Bassano del Grappa Diary

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During my four-day excursion to north Italy with the arsviva travel agency, we visited the picturesque town of Bassano del Grappa, located 65 kilometers from Venice. It is known not only for its vineyards and Venetian villas but also for its Palladian wooden bridge and for the impressive collection of paintings by Jacopo Bassano (also referred to as Jacopo dal Ponte) in its Civic Museum.

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First, a bit about the town: Bassano del Grappa was first mentioned in writing as far back as 998 AD. The symbol of the city, the Ponte Vecchio was designed by the renowned architect Palladio in 1569. A wartime casualty and a victim of floods, the bridge has been rebuilt several times, but the current structure remains faithful to Palladio’s original design.

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The town does not lack a castle or a cathedral, either. Ezzelini Castle has not been in use for six centuries. Hailing from 998 A.D., the cathedral now boasts a 17th century appearance, Two of Jacopo’s paintings adorn the interior. Historical monuments abound. The Civic Tower was constructed around 1312. The Loggia of the Mayor dates back to the 15th century. The elegant blue clock has decorated its façade since 1430, though the current one was built in 1747. The loggia features frescoes. The squares of the town are picturesque, though there was a large market on the main square while we were there. Intriguing churches of various architectural styles also dot the town.

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The Civic Museum captured my undivided attention for more than two hours. The museum boasts the largest collection of renditions by Jacopo in the world. There was much more to see than Bassano’s masterpieces, however. The art gallery displays some 500 paintings from the 13th to 20th century. Sculptures also delight. There is a 17th century cloister, too.

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Jacopo Bassano lived from 1510 or 1515 to 1592. He was a Renaissance Venetian painter whose later works fall into the category of Mannerism. Born in Bassano del Grappa, he resided in Venice during the 1530s before returning to his hometown for good in 1539. Often experimenting with various styles, Jacopo was influenced by Titian, Tintoretto, Durer, Raphael and Roman art, for example. The painting guru is known for his religious paintings rendered in natural landscapes. He also studied the role of light and created significant nocturnal scenes.

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Here are some examples of the artwork in the Civic Museum that kept me entranced for two hours. Some of the paintings, but not all of them, are by Jacopo Bassano.

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

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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.

Mělník Chateau Diary

 

The Renaissance arcades of Mělník Chateau

The Renaissance arcades of Mělník Chateau

This was my second visit to Mělník Chateau, located less than an hour from Prague by bus. I was enthusiastic about getting reacquainted with the interior that I had so admired during my first time here. Back then, there had been no guided tours. Visitors were given a text to read while they walked through the chateau’s rooms. This time I would have a tour, so I was excited about seeing the chateau from a new perspective.
I knew a bit about the history of the chateau already, and what I did not remember I perused in a booklet that I had bought at the box office, which also served as the souvenir shop. Mělník’s history is closely connected with Czech legends. Supposedly, Princess Ludmila often resided in the town while raising her grandson, Wenceslas (Václav), who would later become a well-respected duke of Bohemia and after his death the patron saint of the country. The original wooden structure was changed into a stone castle during the 10th century. Spouses of Bohemian princes owned the castle, which got a Gothic makeover in the second half of the 13th century.
The castle became home to Bohemian queens during Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV’s reign. Emperor Charles IV, who was responsible for building Prague’s New Town, the Charles Bridge and Charles University, supported winemaking in Mělník and the surrounding areas. He even imported burgundy grapes. Queen Elisabeth Přemyslid, the last wife of Emperor Charles IV, resided in the castle for a lengthy period and died there. She was responsible for building the chapel. The Přemyslid dynasty had ruled Bohemia from the 9th century to 1306.
The castle was given Late Gothic features in the late 15th century. During the following century, it was changed into a Renaissance chateau. The reconstruction was finished during the 17th century. While the castle became decrepit during the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, it was soon repaired.

 

One wall of Mělník Chateau

One wall of Mělník Chateau

Then, in 1753, one of the most significant events in the chateau’s history occurred. Marie Ludmila Countess Czernin wed August Anton Eusebius Lobkowicz. The castle would remain in the Lobkowicz family until 1948, when it was nationalized after the Communist coup that instigated 40 years of totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia.
I envied the fact that the Lobkowiczs had played such prominent roles in Czech history. In the early 15th century Nicolas was given the village of Lobkovice nad Labem by King Wenceslas IV, and he took the name of the village. George Popel Lobkowicz of Vysoký Chlumec held the post of the highest chamberlain of Emperor Rudolph II. Zdeněk Vojtěch became the highest chancellor of the Bohemian Kingdom. His son, Wenceslas Eusebius, served as the highest chamberlain in the kingdom and as president of the secret services during the 17th century.
In the following century John George Christian was made a prince due to his military achievements. Anton Isidor was one of the founders of what is now Prague’s National Gallery. George Christian served as supreme marshal of the Bohemian Kingdom and was a member of the Bohemian Parliament during the 19th century.
But there would be dark, turbulent times for the Lobkowicz clan. During World War II the Nazis took over the chateau. The family took refuge in Prague. Then came 1948 and the Communist coup. The Lobkowiczs fled the country, and the chateau was put in the hands of the state. The present owner of the chateau, George John Prince Lobkowicz, moved to the homeland of his ancestors from Switzerland in 1990. He has been owner of the chateau since 1992 and currently resides there.
I also envied the fact that the Lobkowiczs could trace their ancestry so far back. I knew that my Slovak ancestors had been potato farmers in east Slovakia. I even met a few very distant relatives about 10 years ago, but, unfortunately, they do not keep in touch with me anymore. On the Czech side of the family, I know that my great-grandparents were from somewhere near Prague or from Prague itself. They had a common surname – Šimánek. I also know that I had ancestors from somewhere in Moravia, with the popular Czech surname Mareš.
I moved to Czechoslovakia in 1991 partially because I felt a strong association with the country of my roots and intuitively felt that it was a part of my personal identity. If only I knew more about my ancestors, and if only they had played such prominent roles in Czech history as had the Lobkowiczs! Yet, at the same time, I was not sure that I wanted to know more about my ancestors. I had visited the village in east Slovakia where my great aunt had come from, and I was going to look for an inhabitant with the same – not common – last name as my great aunt’s maiden name. But I decided not to because I was scared. While I wanted to meet long lost relatives, I was also scared of finding them. Scared they might not like me or that I might not like them. What if they had been Communists? What if they were mean people? What if they hated Americans or wanted money from me because they thought all Americans were rich?

