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.

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