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.







Hrubý Rohozec Chateau Diary

Hruby Rohozec Tower 2

I usually visit chateaus and castles once every 10 years, but, after a seven-year interval, my trip to the north Bohemian chateau of Hrubý Rohozec was long overdo. Between 2005 and 2017, I have visited Hrubý Rohozec four times. Each time I learn so much more than merely the style of furniture in each room and the names of former owners. Every castle or chateau has its story to tell, and Hrubý Rohozec’s tales are some of the most fascinating.

The two one-hour tours are extra special because the many objects and pieces of furniture in the chateau are original thanks to the ingenuity of the last owner, Karel Bedřich Des Fours Walderode. When Bedřich knew he would lose the castle after World War II because he had German citizenship and was a member of the Sudeten German Party, he made an inventory of every item in the chateau. He tied cards to each object. Bedřich stored most of the furniture in the basement. Townspeople kept other pieces safe in their homes.


The chateau became the property of the state after the war, as was stipulated in the Beneš decrees. During Communism the chateau was placed in the second category, which meant it was occasionally open to the public. If a chateau was designated a one, it was frequently open for visitors and served as a cultural landmark. When a chateau was listed with a three, it was bad news. It meant that the interior would be torn apart, and the chateau would be used for other purposes, such as stables, a warehouse or an educational institution.

I went by car with a friend for the 2017 visit, but I recalled the last time, in the fall of 2010, when I had taken the train to the chateau. I had been surprised to find new, comfortable seats installed on the formerly dirty and grimy train. The train had filled up fast. I think I was the only one with a seat reservation, and getting one had been a wise move. The journey took an hour and 45 minutes, and the train was on time. From the station to the chateau, it had been a pleasant half hour walk along sidewalks sprinkled with golden and brown leaves that looked like a kind of autumn mosaic.


Back in 2010, I had arrived at the chateau too early for the next tour, so I had walked a bit in the English park that had originated in the second half of the 17th century and took its current appearance from the 19th century. A blanket of golden and brown leaves had covered the grass. I saw the statues of the five saints, including Saint Václav, Saint Barbara and Saint Marie. I had read that 40 kinds of wood grow in this park.


Now, in 2017, I took my time gazing at the Gothic gateway. I knew that the chateau had originated as a Gothic castle around 1300, and the Gothic construction had finished in 1516. Above the gateway of the clock tower were three coats-of-arms – one belonging to former owner Johann Krajíř from Krajek; his name was inscribed above it. The coat-of-arms to the left stood for Konrád Krajíř from Krajek, another former owner, and the one to the right symbolized the Šumperk family. I stood on what were the remains of a stone bridge. I liked the two heads looking down like gargoyles from above the gate – Konrád Krajíř was on the right, Arnošt Krajíř, his son, peered at me from the left.


I walked through the gate and into the courtyard of the four-winged building now in Empire style, the last renovation having taken place in the 19th century. I looked up at the tower clock and noticed that the hour hand was longer than the minute hand. I also noticed another figure of a head peering down below the Gothic balcony, which was decorated with various circular designs. The head belonged to Johanna Krajířová, Konrád’s wife.

Then I sat on a bench and gazed at the various styles on the exterior. There were Renaissance arcades on the lower level around me. I gazed at the Gothic gateway and the Empire style of the chateau itself. I also recalled a Baroque chapel and a Neo-Gothic dining room. During my visit in 2006, the second tour had showed off the eras from the Renaissance to Art Nouveau, but that had changed.


First, a little about the history of the chateau. Hrubý Rohozec originated around the 13th century. The Krajíř from Krajek family owned it during the 15th and 16th centuries. It came into the hands of the Wartenbergs during the 16th century, and after 1600, this clan changed it from a Gothic castle to a Renaissance chateau.  During the 17th century, Jan Jiří from Wartenberg was on the losing side of the Battle of White Mountain, which took place November 8, 1620 and turned out to be the deciding battle in the Thirty Years’ War. During that conflict, the Emperor’s army and Catholics outdid the armies of the Protestant nobility. Still, Wartenberg escaped before he could be taken prisoner. The legendary military leader of the Thirty Years’ War, fighting on the Emperor’s and Catholic side, Albrecht von Wallenstein, bought the chateau in 1621. (By the way, he was murdered in the western Bohemian town of Cheb during 1633.) Wallenstein never even visited the chateau. He soon sold it to Mikuláš Des Fours, in 1628. Mikuláš had come to Bohemia as a military leader in the war. The chateau would remain in that family’s ownership until 1945.



