Puglia Photo Diary

During this terrible pandemic that is devasting Italy, I have decided to post some photo diaries of memories of Italy in its glory, as it was and as it will be again. My trip to Puglia with arsviva travel agency was one of the best vacations I have ever had. I was fascinated by the simplicity and elegance of the Apulian Romanesque style as I discovered churches and cathedrals in sleepy towns with picturesque, narrow streets. I loved the balconies of houses, adorned with plants or with architectural elements that I admired. Lecce was a Baroque gem. Its churches and cathedral were breathtaking, overwhelming with their beauty. Matera’s sassi quarters were so unlike anything I had ever witnessed – the sassi were some of the most intriguing sights I had ever set eyes on. Bitonto, Grottoglie, Canosa di Puglia, Ruva di Puglia, Barletta, Castel del Monte, Ontranto, Taranto, Trani – all these places and more became dear to my heart and filled me with so many perfect memories.


Altamura, Cathedral S. Maria Assunta ceiling


Door of Cathedral of S. Maria Assunta, Altamura


Exterior, Cathedral, Altamura


Interior, Cathedral S. Maria Assunta, Altamura


Exterior, Cathedral S. Maria Assunta, Altamura


Tympanium, Cathedral S. Maria Assunta


Stained glass window from cathedral in Altamura


Street in Altamura


Balcony in Bari


Balcony in Bari


Cathedral of S. Sabino, Bari


Church of Saint Nicholas, Bari


Street in Bari


Barletta Cathedral S. Maria Maggiore


Cathedral in Barletta


Cathedral S. Maria Maggiore, Barletta


Cathedral S. Maria Maggiore, Barletta


Cathedral S. Valentino, Bitonto


Romanesque mosaic in 12th century crypt of Cathedral S. Valentino, Bitonto


Street in Bitonto


View from Canne de Battaglia, ruins of ancient town Cannae and site of famous battle, August 2, 216 when Carthingians with Hannibal defeated Romans. About 130,000 men took part, and 60,000 died, including 80 Roman senators.


Cathedral S. Sabino in Canosa di Puglia


Bishop’s throne from 11th century in S. Sabino Cathedral, Bitonto


Exterior of Cathedral S. Sabino, Canosa di Puglia


Stained glass window in Cathedral S. Sabino, Canosa di Puglia


Castel del Monte


Castel del Monte


Castel del Monte


View from Castel del Monte


Grottaglie, Ceramics Museum at Castello Episcopio


Grottaglie, Ceramics Museum


Amphitheatre in Lecce


Cathedral S. Maria dell’ Assunta, Lecce


Cathedral S. Maria dell’ Assunta, Lecce


Lecce, Cathedral S. Maria dell’ Assunta


Stained glass window at cathedral in Lecce


Church in Lecce – Sorry, I don’t remember which one.


Church in Lecce


Church in Lecce


Roman theatre in Lecce


S. Croce Church in Lecce


S. Croce Church in Lecce


Cathedral Madonna della Bruna in Matera


Cathedral Madonna della Bruna in Matera


Cathedral Madonna della Bruna in Matera


Cathedral Madonna della Bruna in Matera


View from Sasso Caveoso in Matera


Sasso in Matera


Sasso in Matera


Sasso in Matera


In Sasso Caveoso in Matera


View from Sasso Caveoso in Matera






Calm sea in Molfetta


Molfetta, Cathedral S. Corrado, built from 1150 to end of the 13th century


Otranto, Basilica S. Pietro


Otranto, Cathedral S. Maria Annunziata


Mosaic floor from 1163-1165 of cathedral in Otranto


Interior of Cathedral S. Maria Annunziata, Otranto


Rosette window of Cathedral S. Maria Annunziata, Otranto, from 16th century


Ruva di Puglia


Ruva di Puglia, S. Maria Assunta Cathedral


Castle, Taranto


Cathedral S. Cataldo, Taranto


Cathedral S. Cataldo, Taranto


Cathedral S. Cataldo, Taranto


Cathedral S. Cataldo, Taranto


Cathedral interior, Taranto


Street in Taranto


View from Taranto


Trani, Cathedral S. Nicola Pellegrino


Trani, Reliefs on door of cathedral, from 1179


Trani, 12th century reliefs on cathedral doors


Port in Trani


Street in Trani


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



Sorry the photos do not always show the objects described in the text.


The chapel of the Musée de Cluny

One of my favorite museums in Paris is the Musée de Cluny, which houses a treasure trove of medieval art. Converted in 1843 to a museum, it is situated on the site of the former baths of Lutetia, a Gallo-Roman site. At one time, it was also home to abbots of Cluny.


The baths of Lutetia are situated on three levels. They were most likely constructed in late 1 AD and served this function for 200 years. In 1862, they were recognized as a historical monument.  The townhouse that once was the residence of the abbots is another architectural delight. The huge inner courtyard includes an external spiral staircase. The facades are adorned with many Gothic sculptures. The decoration of an oriel amazes, too. Renaissance and Gothic art features prominently there.


The museum isn’t only a showcase for medieval art. I also found Byzantine and Romanesque artifacts as well as metalwork and enamelware made in Limoges workshops. These included crosses, altarpieces and reliquaries, such as the reliquary of the murdered archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett (1170). The gold votive crowns from Visigoth Spain hailed from the seventh century and served as prime examples of early Western art.

However, what fascinated me the most was the Gothic art. I loved the stained glass windows from Sainte Chapelle, a must for me every time I visited Paris. These windows dated from the middle of the 13th century. Three of the Apostle statues from Sainte-Chapelle were also on display. I loved the detailed drapery of the religious figures.


I also saw the Virgin and Child, dating from 1240 to 1250, carved out of elephant ivory with the detailed folds of drapery on both figures. The Virgin was in the midst of making a gesture with one hand. Her hand looked as though it was in motion. The other hand held onto Jesus so gently, so lovingly. The smile on Jesus’ face was so bright, cheerful and contagious.

The objects from 15th century France tended to be morbid in nature. Indeed, even pictures of decaying corpses were on display. These figures were mostly comprised of reliquaries, statues, small altarpieces and stained glass.


A winged vase was covered in brown and blue decoration on a white background and had a dynamic flair. Coats-of-arms adorned the central part of the vase. It hailed from Valencia, dating from 1465 to 1469.


However, my favorite items in the museum were the six panels of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, in which the unicorn and a lady of noble stature were the protagonists. The six tapestries were created in Flanders around 1500 from wool and silk. They are considered some of the premiere works of art made during the Middle Ages. Five of the six panels evoked the senses while the meaning of the sixth one remains a mystery.


In the sixth tapestry, a unicorn standing on two legs and a lion flanked the lady and her servant, a tent and trees behind them. In front of the tent, I saw French words that could be translated as “love desires only the beauty of the soul.” In the pictorial narrative, the servant was holding an open chest while the smiling lady put a necklace that she was wearing in the other tapestries into the chest. It was notable that the lady is smiling; in the other five tapestries, she was not. The background was made up of flowers and animals. The tapestry could have a spiritual or moral theme or could stand for love and understanding.


Other tapestries on display that astounded me included three scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary (1499) and the Tapestry of Saint Stephen (1500). The Grape Harvest tapestry, hailing from the Netherlands in the 16th century, showed figures with detailed clothing making precise gestures as some picked grapes and other pressed them. I recalled all the amazing tapestries I had seen in the Vatican Museums while I stared, in awe, at the many tapestries in the Cluny Museum.


