Jablonné v Podjěštedí and the Minor Basilica of Saints Zdislava and Lawrence Diary

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The Minor Basilica of Saints Zdislava and Lawrence

I had wanted to visit Jablonné v Podještědí for a long time. I was not disappointed. I thought that Jablonné v Podjěštedí was a tranquil town. My friend and I savored delicious ice cream on the main square. Only later did I read about the history of the town, a tale, which is no less captivating than the town itself.

Nestled under the Lusatian Mountains of north Bohemia near Lemberk Castle, the town was first settled by Czechs and Germans. It was founded by Havel from Markvartice in the 13th century. His wife Zdislava came from a religious, noble family. She would become a saint for helping the poor and healing people. The monastery in the town was founded during the mid-13th century and was inhabited by Dominicans. During the 14th century, Jablonné v Podjěštedí held a prominent position as a customs checkpoint, and in 1369 Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV visited the town.

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An old postcard of the town from http://www.luzicke-hory.cz

The 15th century brought destruction and havoc as the Hussite Wars raged throughout the Czech lands. The Hussites razed the town. The monastery and church also sustained much damage.

Things would get better, though. By the mid-15th century, life was good again. During the 16th century, prospects looked even brighter as trades and businesses flourished. New buildings were erected, too, including a chateau, school, town hall and brewery.

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The main square of the town, aerial view, from http://www.luzicke-hory.cz

The owner of the town, Jindřich Berka from Dubá, did not get along well with the Dominicans in the monastery. Luther’s Reformation played a major role in religious life as Lutheran pastors preached there. There was so much friction between the Catholics and Lutherans in the town at that time that Emperor Rudolf II had to intervene in order to calm things down.

The Thirty Years’ War brought much destruction and plundering. Afterwards, the Lutheran pastors were expelled, and Catholicism dominated religious life again. Still, there was no love lost between the owners of the town and the Dominicans. In 1628 all Protestant books and pictures of Czech martyr Jan Hus as well as renditions of Martin Luther were burned on the town square. By 1648, the town was in very poor shape. Less than 160 families called Jablonné v Podjěštedí home. A plague epidemic did not help matters.

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Aerial view of Jablonné v Podjěštedí, from http://www.turistka.cz

The 1680s was a decade of reconstruction. The monastery was transformed into a Baroque jewel thanks to architect Jan Lukáš Hildenbrandt. The Baroque church was consecrated in 1729. Two years later the remains of Saint Zdislava were brought to the church to stay.

During the 18th century weaving and many other professions characterized the town. Markets took place in Jablonné v Podjěštedí, and economically the town prospered.

Unfortunately, the seven-year Silesian war between Austria and Prussia destroyed parts of the town. By the end of the 1760s, typhus and famine had hit. Things got even worse when, in 1788, a fire ravaged almost the entire town. Then the Dominican Monastery was shut down by the edict of Emperor Joseph II.

The beginning of the 19th century did not bring any tranquility to Jablonné v Podjěštedí. Most of Europe was at war with Napoleon. Soldiers from Poland, France, Austria and Russia came to the town. One day in August of 1813, Napoleon even made an appearance.

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On the main square, from http://www.turistka.cz

Then the damage was repaired, and the textile industry took off.  Many guilds cropped up, and 350 weavers worked there. The second half of the 19th century featured expansion and construction as well as a cultural boom. Factories also came into existence there.

Then World War I broke out. On the outskirts of town, there was a POW camp with 14,000 Jews plus Russian, Serbian, Italian, French and British soldiers. The camp was closed down in 1918. Some Ukrainians made Jablonné v Podjěštedí home from 1919 to 1921. Czech soldiers took control as 1918 came to a close. The German National Party resonated with many of the German inhabitants, but there were also attempts to promote Czech nationalism by establishing Czech schools.

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The interior of the Minor Basilica of Saints Zdislava and Lawrence

An economic crisis ensued, and the Sudeten Party found many followers in the town. On October 3, 1938 this part of the Sudetenland was taken over by Germany, and the few Czechs living there moved. Days later, Jablonné v Podjěštedí became part of the Third Reich. During World War II, refugees from towns that had been bombarded came there for shelter. The Russian army liberated the town on May 9, 1945. After the war, a school cafeteria was located in the monastery. The Dominicans were sent to work camps

During the Communist era of the late 1960s and 1970s, high-rises that became eyesores of the town came into being. A poultry farm and a food processing plant also were built.

After the 1989 Velvet Revolution toppled the Communist regime, tourists came to the town. In 1995 Saint Zdislava was canonized by Pope John Paul II. Now there are about 4,000 inhabitants.

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The interior of the basilica

I was struck by the history of this town because it seemed so peaceful, even though it had been through so many trials and tribulations. I tried to imagine flags of the Third Reich flapping from the buildings on the main square. I tried to imagine the dancing flames on the piles of books and pictures that were burned as an attempt to purge the town of Lutheran beliefs. I tried to imagine the main square with so many buildings destroyed, in ruins, during the Hussite wars and during later wars. To be sure, that main square could tell a lot of stories if it could talk. Life went on, through good and bad the town persevered, and now tourists have taken an interest in the place due to the dazzling basilica.