The main altar in the chapel

The tales of the Des Four clan are fascinating. I especially liked hearing about Marie Des Fours Walderode. (In the 18th century, the family added Walderode as one of their surnames.) After studying medicine, she spent World War I helping the sick in the Balkans. Then she returned to her hometown in Moravia and treated patients for free, making house calls until she was 77 years old. During World War II, she even took care of injured American pilots whose plane had been shot down in Moravia. Marie was the first female doctor in the Czech lands to work in the countryside. She also was one of the first women to have a driver’s license. She was a woman I would have loved to have met.


A window in the chapel

After Mikuláš Vladimír Des Fours Walderode, the second to last owner, died of cancer in 1941, the chateau became the property of Karel Bedřich. Following World War II, the state confiscated the chateau. Karel Bedřich died in 2000, and there is still an ongoing debate about whether Hrubý Rohozec should be returned to the family or stay in the hands of the state.


The organ in the chapel

The chateau is now furnished according to photographs from the 1930s, when Mikuláš Vladimír, the second-to-last owner, had lived there with his wife and two sons, Ludvík and Maximilián.


The main altar

First, our group visited the Baroque chapel of the Holy Trinity. The main altar, dating from 1670, was charcoal black, accented by much gold decoration, and a painting showed the Holy Trinity in the middle. The white side altars with gold décor hailed from the Rococo era. I noticed the monk Saint Francis in the center of one of them. Next to the main altar was a reliquary with a tooth of Mikuláš Des Fours, the first owner who bought the castle back in the 17th century from the famous Wallenstein. In the back of the church was a Madonna with Child statue, the baby almost squirming out of the mother’s arms. The lavish organ still worked, too.


The Small Library

Then we headed for the two libraries. The topics of books in both libraries included military history, genealogy and Spanish history, to name a few. Plays by Shakespeare and even some 20th century works also make up the collection. The small library holds about 3,500 books. I noticed a big clock on one side table. It was decorated with gold and showed the date, month and phase of the moon as well as the time. Still functioning, it dated from the first half of the 18th century, The library was not without its secret door, either.


Allegory of a Woman’s Life

The main library, containing about 10,000 books, also served as the Des Fours portrait gallery. My two favorite paintings hung above the two doorways in this room. Painted by Jan Hartl in 1656, they were “The Allegory of a Woman’s Life” and “The Allegory of a Man’s Life.” In “The Allegory of a Woman’s Life,” 12 women ascended and descended a staircase, showing the stages of life from birth through adulthood to death. A 60-year old had a goose. An 80-year old was paired with an owl while a woman of 90 years had a bat (the animal, not the baseball kind). The last lower right-hand level showed a woman dying. Below the figures a putti danced, and a skeleton appeared. A background scene of a church in the distance could be seen in the middle of the painting.


Allegory of a Man’s Life

In “The Allegory of a Man’s Life,” there were 12 figures standing on stairs as well. The 40-year old man was accompanied by a lion, the 60-year old by a wolf. Age 70 symbolizes faithfulness, as the man appeared with a dog. The 90-year old was paired with a donkey.



The Main Library

I took note of the bullet holes in the door that separated the main library from the dining room. I also saw bullet holes in the ceiling. During the summer of 1946, a thief named Karel Chlouba, while on the run, hid in the chateau, which was closed at the time. He holed up there for several days before he was discovered by an employee of the chateau. Chlouba locked himself in the main library and barricaded the doors. The policemen had to shoot through the doors to gain access to his hideout. Instead of surrendering to authorities, Chlouba shot himself.



The Dining Room

Next, we entered the Neo-Gothic dining room. Helmets and much weaponry graced walls and display cases. Some arms hailed from the Thirty Years’ War while others dated from the 18th or 19th centuries. I noted the exotic weapons from Japan. The wine red color and the dark wood paneling of the room gave me a cozy feeling. I thought this would be a nice place to retire to on a cold, winter’s night. While the table was set for six people, it could hold up to 16. The superb porcelain hailed from the west Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary, often referred to as Carlsbad. Large portraits of Mikuláš with the tooth and his son Albrecht, both sporting medals, dominated one wall. Albrecht held his hand on a skull, symbolizing that his father was dead when the portrait had been taken.