I also loved the altarpieces and triptychs. The triptych of The Mass of Saint Gregory hailed from Westphalia in the late 15th century. It depicts the Pope seeing the apparition of Christ. The Presentation in the Temple is a triptych made in France during the third quarter of the 15th century. I liked the child’s wooden horse and the Gothic vaulting of the temple. The Life or the Virgin Mary was a gem of painted terracotta with much detail, created by Arnt von Zwolle in 1483. The Altarpiece of the Passion came from the Netherlands and Champagne in the early 16th century. Those are just a few examples.


I left the museum with a much more poignant perspective on medieval art. I can’t wait to go back there someday – hopefully, someday soon. . . .



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

City Museum of Prague Diary


I had wanted to visit the City Museum of Prague again for some time, but I had just not gotten around to it. I remembered how the intriguing museum took visitors through the joys and disappointments of Czech history. This time, I went to see a temporary exhibition about Prague during the 20-year existence of the democratic First Republic, but, of course, I explored the entire museum as well.


It was even more impressive than I had remembered. In the main hallway, I saw the calendar dial for Old Town’s Astronomical Clock, painted in 1865 by well-acclaimed Czech artist Josef Mánes. The dial was divided into circular rings. I took notice of the medieval syllable calendar. The folk costume-clad figures represented the 12 months, celebrating Slavic identity. I recognized Troský Castle in the background for September, and I knew that December symbolized the tradition of Czech pig-slaughtering, a custom the European Union did not approve of. A castle addict, I was excited to see Bezděz Castle in the background of the portrayal of March as a young farmer did his ploughing duties in the foreground. I remembered walking 4 kilometers from the train station to the ruins of Bezděz. It had entailed two kilometers of a steep, rocky incline that led to the remnants of what must have been at one time an impressive castle. I liked walking around the ruins, several pages that described each part in my hand, trying to imagine what it had looked like in its heyday. I wasn’t a big fan of ruins, but this one had charmed me.


Mánes had also painted figures as zodiac signs. I saw dolphins with a plump cherub for Pisces. Sagittarius featured an Old Bohemian warrior while the depiction of Capricorn did not include any human figures but rather a cherub guiding a goat.


I also noticed that Romanesque elements had greatly influenced the adornment on the dial. I recalled the Romanesque church in Regensburg, Germany, the façade an architectural delight. I had also seen many churches with Romanesque features in Czech villages. At the ruins of Vyšehrad Castle in Prague, St. Martin’s rotunda fit the Romanesque style.


I walked into the prehistory section, not knowing if I would find it interesting as prehistory was not my cup of tea. I discovered that the first archeological find in Prague was unearthed near St. Matthew’s Church in Prague’s sixth district, a nice walk from where I had lived for many years. The small church had an intimate flair, and if I had been religious, I would have gone there for services. I would also like to be buried there. It is a relatively small and beautiful cemetery in my favorite section of Prague, but I do not think that would be possible. The cemetery is home to some famous Czech artists – architect Pavel Janák and actor Jiří Kemr.


I also learned that the first farmers in Central Bohemia came in 6 BC. Another interesting fact was that the Celts, in the second half of 1 BC, were the first people to wear trousers in Central Europe.


The medieval displays were eye-catching. Frescoes and wall paintings from Prague houses were highlighted. I read that Prague’s boroughs were created in the 13th and 14th centuries when a medieval fortress had been built. I already knew the Old Town was founded by King Wenceslas I during the 1230s. I read about the origins of the various districts of Prague. A statue that got my attention showed Christ in agony, hailing from 1413 and made of linden wood. Ceramic stove tiles showed pictures of Hussite soldiers from the 15th century, when the Hussite wars ravaged the Czech lands.


Rudolf II’s Prague was also featured in the museum section that documented Prague from 1434 to 1620. Artists had flocked to Prague, which had made a name for itself as a center of European Mannerism. Rudolf II’s collection of art and curiosities was certainly impressive. An art gallery at Prague Castle displayed much art that had been attained during his reign. I had also seen many of Rudolf II’s curiosities in the Kunsthammer in Vienna.




Of course, the Thirty Years’ War was given much attention, as the Catholic victory over the Protestants would greatly influence Prague and Czech history for hundreds of years. Before the war, there were many Ultraquists in Prague society. The defining battle for the Czech lands was at White Mountain in Prague during 1620. The townspeople of Prague were not happy with the then current legal, economic and political roles of towns and took part in this battle. During the war, the Saxons occupied Prague, and the Swedes pillaged and bombed the New Town in Prague.



I remembered living near the Vltava embankment in the pleasant New Town. I tried to imagine the damage and destruction that those bombs had brought to the quarter. It must have been a devastating sight. Prague became part of a province after the war, and Baroque art and architecture became the fashion. In 1624 Catholicism became the only religion allowed in the Czech lands. During the Baroque period, Czech artists including the Dientzenhofer family of architects, sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun as well as painters Karel Škréta, Petr Brandl and Norbert Grund made their way to Prague in 1710 and had a great influence on the art in the city.




The reign of the Habsburgs brought with it a long period of Germanization and a centralized monarchy that dominated the 18th century. Some of the exhibits on display from this century were intriguing, to say the least. A table clock took on a macabre character, featuring a skeleton wielding a scythe. There was also a wooden throne from St. Vitus Cathedral, made in the second half of the 17th century. A glass garden with musicians and nobles was another impressive creation.



Then Prague experienced peace for 100 years. The exhibition ended with the Baroque section, but there was more to the museum, specifically Antonín Langweil’s model of Prague, constructed from 1826 to 1837. He had worked in the University Library at the Clementinum when he was not creating this amazing three-dimensional model of the city. The precision and detail left me in awe. He did not finish the project, but what he did create is astoundingly beautiful and innovative. I saw many sights I had first become acquainted with when I was a tourist in the city during the summer of 1991 – Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge and the Lesser Quarter’s main square as well as the Old Town, St. Vitus Cathedral and the Old Jewish Cemetery.




I recalled walking to Prague Castle across the Charles Bridge early each morning when I first moved to Prague and lived in the Old Town. I would never forget standing below the balcony of Prague Castle on a frigid February evening in 1994 while Václav Havel gave a speech as the first President of the newly created Czech Republic, his wife Olga by his side. I recalled the moment I had set my eyes on Old Town Square for the first time, back in 1991, feeling at once that I had found my true home.




What I found just as impressive as the exhibits were the richly adorned coffered ceilings in the museum. The painting is incredible. One used to be in a house in Prague and hails from the 17th century. On walls of the upper floor is a magnificent painting of the city.



While I already had a solid foundation in Czech and Prague history before this visit, I realized how important this museum would be as a learning experience for tourists who really wanted to become acquainted with the historical events that had shaped the city’s identity through the Baroque era.




It was such a shame that the displays ended with the Baroque era, but there was no more space in the museum. I thought that a museum of more recent history should be created with a special room celebrating Václav Havel as a dissident, playwright and president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.



Walking through this museum, I was moved by the lands’ often tumultuous history and reminded how the history of the city seeps into my soul every day, no matter where I am. Just looking around me, I feel the history, which is one of the traits I like most about Prague. It is one reason I feel at home here and don’t want to leave.

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






Osek Monastery Diary

Osek Monastery 1

Note: No photos were allowed inside

I traveled to the picturesque region below the Krušné Mountains to see Osek Monastery in 2018. It was my second visit in eight years. I remembered shivering with cold as I wore my rather thin jacket during that first visit, probably in October of 2010. Feeling partially frozen, I waited patiently for the bus back to Prague after a wonderful tour. I had enjoyed my time there immensely, but what I remember most is the cold that seeped through my garments.