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A church stood on this site as far back as the 13th century, established by Zdislava, the wife of Havel of the Markvartice clan and future saint. She was buried in the church during 1252. By the 17th century, the church and priority were in such a bad state that they were demolished. A Baroque church was built on the site of the Gothic church that had been torn down. It would become a church to which pilgrims flocked because Zdislava was buried there. The church was not consecrated until 1729.

The year 1788 was a particularly bad one. A fire destroyed the church and priory and then the Dominican brothers, who had settled in the monastery as far back as the 13th century, were abolished due to Emperor Joseph II’s edict.

While the exterior of the basilica enthralled me, I was surprised to find the interior just as enticing. if not more so. The floor plan takes the shape of a Greek cross. The interior is 45 meters high, 29 meters wide and 49 meters long.

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The first room in which the group gathered featured medallions of Zdislava holding a model of the church she had founded and renditions of Dominican monks. There were 24 pictures about the life of Zdislava from 1660. A Baroque standard of a craft guild also adorned the space.

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Then we saw the courtyard and went into the hallway where I saw some remarkable contemporary paintings with political symbolism. I liked the one showing families seated in front of the television while the Communist hammer and sickle emblems were displayed on the screens. The painting served as a warning about how tempting it had been under Communism to normalize propaganda and platitudes. The family members in the painting looked resigned to their fates. They were as if in a trance and had adjusted to the rules and regulations of totalitarian society. It also showed the importance of family, which played a major role in the lives of Czechoslovak citizens during that era.

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Now to the interior of the minor basilica: Because much of the interior was destroyed during the 1788 fire, most of the furnishings dated from the last two centuries. Newer sections even hailed from this century. The frescoes in the vaulted cupola featured the life of Zdislava. The baptismal font was Rococo, dating from 1764, one of the few pieces that survived the fire. I liked the Late Gothic statue of the Madonna, which hailed from before 1510, decorating the Rococo Marian-Zdislava altar. The pulpit was Classicist from the late 18th century and included a bust of Saint Peter. The altars of Saint Anna and the Virgin Mary were both Rococo in style, hailing from the 18th century. The altar of Our Lady of the Rosary, on the contrary, flaunted Baroque features with intriguing statuary.

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The main altar, though, was younger, built in 1898 in pseudo-Baroque style. Paintings of Saint Lawrence and Saint Zdislava adorned the altar. The choir benches were Rococo and featured intarsia. I love stained glass windows, and the ones in this basilica lived up to my expectations. I took note of the designs portraying Saint Stephan and Saint Philip.

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We also visited the tomb of Saint Zdislava, viewing the marble sarcophagus. Tombs are not really my cup of tea, but it was intriguing to think that in that sarcophagus were the remains of someone who had lived in the 13th century, someone who did much good for humankind. I vowed to get to Lemberk Castle, the residence of Saint Zdislava and her husband so many centuries ago, the following season. I had visited it once, many years earlier. I remember it was romantically situated in a forest, and the interiors had been intriguing, to say the least.

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I loved visiting small towns, especially those in the mountains because I have always loved mountains. I felt at peace with the world, standing on the main square. There is nothing like discovering a gem that earlier had been a mere name on a map.

Soon we said goodbye to north Bohemia and returned to Prague. It had been a good day.