I could imagine women in the Green Ladies’ Salon perusing the paper, playing the piano and listening to an old-fashioned gramophone. The tour guide, who was clearly an expert in her field, cranked the handle of the record player, and we listened to a waltz. I also noticed a porcelain bowl with a floral pattern in white, yellow and pink. It added to the cheerfulness of the room.



The Green Salon

We came upon a huge walk-in safe in one wall along the hallway. Then we were in the Hunting Salon, where, as the guide described, the men had smoked opium, which the owner’s younger brother Kun had brought back from Japan. Smoking cigars had been another favorite pastime.

The bedroom of Mikuláš Vladimír featured a 17th century Renaissance single bed. Mikuláš had kept in shape. We saw exercise equipment utilizing pulleys and rods, with which he strengthened his arms and legs. The story behind these objects is fascinating. The equipment had been on display in the chateau until sometime in the 1950s, when it was stored in the basement, dismissed as unimportant. The objects were only discovered again in 2010, when garbage was being removed from the basement.  The guide also mentioned that the chateau is located near train tracks, and there is some concern about how long it will stand because it is in such close vicinity to the railway.


A 17th century bed

In another room, I saw one of my favorite objects in chateaus, a doll with a very wide, white dress that could be placed over cups to keep the tea warm. I remembered seeing some of these items in Mníšek pod Brdy Chateau a few years ago. The Meissen porcelain was also intriguing. One couple danced, two lovers kissed and another represented an elegantly dressed woman of high society. We also passed by a toilet that flushed. There had been seven in the chateau during Mikuláš Vladimír’s day as he had installed the latest technological inventions in his home. Now only two remained.

The last room on the first tour was the Waiting Room, where visitors could read the paper or peruse a book before the count appeared. There was also an old telephone looking like the devices I had seen in Czech actor Vlasta Burian’s movies from the 1930s. The count’s number was simple to remember – one.


A doll as tea warmer

The next tour was no less intriguing as we made our way through the Private Apartments. The bedroom of handicapped Countess Marie Immaculata, the younger sister of Mikuláš Vladimír, was dominated by a wooden wheelchair. I thought about the many advances in technology since the 1920s or 1930s. There were no elevators in the chateau back then, so she had to be carried down the many stairs.


The Children’s Room really captured my attention. I saw a model of a ship with sails that I could almost see fluttering and a toy train with tracks that worked on electricity. I recalled my many train trips to castles and chateaus in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe. Traveling by train was exciting; I always felt a rush of energy when I went somewhere by train. I especially liked the two-tiered City Elephant trains that ran from Karlštejn and other parts of Bohemia. The tiny skates on display reminded me of my ice hockey playing days, as I laced up the same Bauer Supremes since age 14. The Czech board game from the 1930s, Clovečce nezlob se!, is still popular. It brought back memories of playing Monopoly or Clue as a child. Had Colonel Mustard committed murder in the conservatory with a candlestick?


The boys’ bedroom

The wolf’s mask made me think of my college years studying theatre, a subject I had relished. The previous year I had gone to a Czech performance at the Jára Cimrman Theatre to see a popular comedy about Czechs traveling to the North Pole. It had been the day after the November 8, 2016 US presidential election. Seeing that play and being able to laugh allowed me to face the harsh reality that Donald Trump would be the next US president and saved me from falling into a depression.


The boys’ bedroom

Then the guide’s narration again captured my attention. The children’s governess, who was British and spoke English to Mikuláš Vladimír’s sons, once caught the curious boys reading erotic magazines in that room. English was not the only language the boys knew. They spoke in German with their parents and Czech with their friends. Learning several foreign languages was common in that day. We saw a picture of the English governess – a strict-looking, older bespectacled woman who looked like she did not put up with any shenanigans.

Upon entering the boys’ bedroom, I noticed that there were bars on the windows. They had been installed because the boys liked to throw chairs onto the courtyard around midnight. They competed against each other to see who could break the most chairs. With these kinds of colorful descriptions, the two boys came alive for me. I saw them not only as names in a family history, but as youngsters always up to mischief.


They both met tragic fates. The boys joined the Hitler Jugend during World War II. The younger, Ludvík, died in battle at age 19. His older brother passed away soon thereafter from a diabetic attack. Maximilián was transported to the hospital, but, because he was wearing a Hitler Jugend uniform, no doctor would treat him. I wondered if the boys had really believed Hitler’s propaganda or if they had been forced to join.

