Study with its daiquiri tiled stove that boasted coat-of-arms – just one of many tiled stoves that would bewitch me with its beauty. I noticed a postcard of an Austro-Hungarian soldier on the desk that featured intarsia design. The leather wallpaper above the desk consisted of royal blue and brown swirls. I also peered at ancient books with delicate, brown and gold bindings. The Green Changing Room included a sink, bucket and towel rack that closed up into a table so one could take it on journeys.

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

Zleby11The upper floor library consisted of 6,000 books and 6,000 engravings. The big books had beautiful spines. Smaller books were set on shelves high on the walls. The Gallery enthralled as well. Engravings made up one display case. Paintings on the walls included those with animal scenes and a delicate still life of fruit. The leather wallpaper came from 72 deer. The walls were decorated with wood paneling featuring the geometric motif of the Auersberg “A”. There was also a Renaissance dagger that caught my attention. The coronation sword of Emperor Ferdinand I was compelling, too. A Baroque ebony bureau was made of ivory and tortoiseshell.

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

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

The park at Žleby Chateau

The park at Žleby Chateau

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

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

The park at Žleby

The park at Žleby

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

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

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

Zleby3