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

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Rococo baptismal font

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Libochovice Chateau Diary

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I discovered Libochovice Chateau in 2005 and wrote about it in an article describing chateaus in north Bohemia. It was published during October of that year in The Washington Post. Libochovice is certainly a hidden gem in north Bohemia. I recalled its dazzling displays, stunning tapestries, breathtaking ceiling frescoes and beautiful tiled stoves plus exquisite jewel chests. It is a shame there are not more foreign tourists making the trip there. It has so much to offer the curious castlegoer.
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Before entering the chateau courtyard, I peered at the statue of Jan Evangelista Purkyně, who was born in Libochovice during 1787 and who became one of the leading scientists in the world, as he delved into the studies of anatomy and physiology. His father had worked for the Dietrichsteins, the family who had owned the chateau at that time. For two years Purkyně served as a tutor at Blatná Chateau, a remarkable sight in south Bohemia. Later, he made numerous discoveries in the scientific sphere, such as the Purkinje effect, Purkinje cells, Purkinje fibers, Purkinje images and the Purkinje shift. He also coined the scientific terms plasma and protoplasm. A crater on the moon and an asteroid are named after him.
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Before my trip, I had read up on the history of the town and chateau. Located near the romantic ruins of Házmburk Castle, Libochovice was first mentioned in writing at the beginning of the 13th century. At that time, Házmburk Castle, then called Klapý and by no means a ruin, played a major role in the development in the town. A wooden fortress was built in Libochovice, and it was later replaced by a stone Gothic structure. During the Hussite Wars of the 15th century, the castle in Libochovice was razed, the town conquered.
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The Lobkowiczs took over the properties in 1558, and they were responsible for constructing a Renaissance chateau with 28 rooms on the premises. When Jiří Lobkowicz revolted against Emperor Rudolf II in 1594, he was imprisoned, and his property was confiscated. That’s when the Sternberg family took control. Still, times were not rosy. The Thirty Years’ War did much damage, and during a fire in 1661, the chateau was destroyed.
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When Václav Vojtěch Sternberg sold Libochovice to Austrian noble Gundarkar from Dietrichstein in 1676, a new era had begun. The Dietrichsteins would retain ownership until 1858. The chateau was reborn from 1683 to 1690, designed in early Baroque style. There were four wings with a courtyard decorated with Tuscan pilasters and arcades. A sala terrena on the ground floor led to the garden.
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Unfortunately, Gundakar died before the construction of the two-floor structure was completed. His daughter Terezie was then in charge of the chateau, and she had renovations made in the 1870s. More reconstruction occurred from 1902 to 1912. In the 19th century Johann Friedrich Herberstein added many objects of interest to the chateau collection. An avid traveler, he toured Egypt, Syria, Persia and India, for instance.
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During World War II the chateau’s history was bleak. That’s when Nazis took over Libochovice Chateau. Sixty-five residents of the town and surroundings revolted against the Third Reich and were beheaded by the Nazis. After 1945 the chateau was confiscated and nationalized because wartime owner Friedrich Herberstein had obtained German citizenship. More reconstruction took place throughout the decades, and in 2002 the chateau was declared a national monument.
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I was so excited about this tour. First, we visited the sala terrena, which looked like a richly adorned cave. The vaulted ceiling was incredible. I loved the sea motif as decorative seashells took the shape of a floral design. The reliefs of a sea monster also enthralled me.
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Next, we came to one of the highlights of the chateau, large Saturn Hall, where banquets, balls and concerts had been held. Above the fireplace a stucco sculptural grouping focused on Saturn. The Baroque chandelier, hailing from Holland, also captured my interest.
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From there, we continued to the Baroque section of the chateau. The ceiling fresco in the first room was breathtaking, displaying a mythological scene. A Renaissance chest gilded with ivory and a Baroque jewel chest inlaid with ivory and tortoiseshell were two delights.
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I marveled at the tapestry, one of many I would see in this chateau, in the Big Gallery. It dated from the 16th century, and its theme was the Trojan War. The guide remarked that the tapestries were not put up for merely for show; they had also helped heat the rooms. A Baroque fireplace hailed from 1620. Still, that was not all this room had to offer. A jewel chest featuring carved reliefs hailed from the beginning of the 17th century.
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The Study included an atlas from 1775 with pages of handmade paper. I wanted to turn the pages to find out what the handmade paper felt like. I recalled visiting the papermill in Velké Losiny, located in north Moravia, long ago, when I also toured the chateau there. It had been an enthralling experience, I mused. Then a jewel chest made with intarsia dazzled me. One tapestry in this room showed off a garden party while another sported a plant motif in an idyllic setting. The Baroque stove hailed from 1690. There were so many impressive Baroque stoves in this chateau!
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During the 17th and 18th centuries in the Czech lands, there was much interest in Chinese and Japanese porcelain. The Chinese and Imari Japanese vases in the Oriental Salon reminded me of a trip to Dresden’s Porcelain Museum. The pieces in the chateau were so exquisite. Upon seeing an impressive French Baroque clock, I recalled the one I had seen at Loučeň Chateau a few months earlier. And how I loved jewel chests! This particular jewel chest was inlaid with ivory and tortoiseshell, featured intarsia craftsmanship and portrayed a hunting scene. Another thrilling tapestry was on display. I recalled the exciting tapestries at the Residence Palace Museum in Munich.

In the Bedroom I admired the spiral carved columns of the 17th and 18th century Baroque closets as well as the bed with canopy. A Rococo crucifix was also on display. The tapestry in this room featured King Solomon. I was enthusiastic because I knew there were even more tapestries to come.
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Rococo furniture from the 18th century decorated the Morning Salon. I mused that it must have been delightful to sit in this room and sip black or green tea. Two tapestries portraying the apostles adorned the space. And there was yet another ceiling fresco! This one showed Persephone venturing into the Underworld. I was especially drawn to the jewel chest with pictures of a town carved on its drawers. The attention to detail fascinated me.

In the Ladies’ Cabinet there was a Baroque commode with exquisite intarsia plus a Rococo table and desk also created with intarsia. The three tapestries took up themes of nature and architecture, offering a respite from the religious scenes that the tapestries often portrayed.
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The Men’s Cabinet was decorated mostly with Neo-Renassaince and Second Rococo furniture. A large desk was Baroque. If I had not visited so many chateaus, it would have never occurred to me that the big bowl decorated with images of birds and floral motifs used to serve as an aquarium.
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Next came the chapel. While it was originally designed in Gothic style, the chapel now looks as it did after a 19th century renovation. I admired the stained glass windows. I love stained glass! The Neo-Gothic altar featured the apostles. What captured my attention the most, however, was a 16th century exquisitely carved altar showing off the adoration of the Three Kings. The woodwork was incredible, so detailed, so exquisite.
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The Big Dining Room took on Renaissance and Baroque characteristics. A carpet covered the large table, set for a feast. The tableware was made of pewter, typical of the Renaissance era. On the table there was a bowl that served as a washbasin for guests to clean their hands while eating. And more tapestries to behold! This time the two tapestries portrayed Alexander of Macedonia. Two paintings rendered scenes from antiquity. (The paintings throughout the chateau also are worthy of undivided attention.) Once again, I admired yet another ceiling fresco. This one centered around Aphrodite and Athena. In the corners four female figures in oval medallions represented the four continents. (Australia had yet to be discovered.)
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I liked the Biedermeier furniture in the Small Dining Room. That style seemed to me to have such a sense of order and rationality. Yet I was enthralling by all styles of all eras. The colored decorative porcelain from Dresden and the pink-and-white Viennese porcelain service also caught my eye. The Baroque stove was quite a sight, too.