A seamstress slept in the room next to the boys; she was in such close proximity to the boys because the two were always getting into scrapes and ripping their pants. This way, their clothes could be fixed immediately.



The Blue Salon

After going through a few more rooms, we came to the Blue Salon, where the family used to celebrate Christmas. I could imagine the exciting and cheerful atmosphere as the two boys eagerly tore the wrapping paper off their presents. I could almost hear the tinkling of the piano keys as a joyful melody resounded in the room. The blue furniture and exquisitely painted blue walls gave the room a comfortable feel. It was a place I could easily celebrate a holiday. The blue-and-white porcelain was decorated with peaceful country scenes showing trees and a bridge, for example.



The Blue Salon

Soon we came to another space, where the guide pointed out a portrait of Josef Des Fours, whom she called the black sheep of the family. He had married the 19-year old Johanna Köppe in the early 19th century. Eighteen years younger than Josef, she was a member of the burgher class rather than the nobility, and the couple did not get along well with each other. She had married Josef because she had yearned to mingle in Viennese society. I was not very surprised to hear that the two decided to call it quits after only several weeks of marriage. Johanna wound up as a courtesan, and one of her most famous clients was Austrian Chancellor Metternich. In her portrait her pose was seductive, her eyes pleading.



Johanna and Josef

In one hallway we saw a miniature statue of a member of the clan who was known to be a bit crazy. He had wanted a life-size tiled stove to look just like him. While the original stove no longer existed, this small copy was one of several that the artist had made for his friends. Clad in a fur coat that enveloped his frame, in the stove’s rendition he appeared obese and unattractive. We also took a whiff of a men’s cologne from Mikuláš Vladimír’s era. It still had a pleasant fragrance. I thought of some perfumes today that lost their fragrance after a month if not sooner. We were in a room decorated with many Japanese items such as pictures of landscapes as well as a complete set of samarai armor and Japanese swords. Mikuláš Vladimír’s brother Kun had spent much time in East Asia, and these were souvenirs from his travels. While standing in this room during the 2010 tour, I had learned that a set of Japanese porcelain has only five pieces, not the usual six. I had also spotted one of the most beautiful tea kettles I had ever seen. It was dark green with a white and red pattern, decorated with gold, and I was sure that my mother, a tea addict, would love to add it to her collection. In the same room, I remembered seeing a toy Buddha. The guide had pressed on the glass protecting the toy, and it automatically stuck out its tongue and moved its arms and legs. The next room was the casino. Here men had smoked opium and played pool and card games.


One feature I did notice during the tours this year and in 2010 was located in a servants’ room. By pressing a button on a panel, the number of the room in which they are needed. This way, they did not have to stand outside the nobles’ rooms in case they were suddenly called upon.


I remembered one feature of the second tour from 2010 that we did not see this year. We had visited the cellar. In the first room I had noticed the high, small window slot for light and had realized how dark it must have been down there before electric lighting was introduced. One part had been a storage space for coal until 1945. Another space was where foodstuffs such as eggs and cream had been stored. Yet another room functioned as a big refrigerator of sorts.


I thought back to how different the second tour had been in 2006 when the rooms had represented various styles from Renaissance to Art Nouveau in furniture, paintings, porcelain and historic dress, for instance. I remembered a Flemish tapestry from 1710 decorated with peacocks in a richly wooded landscape, lush green in the foreground with a light background. An exquisite marble jewel chest had been featured in the exposition as well.  Although I am not interested in fashion, the various styles of historic dress illustrated in the former exposition had been intriguing. I had seen Rococo hoops around dresses, bodices, and satin dresses in pastel colors. I remember how the Art Nouveau style involved a slender look at the waist and a wide skirt, hats and sleeves with lace. Still, I liked the design of the second tour better in 2017.



The two tours had been magnificent, ranking among the best I had ever been on. The guide knew her stuff about the chateau and was enthusiastic about her work. The colorful descriptions of the family members and the fascinating tales had really brought the chateau’s history alive. The guide did not try to make the former owners into perfect people. She related tales about the boys misbehaving and told us that they had been members of the Hitler Jugend. Not making them perfect made the protagonists of this chateau human.