 

The elegant Renaissance arcades

The elegant Renaissance arcades

I studied the impressive exterior of the chateau. I loved the elegance of the Renaissance arcades with decorations on the walls. A sundial also adorned the façade. There was sgraffito, too, which I adored. The other wing was built later, in the 17th century, in Baroque style. After admiring the Renaissance arcades for a while, I noticed that it was time for the tour to start and I entered the souvenir shop, ready for what I was sure would be an impressive walk through the ages of Mělník’s top sight.
The guide, a serious and well-dressed woman, described some of the background of the chateau and Lobkowicz family, and it was clear that she was very professional and knowledgeable. The first room was called the Bedroom of George Christian, named after a Lobkowicz who died tragically at the age of 25 in a racing car accident in 1932. I was reminded how we have to treasure each moment in our lives and see the beauty in daily life because we never knew when our time will be up.
I was captivated by a Baroque closet flaunting intarsia. The painted decoration high on the walls showed plant leaves with vases in green and brown. The colors seemed to go well with the 17th century Baroque furniture. On the headboard of the Baroque bed was a painting of a Madonna that appealed to me. I also took note of the richly carved wood of the bed. Portraits of the Lobkowicz family adorned the room, too, and one of the paintings had been executed by master Czech Baroque artist Karel Škréta.
August Longin’s Study was named after a Lobkowicz who had befriended Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a visitor of Mělník. The room featured two exquisite French desks – one hailing from the 17th century and the other from the 18th century. The older one was inlaid with tortoiseshell, plated brass and tin in ebony wood, made in the Boulle style. The 18th century desk, celebrating the Rococo style, was made of gilded bronze and plated brass. I particularly admired the gold decoration on the younger desk, the one that had been stolen during the totalitarian era. It had wound up in an office at the Ministry of Culture.
However, that was not all the room had to offer. An 18th century table with mother-of-pearl hailed from Japan and had designs of fans on its top. There was also a portable 18th century toilet near the room. Small portraits of Habsburg rulers hung on one wall. I spotted Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and Empress Maria Theresa right away.

 

The sundial on the facade

The sundial on the facade

The next room was the Children’s Room with toys from the 19th century, including dolls and a puzzle. Porcelain in a cabinet hailed from Hungary. The 18th century bed in the room was short, but it was standard size for adults at that time. People slept sitting up because they were afraid they would die if they lay down. I admired the rich, wooden carving of the bed and the Madonna on the headboard.
The Big Dining Room featured two Baroque bureaus from the 17th century. They were inlaid with tortoiseshell and adorned with gilded decorations. Some of the pictures painted on them focused on seascapes with ships. The chairs were upholstered with tapestries. The guide pointed out two valuable 17th century lunettes by Škréta; they were part of the story of the life and death of Saint Wenceslas, who, according to legend, had resided in Mělník when he was a child. Other breathtaking paintings rounded out the room’s décor.
The Grand Drawing Room featured 18th century furniture. I noticed two 18th century Rococo tables with gilded brass angels decorating the legs. Portraits of the prominent politician George Christian and his wife Anna were rendered by Czech painter František Ženíšek, who had also decorated the National Theatre. More astounding works of art adorned the walls, some portraits of the Lobkowicz family, others biblical paintings and still others sporting themes from antiquity. I spotted Helen of Troy in one rendition.
I was drawn to the white furniture and pale green walls. It looked airy and light and exuded an atmosphere filled with joy. Chinese and faience porcelain as well as ceramic vases from Asia made up the room, too.

 

Another view of the sundial

Another view of the sundial

The hallway was adorned with a bust of Parliament member George Christian. It had been created by Josef Václav Myslbek, a master of modern sculpture working in the 19th and early 20th century. Engravings featuring carriages decorated one wall, too. I was drawn to other works of art – the pictures of romantic 18th century Prague, especially to Old Town Square, my favorite part of the capital city. I remember the first time I stepped onto Old Town Square. I felt an unexpected electricity, a strong connection with the city and country. I was only a tourist at the time, but at that moment I knew I had to return to live in the homeland of my ancestors.
Perhaps the most astounding room was the Big Hall with Maps and Vedutas that came next. The maps and vedutas hailed from the 17th century. I noticed maps of Italy, France and the Netherlands. Then there were all the big vedutas of European towns on the walls. It was so breathtaking that it was almost overwhelming. The veduta of Prague featured only one bridge, the Charles Bridge, without any statuary decoration. Strasbourg, Nuremburg, Regensburg, Venice, Florence, Seville, Madrid and Brussels were just a few of the other cities represented. The detail of the maps and vedutas was more than impressive. Most of them were made in Amsterdam.
Perhaps I was so drawn to this room because I loved maps so much. I used to buy maps of Czech towns I had never been to and wondered what each building and each street looked like as I took a an imaginary walk through the town. Two large maps decorated my living room – one of the Czech Republic and another of Slovakia, as I treasured memories of Czechoslovakia. I often traced the routes from Prague to various chateaus and impressive towns and thought about my adventures there.
On the map of Slovakia I found Špišský Castle, below which some very distant ancestors were buried, and traced paths to Poprad, Kežmarok and Bratislava. I found Morské Oko in the Vihorlat, near my great aunt’s home village, and traced the path to Košice and Michalovice, where I had heard that some of my other ancestors had hailed from. I found more places I had visited – Humenné, Levoča and Trenčín, for example, and recalled moments of happiness and discovery.
Melnikchateauarcades5Back to the tour. The Knights’ Hall featured 16th century suits of armor on the walls. An 18th century oak table also caught my attention. In the Small Hall with Vedutas, various weapons from the 17th to 19th century were displayed. However, what really caught my attention where the black-and-white vedutas of European cities during the early 18th century. I was entranced by the vedutas of Prague and Brno. Some military equipment on display came from 17th century Turkey. I also admired the richly carved Chinese furniture. I have always been an admirer of wooden Chinese furniture.
The vast Concert Hall was still used for concerts, balls and other events. It was situated in the Baroque wing of the chateau, but the construction of this part had not been finished until 2005. There was an original 16th century wall with sgraffito decorations that delighted me. I’ve always been a big fan of sgraffito! The opposite wall was a copy made in this century, but, faithful to the original plan, it complemented the authentic side. I looked up and saw a painted coffered ceiling. Vedutas of Versailles and its park from the 17th century adorned another wall. Drawn to these works of art, I thought back to my visit to Versailles, during a warm February afternoon and how impressed I had been with the vast French chateau.
Then we went downstairs, passing by colored lithographs of Prague sights from 1792 and 1793. We wound up on the first floor in the lavish Grand Dining Room. Exquisite Baroque paintings adorned the walls. I loved the gold-and-white decoration on the pink-colored ceiling. The silverware hailed from the 18th century, and the guide pointed out Viennese porcelain as well as white Sèvres porcelain. The highlights of the room, though, were two paintings. One was another lunette from the cycle of Saint Wenceslas by Škréta. There was also a spectacular painting called “Christ with Veronica” by Paolo Veronese. It portrayed Christ on the cross with a self-portrait of the painter as the carrier of the cross.