Osek Church 2

It was July when I came back for another look at the Cistercian monastery that was founded in the early 13th century, though monks had called the area home even at the end of the 12th century. This time, I arrived by car with a friend.

The Church of Our Lady at the monastery was a Romanesque creation, built as a three-aisled basilica in the shape of a Latin cross. The chapels and choir are rectangular. Measuring 76 meters long, during Romanesque days it was the biggest monasterial church in Bohemia.

The monastery was damaged during the Hussite wars of the 15th century during two years. The Hussites detested the Cistercians because, among other reasons, they were the wealthiest order in the Czech lands. The Thirty Years’ War brought devastation to the holy place. From 1580 to 1628, the monastery was closed.

Osek Church facade 2

In the early 18th century, the Abbot Benedict Littweig ordered Baroque reconstruction. Two cupolas, the façade, sculptural ornamentation and the main altar all hail from that time period. The main architect of the makeover was an Italian born in Bohemia, Octavian Broggio from the Litoměřice region. He favored radical Baroque style and had experience working in Prague and in the area where he was born.


During 1945 and 1946, the German monks who were living there were resettled in Germany for a while, and during 1961, they were sent to Germany again. At one point, the Salesians lived there, but the order was closed in 1950. The year 1950 would be the beginning of dreadful times. From 1950 to 1953, the monastery was used a detention center for priests. After that, it became a detention center for nuns. The Cistercian monks reclaimed the property in 1991 and left in 2010, when Abbot Bernard Thebej, who had overseen the monastery from 1991, died.


I waited for the tour as I gazed at the Baroque façade with a superb portico. Saints John, Mark, Luke and Matouš faced me. I saw Saints Peter and Paul above them. I thought of the other Cistercian monasteries I had visited. In south Bohemia, I had seen both Vyšší Brod and Zlatá Koruna. At Vyšší Brod, I was most enamored by the library of 70,000 volumes, the third Czech monastic library. The Theological Hall with one of the largest collections of Bibles in Central Europe had also captivated me. I recalled the elaborate Rococo stucco decoration and numerous Rococo wall paintings at Zlatá Koruna as well as the early Gothic Chapel of Guardian Angels. Near Kutná Hora, not far from Prague, Sedlec Monastery had amazed me with its Santini-created Baroque Gothic style interior and paintings by Baroque master Petr Brandl. Plasy in west Bohemia also came to mind. Santini had done his magic there as well, and the Baroque pharmacy had such superbly painted drawers. I had toured Plasy at least three times. I had been impressed by Velehrad in Moravia, but I had been there so many, too many, years ago.


The guide took us inside. The superb interior was pure Baroque with much stucco ornamentation. I was particularly drawn to one side altar because of its extremely morbid character. The altar featured Christ on the Cross, flanked by two angels, but the ornamentation made it feel creepy. It was adorned with figures of skulls and bones in Classicist style. At the foot of the Cross, there was a golden skull. I recalled the Cycle of Death murals at Kuks, a former hospital in splendid Baroque style. I had visited it on several occasions, so I was well-versed with the Baroque obsession for skeletons, skulls and bones. At the altar, there was a reliquary with remnants of Saint John the Baptist and other saints. All the chapels were impressive, but this one especially caught my attention.


Interior of the church, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

There were two Baroque cupolas. I saw painted windows on one – a trademark of the Baroque style. Two Baroque organs graced the church. One of them had 666 pedals, giving it a mystical quality.

The choir benches – Baroque, of course – were amazing, made with intarsia decoration of wood on wood. The inlays were breathtaking. Black spiral columns and gold ornamentation added to the Baroque ambience. The guide opened a cabinet behind a bench: Hymnbooks were stored there. I could imagine the Cistercian monks singing in celebration and could almost hear their voices resound through the church. In front of the choir, there were modern benches where services were currently held. Facing these benches, underneath the floor, was the tomb of the last abbot.


The main altar included impressive sculptures of the four apostles. Figures of angels also had prominent roles in the adornment. The painting of Assumption of Our Lady – the patron saint of the Cistercians – was the work of Jan Krištof Liška, a truly remarkable Czech artist. Václav Vavřinec Reiner, whose monumental painting I had seen at Duchcov Chateau a few months earlier, was responsible for the painting of the side altars as was Michael Leopold Willmann. Reiner also had created, along with Jan Jakub Steinfels, the ceiling paintings in the main nave and chancel. They portrayed scenes from the life of Christ and from the Old Testament.


Aerial view of Osek, from http://www.mapio.net

The cloister surrounds a garden that is decorated with three tombstones from the 14th to 16th centuries. Eighteenth century paintings promoting the history of the order are features of the cloister. I could see Romanesque traits in the entrance portal to the cloister from the church.


Vaulted ceiling, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

We passed by Well Chapel. A well, the monks’ source of water for a lengthy period, was the central element of the chapel, as the name suggests. Sculptural decoration adorned the well. On the wall behind it, there was a bright orange sliver of glass. This piece was original, dating back to the Gothic era. At that time, the glass had been brightly colored.


Reader’s Lectern in Chapter Hall, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

The Chapter Hall was a Gothic delight. Constructed from 1225 to 1250, it was one of the first Gothic buildings in the Czech lands. The sandstone sculptures from this era were impressive. A Gothic statue of the Madonna hails from around 1430. Monks had frequented this area every day. In the middle of a room was a reader’s lectern from which monks would read aloud to those gathered in the space. A Gothic mechanism allowed the top of the lectern to swivel from side to side. In the chapel, the altar looked a bit flamboyant for late Gothic, with white and gold decoration. The wall paintings illustrating the history of the order were newer, dating from 1750.


Gothic ceiling, from http://www.rajce.net, Photo Album from 2006

Near the entranceway to the chapter hall was a dog’s paw print. I wondered what kind of dog had made the imprint and if the dog had lived during the Gothic period or Baroque era.

I loved that the monastery’s architecture celebrated both spectacular Baroque and Gothic styles. After the tour, my friend and I found a busy restaurant with outside tables, where we had delicious food. The establishment seemed to be the popular place for lunch in the town.


Our stomachs filled with a satisfying lunch, we headed back to Prague. I had learned during the tour that the monastery would soon be closing for three years to have the entire interior renovated. I felt lucky I had had the chance to visit before the renovation and knew I had to come back in three years, to see an even more superb Baroque and Gothic creation.

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




Bode Museum Diary





Inaugurated in 1904 as the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, the building was designed by Ernst Eberhard von Ihne, and construction lasted seven years. In 1956, the museum got its current name, in honor of the first director, William Bode, whose trademark was showcasing a variety of artworks – sculpture, painting, coins, medals, crafts. Indeed, what I liked best about the Bode was the variety – the sculptures, paintings and crafts all mixed together, sometimes even in one room. The collections were full of surprises that made me enthusiastic about each work I came across.





I especially liked the sculpture collection. The medieval sculptures moved me the most. The large triptychs were overwhelmingly beautiful. Byzantine art played a major role in the collections. The art from Ravenna reminded me of my trip there as I had been dazzled by mastery of the works there. One of the largest collections of sculpture in the world, the pieces date from early medieval times to the late 18th century. Donatello, Lorenzo Bernini, Giovanni Pisano – they were just a few of the creators represented in this unbelievable array of artistry. Architectural sculpture included a Romanesque tribune from Germany. Glazed terracotta was also on display as were small sculptural works from bronze, alabaster and ivory. I also saw mosaic icons and artifacts from Egypt. The museum itself was a work of art with fireplaces and rich decoration hailing from the Italian Renaissance.




