A little over an hour on a fast train and a ten-minute walk was all it took to get to Karlova Koruna Chateau, which I had seen for the first time about 10 years ago. It was high time for a return visit.
Karlova Koruna Chateau, in English “Charles’ Crown,” is named in honor of Emperor Charles IV who visited there after his coronation in Prague during 1723. (He would visit a second time as well.) It was constructed for František Ferdinand Kinský from 1721 to 1723. During the Thirty Years’ War the imperial army, the Saxons and the Swedes took turns occupying it. When the castle was inherited by Václav Norbert Oktavián Kinský, he made it his main residence and built greenhouses there. This count was responsible for obtaining the services of architect Jan Santini Aichel and builder František Maxmilian Kaňka in 1721, when construction on the chateau began.
I was a big fan of Santini’s architecture, and this was no exception. I had even toured Santini’s dazzling structures in east Bohemia and Moravia earlier in 2015. The architectural design of the building was unique. I enthusiastically took snapshots. In the middle there are two stories in a cylindrical shape, and three one-floor wings are connected to them. Both floors divide into 10 main areas. I saw three-layered gables above a cornice. The chateau had a central composition, which reminded me of the Shrine of St. John of Nepomuk on Green Mountain (Zelená hora). Karlova Koruna also brought to mind the Gothic Parish Church of Saint Wenceslas in Zvole, in the Vysočina region, which was reconstructed by Santini from 1713 to 1717. I recalled my visit there in October. Its roof was shaped as a crown in honor of the Czech patron saint Wenceslas.
I had always been enthralled with Santini’s Baroque Gothic style. I loved Santini’s penchant for mathematical symbolism and geometric forms. I thought his designs were rational yet radical. The outbuildings dated from the early 20th century, and the orangerie was designed in Empire style during the 19th century. The nearby Chapel of Saint John the Baptist had a hexagonal shape, but it was not possible to go inside.
I was familiar with some of Kaňka’s designs in Prague and outside the capital city.
Like Santini the builder Kaňka, who also worked as an architect, excelled at his field. He had reconstructed many palaces, chateaus and churches, mostly in Bohemia. One of his most famous works was Konopiště Chateau, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had lived. In the early 18th century he designed parts of the Clementinum, including the Mirror Chapel, where I had been to many concerts had viewed illuminated manuscripts that had been on temporary display. He also did renovation work on Prague’s Karolinum. He even worked on St. Vitus’ Cathedral. I knew that he had built Loučeň Chateau, which I had recently visited.
I brushed up my knowledge of the Kinský family history in Chlumec. General František Josef Kinský, who became a colonel at age 29, greatly influenced the development of hunting and horsebreeding at the chateau during the 18th century. He began to have hunts called in Czech “parforsní hony,” taken from the French expression “par force.” In this type of hunting, the animal was hunted until it was exhausted and then killed. However, after the Napoleonic Wars, in 1836, a new type of hunting, inspired by the British, came about at Chlumec, thanks to Oktavián Kinský. This type of hunting did not involve killing the animal, which was usually a deer. The rider on horseback would have to overcome natural barriers to catch the deer. Then it was returned to the forest.
The first long steeplechase took place in Chlumec in 1846, a mere nine years after the first one ever in Liverpool. The famous Pardubice steeplechase has its roots in Chlumec. Zdeňko Radslav Kinský won the Big Pardubice steeplechase. And he would not be the last Kinský to nab first place there. Rudolf and Karel Kinský also triumphed at the race. The niece of Oktavián Kinsky, Lata Brandisová, was the first woman to win this event, in 1937. Count Karel Kinský even won the Grand National race at Aintree, England in 1883. Many famous Kinský horses participated in this race.