 

The town hall on the main square

The town hall on the main square

The chapel was last. It hailed from the 14th century, built by Queen Elisabeth, the fourth wife of Emperor Charles IV, and was originally dedicated to Saint Louis. During the Thirty Years’ War, the chapel was so badly damaged that it had to be rebuilt, and this time it was consecrated to Saint Ludmila. A painting of Saint Ludmila’s baptism adorned the main altar. Impressive paintings dotted the chapel. Two portraits – of Saint Andrew and Saint Bartholomew – by my favorite Czech Baroque artist, Petr Brandl decorated the space. There was even a painting of an apostle, created by Peter Paul Rubens.
Then the tour ended, and I was thankful that I had been led through the chateau by such a professional guide who had given such detailed information about each room. I was very impressed with her knowledge and enthusiasm. I knew how disappointing tours could be if the guides were not good, though most of my experiences with tour guides in this country has been positive. It was much better to have a tour guide than to be given a text and walk through the chateau by yourself, I mused. The guide helped bring the chateau alive. Her words gave life to the chateau that had played roles in Czech history and legends.
I think it was possible to tour the wine cellars as well, but I do drink much alcohol and am not very interested in wine. However, there are three floors of historical wine cellars below the chateau: Emperor Charles IV had them built. The Lobkowiczs have a family tradition of presenting a new-born with a new wine barrel. The barrel would be filled a year before the young Lobkowicz turned 18. It was remarkable that wine had played such a prevalent role in the family history.
Winetasting tours were available, and if I had liked alcohol, I would have been enthusiastic about taking one of these trips to the cellars with original, wooden barrels.
Instead of sampling wine, I ate a delicious meal in the chateau’s restaurant, though they did not offer my beloved chicken with peaches and cheese. Still, I was pleased with the food and the service.

 

The picturesque houses on the main square

The picturesque houses on the main square

I walked around the town and noticed the impressive Renaissance and Baroque houses on the large main square, especially the town hall, which hailed from the late 14th century. Next to the chateau was the Gothic Church of Saints Peter and Paul. Unfortunately, it was closed, but the ossuary was open. I found out that the next tour of the ossuary would not start until after my bus left for Prague. What a pity. I knew I would have to come back someday, to tour the chateau again and to visit this ossuary that I had not known about before this trip.

 

The Gothic Church of Saints Peter and Paul

The Gothic Church of Saints Peter and Paul

Soon I walked through the decorated gate from 1500 and made my way to the bus station. I immediately caught a bus bound for Prague. When I disembarked at the Holešovice bus station in Prague 7, I was truly happy. I had had another positive experience at another impressive Czech chateau. My day had been filled with making new discoveries and gathering new perspectives on the Lobkowicz family history, the history of the chateau and my own personal history.

 

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

The gate dates back to 1500.

The gate dates back to 1500.

Častolovice Chateau Diary

 

The facade of the chateau

The facade of the chateau

I had visited Častolovice about 10 years earlier, but I did not remember many details of the interior, though I had fond recollections of the picturesque courtyard. For some reason I had fixed in my mind that the chateau was on rather large main square with a pub on one corner, so I expected that the direct bus from Prague would drop me off there.  It turned out to be a three-hour trek to Častolovice, located in northeast Bohemia near the Orlické Mountains, via Hradec Králové, but the trip didn’t actually take so long. There was a 40-minute layover in Hradec Králové, which is only 30 kilometers away.

When the bus arrived in Častolovice, I did not recognize it at all. “This is where I get off?” I asked the elderly woman sitting next to me. She answered affirmatively. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was no big square with a pub. The main square was hardly a square at all, just a few buildings along the main street with a small parking lot.  I got off the bus, feeling utterly lost. Luckily, a passerby pointed out how to get to the chateau. It was hardly more than a stone’s throw away. I walked by a decent-looking restaurant. I wondered if it was the only one in town. I hoped I would be able to get a table there later in the day.

The Baroque fountain

The Baroque fountain

I entered the main gate of the chateau, eager to become reacquainted with the place. A Baroque fountain charmed me in the chateau’s courtyard, where birds in an aviary fluttered while singing pleasant melodies. The gentle, soft tones of classical music also filled the air. The atmosphere made me feel at ease on this sunny, warm, spring day.  I noticed that the wall of the chateau facing the fountain was covered in what I would later find out were 16th and 17th century frescoes depicting six Roman emperors and a battle. Tourists sat idly at the courtyard’s outdoor café.