The Rococo Salon featured furniture of the Second Rococo style from the mid-19th century. The pink walls made the room feel quaint and inviting. Stucco adorned the ceiling fresco. Another Baroque stove and Meissen porcelain made appearances. In a flattering portrait, Terezie Dietrichsteinová – Herbersteinová, a former owner of the chateau, looked calm and content with life. I wondered if I was at a time in my life when I was calm and content. To some extent, yes. And traveling certainly played a major, positive role in my contentment.
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The Empire Salon was decorated with furniture of that style from the 19th century. On the walls were pictures of Dietrichstein properties – Nové Město nad Metují Chateau, Kounice and Mikulov, all rendered masterfully by František Kučera. I liked the clock featuring a tongue that showed the time. The clock making time with its tongue brought to mind images of the living objects in The Beauty and the Beast. From the window there was a splendid view of the park.
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The 19th century library was intriguing because it contained mostly books about natural science and travel, all printed in numerous languages. I had not heard of chateau libraries concentrating on only a few subjects. While about 2,500 books were on display, there were approximately 6,000 volumes in total. Objects that Josef Herberstein had brought back from his travels adorned the room, too. I saw African masks, an African crocodile and a Japanese sword, for instance. Another exquisite Baroque stove stood in the space.
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The last room was the casino. A Russian pool table made in Prague dominated the room. I noticed that the card tables were made with intarsia. Portraits of the Dietrichstein clan hung on the walls. Josef, who loved traveling and hunting, was rendered in hunting attire, armed with a rifle and accompanied by a dog. I mused that he must have been a brave man to travel to such distant lands.
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Next I took a look at the park, which had been created in French style during 1683. Later, it got a Baroque makeover, and then it was changed into an English park. Now it is once again in French style, thanks to 20th century reconstruction. I loved the view of the chateau from the back, which sported floral adornment and a fountain. The chateau looked so majestic when viewed from that area.

I ate lunch at a nearby restaurant on the main square that was sleepy on a Saturday afternoon. Libochovice Chateau had dazzled me once again. The combination of ceiling frescoes, Baroque stoves, jewel chests and tapestries made the chateau unique and irresistible. The paintings also contributed to the majestic interior, where no object or piece of furniture failed to enthrall.
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The interior had plenty to offer. I mused that there should be tours of the chateau offered from Prague. Libochovice deserved numerous accolades, and it was a chateau I would never forget, no matter how many chateaus I visited. The combination of artifacts and the design of the interior made Libochovice unforgettable, a place I could tour 100 times and not be bored. Every object spoke to me; nothing failed to capture my interest and curiosity. Yes, Libochovice is a special place, and my visit made my day a huge success.
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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Sychrov Chateau Diary