I felt as if I experienced the history of the chateau while walking through the rooms rather than merely seeing objects that epitomized this history. In my mind, I could see women chatting while sipping tea from exquisite porcelain in the Green Salon. I could almost see Mikuláš Vladimír writing a letter or organizing bills at his desk. I could imagine the boys hurtling chairs out the windows in the pitch-black of night. This is exactly why I had come here for the fourth time. I could come here every year and not be bored by the guide’s superb narration.


I highly recommend that any English speakers buy the brochure about the chateau because it is written in excellent English and brings to life the history of the chateau in colorful descriptions. It is not a book that merely explains the different types of furniture in various rooms or that tells the history of the family in a bland way. This publication is an excellent keepsake. I mused about how often I came across brochures about chateaus or castles translated into broken English, ones that described the history of the place in a boring way, just noting who succeeded whom as owners without making the people three-dimensional.

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


The chapel from the oratory




Libochovice Chateau Diary

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

More photos from a 2022 visit:

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

Max Lobkowicz from

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

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

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

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.

Nuremberg Diary

Romantic view of the Holy Ghost Hospital from a bridge

Romantic view of the Holy Ghost Hospital from a bridge

I had just returned from almost a week in Bavaria, and I was going back on White Saturday to Nuremberg for a day trip with arsviva, the Czech travel agency I sometimes used. I had traveled with them to Bamberg, where I had been enchanted with the fishermen’s houses of Bamberg’s Little Venice, the gushingly Baroque Böttingerhaus, the Early Gothic nave of the Imperial Cathedral with its Christmas Altar and the majestic New Residence Palace with its ornate Imperial Hall. The same guide that had put us under Bamberg’s magical spell was leading us through Nuremberg, which now was biggest city in the Franconia region, with a population of 500,000.
On the bus the guide gave us some background about the city. Nuremberg started out as a fortress in the 11th century. While medieval Nuremberg was an important town along the trade route to the east, it was not without its problems. A pogrom in 1349 wiped out almost half of the Jewish population in the town. The pogrom took place after it was decided to demolish the Jewish quarter in order to make room for a central square.

A historical building in Nuremberg

A historical building in Nuremberg

The year 1356 brought prestige to Nuremberg, which became an imperial city thanks to Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV’s declaration of the “Golden Bull.” The emperor also declared that the first imperial diet when the seven electors were choosing a new German king would take place in Nuremberg. Emperor Charles IV also visited Nuremberg more than 50 times. The imperial crown jewels were stored at the castle in Nuremberg from 1424 to 1796. Nuremberg favored Protestantism from the 16th century. The seven electors held the imperial diet there until 1542.
Many inventors and artists lived in Nuremberg. Albrecht Dürer worked there in the early 16th century. Sculptors Adam Kraft, Veit Stoss and Peter Vischer decorated the town with their magnificent medieval creations. Martin Behaim invented the first globe, and Peter Heinlein made the first pocket watch in Nuremberg.

One of Nuremberg's unique fountains

One of Nuremberg’s unique fountains

The Thirty Years’ War brought devastation to the town, even though Nuremberg remained neutral. Then the town experienced financial problems and soon found itself broke. Nuremberg was made part of the Bavarian kingdom in 1806. During the 19th century, the town focused on industrialization.
Nuremberg would become the site of the National Socialist Party’s rallies in 1927. The Nuremberg Laws, enacted in 1935, denied Jews basic rights and German citizenship. Adolf Hitler was very fond of the city. The Allied Forces’ air attacks in January of 1945 destroyed 90 percent of the historical center and more than 2,000 people lost their lives. Many of the artworks had been moved to the Art Bunker under the castle, and thus were saved. The Nuremberg Trials that put the leaders of the Third Reich on the stand took place from 1945 to 1946.

The Congress Centre

The Congress Centre

First, we stopped at the gray, massive grandstand, where the Nazi Party Rallies had been held from 1933 to 1938. Bigger than Rome’s Coliseum, it included 60 hectares and had 28 40-meter high towers. We saw the exterior because on a day trip we did not have time to go inside the Documentation Center of the National Socialist Party Rally Grounds, where there is an exhibition about the Third Reich. Albert Speer’s architecture was so dehumanizing. Gray, drab and disintegrating, it lacked any human feeling, any feeling of life. Speer’s buildings did not even last 50 years, and they were meant to last forever.
I would have loved to have visited courtroom 600 in the Palace of Justice, where the Nuremberg Trials had taken place. I wondered what it would have felt like to have been in that courtroom during the trials, to have watched death sentences being handed out to Wilhelm Frick, Hans Frank, William Keitel and others. Even the death penalty was not a harsh enough sentence for what these Nazis had done.