The 16th and 17th century frescoes of six Roman emperors and a battle

The 16th and 17th century frescoes of six Roman emperors and a battle

After going to the box office, where the attendant announced that I would have a private tour at 11:00 o’clock because I was writing about the chateau, I followed an arcade to the 19th century English park that featured a rose garden, pond and small animal farm with an intriguing combination of ostriches, pheasants and pigs.  I sat on a bench and read a David Hewson mystery in English for a while, feeling relaxed and enthusiastic, after walking to the pond with gazebo. The flowers in the garden were ravishing, in full bloom, bringing vibrant colors to the natural setting.

I still had time to kill, so I went inside the café, as all the outdoor tables were taken. The establishment featured plush couches and armchairs, one of which I sunk into. The pastel colors decorating the space were lively, vibrant. It was also very quaint. I sipped a cappuccino before heading for the box office to start my tour.

The guide told me about the chateau’s long history, much of which was dominated by the Sternberg dynasty. While the first written records of what was then a stronghold dated back to 1342, the chateau was transformed into Renaissance style in the 16th century, renovated into a Neo-Gothic style during the 19th century and then changed back to Renaissance style at the beginning of the 20th century.

The picturesque courtyard

The picturesque courtyard

The Sternberg family has owned the chateau for 11 generations, dating back to 1694, when Count Adolph Vratislav Sternberg, the Highest Burgrave in Bohemia, purchased it. From 1694 to 1948 – not counting the Nazi Occupation of the country – Sternbergs have lived here. During the 15th century, it was Zdeněk of Sternberg who guided the Catholics in their battles with the Hussites and their king, Jiří of Poděbrady (also a former owner of Častolovice).

I hadn’t realized what a mark the Sternbergs had made on Czech culture. Franz Josef Sternberg founded the National Gallery and, along with his cousin Casper Maria Sternberg, established the National Museum. The chateau was returned to interior designer Diana Phipps Sternberg in 1992, and at that time she was residing in one wing where she also had a pension. Even during Communism visitors had a chance to see the chateau’s interior as one wing of the chateau was open to the public while the other served as a school for refrigerator repairmen and repairwomen.

Soon it was time to see the interior of the Renaissance architectural masterpiece. It featured furnishings from the 16th to the 19th century, and the many family portraits attested to the significant role of the Sternberg dynasty.  To be sure, the interior was more than impressive: Take the Gallery of the Bohemian Kings, for instance. Or the Knight’s Hall, one of the largest of its kind in Bohemia. And I certainly didn’t overlook the small, though exquisite, chapel.

The view from the park

The view from the park

In the Dining Room overwhelming, mammoth portraits of four Bohemian kings filled me with awe. I felt so small compared to the vast portraits. These included the black-armor clad Jiří of Poděbrady, who was King of Bohemia, leader of the Christian Hussite movement and owner of the chateau during the 15th and 16th centuries. Breathtaking as well were the portraits of seven Habsburg Emperors who ruled from 1526 to 1705. Two portraits of the Spanish side of the Habsburg dynasty plus three others hung nearby.  What is more, the painted coffered ceiling, another architectural thrill, illustrated a biblical scene from the Old Testament.

The Knight’s Hall was decked with many portraits of Sternbergs, including one of Kateřina Sternberg, also called the Black Lady of Častolovice, because, as a result of an unhappy love affair, she became the chateau’s ghost. I was particularly drawn to her painting. I gazed up at the coffered ceiling, which shows 24 pictures from the Old Testament.  I noticed that the marble fireplace had a bronze relief in the middle; it showed a woman praying.  Another portrait depicted Emperor Charles V, a Great Dane by his side.  In yet another, a woman donning a serious expression and dressed in black stood next to blooming pink roses. I found the juxtaposition of her black attire and the pink roses intriguing.

The park

The park

The adjoining chapel was a real gem, too. The painted doors depicted the 12 apostles, and the painted pews were adorned with floral decoration, which immediately caught my eye. The green and yellow tiles on the floor were original, some bearing imprints of dogs’ paws. I thought this was an impressive, unique touch. The wooden altar dated from 1601, and one of the frescoes inside the chapel harkened back to the Late Gothic period.

While family portraits were scattered throughout the chateau, there were other intriguing paintings as well. Two noblewomen in shepherds’ attire were the work of Czech Baroque master Karel Škréta or one of his students. Škréta was definitely the artist of the 17th century work, “The Young Huntsman,” who gazed confidently at the viewer. Two small pictures of an elderly woman in the Coat-of-Arms Room were from the Peter Paul Rubens’ School, possibly executed by Jacob Jordaens. A copy of a portrait by Rubens, depicting his second wife, Helen Fourment, hailed from 1640.

One painting that drew me into its artistic power was the head of Medusa, with bulging eyes and blue and golden snakes slithering around her head; it was another painting after Rubens. The gem “The Temptation of Anthony” by Flemish artist David Teniers was painted on wood in the Empire Room.

One huge portrait shows a red-robed Vilém Slavata, who was thrown out a window of Prague Castle during the Defenestration of Prague in 1618, when Protestant nobleman rebelled against the Catholic hardliners in an event that would in part trigger the Thirty Years’ War. Slavata lived through the ordeal as he landed on a pile of manure, but was then arrested. The ordeal reminded me of the black humor in the stories and novels by Czech legendary writer Bohumil Hrabal.

Another shot of the frescoes

Another shot of the frescoes

Paintings of Venice, specifically of St. Mark’s Square, the Doges Palace and the Rialto Bridge, decorated the Tower Room and brought to mind my happy days as a tourist in that jewel of an Italian city. Realistic paintings from the Netherlands adorned the chateau, too. I have been fascinated by art from that country ever since taking a course about it in college. In one small portrait, a poor man is eating fish, the bones and head left on the plate he is holding. This work captured the man’s miserable existence – the despair and hopelessness of his life. Another picture from this era depicted a man reading, though he seems lost in thought.