Oktavián Kinský also had played a significant role in Karlova Koruna’s history. He was a talented horse breeder. He had bred a unique gold-colored horse that he called isabela but would be later referred to as the Kinský breed of horse. It was the best horse for sport in Europe, lauded for its talent at steeplechasing, fox hunting and show jumping. While many are gold-colored, others have bay or chestnut hues. Otkavián started his own studbook, which is still in use today. Another unique breed at Chlumec was the dun horse or buckskin.
When Zdeňko Radslav inherited the property, he made Karlova Koruna his main residence. He had two sons, Norbert and Radslav and a daughter named Genilda. He was ardently against the Munich Agreement and in 1939 signed a declaration against the Nazi Occupation. As a result, Karlova Koruna and his other properties were taken over by the Nazi administration. Disaster came to the chateau when a fire broke out in 1943. I saw an article about this disaster in the hallway on the way to the women’s restroom. The roof of the chateau caved in, and the chateau was destroyed. It was rebuilt, though.
Zdeňko’s oldest son, Norbert, was forced to work in the Reich, but he managed to flee and ride his bike back to Bohemia. After some negotiations, he was allowed to work as an interpreter at Orlík Chateau. In February of 1948, Norbert left his motherland for Italy, where he married Anna Marie dal Borgo-Netolická, an Italian who had spent her childhood at Kost Castle, which I had also visited earlier that year. When Norbert’s parents came to Italy for their son’s wedding, the Communists took stripped them of all their property. Penniless, they wound up staying in Pisa. Genilda and her two sons made a daring escape across the border, finding shelter in several refugee camps. Finally, they came to Pugnana, and then Genilda continued to Switzerland.
Only Zdeňko’s son Radslav stayed in Czechoslovakia. He was allowed to work at the State Stud Farm, the famous breeding ground for Kinský horses. He is credited with keeping the Kinský horse alive during the Communist era. The Kinský horse was a dominant breed through the middle of the 20th century. Now, however, Kinský horses are very rare. At the time Radslav lived in a very small and claustrophobic space at Karlova Koruna. In 1958 he was allowed to travel to France and did not return to Czechoslovakia. Instead, he studied at the Sorbonne and later taught in Tunis, Algeria and Morocco. He died in 1975.
His son Dr. Norbert Kinský was given the property back after the Velvet Revolution of 1989. When he became a member of the Knights of Malta, Dr. Norbert Kinský gave his property to his two sons, who established the company Kinský dal Borgo, which now takes care of Karlova Koruna, Kost Castle and other properties. Radslav Kinský lives in Žďár nad Sázavou, where he owns property.
Now it was time for the tour of the interior that I remembered as dazzling from my first visit here so many years ago. In the central area that breaks off into three wings, I saw 12 exquisite armchairs and antler hunting trophies on the wall. Paintings on the walls featured Slovak motifs. Because my ancestry was part Slovak and I had a soft spot in my heart for Slovakia, I was interested in the paintings.
In the first room I saw the Kinský coat-of-arms – three silver boar horns on a red field. I recalled finding my Burns’ family coat-of-arms in Scotland. It featured a boar sticking out its tongue. I liked the Kinský coat-of-arms better. The guide explained to us that the Kinský dynasty could be traced back to the 13th century. I wished I could trace my Czech, Slovak and Scottish ancestors back to the 13th century. I was fascinated by an intarsia-made bureau forged with seven kinds of wood. A French gilded clock also caught my attention. In the next room I saw a Venetian mirror, and I was surprised to find out that it had not been manufactured in Venice. Rather, it hailed from Sloup in the Czech lands.
The Dining Room showed off distinguished portraits of the Kinský family as well as portraits of Emperor Joseph II and Emperor Leopold II. Another space boasted elegant Viennese porcelain. I loved the exquisite chairs, some of which were decorated with green roses on the tops of the backs. Those sporting the roses were designated for women while the ones without floral adornment were meant for men.