The facade of the former arsenal

The facade of the former arsenal

Then we got back on the bus, and soon we were left off at the German National Museum, which was on the itinerary much later in the day. As we walked from the German National Museum to St. Lawrence’s Church, we passed Mauthalle or the former imperial customs office dating from 1500. Opposite it was the façade of the Renaissance former imperial arsenal, adorned with coats-of-arms and dating from the 16th century. I took notice of its two round dome towers. The guide pointed out a magnificent oriel on one building. There were about 80 oriels in the city.
On the way to the church, we passed by many stalls in the Easter Market that made the town lively, even jubilant. The sun was shining, and it would have been impossible not to feel cheerful in this environment. Stalls offered vegetables, flowers, postcards, soft pretzels and much more. I was especially drawn to the huge soft pretzels, which I had devoured during my stay in Munich the previous week.

The facade of St. Lawrence's Church

The facade of St. Lawrence’s Church

Soon we came to St. Lawrence’s Church. During the 13th century, a Romanesque basilica had stood on this site. The rose window between the two 82-meter towers fascinated me. The tracery of the window was remarkable. A wreath surrounded the window. Certainly one of the most beautiful Gothic facades I had ever seen, the façade dated from the mid-14th century. The buttresses and spires that looked like pinnacles made a strong impression on me, too. A decorative gable was situated above the rose window. The main entrance boasted such elaborate sculptural decoration and reliefs. The sacristy, two stories high, had a stunning relief on the façade. I noticed a sundial, too. One sculpture from 1912 showed a monkey reading The Bible.

The interior of St. Lawrence's Church

The interior of St. Lawrence’s Church

When we went inside, I was so overwhelmed by the spaciousness and weightlessness that I just stopped in the choir, ignoring the group for some minutes, and just stared. The Late Gothic choir and the Gothic vaulting amazed me and made me dizzy with awe. Everything seemed so harmonious.
What dazzled me was the choir carving of the Annunciation, with larger-than-life size statues suspended from the vaulted ceiling. It was the work of master sculptor Veit Stoss. I noticed Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, a dove fluttering over her head. Four angels seemed to float over this grouping. Fifty roses decorated the wreath framing the scene. The rosary beads included 63 pearls. Reliefs also adorned the ornate wreath. The flowing golden drapery of the figures also caught my attention. To see the carving suspended gave me an even greater feeling of weightlessness. It was as if the sculptural grouping was ascending to Heaven, rather than rooted on the ground, on Earth.

A precious artwork from St. Lawrence's Church

A precious artwork from St. Lawrence’s Church

The High Altar was stunning with a crucifix from the 16th century. The tabernacle, more than 20 meters high, entranced me. Pinnacles represented a crown of thorns. The reliefs were remarkable. I was awed by the latticework and tracery.
One of Nuremberg’s oldest sculptures, the Beautiful Madonna, showed the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus with bright smiles as the Virgin Mary looked lovingly at Jesus. The pulpit was Neo-Gothic. The Late Gothic brass chandelier in the nave was authored by Peter Vischer in 1489. Life-size Apostles also made appearances. It is possible that Stoss created the stunning sculpture of Archangel Michael wielding a sword in his right hand. I was especially drawn to the folds in the figure’s drapery and to the curls in his hair.

An exquisite stained glass window in St. Lawrence's Church

An exquisite stained glass window in St. Lawrence’s Church

Stained glass windows hailed from medieval days, reminding me of the cathedral in Regensburg with its brightly colored windows that brought light and knowledge. The stained glass of the rose window boasted decorative designs. The background of the Krell Altar showed the oldest rendition of Nuremberg, dating from 1472 to 1483. The town looked so realistic and detailed for that time period. I recalled the 17th century maps and vedutas at Mělník Castle near Prague, and how realistic and detailed they had looked.

The vaulting with the Annunciation carving suspended from the ceiling

The vaulting with the Annunciation carving suspended from the ceiling

During World War II the sculptures and other artworks were hidden in the Art Bunker rock cellar under the Imperial Castle. Although the building was damaged in the Allied Forces’ attacks, the two towers, the western façade and the walls remained standing.