The guide pointed out four portraits of women representing the four seasons. Dating from the middle of the 18th century, they included a woman holding grapes for autumn and one holding a flower for spring. If you look closely, the guide explained, it was possible to discern that one woman was the subject of all the portraits, and she aged as each season went by. I was intrigued by these four unique works of art.

Numerous other objects of interest cropped up in the chateau.  There was a 150-year old Mignon portable folding typewriter and a portable, folding Napoleonic desk in the Empire Room, both of which caught my attention. The Biedermeier Room boasted furniture of that style. I noticed a small statue of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Elizabeth of Austria along with a large portrait of General Leopold M. Sternberg. I was impressed by the many military medals that the general donned.

The frescoes and the arcades

The frescoes and the arcades

The State Bedroom featured a stirring portrayal of a figure bringing a drink to his guest in the Flemish tapestry “Welcome to Guests” from the end of the 16th century. I loved Flemish tapestries! Two mirrors seemed to be decorated with small gem stones in the frames, but it was just imitation, painted under the glass. In the Ladies Sitting Room, I noticed that Meissen porcelain birds were suspended from the wall. I found it to be a nice, elegant touch to the interior.

The Wallpaper Room gets its name from gold-and-black wallpaper that imitated leather, though it was made of paper. In the library, which contains political and religious books as well as novels and poetry written in Latin, English, German, French and Czech, I saw a tapestry showing Cleopatra and Mark Antony. It was Flemish, from around 1600. Another thrill for me!

 

The flowers bursting with color in the garden

The flowers bursting with color in the garden

The Renaissance arcaded Gallery, with its vibrant dark pink walls and flourishing plants, featured lavish silver-framed mirrors that dated from the Second Baroque period.  I marveled at the elegance of the elaborate silver frames. The Ladies Sitting Room also was home to an intriguing item – a small watercolor, on the back of which is a note of condolence by Empress consort of the Holy Roman Empire and Queen of Bohemia Maria Theresa of Austria on the occasion of the death of Francis Phillip Sternberg’s wife. The Children’s Room also moved me. It was almost all white, with dolls, portraits of children and a dollhouse, exuding a sense of purity.

After the breathtaking tour, I walked to the only restaurant in sight and found a table outside. Again I was able to order my favorite – chicken with peaches and cheese – plus a Diet Coke. After a delicious lunch, I made my way to the bus stop to wait 20 minutes. I always arrived early because I was always nervous I would miss my  bus. I stood at the small ČSAD sign, watching cars and trucks drive by.

The chateau from the park

The chateau from the park

Finally, after two o’clock, it was time for the bus to come. And it did. I watched it whiz by the other bus stop, without even slowing down. I was at the wrong stop! I chided myself for being so stupid. I had thought the bus would come to this stop and turn around. I sure felt like an idiot!

Then I thought that maybe it was a blessing in disguise. There was another bus in two hours, so I went back to the chateau and sat outside at the café. I read about another murder in front of the Baroque fountain.

The bus was slated to arrive after four o’clock. So, I got there at 3:30, determined not to  miss this bus as it was the last direct one to Prague. Shortly after I arrived, five others with big duffle bags and shopping bags gathered there, too. Then, a little after 3:30, a bus to Prague showed up. Bewildered at the timing of its arrival, I got on and made my way back to Prague. I wondered if it was a bus run by a private company that wasn’t listed on the schedule posted on the Internet.

Curiously enough, the bus driver told me that no bus comes through the town after four o’clock.

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

 

The stunning chateau from the park

The stunning chateau from the park

 

 

 

 

 

Mnichovo Hradiště Chateau Diary

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I had taken this train many times before, usually to Turnov, which was one stop further than today’s destination – Mnichovo Hradiště. The last time I had taken this route, the train had been furnished with new, comfortable seats, though the exterior had appeared dilapidated. This time, the seats were the usual ugly, red, vinyl kind divided into compartments that looked dirty. After riding the pleasant Viamont train to Bečov nad Teplou, I guess I had become a bit spoiled concerning train travel.

The trip took about an hour and 45 minutes, and it took another 15 minutes to walk through the pleasant town to get to the chateau. I remembered the chateau’s exterior from my visit here about 10 years ago, but it looked as if the walls had seen a few fresh coats of paint since my first time here. There were three parts to the tour – the Empire style theatre for about 50 or 60 spectators, the interior rooms with mostly 18th century furnishings and the lapidarium where 25 statues were kept in the church and chapel of a former convent.

The guide and I started with the tour of the theatre.  On the way there, we stopped in a hallway where I saw large portraits and Baroque bureaus. A huge painting traced the genealogy of the Waldstein family, the clan who had owned the chateau for generations. I picked out Vilém Slavata from Chlum and Košumberk in a long, red robe and big, red cap in one portrait. I had visited enough chateaus to know that this nobleman and writer had been thrown out a window of Prague Castle during one of Prague’s defenestrations. Thankfully, he had fallen on a heap of manure.  Passing the Hunting Hallway, I glanced at black-and- white graphics of various animals and noticed a depiction of a deer with one antler. Then we came to a machine that made the sound of wind. By turning a lever, the round, wooden contraption with a white sheet over it moved to produce the sound.

MnichovoHchateau6Then we entered the Empire style theatre. I took a seat on a bench that resembled the original seating. While the theatre was first mentioned in archival documents during 1798, it was renovated and given an Empire style appearance in the early 1800s on the occasion of the Holy Alliance negotiations, when Austrian Emperor Franz I, Russian Tsar Nicholas I and Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William discussed how to handle the revolts taking place throughout their lands, during 1833. The first play performed here was Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, performed in German and Czech by actors who came from Prague. Three theatre groups from Prague’s Theatre of the Estates gave performances here for three nights. In the second half of the 19th century, the theatre fell into disrepair and was used as a furniture warehouse. It was not open for the public until 1999. The curtain was restored in 2001.