I was intrigued by one display in particular. I learned that the artworks from this museum had been stored in a bunker in Berlin-Firedrichshain during World War II, but a fire broke out in May of 1945, destroying many of the sculptures. I imagined furious flames engulfing so many precious works of art and thought how formidable the collection would have been with even more dazzling sculptures. It was a great loss, for sure.




I was in awe as I took in all the artifacts from Roman sarcophagi to silver sculpture to Byzantine works from Italy and Turkey to German Late Gothic sculptures. The mixture of different kinds of art from various periods gave the museum a dynamic quality and unique character.

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





















Bitonto Diary



Once again, I was overwhelmed by the magical beauty of a Romanesque cathedral in one of Puglia’s charming towns – this time in Bitonto at the Cathedral of Saint Valentine. Dubbed “the City of Olives” for its abundance of olive groves in the vicinity, Bitonto is the largest single producer of olive oil in the country. As a Greek colony, it had its own mint. Among the intriguing symbols displayed on coins were those indicating a Mediterranean culture: an owl with an olive branch, a seashell, a crab, an ear of wheat, lightning and the head of goddess Athena. In the Middle Ages, the Bitonto cattle market was so famous that Boccaccio included it in one of his Decameron tales. It was the site of a famous battle during the War of Polish Succession. In 1734 Spanish soldiers celebrated a victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Bitonto. This outcome clinched the Kingdom of Naples for the Bourbons.




Built from 1175 to 1200, the cathedral is modelled after Bari’s Basilica of Saint Nicholas, which I saw on my first day in the region. The façade of the Bitonto cathedral was breathtaking, especially the rose window surrounded by lions perched on columns and griffins. Divided into three parts with three portals, the west façade was riveting. The central portal was adorned with scenes from the Old Testament. The main portal’s lintel and lunette showed off scenes from the Revelation. The cathedral also featured six elegant arcades. The reliefs of the tympanum also left me speechless.



The interior of this Romanesque structure was based on a Latin cross plan. The sculpture was impressive, especially the carving on the ambo from 1229. The combination pulpit-lectern had been made using a special encrusting technique. It certainly was an Apulian masterpiece.





What fascinated me about this cathedral in particular was that it really was three churches – the cathedral, a pre-Romanesque structure underneath that had been in use during the 11th century and a Paleochristian basilica, perhaps from the 9th or 10th century, below that. It could hardly believe that the foundations and fresco fragments of the Christian church still existed. A mosaic of a griffin dominated the crypt, where the pre-Romanesque church had stood. The artistic masterpiece had once been located in a tower. I was astounded at how well-preserved the mosaic was. In awe, I stared at the detailed representation.




Seeing three churches in one structure made the history come alive. History seeped into my soul. Each Romanesque church I entered in Puglia allowed me to feel the history, but, in Bitonto, the feeling was even stronger.



There is more to see in Bitonto than just the cathedral. Sylos Sabini Palace boasts of a Gothic-Catalan portal and a Renaissance loggia; the Gothic Church of St. Francis of Assisi has an impressive interior and the Abbey of St. Leo hails from the 9th century. Though modest in size, Bitonto consists of seven towers and nearly 60 churches, chapels and religious institutions. For over 300 years, a Holy Week procession enacting the moments of Christ’s Passion has drawn visitors from Italy and abroad. It also has an opera and a jazz festival. It was a pity we did not have time to see everything, but, even if you just have time to see the cathedral, you are certain not to be disappointed. The Cathedral of Saint Valentine ranks as one of the most impressive cathedrals I have ever seen.



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

Molfetta Diary


While traveling with a group through Puglia, we stopped in Molfetta for lunch. I was famished, so I could not spend all my time exploring this gem on the Adriatic. What I did see, though, impressed me a great deal. I meandered through the streets of the old town and gazed at the remarkable exterior of the Cathedral of San Corrado, for instance.


The city can trace its roots at least as far back as the Neolithic age. In 4 BC it was a small fishing port. During the 10th century, the city was first mentioned in writing as Melphi. During the Crusades, the town flourished and greatly expanded. Pilgrims stopped in the city on their way to holy destinations. One of these pilgrims, Conrad of Bavaria, was in awe of the city. He became San Corrado, the saint who protects the city. During the 12th century, the town became a bishop’s seat. The port town also played a significant role in trade. Today it is one of the biggest ports on the Adriatic.



The port dotted with small boats was so tranquil and peaceful. I looked out at the sea and felt at peace with myself and with the world. I was in the midst of making a difficult work-related decision. Gazing at the boat-speckled sea, I knew that, by the end of the trip, my head would be clear, and I would be able to do the right thing, to embark on the path that was best for me.


The Cathedral of Saint Corrado, in Apulian Romanesque style, dates back to 1150, though it was not completed until the 13th century. The edifice has three domes of different heights. It is an example of a basilica model with contracted transepts. There are two bell towers, each 20 meters (66 feet) high. We learned about the interior, even though we could not go inside. The cathedral features three naves divided by four cross-shaped pillars. Round arches connect the pillars. Rich sculptural adornment abounds. A precious stone relief of Christ is situated above the main altar. Much of the decoration hails from the 16th century.


Once again, the Apulian-Romanesque style took my breath away. I loved how the austerity of the exterior exuded such remarkable beauty. Before this trip, I had liked the Romanesque style, but it certainly had not been one of my favorites. During my time in Puglia, I gained a deep appreciation for the style that I had once thought to be too severe. During this vacation, I found myself in awe of every cathedral we saw.


The Cathedral of Saint Corrado is not the only cathedral in the city. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption hails from the 17th century and has a splendid Baroque façade. The single hall lined with side chapels features exquisite paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Town Hall is also to be admired, situated in a 16th century palace.


I recalled a story I had heard from my friend who lives in Italy. A lighthouse was built off Molfetta in 1853 to help ships navigate along the coast. A new wharf was constructed especially for this lighthouse, but, due to stormy winds, it caused an unexpectedly strong current. Many lives and vessels met tragic fates. Then, in 1857, the city built a lighthouse on the opposite (west) side of the harbor. It became the first lighthouse on the Adriatic.



After eating a delicious lunch of spaghetti with tomatoes, I wandered down the narrow, charming streets of the old section. Some dwellings were being repaired; I saw some scaffolding along the way. I particularly liked the bright green shutters on one building and laundry fluttering in the gentle breeze.


Molfetta was a place I would definitely have to visit again. It was one of the many stops that filled me with awe and wonder. Molfetta certainly was a place I would never forget.

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



Lobkowicz Palace Diary

It was one of those places I had been meaning to visit for a long time, but I had just never gotten around to it. Tomorrow. . .this week. . .next week. . .I would always stay home and write instead of visiting the Lobkowicz Palace. Friends and family raved about the museum. In August of 2015, I finally went to check out the Lobkowicz Museum, which opened in 2007.

The beginning of the audio guide tour had me hooked. William Lobkowicz, the current owner of the palace, did most of the narrating. His grandfather Max was married to a British citizen, Gillian. When World War I started, Max had been a very affluent man. During World War II he served as ambassador of the Czech government in exile in London. He was fervently against the Nazis and was an avid supporter of the democratic First Republic of Czechoslovakia. The Nazis disliked Max not only for his anti-Nazi activities but also because he had a British wife. After the Communists took control of the country in 1948, Max found himself trapped in Czechoslovakia. His wife sent him a letter from London, telling him she was gravely ill. She wasn’t, but the ploy worked. The Communists gave Max two days to visit her. With only his coat and the clothes he was wearing, Max fled from his homeland to join his wife in London. He left behind 13 castles. William’s father had been 10 years old at the time and had been sent to live in the USA.