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I had visited Sychrov on two occasions. The Neo-Gothic façade never failed to captivate me. The exterior was so impressive, and I knew very well that the architecture and furnishings of the interior were just as stunning. Still, this time would be different from my previous visits because I was going on Tour B as well as Tour A. Tour B focuses on rooms decorated as they were during the First Czechoslovak Republic of the early 20th century and is only offered in July and August. Tour A takes visitors back to the end of the 19th century. While I was waiting for Tour B to begin, I studied the coats-of-arms painted on the walls facing the courtyard of the chateau and earnestly took photographs.
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I was already familiar with the history of the chateau, which had been owned by the Rohan clan of French origin for 125 years. Let’s start at the beginning: The village harkened back to the 14th century. A fortress was built there in the following century. The chateau, however, came into existence at the end of the 17th century, when French knights called the Lamotts of Frintropp erected a small, Baroque chateau with a high tower and park.
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The Rohans had to leave France after the French Revolution. Austrian Vice Marshall Charles Alain Gabriel Rohan bought the chateau in 1820, and the family’s more-than-a-hundred year tenure would make the chateau the gem it is today. The Rohan dynasty hailed from the 10th century and got their name from a town in Brittany. It is said that their ancestors even went back to the founder of Brittany, Conan Meriadoc. Prestigious members of the Rohan clan included four cardinals serving as Bishop of Strasbourg during the 18th century. Other Rohans had enjoyed political and military success, too.
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Henri, known as Duke of Rohan was successful as a writer as well as a soldier. His memoirs are considered to be one of the best by French nobility during the 16th and 17th centuries. He also penned descriptions of his travels and also published a historical account of war. As a soldier he was a leader of the Huguenots and also played a role in the Thirty Years’ War.
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One member of the family even appeared in two of Alexandre Dumas’ novels – The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After. Marie of Rohan, also referred to as the Duchess of Chartreuse, had befriended the queen of France. She was blamed for the queen’s miscarriage and was subsequently banished from the court. Then she initiated many conspiracies against France. Exerting her political influence, she even encouraged foreign powers to take stances against France. An opera has been written about her, and several books about her life have been published.
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The Rohans made many changes to the Baroque structure, transforming it into Classicist style. During 1834 and 1835 French King Charles X and his family resided there. The king had been forced to flee from France after the July Revolution in 1830, triggered by the four ordinances he put into effect. He began censoring the press, dissolved the newly elected chamber, made changes to the electoral system and demanded new elections in September of that year. First, journalists revolted and then many others joined them. During the winter of 1832 and 1833, the king in exile lived in Prague Castle, a guest of Habsburg Emperor Francis I of Austria. He is buried in a family crypt at Kostanjevica Monastery in Nova Gorica, Slovenia.
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The chateau would undergo more changes. From 1847 to 1862, during the tenure of Kamil Josef Philip Idesbald Rohan, Sychrov became an architectural jewel in Neo-Gothic style, flaunting many romantic elements. In the 1850s the façade took on a Neo-Gothic appearance, and the two main chateau towers, the Austrian or Rohan Tower and the Brittany Tower, were built. One of the architects responsible for the Neo-Gothic designs was Bernard Grueber, who had also worked his magic on Prague’s Old Town Hall, Orlík Chateau and Blatná Chateau.
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This period proved to be Sychrov’s golden age. After this architectural transformation, Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I visited the chateau, and his son, Crown Prince Rudolf, stayed there twice. The last Rohan owners were Dr. Alain Rohan and his Austrian wife, Margarita. They had five daughters, one of whom died young.
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Because he had taken German citizenship, Dr. Alain Rohan lost the chateau, according to the Beneš’ decrees instigated by Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš. I was fascinated by the tour guide’s tale of how the seven Rohan women fled from Sychrov. When the Russians came to the chateau, the seven Rohan women crawled on the floors, so the Russians would not see them. Then they fled one night to Prague. From Prague they continued to Austria. In 1945 Dr. Alain Rohan was arrested, and his wife Margarita was told that he was dead. But he wasn’t. In reality, he walked from Dresden to Austria. It sounded like a plot for a Dan Silva novel. That same year the chateau was nationalized, and during 1950 six rooms were open to the public. More reconstruction took place later that century and during this century, too.
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Soon it was time for Tour B to begin. First, we entered the Assumption of the Virgin Chapel. I was captivated by the main altar, made out of Carrara marble. Antonín Dvořák had played on the Neo-Gothic organ here. He often traveled to Sychrov to meet with his friend, the chateau’s caretaker. The pulpit was decorated with paintings of the four Evangelists and their attributes. The adornment of the stained glass windows focused on the life of the Virgin Mary. I noticed a rendering of the Annunciation in one window. The exquisite benches were made by carver Petr Bušek, who spent almost 40 years decorating the chateau with wood paneling, wooden ceilings and wooden furniture pieces during the 19th century. Also, two plaques commemorated the visits of Franz Joseph and Crown Prince Rudolf.
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We walked down a hallway where there were pictures of 19th century German soldiers in various uniforms. Then we entered a room filled with snapshots of the trips that Dr. Alain and Margarita had taken. I saw them on a ship, traveling from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to New York and I saw them in Egypt, India and Italy. I saw pictures of them on horseback and on the tennis court that once was in the chateau park. In another photo they were skiing.
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Then there were pictures of their five daughters, one of whom died young. In one photo the children were wearing masks, dressed in costumes while playing theatre. Five young girls were gathered on the roof of a cabin in a park. One photo showed a fat donkey named Muki. Yet there were not only pictures of the family in the room. When the family emerged from bad car accident unscathed, they wrote a thank you letter to the Pope. The Pope’s answer was on display.
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I liked the room decorated with photos of the family. The owners and their children were no longer only names listed in the history of the chateau. They were real people who enjoyed traveling, playing tennis and skiing. I saw pictures of the daughters, happy and content. When I looked at the pictures from their travels, I thought about the valuable insights I had gained while traveling and how the act of traveling had made me a better person – the experiences had helped me grow as a person. As I learn about a new place, I learn about myself, too.
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Another space was shaped like a Turkish tent. The Rohans collected military tents, armor and weapons. Pictures showed the area surrounding the chateau at the end of the 19th century and the interiors as they had looked during that time period.
We entered a room with a staircase, and I was captivated by the richly decorated wooden ceiling, the masterful work of Petr Bušek. The hallway sported graphics of historical themes and mythology.
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Next was Tour A, which depicted the chateau as it had been in the second half of the 19th century. We came to Staircase Hall with the impressive statue of Jindřich (Henri) from Rohan, armed with a sword, with one hand leaning on the scabbard, celebrating his military successes. He had a small, pointy beard and mustache. Then we got our first taste of the Rohan portrait gallery, which included 242 portraits of French origin, mostly of the Rohan family but also of French kings and queens. It was the biggest collection of French portrait painting in Central Europe. The first portraits were made in the 16th century. In the Royal Apartment reserved for guests, there were portraits of French kings. We also saw the Neo-Gothic bedroom where Emperor Franz Joseph and Crown Prince Rudolf had slept. The bed looked small.