 I was enthralled by the romantic landscape backdrop that was currently on display. It gave me a soothing, calm feeling. Some of the 11 plain, flat backdrops that the theatre possessed included a street view, a castle, a hall with columns and Prague Castle with the Lesser Quarter and Charles Bridge. The stage was 32 feet wide, 28 and a half feet deep and four feet high while the proscenium opening was 22 feet wide and 13 and three-fourths feet high. The theatre had one curtain and 54 wings, which were set at an angle to the stage instead of being placed parallel to it, as was the usual custom. The theatre did not use a mechanized wing system or wing trolley, either, but rather employed a groove system that utilizes upper and lower grooves to assure that the wings will stay upright. Also, the wings in this theatre were double-sided and therefore could be reversed easily. On the back wall behind the balcony a large genealogy painting of the Waldstein family, complete with cherubs, caught my attention. It celebrated the family’s pride of its heritage. The theatre is still on occasions used today.

The chateau had an intriguing history. It was built in the 17th century, during Renaissance times. The owner Václav Budovce of Budov joined forces with other nobles in a revolt against the emperor and was executed on Old Town Square in Prague during June of 1621. In 1623 the chateau was confiscated and subsequently bought by Albrecht Eusebius of Waldstein.  In 1675 Arnošt Josef of Waldstein purchased it and kept it until the middle of the 20th century. The chateau was given a Baroque appearance in the early 1700s, although some rooms were given a Rococo makeover around 1750.

In a hallway full of portraits, I spotted the pointed beard of Albrecht of Waldstein, the one who had bought the chateau in 1623. A large painting explained the genealogy of Emanuel Arnošt of Waldstein. The guide said that when the researcher could not find all the ancestors of the Waldsteins, he made them up. The large, grey, puffy wig that Maximilian of Waldstein was wearing caught my attention, too. I also noticed that Count Vincenc had only one eye open. There was also a room to the side, roped off. Leaning over the rope, I glimpsed a tiny chapel with a Baroque altar of Saint John of Nepomuk and a Madonna with child. The altar was flanked by black Corinthian columns with golden tops.

Next came the Countess’ Antechamber. Someone had installed a 20th century telephone and placed it on a Baroque bureau, a sight which vividly contrasted the two eras, so far apart in technology and time. A still life painting adorned one wall, and a laundry basket with an exquisite floral pattern and muted yellow background sat on the floor. The stunning green, blue and brown chandelier symbolized the four seasons. I noticed that grapes stood for fall.

The oldest painting in the chateau, showing an old lecherous man and a young woman whom I suppose was very naive, hung on a wall of the Countess’ Bedroom. I noticed how both figures had baby pink skin. Why a countess would want such a painting in her bedroom is beyond me. In the visitors’ book, a thick, red book on an ancient desk, I could read the names of nobility such as Schwarzenberg and Lobkowicz.

MnichovoHchateau4The Italian Salon enthralled me with its stunning mural spanning three walls. The painter had never visited the Italian town presented; rather, he had painted it from an etching. From the embankment of the town pictured, one could see Naples and Venice in the distance. Two men and a woman were talking in one section, nobles had gathered in another, and in yet another part two men manned the oars of a small boat.

The Study, which later became known as the Music Salon, featured a piano with the white and black keys reversed. I had never seen a piano with this unique trait. The Baroque white tile fireplace was decorated with two sea monsters that were supposed to be dolphins, as they slivered through the water with their heads pointed down.  Small portraits also adorned the Music Salon. One showed Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa dressed in black, mourning the death of her husband.

The small picture gallery was roped off, which disappointed me. I wanted to study each painting in minute detail, but only was afforded a side view of the three walls totally covered in art. I noticed a woman reading while holding a skull and other paintings boasting hunting themes.

Next came the Hunting Salon. The three walls were covered in a mural painted in shades of dark green and featuring a forest, dogs and hunters. I noticed that a backgammon game consisted of pieces with faces carved on them.  The ceiling fresco was devoted to Diana, goddess of the hunt. She held an arrow; one of her plump breasts was bare. The room also boasted a secret door.

The biggest room in the chateau was the Dancing Salon or Reception Salon, Rococo in style. A mirror sat flat on a round table that looked like a three-tier table for cakes wheeled around in luxurious restaurants. Porcelain figures decorated the three tiers while murals decorated two walls. I spotted this very chateau in the background of one part of the mural. Men clad in red with dogs were seen in a forest as a woman stood in the doorway, something having caught her sudden attention.

The Ladies Salon featured murals on four walls. They showed a countess posing in different professions. She was portrayed as a dancer, a flower-seller, a hunter, a fisherwoman and a traveler, among others. In the depiction of the countess as a flower-seller, I took note of the English park in the background and the flowers that decorated her hat. I was enamored by the backs of the chairs on which landscapes had been painted. The floral cushions were exquisite as well.

MnichovoHchateau2The most beautiful room in the chateau, in my opinion, was the Delft Dining Room that is immersed in blue-and-white Delft Faience porcelain from the 17th to 19th century, all original and handmade. I noticed some geometrically shaped vases and admired the wooden compartment ceiling, too. The Waldstein gold with blue coat-of-arms decorated the center of the Renaissance ceiling. I noticed some plates on a wall featuring windmills while a tray depicted a park with a fountain and statue.

The Oriental Salon was full of Japanese and Chinese porcelain. I admired the orange and blue swirls of one Chinese plate hanging on a wall. The table and chairs were made of bamboo. Four vases represented the four seasons. A Japanese painted partition also adorned the room.

The table in the Meissen Dining Room was set for breakfast with its blue-and-white porcelain taking center stage. Yet what astounded me about Meissen craftsmanship were the chandeliers. Hailing from the beginning of the 19th century, this particular chandelier featured floral decoration colored green, pink, yellow and orange.