Max Lobkowicz from lobkowicz-palace.com

Max Lobkowicz from lobkowicz-palace.com

What a story! It sounded like something out of a spy novel or film! It must have been so difficult to leave so much property and so many possessions behind. Thirteen castles! It must have been heartwrenching.

Then I found myself in a large room full of family portraits, starting with those of nobility from the house of Pernštejn. The portraits were not merely faces staring at me. Each portrait told a story about an individual thanks to the information on the audio guide. The people came alive as I listened to intriguing facts about their lives. When I was looking at the Pernštejns, I fondly recalled my visits to Pernštejn Castle in Moravia. It was one of my all-time favorites. I wonder if that had been one of the 13 castles grandfather Max left behind.
Vratislav Pernštejn, born in 1530, held the distinction of being the first Czech to receive the Order of the Golden Fleece, achieving this feat at the tender age of 25. Later, many more Lobkowiczs would be honored with the award. The Lobkowicz clan was related to King Philip II of Spain, whose tenure on the throne lasted 40 years. His territories even included Central America, the Caribbean and parts of what is today the USA. At one time he was even the King of England. Nicknamed “Philip the Prudent,” he was the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Infanta Isabella of Portugal. The Philippine Islands were named after him. He founded the first trans-Pacific trade route between America and Asia. He also made sure the Ottomans would no longer be a formidable enemy of his lands. He also helped his empire get back on its feet in times of financial crises.
I wished I could trace my family tree back so many centuries. I knew that I was of Slovak heritage on one side of the family, had a grandmother of Czech ancestry and a grandfather of Scottish origin, but I did not know any details. My ancestors from Moravia were named Mareš, a common Czech surname. My grandmother’s maiden name had been Šimánek, also a common name. I think my decision to move to Prague had something to do with filling up a vast emptiness about my family’s past, wondering who my ancestors were and what they were like. In Prague I felt in touch with a past I had never known, and that was one of the reasons Prague felt like home.

I was reminded of a Diego Velázquez exhibition I had seen in Vienna about a year ago when I gazed at the portrait of Infanta Margarita, then a four-year old member of the Spanish royal family. I recognized her from Velázquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas. While Margarita was immortalized in portraiture, she did not enjoy a long life. She died during childbirth when she was only 22 years old.

I found the Lobkowicz’s involvement in the Defenestration of Prague fascinating. One painting showed the historical event, when Protestant nobles revolted against the Catholics and threw two Catholic ministers and a secretary out a window. This event triggered the Thirty Years’ War. Luckily, the three fell onto a pile of dung and did not die. Two of them took refuge in Lobkowicz Palace. According to legend, Polyxana Lobkowicz hid them under her skirts.
In the next room I was surrounded by fine porcelain. I saw majolica service from Lombardy picturing a calming landscape of coastal scenes with mountains. It dated back to the 17th century and was made in Italy. I was also enamored by service from Delft, dating back to the late 17th century. I had always been fond of porcelain made in Delft.

The painting in the next room captivated me. Lucas Cranach the Elder had rendered Mary and the Christ child in a painting hailing from 1520. Saint Catherine and Saint Barbara also made appearances. I found out that Ferdinand Lobkowicz had been an avid art collector.
In a separate space stood a processional reliquary cross, Romanesque in style. Hailing from north Germany in the beginning of the 12th century, it was made of gilded copper and adorned with 30 crystal cabochons. I couldn’t believe I was looking at something that ancient and in such good condition. Whenever I saw Romanesque churches, for instance, I could not believe I was standing in a structure built so many centuries ago. I briefly thought back to the Romanesque church with the fascinating façade in Regensburg.

Then I entered a room filled with weapons and knights’ armor. While I was impressed that the Lobkowiczs possessed such a superb armory, weapons were certainly not my cup of tea. I moved on and soon found myself surrounded by musical instruments, especially violins. I love classical music, and the room calmed me while the armory had made me anxious.

I stared for some minutes at the original score of Part III of the Messiah by Handel as arranged by Mozart. I also saw original scores by Beethoven and Mozart, two of my favorites. The first printed edition, dating from 1800, of the score for the oratorio of The Creation by Haydn also caught my attention. My mind wandered back to those classical music classes at Smith College, where I first became enamored with the above-mentioned composers and many more. An entire new world had opened up for me. I also spent some time gazing at the violins and clarinets, wishing I could play an instrument. I had taken beginners’ piano lessons in college for a year, but that was it. In college I always dreamed of being able to play an instrument well enough to major in music. But it had been just a dream. I wasn’t talented enough, and I had concentrated on my writing.

Haymaking by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 16th century. Photo from www.wga.hu

Haymaking by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 16th century. Photo from http://www.wga.hu

Soon I set my eyes on one of my all-time favorite paintings by my favorite artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It was his rendition of Haymaking, one of only six panels representing the 12 months of the year. Each panel represented two months. Haymaking depicted June and July. I remembered gaping at the Bruegel collection in Vienna’s Kunsthistoriches Museum, where I had admired The Gloomy Day (Early Spring), The Return of the Herd (Autumn) and the Hunters in the Snow (Winter.) Bruegel’s paintings of the seasons had played a significant role in Western art. It was the first time that landscape was the main subject of the painting. Before, landscape had been utilized as a backdrop for religious figures. I admired how nature played a role in the lives of the people depicted in the paintings. Their daily activities were dictated by the seasons. I loved the way Bruegel depicted the common man in everyday activities and put so many details in his paintings. The landscape was stunning and idyllic, too.

The Croll Room was breathtaking. Carl Robert Croll had painted over 50 works for Ferdinand Joseph Lobkowicz during six years in the 1840s. I recognized Jezeří Castle, which the Lobkowiczs sold to the Czech state in 1996. I had visited Jezeří some years ago, but the chateau was in need of major reconstruction. Its location on a cliff was romantic, but restoring the interiors was going to take a lot of time. I wondered how far the restoration work had come during the past years. I also recognized Roudnice Chateau, shown Italian Baroque style from reconstruction that took place from 1653 to 1677. I had been to the art gallery at Roudnice Chateau some years ago, but most of the chateau was under reconstruction. Nelahozeves, also seen here, was one of my favorite chateaus due to its impressive art collection. Not far from Prague, I always recommended that visitors take a day trip there. I had even written a post about it for my blog.

City of London from River Thames with St. Paul's Cathedral on Lord Mayor's Day by Canaletto

City of London from River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day by Canaletto, Photo from http://www.wikiart.com

Then I saw what have to be two of the most beautiful paintings in the world – two views of London by Antonio Canaletto. I loved Canaletto’s work because he brought out the atmosphere of the place he was painting. I could really feel as if I were looking at London and the Thames in his City of London from River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day from 1748 and in The River Thames Looking Toward Westminster from Lambeth from 1746-47. I recalled the extensive Canaletto exhibition I had seen in Aix-en-Provence during June. I loved the details of the boats and sails.
On the first floor I saw a portrait of Princess Ernestine Lobkowicz clad in brilliant red and portraits painted by the princess in the 17th century. I wondered how many female portrait painters there had been in the 17th century. The Bird Room featured pictures of birds made with real feathers. On the audio guide William’s wife, Alexandra Lobkowicz, mentioned that she had found the pictures infested with insects and that they took almost a year to conserve. In the Dog Room I focused on a painting of two dogs proudly seated on velvet cushions in 1700. They looked so spoiled with their luxurious light blue and gold collars. Then again, I had always spoiled my cats.
The Firanesi Room was filled with engravings of ancient and modern Rome, one of my favorite cities in the world. I recalled showing my parents the Colosseum, one of my most treasured memories of time spent with my Mom and Dad. The Oriental Room proved a delight as well. It featured nine Chinese embroidered silk panels hailing from the 18th century. I loved Oriental rooms in castles and chateaus. They were so elegant, and the wallpaper was always so beautiful. There was also a Chinese Room in the palace. It had a distinctive Oriental flair and dated from 1900. I loved the bright colors, too.
Meissen porcelain in a Rococo cabinet