The bed where Emperor Franz Joseph and Crown Prince Rudolf slept

The bed where Emperor Franz Joseph and Crown Prince Rudolf slept


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Kamil Rohan’s study focused on botany, one of his hobbies. On his desk was a book about herbs, a globe and microscope. A large book about herbs from the first half of the 19th century was on a stand at one side of the room. The book contained handwritten drawings. I wished I could turn the pages and look at all the drawings closely.
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In the Yellow Salon, used for unofficial visits, three yellow vases got my attention. I loved the color yellow because it looked so cheerful. It reminded me of my mother, always the optimist. We saw a narrow, spiral wooden staircase with rich woodcarving designs by Bušek from the 1850s. What masterful woodwork! It reminded me of the spiral staircase at Lednice Chateau, also Neo-Gothic in style, in south Moravia. I also gazed at paintings of the Rohan ancestors from the Middle Ages. Because the Rohans did not know what these ancestors had looked like, Czech painter Karel Javůrek used his imagination when rendering the portraits. In the Blue Cabinet there were exquisite figures of Viennese and Meissen porcelain. A black jewel chest with gemstones decorating the drawers got my attention, too.
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The Fireplace Room was impressive as was the Reception Room, which featured rich wood paneling and an impressive wooden ceiling. More impressive carving by Bušek! The library held about 7,000 books, including 1,614 prints dating before 1800 and a manuscript from the 15th century. A folding leather chair caught my eye, too. The Prague Salon featured authentic leather wallpaper. The Big Dining Room looked a bit like a Knights’ Hall from the Middle Ages. It featured large portraits of Rohan owners. In one portrait Kamil Rohan looked suspicious of the photographer. I loved the wooden chairs with the “R” gold monograms and richly decorated backs.
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After the tour I walked through the park and took a seat outside at the Neo-Renaissance Orangery, from which I gazed at the chateau and admired its two-arm monumental sandstone staircase. The park covered 26 hectares, and included many kinds of woody plants thanks to Kamil Rohan and his interest in botany. The many kind of trees included Dawn Redwood and oak-leaf beech. I had a piece of tasty cake and a cup of cappuccino. I reflected on how enriched my life had been thanks to travel and how grateful I was to have the opportunity to travel. In my mind I saw the photos of the Rohan family on their trips and wondered how travel had enriched their lives. I had lunch in the chateau restaurant, sitting outside on such a sunny day.
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Then it was time to head back to Liberec, where I would get a bus to Prague. Sychrov had more than lived up to my expectations. I felt as if I had personally known Dr. Alain Rohan and his family thanks to the snapshots. The Neo-Gothic façade and interiors did not disappoint, either. What a skilled craftsman Petr Bušek had been! I loved the woodwork, especially the wooden ceilings and wood paneling. Again, it reminded me of Lednice Chateau, also one of my all-time favorites. Sychrov was certainly one of the most impressive chateaus I had seen.
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Tracy A. Burns is a proofreader, writer and editor in Prague.

Czech Caves Diary

 

Koněprusy Caves

Koněprusy Caves

When I finished touring the Bozkov Dolomite Cave (Bozkovské dolomitové jeskyně), I had achieved my goal: I had finally visited all 14 caves accessible to the public in the country. The plethora of caves fascinated me with rich stalagmite and stalactite decoration, often taking grotesque forms in an Alice in Wonderland type of setting. Breathtaking rock formations resembled waterfalls, castle ruins and owls, for example.  There are almost 3,500 caves in the Czech Republic. While not all of them excited me, in many cases, it was well worth exploring the depths that whisper about the long-ago past and even contain remains of prehistoric man.  First, a little cave vocabulary is in order: stalactites hang down from the roof of a cave, while stalagmites point upwards from the floor of a cave.

PUNKVA CAVES

I have visited the Punkva Caves (Punkevní jeskyně)in the southern Moravian Karst region twice, once way back in 1992 and again in 2008. (The Moravian Karst region is known for its breathtaking caves. There are about 1,100 caves in the area, but only five are open to the public.) The first time I went to the Punkva Caves a friend drove me. For the second visit I took the train from Brno to Blansko (a short trip) and then took a bus to the information center near the caves. Back in the early 1990s, it wasn’t necessary to make a reservation in advance, and tickets were sold at a small kiosk. Now it is essential for visitors to make a reservation.

Punkva Caves

Punkva Caves

These caves are the most popular in the country. They are mentioned in many guide books and swamped with tourists from around the world. Discovered between 1909 and 1933, the Punkva Caves took me to the bottom of the Stepmother Abyss (Macocha), from which I felt the power and strength of the chasm, as if I was being swallowed up by its size.

Punkva Caves

Punkva Caves

Not only did I see stunning ornamentation, but I also enjoyed a magical motorboat ride through the Masaryk Cave and others. To be sure, fairy tale settings and grotesque shapes abound. Some of my favorite moments during the hour-long tour include the decoration of the wall of the Front Cave; the stalagmites and stalactites in the Mirrored Lake boasting Two Owls, A Castle on a Cliff and a Turkish Minaret, and the fantastic decoration of the Angel’s Cave.

Punkva Caves

Punkva Caves

KATEŘINA CAVE

Located near the Punkva Caves is Kateřina’s Cave (Kateřinská jeskyně), a short distance from the information center that hadn’t been there when I first visited the area in 1992. The 45-minute tour covers 430 meters. The name of the cave comes from a legend that enthralled me: The shepherd Kateřina entered the cave looking for one of her sheep that had gone astray. Unfortunately, she got lost and never saw daylight again.