Although the library was composed of three rooms, a gate with bars prevented visitors from entering. This was the library where Giacomo Casanova had served as librarian during the 18th century, the guide reminded our group. His letters and manuscripts made up a significant part of the chateau archives, as did material from the Thirty Years’ War. I wished I could see more of the 22,000 volumes inside the gate as the shelves were decked with fiction as well as specialized literature, such as legal and historical works. Many books focused on alchemy, too. They were written in a variety of languages, including German, Latin, Czech, Italian and Hebrew. Two big globes stood in the foreground while a smaller globe and telescope could be seen in the background of the closest room.

Walking through a hallway before descending the stairs, I spotted a large portrait of an armor-clad Albrecht of Waldstein on a gray, spotted horse. Then it was time to visit the lapidarium.

The church and chapel of the former Capuchin convent appeared to be plain, nondescript. The exterior was even dilapidated. What was inside, though, proved absolutely stunning and breathtaking. As we first entered the Church of the Three Kings that joined the Chapel of Saint Anne, I saw about six small statues in a dark, small space. This will be disappointing, I remember thinking to myself. Then we turned the corner, and the room came alive with 25 statues of Baroque, Rococo and Empire style twisting and turning, dynamic and vibrant, most made of sandstone.

Home to these statues since 1966, the lapidarium featured monuments that had been deteriorating in the outdoors. Our group stood in front of the headstone of Alburtus de Waldstein, the name engraved prominently on one wall in what looked like marble. Then I walked through the room, my head spinning from all the dynamic and expressive movement flowing from the statues. I inspected the altar of the Saint Anne Chapel and noticed that Saint Anne had a child on her lap as they were reading, cherubs fluttering above. Next to them a figure seemed to be holding a painting.

MnichovoHchateau5Then I took in the statues. In a sandstone work hailing from the third quarter of the 18th century, the Virgin Mary had her hands clasped to her breast. A Saint John of Nepomuk portrayal by Josef Jelínek the Elder, dating from the second quarter of the 18th century and made of polychrome wood, featured that saint as a sort of visionary, peering into the distance, determined and confident. I noticed the dynamic folds in his white drapery. It looked as if they were fluttering in the wind. Another statue, named the Angel with the Attribute of Christ’s Suffering, had been erected in the early 1720s out of sandstone. I was stunned by the angel’s huge wings as the angel seemed to be moving toward the viewer, about to trample him or her. I also noticed the angel’s crushed nose and wished the statues were in better condition. If I was a millionaire, I would donate money to preserving Czech chateaus and castles, so that fascinating statues such as these could be restored.

The Lion and Putto, by master Ignatius Francis Platzer, was made of sandstone and hailed from the 1750s or 1760s. Putto, clutching a shield, was riding on an enormous lion. Perhaps the best known statue in the collection was Matthias Bernard Braun’s Perseus, a sandstone work from the early 1730s. Perseus appeared calm, not at all tormented, and I took note of his fluttering drapery and twisting body. Then I walked over to Saint John of Nepomuk with Two Angels by Karle Josef Hiernle, a sandstone piece from 1727. John of Nepomuk was flanked by two angels. One angel lightly touched the sleeve of John of Nepomuk’s garment. An angel held a finger to his lips, while the other pointed toward Heaven. Cupid heads decorated the bottom of the sculpture. John of Nepomuk ‘s head was leaning to the right, his hands were clasped and his eyes closed as if he were meditating.

After thoroughly enjoying my inspection of the statues, I went to lunch, where I ate my favorite chicken with peaches and cheese. Soon afterwards, I took a bus from the main square directly to Prague. Once again, I was fascinated by everything that I had seen in the chateau, and I needed time to process all the information and all the beauty that had surrounded me.

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

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Žleby Chateau Diary

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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

Velké Losiny Chateau Diary

ImageDuring an Easter vacation in Olomouc, I decided to pay a visit to the chateau in Velké Losiny, which was a two-hour bus ride away. I was enthusiastic about seeing the chateau as I had recently read Václav Kaplický’s Witch Hammer, based on the witch trials that took place in northern Moravia from 1678 to 1692. In both the book and real life, Deacon Kryštof Alois Lautner tried to protect those branded as witches from a cruel fate, but even he wound up on the stake. I thought it was interesting that the witch trails in what is now the Czech Republic had been confined to two regions of northern Moravia, where there was a mostly German-speaking population.

It terrified me that people could believe such terrible superstitions and that because of those superstitions they could torture and kill fellow human beings. For 15 years, when the emperor’s inquisitor Jindřich František Boblig from Edelstadt occupied the chateau, more than 100 people from the regions were killed, 56 of them from Velké Losiny. The opportunity to see a place where such religious intolerance was carried out sent a chill up my spine. The very idea of people being burned as witches terrified me; yet I just had to see this place with my own eyes.

It made me sad that, although there are no longer witch trials, religious intolerance in such extreme forms still exists today. There were so many examples of religious intolerance in the modern world that it frightened and disgusted me.

As the bus took me north, I saw more and more snow on the ground, even though it was spring. I was the only person on the bus without skis.  Many were even standing in the aisle because all the seats were taken. When the bus came to Velké Losiny, it passed the white three-winged Renaissance chateau with beautiful arcades but didn’t even slow down at the stop. The driver evidently thought he only had skiers on board, and no one was waiting at that particular stop. I spoke up frantically that I needed to get off the bus, and a skier quickly told the driver. Finally, the bus let me off. About 15 skiers had to disembark from the bus in order for me to get out. Luckily, even though the driver hadn’t stopped where he was supposed to, I still wasn’t far away from the chateau.

VelkeLosinycloseupWhen I approached the chateau, I noticed the exquisite sgraffito on one wall of the Renaissance wing from the 1680s and discovered that the chateau was really made of two parts: the Renaissance palace with arcaded courtyard and a Baroque two-storey building. The arcades in the courtyard gave the chateau a dignified look, I thought.  They dated from the 17th century, and the Baroque arcades were decorated with sculptures of dwarfs. It wasn’t until the tour that I realized the Renaissance windows were the oldest in Central Europe.