Meissen porcelain in a Rococo cabinet

Next came the Rococo Room, where two Rococo display cabinets displayed various objects, such as snuff boxes, exquisite fans and Meissen porcelain. I admired the rich carving of the woodwork on the cabinets. Seeing the Meissen porcelain reminded me of the Museum of Porcelain in Dresden, where there was so much Meissen to behold that it had been overwhelming for me. The superb display cases dated from the 18th century.
An allegorical fresco in the Dining Room

An allegorical fresco in the Dining Room

The Dining Room flaunted portraits and ceiling frescoes that enthralled me. I saw the Allegory of Europe, the Allegory of Asia and the Allegory of America, for instance. Poseidon and Bacchus appeared in several frescoes. I loved ceiling frescoes in chateaus, especially ones with mythological figures. The elderly attendant in the room described the various frescoes to me enthusiastically. It was nice to meet a museum attendant proud of the place where she was working.
I punched in a number on the audio guide and listened to how the Lobkowiczs watched the Berlin Wall fall and the Velvet Revolution unfold on television. They returned to Czechoslovakia in 1990 and wanted to make the country their home. Under the first law of restitution, the Lobkowiczs had less than a year to find all the objects that belonged to their family and to make a list of them. It certainly had not been an easy process, but, luckily it had a happy ending.

At the end of the tour I walked by a small concert hall. It would be delightful to attend a concert in such an intimate space in a lavish palace. I would have to come back again to go to a concert. Classical music had played a role in the family history, so perhaps it was only fitting that they had a space for concerts.
I was very impressed with both the palace and the narration on the audio guide. Lobkowicz Palace had a bit of everything – exceptional artwork from various centuries, impressive furnishings, ceiling frescoes, porcelain, musical instruments, original musical scores, weaponry and of course, portraits. I liked the variety of furnishings and pieces of art that I was able to see from various eras – a Romanesque processional reliquary cross and Rococo display cases, for instance. And the family history was so intriguing! What an ordeal William Lobkowicz’s grandfather had gone through! His possessions had not been taken away from him once, but twice – first by the Nazis and then by the Communists.

Now that I knew what an intriguing place the palace was, I was sure I would be coming back for another visit and for a concert sometime soon.
Tracy A. Burns is a proofreader, writer and editor in Prague.
NOTE: No photos were allowed on the second floor, only on the first.

Romanesque and Gothic South Bohemia Diary

Albrechtice nad Vltavou church cemetery

Albrechtice nad Vltavou church cemetery

I went on another tour with the Czech travel agency arsviva at the beginning of May in 2014, this time concentrating on Romanesque and Gothic architecture in south Bohemia. We would explore many churches in villages, and I would finally see more than the bus station in Písek. After so many years in the country, I had seen all the most popular sights. I yearned always to always something new, something that would give me a new perspective on life and art, and I thought that traveling to Romanesque and Gothic churches in villages and visiting Gothic castles would be just the way to do that.
First we stopped in the village of Mirotice, which happens to have two main squares. Most villages have only one. The bus stopped across from the new town hall, which was only about 50 years old. We walked to St. Giles’ Church, Romanesque in style. There are not many churches in south Bohemia with Romanesque features. It hailed from the middle of the 12th century. I admired the lattice Romanesque window on the tower.

St. Giles' Church, Mirotice

St. Giles’ Church, Mirotice

The church had an intriguing past. In 1497 the worshippers had been of the Utraquist faith, who had been Hussites asserting that both the bread and wine should be given to worshippers during the Eucharist, but from 1664 to 1694 Catholics had prayed there. I recalled that the Utraquist branch of Hussites had triumphed over the radical Hussites during the 15th century Hussite wars.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to go inside (we would visit the interiors of most of the churches on our itinerary, though, thanks to our guide), but a Baroque makeover occurred in 1694. PseudoRomanesque reconstruction followed, from 1870 to 1872. I loved seeing elements of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. It amazed me how Romanesque and Gothic elements could survive so many centuries, through all the trials and tribulations of Czech history.
Then we meandered along some narrow cobblestone streets to a museum on the site of the former building where artist Mikuláš Aleš had been born. Aleš had made a name for himself as one of the top 19th century Czech painters and illustrators, among other accomplishments. It fascinated me that in such a small village there could be any intriguing sights, let alone two. I felt as if the village was revealing its secrets to me.

The museum on the site where Mikuláš Aleš was born

The museum on the site where Mikuláš Aleš was born

The next church we visited was dramatically perched on a hill by itself rather than in the midst of a village. The Church of Saint James the Greater in Čížová boasted a ground plan with early Gothic masonry and Late Gothic supporting pillars. It had never had a tower, which was an oddity. Baroque decoration greeted visitors inside, but we did not have the chance to see this interior. The churches we were visiting were not open for the general public. It was difficult to obtain official permission, so that someone would open them for us. Just seeing the exterior was breathtaking enough. And later we would see many interiors.
There is another intriguing feature of the church as well. The tombstones of Knight Ludvík Lorecký and his two sons, who were murdered by serfs in 1571, are in the church. I wondered if the serfs had revolted because they were hungry or overworked. I wondered who the knight and his sons were. Did they hail from this village or did they just happen to die here? How did Lorecký become a knight? Were his two sons knights, too? How old were they when they died? I fascinated me how so many questions could arise from a church in such a small town.

The Church of St. James the Greater in Čížová

The Church of St. James the Greater in Čížová

I was very excited about the next stop, the town of Písek, where I had only been at the bus station. For many years I had wanted to explore Písek, but I just never had the time or had never made the time. Actually, I had been under the impression that there was not much to see except for the Stone Bridge that was the oldest bridge in the country, even older than the Charles Bridge in Prague. In Central Europe only Regensburg’s bridge was older. I fondly recalled my several days discovering stunning medieval architecture and visiting a lavish palace in Regensburg not that long ago.
Písek’s history may go back to the 12th century. There was a castle in Písek, built by Czech King Wenceslas (Václav) I, before the middle of the 13th century. The town was first mentioned in writing during 1243. During the Middle Ages, in the 14th century, Písek prospered because gold was found there. Wenceslas’ son Přemysl Otakar II continued to expand the town during the 13th century, and Písek also played a significant role in the Czech lands under Charles IV’s rule during the 14th century. Czech kings often stayed in Písek.
In the 15th century, during the Hussite wars which were fought between various branches of Hussites, with monarchs helping out the moderate Hussites, Písek was controlled by the Hussites, followers of Bohemian priest and reformer Jan Hus who were battling against the moderate Hussites and other world powers, until 1452. The town flourished during the 16th century, becoming very wealthy.
During the Bohemian Revolt from 1618 to 1621, the town supported the Protestants, who lost to the Catholics, so Písek was severely punished. (Some of the Protestant nobles had protested when the staunchly Catholic Ferdinand of Styria became King of Bohemia, triggering the revolt.)