Kateřina Cave

Kateřina Cave

At the beginning of the tour, I learned that the Main Dome is the biggest publicly accessible natural underground space in the country; concerts are even held there, the guide informed our group. In this space I felt swallowed up by its vastness just as I did in the Stepmother Abyss. Some shapes of intriguing stalagmites that I saw included Two Owls and The Shepherd Kateřina. I noticed many exquisite, tall stalagmites and stalactites, especially in the part of the cave nicknamed the Bamboo Forest. I especially liked one formation, in which stalactites appear as an angry storm cloud with claws.

Kateřina Cave

Kateřina Cave

SLOUP-ŠOŠŮVKA CAVES

Not far, in the same region of southern Moravia, are the Sloup-šošůvka Caves (Sloupsko-šošůvské jeskyně). I took a bus there from Blansko; they run every hour. The bus dropped me off 200 meters from the cave itself. The short tour covers 890 meters, while the long tour covers 1,670 meters. The total length of the underground corridors reaches 4,200 meters. Of course, I took the long tour.

Sloup-šošůvka Caves

Sloup-šošůvka Caves

I was fascinated that remains of Neanderthal man have been unearthed there. I crossed a bridge that allowed me to gaze to the bottom of Nagel Chasm, 80 meters in depth. That was something to remember! Some of the decoration that awed me included the rich ornamentation of the stalactites in the Gallery and a four-meter high formation called the Waterfall.

Sloup-šošůvka Caves

Sloup-šošůvka Caves

I also saw cave bear bones, and a vertical abyss that is 64 meters deep. In the Big Three Hall three huge stalagmites resemble a snow mountain, a waterfall and a fortress. I also imagined shapes of a spiraled totem pole and a spiraled tower as well as a gigantic top hat and swords stuck firmly in the cave floor. 

Sloup-šošůvka Caves

Sloup-šošůvka Caves

BALCARKA CAVE

Also nearby in the southern Moravian Karst region, the Balcarka Cave (Jeskyně Balcarka) features two floors of unique stalactite and stalagmite decoration, such as that exhibited in the Gallery. Since I did not have a car, I could not combine this visit with my trip to the Sloup-šošůvka Caves, even though the two are not that far apart. I went by bus from Blansko to Ostrov u Macochy. Buses ran every hour, so I did not have to wait long.

Balcarka Cave

Balcarka Cave

I was in awe that stone and bone instruments dating back to the Stone Age as well as bones of Pleistocene animals have been discovered there. One shape in the cave looked like an elderly hand with knobby, long fingers pointing downward, as if it was about to gently touch something.

Balcarka Cave

Balcarka Cave

Shapes similar to ruined castles and towers fascinated me as well. Some lumpy forms reached out with tentacles to touch the stalactite quills above.  Other ornamentation took on the appearance of a spiraling tower with a steeple on top. I saw many fragile-looking stalactites hanging from the roof of the caves, too.

Balcarka Cave

Balcarka Cave

JAVOŘÍČKO CAVES

As fascinating as the Punkva Caves are the Javoříčko Caves (Javoříčské jeskyně) near Litovel and Olomouc in central Moravia. Discovered in 1938, these caves boast some of the most exquisite stalactite and stalagmite decoration in the Czech Republic. In all, 788 meters are accessible to the public. Visitors can choose from a 40-minute or 60-minute tour. The short route takes one 450 meters, while the long one covers all 788 meters.  I chose the 60-minute version.

Javoříčko Caves

Javoříčko Caves

Perhaps this system of caves is the most grotesque, appearing to be part of a horrific fairy tale filled with monsters. Yet it was difficult to get to; I went by car from Olomouc, the historic town where I was staying. I could not find any suitable public transportation.

Javoříčko Caves

Javoříčko Caves

Some intriguing formations featured a stalagmite shaped as a pagoda, with what appeared to be a Rococo doll seated on it. Pastel colored limestone spikes took on the appearance of waterfalls, named Niagara Falls and the Falls of the Elbe. The Curtain, which appeared to be fringed with lace and measured more than two meters in length, fascinated me the most. It looked as if the curtain was almost flapping, captured in a single moment. Crystallizing calcite surfaces made up the lace while the red tint came from ferrous compounds.

The Sacred Hole has a spellbinding history. Banned religious groups used to gather there in the Middle Ages; I saw black stains on the ceiling that had resulted from torch smoke. The most beautiful decoration I saw, though, was in the Scree Dome and the Dome of Giants. The Scree Dome featured a unique-shaped mound sprinkled with what looked like white icing or virgin snow. The breathtaking ceiling was a composite of fragile, thin exquisite stalactite spikes.

Javoříčko Caves

Javoříčko Caves

In the Fairy Tale Cave there was even more astounding decoration of stalactites pointing down from the ceiling. In the Dome of Giants one shape looked like a monster with a multi-layered crown on his head. Another formation I liked featured stalactites hanging from the roof, looking like a cloud with droplets of rain frozen in the sky. One more intriguing characteristic about these caves is that some stalactites and stalagmites called heliotites grow against the laws of gravity.