The next section was devoted to the Kinskýs’ love of horses as numerous pictures of horses adorned the walls. I saw dun horses bred at the Kinský’s studfarm and English horses. Other renditions showed horses from the Spanish Riding School. Paintings of horses jumping over barriers in steeplechase races also decorated the walls, and the guide proudly told us that the Pardubice steeplechase originated here. Other paintings showed horses and dogs going on hunts. A saddle hailed from World War I. I would never ride a horse because I would be too scared that the animal would bolt. Also, large animals frightened me, even big dogs. I knew many people who loved riding, but my fear did not allow me to share their excitement. I had not been very interested in horseracing or horsebreeding until I came here and learned about the Kinskýs’ passion for horses. They had certainly played a major role in horsebreeding.
In the next room I saw Oktavián Kinský on the clan’s best horse, and other works featured representations of the isabela or Kinský beige horse. Another space featured paintings of hunts. The guide told us about the two types of hunting in which nobles had participated here – the French “par force” style during which the animal was killed and the English style during which the animal was returned to the forest. In paintings I saw the hunters sporting red jackets, black hats and white riding breeches. There was more than art featuring horses here, though. I marveled at a desk made with intarsia, hailing from the 18th or 19th century. A Venetian mirror also caught my eye.
In the third wing we learned about Zdeňko Kinský and his family of nine children while we gazed at black-and-white engravings of horses. One large, long painting got my undivided attention. It showed horses in motion as they raced. The artist had really captured the moment in the way a photograph would. That the painting was made of 12 pieces of deerskin intrigued me.
Bookcases held volumes in various languages, such as Hungarian, French and German, but there were only a few books in Czech. The Kinskýs had spoken numerous languages. Laura Kinská, whose portrait was in the room, had managed to learn nine languages. In the portrait her expression looked gentle, but somehow I sensed an inner sadness as well. Gazing at a portrait of Tereza Kinská, I admired her beauty. It was sad to learn that she had died young and childless. A small painting showed two Kinský women without their wigs or elaborate hairstyles. I had never seen such intimate portraits of female nobility.
In the next room the guide talked about how the Kinský family had been enemies of the Germans during World War II and how the chateau had been used for the Nazi administration. He explained why Norbert Kinský stayed in Italy after coming there for his son’s wedding and said that after Norbert’s wife died, he had joined the Knights of Malta. Since Norbert had to give up his property, he passed it on to his two sons. In one photo Norbert sported his red Knights of Malta uniform.
After touring the three wings, we went upstairs to the Marble Hall. It was so elegant that I was speechless. The two lavish fireplaces were made of real marble, while most of the other marble in the large space was imitation. An exquisite chandelier was 2.2 meters high. The floor was decorated with geometric shapes, and I was reminded of Santini’s fondness for mathematical symbolism.
In the gallery above the Marble Hall I saw pictures of the chateau and its surroundings from the 1930s. I spotted a photo of Karel Schwarzenberg on a horse in 1934, Zdeňko Radslav Kinský in a historic uniform and the Kinský family playing tennis on the courts that were once on chateau grounds. The pictures brought the family to life. They were not merely names spouted out by the tour guide or found in a brochure about the chateau, but rather real people who skied, played tennis and went rowing. The photos of the interiors of the chateau from that time period were also intriguing. I wondered what it would have been like to have lived in Czechoslovakia during the 1930s with the democratic era of the Second Czechoslovak Republic as well as the threats that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party posed.
I ate marinated chicken at the chateau restaurant. I was seated outside, even though it was scorching hot. I recalled the days when I could almost always find my favorite food on Czech menus – it was chicken with peaches and cheese. How many years had it been since I had seen it offered at a restaurant? After lunch I went for a stroll in the park with its exotic species of woody plants and then wanted to read on a bench, but it was sweltering hot. I wound up going back to Prague in an uncomfortably hot train. Luckily, it was not a long ride back to the city I considered home. When I set foot in Prague’s main station, I smiled. Despite the heat and humidity, I had had a superb day and had a new appreciation for horseracing and horsebreeding.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.