Buildings on a square in Písek

Buildings on a square in Písek

The 18th century brought the plague while during the 19th century there were more positive developments, namely the National Revival, a cultural movement promoting the Czech language, Czech culture and Czech nationalism. More Czech cultural groups and Czech schools were built during that golden age.
Písek focused on industrialization during the second half of the 19th century and even holds the honor of being the first Czech town with permanently installed electric public lighting. While Písek experienced rosy days during the democratic First Republic, the tragic era of Nazi rule followed. On May 6, 1945, the US army liberated Písek. Under Communism factories dotted the town. Písek was badly damaged during the 2002 floods that ravaged the country.

Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

First, we visited the deanery’s Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, which hails from the second half of the 13th century and was constructed as a pseudobasilicia with three naves and a five-sided presbytery. Its tower reaches 72 meters. Inside there was an astounding 18th century Baroque chapel dedicated to John of Nepomuk, a Bohemian saint who drowned in the Vltava River, murdered on the order of King Wenceslas in 1393. Above the altar in this chapel I saw vedutas of the town.

The Church of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The Church of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The main altar of the church was Neo-Gothic, from the 19th century. A copy of the statue referred to as the Písek Madonna was located on a side altar. The original, dating back to the 15th century, was stolen in 1975. The pulpit hailed from 1887, and its six-sided cover featured sculptures of five angels. I noticed that one was holding a harp and another was playing the flute. The organ loft went all the way back to the beginning of the 16th century, while the organ was much younger, dating from the early 20th century. I also admired the richly carved 17th century Baroque candelabras. The pewter baptismal font was in Renaissance style, from 1587.

An altarpiece at the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

An altarpiece at the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary

There were many Gothic characteristics of the church as well. It boasted sturdy, early Gothic ribs and portals. The presbytery, the northern tower and the three naves hailed from the second part of the 13th century, and the sacristy dated from around 1300 while the southern tower could be traced back to 1489. One of the windows was forged in the 13th century. The Gothic wall paintings were spectacular. I could hardly believe that they dated from around 1270. I peered closely at the 13th century rendition of a suffering Christ with figures of angels carrying a cross, nails, scourge and a crown of thorns. The triumphal arch was painted during the first part of the 14th century.

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

The interior of the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Písek

Some participants followed the guide to the castle, but I joined a group of women to get a bite to eat. We found a basement pub with cozy wood paneling. After lunch we walked through the town for a short while. I noticed a small Renaissance church with amazing sgraffito on one of the three main squares. It was called The Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross and had a very short tower. The church was all that was left of a monastery founded at the same time as the town itself. It had been destroyed in 1419 during the Hussite wars, when Písek was full of Hussite supporters. Unfortunately, it was not possible to walk through the church; we had to look through a grille. Still, the interior was more than impressive.

The Renaissance Church on a main square in Písek

The Renaissance Church on a main square in Písek

The Plague Column nearby hailed from 1715 and was crowned by a statue of the Virgin Mary with a total of nine saints making appearances. The town hall was Late Baroque, built from 1740 to 1750. We did not have much time before we had to meet at the Holy Trinity Church in the cemetery park, but we did get a quick look at the medieval castle, now a museum with a variety of exhibits. I tried to imagine what it must have been like when, so many centuries ago, King John the Blind (Jan Lucemberský) declared Písek a free royal town at this very castle. (By the way, there was nothing wrong with John the Blind’s sight. The term “the blind” refers to “fighting blindly” or not giving up.)

The castle in Písek

The castle in Písek

We had time to walk through the exhibition about the Písek countryside during the 19th century and then went downstairs to the space with the larger-than-life portraits of Czech rulers. Oddly enough, the painter had depicted all the Czech leaders with the same serious expression, nose and chin. The original sculptural groupings from the Stone Bridge were kept here as well. I had trouble taking my eyes off them. They were astounding.

Statuary on the Stone Bridge in Písek

Statuary on the Stone Bridge in Písek

A statue on the Stone Bridge in Písek

A statue on the Stone Bridge in Písek

Then we left the museum and crossed the Stone Bridge over the Otava River. The oldest bridge in the country was like a miniature Charles Bridge with evocative statuary. The town cemetery had been founded in 1549, and the deceased were buried there until 1950. It was changed into a park during 1975. The Holy Trinity Church, mostly used for concerts, had a very different sort of interior than the others we had visited. It was decorated with brightly colored, abstract wall hangings and a new organ, donated by the 20th century world traveler and author, Jiří Hanzelka, who was best known for his travels to Africa and South America. There was also a remarkable pulpit with intarsia.

The ceiling of the church

The ceiling of the Holy Trinity Church

The holy place had become a concert and exhibition hall during the 1980s as the Communists had stripped it of its Renaissance identity, destroying the main altar and other furnishings, including the Renaissance organ loft. This destruction was just one example of the Communists’ lack of respect for religion and art. I am so glad I had not had to live through totalitarianism. Later, thankfully, the church’s Renaissance wall paintings had been restored.

The pulpit with intarsia in the Holy Trinity Church

The pulpit with intarsia in the Holy Trinity Church

In the bell tower we saw tombstones from the 1300s. Renowned Czech historian August Sedláček was buried in this cemetery, too. He compiled the 15-volume work Castles, Chateaus and Fortresses in the Czech lands, which was published at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
The next stop was Putim, probably most famous for being mentioned in Jaroslav Hašek’s mammoth, early 20th century, anti-militaristic novel, The Good Soldier Švejk, featuring soldier Josef Švejk, who exhibits passive resistance and may or may not be an idiot. Scenes from the 1957 film based on Hašek’s satirical masterpiece set during World War I in the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been shot in this town that was founded in 1205.

The church in Putim

St. Lawrence’s Church in Putim

But that was not Putim’s only claim to fame. The 1908 film Jan Cimbura was based on the life of a Putim farmer by the same name. I saw his modest but impressive grave from 1898. The movie, adapted from a novel by Catholic priest Jindřich Šimon Baar, takes place from 1848 to 1898, examining 50 years of the life of a good Christian and farmer in south Bohemia.

Jan Cimbura's grave in Putim

Jan Cimbura’s grave in Putim

In St. Lawrence’s Church I admired a Gothic window, wooden Gothic vaulting, Gothic masonry and a 13th century portal. The furnishings were much younger, though. The main altar was probably created around 1650, and the other parts of the interior most likely were made around 1700. The impressive tombstones inside the church dated from approximately 1600. One of the bells, called St. Andrew, was original and hailed from 1553.
This church had a characteristic that I had never seen anywhere else. It had two main altars with different seating arrangements for each altar. It fascinated me how it appeared to be two churches built into one. I read that one part of the church had been for Catholics while the other part had been designed for Utraquists, It certainly had an intriguing ground plan.

The interior of St. Lawrence's Church

The interior of St. Lawrence’s Church

St. Giles’ Church in Heřmaň also boasted Early Gothic construction. The western tower dated back to the beginning of the Middle Ages. While the village was first mentioned in writing during 1227, the church was founded in 1254 as it was originally late Romanesque. The furnishings were much younger, though. The interior was Baroque from 1720 to 1721. Two elegant white columns framed the painting at the main altar, Classicist in style, dating from the 1800s.

The pulpit in St. Giles' Church in Heřmaň

The pulpit in St. Giles’ Church in Heřmaň

St. Giles' Church in Heřmaň

St. Giles’ Church in Heřmaň

The organ of St. Giles' Church

The organ of St. Giles’ Church

Then our itinerary took us to the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec, which also had experienced a Romanesque birth. On what is now the sacristy was originally a Romanesque church with apse from the 11th century. There was a Gothic window, too. What impressed me most were the Gothic frescoes on the walls and the vaulting of the sacristy. They dated from 1340 to 1350. In the presbytery Hell was pictured with a burning tower and the devil, and Heaven made an appearance, too. On the north side the life of Saint Catherine was depicted. I loved the stars and angels on the ceiling.