MLADEČ CAVES

The Mladeč Caves (Mladečské jeskyně) are also located near Olomouc, not far from the Javoříčko Caves. I went by car the same day I visited the Javoříčko Caves. It was not easy to get to these caves, either, and I was there on a weekend, which made it even more complicated to go by public transportation.

Mladeč Caves

Mladeč Caves

Remains of prehistoric man have been found here, including many skeletons of people from the Early Stone Age. I saw skeletal-like formations in the Cave of the Dead while Nature’s Temple was dominated by what looks like it was once a shimmering white waterfall. In the Virgin Cave the shapes took on forms of hills with towers and castle ruins. One figure that impressed me looked like a mummy.

Mladeč Caves

Mladeč Caves

KONĚPRUSY CAVES

The Koněprusy Caves (Koněpruské jeskyně), only an hour or so from Prague and seven kilometers from Beroun, boast the largest system of caves in Bohemia. The caves were discovered in 1950 and opened to the public in 1959. They are easy to get to as well. I took the train to Beroun, about an hour from Prague, waited about an hour and then went by shuttle bus to the caves. I was impressed that bones of prehistoric animals have been unearthed there. The stalactite and stalagmite ornamentation was thrilling; one cave even used to be a medieval money forgers’ workshop in the 15th century. According to the guide, between 5,000 and 10,000 fake coins were made there using copper sheets and an amalgam of silver. I saw copies of the equipment the forgers used.

Koněprusy Caves

Koněprusy Caves

I took note of some stalactites shaped like an organ; Eternal Desire is composed of stalactite and stalagmite spikes that are almost touching; and another formation appeared as white gushing water, stopped in time. Perhaps Prošek’s Dome astounded me the most. In this cave I set my eyes on the 1,500-year old Koněprusy Roses stalactite formation. It fascinated me that this is the only place in the world where this sort of ornamentation has been discovered.

Koněprusy Caves

Koněprusy Caves

In another cave a certain formation could depict a rock-made window frame overlooking a grotesque landscape of quills, resembling swords, pointing down from the roof. Nearby a stalagmite appeared to me as a sandcastle, seemingly so fragile that it could be broken with the slightest moment. A shape on the ceiling looks like a gaping mouth about to swallow the visitor.

Koněprusy Caves - The Waterfall

Koněprusy Caves – The Waterfall

In the waterfall I saw the droplets of water gushing down, stopped for eternity. Also, in the Organ Hall, I noticed stalagmites taking the form of a small town made of cliffs. Replicas of bones unearthed in Prošek’s Dome were exhibited in the Empty Dome; for example, I took note of the skull of a woolly rhinoceros and part of a human skull, both 13,000 years old.

BOZKOV DOLOMITE CAVE

There are other caves that I liked, too. I went by bus to Semily and then took another bus about one kilometer from the Bozkov Dolomite Cave, but it can be difficult to find public transportation that goes there. This cave, in the foothills of the Giant Mountains of northern Bohemia, boasts the longest cave system in the country formed on dolomite limestone as well as the largest underground lake in Bohemia in the Lake Cave. Discovered in the 1940s, it is the only publicly accessible cave in northern Bohemia.

Bozkov Dolomite Cave

Bozkov Dolomite Cave

For me, the underground lake of glinting green water framed by rock formations was the thrill of this tour. Some of the rocks even formed an archway through which the water seemed to flow into the horizon. I saw other rich stalactite and stalagmite decoration on the tour, too. For example, I imagined that a squid was moving sideways in a strong current when setting my eyes on one formation. I was a bit frightened when I peered down a chasm into the depths of darkness. In another cave I took note of a waterfall bulging at its bottom.

Bozkov Dolomite Cave

Bozkov Dolomite Cave

NA POMEZÍ CAVES

I stayed in the spa town of Jeseník in northern Moravia when I visited the Na Pomezí Caves (Jeskyně Na Pomezí). I took the bus from Jeseník, but times were irregular. The Na Pomezí Caves have the largest cave system in the country.

Na Pomezí Caves

Na Pomezí Caves

While exploring the 530 meters of these caves, I saw a curtain-like formation that appeared to be made with coarse material. Cascades and large stalactites adorned the caves. I imagined one grotesque shape as someone’s dentures about to bite into two muffins. Some of the caves that enchanted me here included the Ice Dome, the Weeping-Willow Cave and the Roman Bath corridor.

Na Pomezí Caves

Na Pomezí Caves

There are other caves in the country, but those are the ones that excited me the most. Whenever I descended the steps and walked into the depths of a cave, I felt as if I was looking deep into my soul. When I listened to the legend of Kateřina getting lost in the cave of the same name, I thought about feeling lost myself, how I didn’t want to be an English teacher anymore, but for the time being couldn’t find another job that suited me. I felt that I had yet to find myself, and I was nearing 40.

Sloup-šošůvka Caves

Sloup-šošůvka Caves

In other caves I mused about my life as well.  I pondered over whether I should have had children. I wondered if I would be happy being single all my life as the few men I had loved hadn’t loved me. I thought about many things during those visits to caves, and I always felt enlightened by the time I exited each cave, leaving the darkness of my musings for the joyous light of day.

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

 

Looking up at the Macocha Abyss from the Punkva Caves

Looking up at the Macocha Abyss from the Punkva Caves