Karlova Koruna Chateau Diary

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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.
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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

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

A fireplace in Marble Hall

Marble Hall

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

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Loučeň Chateau Diary

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

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

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

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

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

The Dining Room

The Dining Room


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary


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

The ceiling of the church


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

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

View from Loučeň Chateau

View from Loučeň Chateau


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