The interior of the church in Myšenec

The interior of the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec

Gothic paintings in the Church of Saint Havel

Gothic paintings in the Church of Saint Havel

In the small sacristy there were more Gothic wall paintings. The figure of a prophet had been rendered on an arch. On part of one wall there was a pictorial narrative of the legend of Saint Markéta along with the figure of the devil. Arcades and pillars appeared in the renditions, too. Our guide, who had extensive knowledge of Gothic and Romanesque architecture, explained that the paintings in the sacristy had not been created by the same painter who decorated the presbytery. I wondered if there were even more than two contributors to the artwork, who they had been and how they had come about to decorating the church’s interior.

Gothic wall painting at the Church of Saint Havel

Gothic wall painting at the Church of Saint Havel

That was not all there was to see in Myšenec. Between homes 54 and 8, we gazed at the remnants of a castle and the arch of a gate. The castle had been established by the Přemysl dynasty in the 13th century. I wondered what it would be like to have part of a 13th century castle ruin joined to one’s modern house. It reminded me that history was so connected with the present and how ancient history made up such an important part of each village’s identity. It was fascinating how the two different architectural styles of modern and Gothic played off each other. The Gothic walls and arch looked like an odd extension of the house. They were certainly unique.

Gothic painting in the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec

Gothic painting in the Church of Saint Havel in Myšenec

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Albrechtice nad Vltavou was a real gem, perhaps my favorite, if it was possible for me to choose one sight over the others. The church was originally Romanesque from the 12th century and still boasted Romanesque masonry. The tower was Romanesque in style, too. The Romanesque wall painting inside was incredible, dating from 1200 or earlier. On the triumphant arch there were frescoes of The Last Judgment with Hell and Paradise. You could see pictures of Christ rising from the dead. The wall painting was restored during the Nazi Occupation, from 1941 to 1942. I hadn’t been aware that any reconstruction occurred in churches during the Protectorate. There were small, exquisite Gothic paintings in the church, too.

The wall and ceiling painting in Albrechtice

The wall and ceiling painting in Albrechtice

But that was not all the church had to offer. It was surrounded by 85 small chapels behind each gravestone. Each one was unique. They jumped out at the viewer with their bright colors and vitality. Parish priest Vít Cíza, who served there from 1819 to 1854, had had the innovative chapels built. The first chapels were erected in 1841 and took five years to complete. Renovation took place in the middle of the 19th century. I had never seen a cemetery that actually looked cheerful. By erecting these chapels, it was as the cemetery was celebrating the lives and the individuality of the people rather than merely mourning their loss. This was the first time I had visited a cemetery and had not been depressed.

The murals at Albrechtice

The chapels at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Albrechtice

The small chapels at Albrechtice

The small chapels at Albrechtice

Next we visited Zvíkov Castle, which I had seen several times during my long-time stay in the Czech lands. I was glad to have the opportunity to visit it again as I had not been there for at least 10 years. Like the castle in Písek, Zvíkov had a royal palace, four wings and an inner arcade in the courtyard. The crown jewels were even stored there until Karlštejn Castle was finished under Emperor Charles IV’s rule during the middle of the 14th century.

The arcades in the inner courtyard of Zvíkov Castle

The arcades in the inner courtyard of Zvíkov Castle

Set on an island, Zvíkov was first mentioned in writing during 1234. King Wenceslas (Václav) I started to build it in the first part of the 13th century. Construction on the Royal Palace began around 1250. Emperor Charles IV had it renovated during the 14th century. After that there were several owners, including the notable Rožmberk and Švamberk clans. Then came darker days. It was conquered during the Thirty Years’ War, and then Zvíkov was used as a warehouse. It was not until the Schwarzenbergs took control of it in 1719 that renovations occurred. In the 19th century the castle became dilapidated again, but reconstruction in 1880 put Zvíkov back on the Czech castle map.

The Gothic paintings in St. Wenceslas Chapel

The Gothic paintings in St. Wenceslas Chapel

Wall painting at St. Wenceslas Chapel

Wall painting at St. Wenceslas Chapel

I was most mesmerized by the bright, vibrant Gothic wall paintings in Saint Wenceslas Chapel. They dated from 1480 to 1500. There were also exquisite 15th century frescoes in the Dance Hall. They showed a festive, dancing scene below pictures of the four electors of the emperor, including the Czech king. I admired the Lombard chairs, seating with high decorated backs, in the Knights’ Room. That furniture hailed from Renaissance days, and I thought it looked so distinguished. The Gothic altar was also very impressive.

A Gothic altar at Zvíkov Castle

A Gothic altar at Zvíkov Castle

The 15th century wall painting in the Dance Hall

The 15th century wall painting in the Dance Hall

Our last stop was the Holy Trinity Church in Čimelice, which had Gothic masonry but was furnished in the Baroque style of the 18th century. However, the stunning Gothic Madonna on a side altar dated from the second half of the 15th century. The ceiling was from the Renaissance era, resembling the ceiling of the cemetery church in Písek. The tower had been erected in Empire style during 1821. The altars and sculpture hailed from the second half of the 18th century. The Baroque Chapel of Saint Barbara was stunning, going all the way back to the first half of the 18th century. Then we were in for a real treat. The man in charge of the church played the 15th century organ for us. Its rich, colorful sound filled the holy space.

The main altar in Čimelice

The main altar in Čimelice

The Gothic Madonna in Čimelice

The Gothic Madonna at the Holy Trinity Church in Čimelice

The ceiling in Čimelice

The ceiling at the Holy Trinity Church in Čimelice

We also saw a chateau and pond belonging to the Schwarzenbergs, but the chateau had not been restored or was not open the public. The red and yellow colors of the façade reminded me of the magnificent exterior of Dobříš Chateau near Prague.
I had found this tour fascinating. I had learned so much about the Czech lands as well as about Romanesque and Gothic architecture and art, thanks to our remarkable guide, who was so knowledgeable and well-organized. I had never realized that villages had so much history. Each village had its own character, its own identity, its own story to tell. It amazed me that the history of these villages was rooted in Romanesque or Gothic eras. I have lived in the Czech lands for more than 20 years, and it still is difficult for me to fathom that Gothic and Romanesque art and architecture could survive so many centuries, so much turbulent history, so many wars.

The chateau in Čimelice

The chateau in Čimelice

During the tour I was most impressed with the Gothic wall paintings, especially in Zvíkov’s Saint Wenceslas Chapel, in Myšenec and in Albrechtice nad Vltavou. I also was enamored by the stunning arcades and vaulting at Zvíkov Castle. I was enthralled with the stunning arcade chapels on the cemetery walls at Albrechtice. I could not believe that a cemetery could be so full of life. I also was glad that I had seen parts of Písek other than the bus station. Písek really was a charming town.

A Madonna statue in Myšenec

A Madonna statue in Myšenec

During my many years in the country, I had seen the major castles and sights in south Bohemia – Hluboká nad Vltavou Chateau, Český Krumlov Chateau, Třeboň Chateau, Vyšší Brod and Zlatá koruna monasteries and others. But I had never explored the villages. I had never even thought they were worth exploring, to tell the truth. Now I knew that every nook and cranny of the country had its own rich history, its own secrets to reveal.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Arcades at Zvíkov Castle

Arcades at Zvíkov Castle