The guide explained that the Žerotín family had owned the chateau for more than 300 years, until 1802, and that Jan the Younger of Žerotín had built the Renaissance palace, a project that was finally finished in 1589. Also, this particular Žerotín, in 1596, founded the paper mill nearby, where paper was made by hand even today. It holds the distinction of being the only paper mill in Europe that makes paper by hand. During the Thirty Years’ War, the Žerotíns did not lose their property even though they did not convert to Catholicism. The Lichtenstein family took over the chateau from the Žerotíns in the 19th century because the Žerotíns were experiencing financial difficulties. The Žerotín portrait gallery in the chateau dates as far back as the 17th century, the guide pointed out.

Lake at Velke LosinyOn the tour, which consisted of only the guide and me, I stood on a parquet floor that was 400 years old. One 400-year old door was beautifully decorated with intarsia. In the Knights’ Hall I marveled at a majolica tiled stove, the third oldest in the Czech Republic, dating from 1585. The white, brown, blue and green colors intrigued me. The leather wallpaper also caught my attention. One of the two oldest leather wall coverings in the Czech Republic, it was decorated with floral ornament and a joint coat-of-arms of the Žerotín and Oppersdorf families. It dated from 1660. I especially liked the griffin with elaborate wings that stood for the Oppersdorfs. I looked up and thought I saw a panel ceiling, but it was only an illusion. The ceiling was, in fact, painted  in magnificent blue and gold colors. I also saw a Renaissance cupboard that was 400 years old, from the last quarter of the 16th century.

The guide informed me that above this space was a large room with a beamed ceiling where the witch craft trials took place in 1678, but the room was not open to the public. What a pity, I thought. That would be something to write home about! And to think I was standing in the room right below it!

In the library founded by Jan of Žerotín, the books ranged from the 15th to 19th century and were written in Latin, German and Czech, for example. They covered topics about horses, astrology and law, to name a few. In the center of the room, I saw a Renaissance reading pulpit made of ebony inlaid with ivory. I was especially intrigued with a leather wall covering that featured golden arabesques. Lions figured in some corners on the borders of the wallpaper.

In another room I saw the thrilling painting, “Night Festivity in Sienna,” which depicted firecrackers going off over a square. I liked the elements of fantasy in the picture that most likely dated from the 18th century.  I set my eyes on beautiful Baroque tapestries with motifs of a legend about Cupid and Psyche. They were woven around the middle of the 14th century. One tapestry illustrated a scene with Cupid and Psyche. A second tapestry showed Psyche and her two sisters. A third portrayed Mercury, Zeus and other gods at Cupid and Psyche’s wedding.  I saw even more tapestries in the chateau, and the guide proudly explained that this chateau had the second most tapestries in Moravia.

A set of four more tapestries decorated another room. The first showed Antony meeting Cleopatra; the second was titled, “A Torchlight Feast”; the third elaborated on the theme of Cleopatra’s and Antony’s love for each other; and the fourth, dating from 1560, dealt with Roman history as it portrayed the heroic young Roman Mucius Scaevola, who tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Etruscan king Lars Posenna. Because of his courage, he was not killed, though his right arm was badly burned. This particular tapestry dated from the second half of the 16th century.

In another room an early Baroque cabinet from Spain was inlaid with ivory. The drawers featured pictures made of tortoiseshell and ivory. I was enthralled by a small carved altar from Peru or Chile. It dated back to the 17th century, most likely. I saw even more leather wallpaper, this time from 1640, and a Baroque panel ceiling. I also took note of a Spanish bureau dating from the 17th century; it was called a vargueno. One particular painting fascinated me. It carried an inscription in an old form of the Czech language and showed a woman praying and Christ on the cross. Hailing from 1566, it was the funeral picture of Magdelene of Zástřizl, marked with the date of her death, the same year the painting was executed.

Then the guide and I came to a room where a copy of the official, thick book about the witch trials was displayed. She mentioned that among the 56 victims had been a Catholic priest. I imagined Boblig flipping through that fat volume, feeling pleased with himself, choosing which woman to torture next. Those thoughts both angered and terrified me. The atrocities of that period were too much for me to fathom.

In the two chapels, decorated by Jan Kryštof Handke and dating from the 1740s, I set my eyes on an astounding ceiling fresco featuring allegorical figures representing the four continents. A man with a parrot stood for America. Why Handke had chosen this particular symbol for America, I did not know.  Other figures included a kneeling woman with a crown to represent Europe, a man with a turban to denote Asia and a bowing black man as Africa.

The big chapel also featured a marble Rococo altar and a Renaissance altar of Madonna with child. The organ from 1723 still worked, the guide claimed. The fresco ceiling painting in the small chapel was the inspiration of Handke as well, and Baroque elements had been added to the late Renaissance altar. A copy of a Gothic statuette of Madonna of Altotting, from the Bavaria region of Germany, dated from the 14th century. Silk paintings also decorated the space.

The Empire Wing, where the Lichtensteins had lived, featured light wood Beidermeyer furniture. The porcelain was from Slavkov in the Czech Lands and from Vienna, Austria. The park, from 1802 in the English style, included eight sandstone sculptures of dwarves from the 1830s and a fountain decorated with a sculpture featuring fish and putti.

I left the chateau, astounded, unable to take in all I had seen, and set off for the paper mill nearby, where I went on a one-hour tour of the place. Founded in the 16th century, it was one of the oldest paper mills in Europe and was now the only existing one. Even the wife of a stationer who had worked here had been burned as a witch during Boblig’s reign. The handmade paper was made from cotton and flax. Some items in the museum included examples of Japanese handmade paper and a model of a paper crusher. I saw how paper was dried by hanging it on poles and learned about press compaction and the drainage of paper, among other things.

Then I found a restaurant in a hotel, ate a big meal of chicken, peaches and ham, wrote some postcards and soon left for the bus stop. This time, I hoped the bus would stop at the designated place.

It did.

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

Arcades of Velke Losiny Chateau 2