A portal of St. Sebald's Church

A portal of St. Sebald’s Church

Next we visited St. Sebald’s Church, which was founded in 1230. The stained glass windows left me in awe. I saw another relief by Kraft, this one depicting the legend of the Holy Cross. The bronze font hailed from 1430. Below it I saw a relief of apostles and saints while the four Evangelists were positioned above the font. But the highlight was St. Sebald’s Tomb, almost five meters high. It took 11 years to build this masterpiece by Peter Vischer. The Gothic reliquary hailed from the 14th century. The tomb was decorated with portrayals of four dolphins and 12 snails, for instance.

St. Sebald's tomb

St. Sebald’s tomb

The figures of Mary, John and the crucifix on the main altar were the work of Stoss. I was enamored by the glass stained windows, some of which dated back to the 14th century. It was a bit disappointing that the upper part of the windows consisted of panes of smoked glass. On one of the memorial tablets there was a view of Bamberg, another Bavarian city that was dear to my heart. St. John and Apostle Andrew were depicted, and I marveled at the curls in Andrew’s hair and the folds in his drapery.

A Madonna statue at St. Sebald's Church

A Madonna statue at St. Sebald’s Church

We came to the main square, bustling with Easter stalls. In front of us was The Church of Our Lady, built on the site of a synagogue that was demolished in the early 14th century, when the Jewish quarter, which had been located here, was abolished, and half of its inhabitants were murdered. It was hard for me to believe that Emperor Charles IV, the beloved King of Bohemia, had permitted the demolition of the Jews’ homes or, most shockingly, did not stop the 1349 pogrom that resulted in the deaths of so many Jews. Yet I had read that the Christian prelates supported anti-semitism, and his actions toward the Jews probably made him seem pious and dutiful to many of his subjects.
The architect of the Church of Our Lady was Peter Parler, who had been responsible for completing St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague, among other significant works. He had certainly left his mark in the Czech lands. While the church had been damaged in the Allied Forces’ bombing of the city in 1945, part of its exterior remained intact. The west façade, the portal, the choir, some of the outer walls and the sacristy did not suffer the terrible fate of its other sections.

The exterior of the Church of Our Lady

The exterior of the Church of Our Lady

We spent some time studying the exterior. It boasted a stepped gable and neo-Gothic pinnacles plus a five-story tower. In the center the Virgin Mary was depicted with Jesus. Other figures surrounding them included Adam and Eve. Emperor Heinrich III stood out with his crown, orb and scepter. The German imperial eagle made an appearance on the balustrade. The portico boasted gilded statues, and the tympanum was richly decorated. We came to the north side with the depiction of the Foolish and Wise Virgins.
The building was one of the first hall churches in Franconia. Inside, a Star of David decorated the floor, symbolizing the expulsion and murder of the Jews during the 14th century. The main attraction, though, was the Tucher Altar, from the mid-15th century. It was one of the most significant artworks in the time period before Dürer. I loved the gold background of the triptych. It represented the divine and also gave the panel painting a certain vibrancy that attracted me. In the central panel I saw a crucifixion scene. Mary and John were depicted below it. John seemed mesmerized by the scene with Jesus.
On the right inside panel two holy hermits were talking to each other. I wondered what they were saying. Were they complaining that they were lonely and did not like being so isolated from the rest of the world? Or were they happy that they were recluses? I tended to be alone, and sometimes I wondered if I was really happy or if I had just accepted it as my fate. The gilded tabernacle at the base only dated from the 1980s. It was made to look like a torah roll in recognition of the pogrom.

The stained glass windows of the Church of Our Lady

The stained glass windows of the Church of Our Lady

The choir featured life-size statues. Our guide pointed out to us Saint Ludmila and her grandson Saint Wenceslas, Czech saints. Wenceslas’s mother, a pagan named Drahomíra, had Ludmila, a Christian, killed because Ludmila had taught Wenceslas to be Christian. Wenceslas became duke of Bohemia and had a rotunda built to St. Vitus – later it would become Saint Vitus’ Cathedral. It was not so strange that Czech saints were represented in the German church. Emperor Charles IV, who established the church, was also King of Bohemia, and his mother came from the Přemyslid family, a dynasty that had ruled Bohemia from the ninth century to 1306. Besides, Bohemia had been a mixture of many peoples, cultures and languages.
In the center of the choir I saw the 15th century creation Madonna with Rays as rays of the sun shone on the Virgin Mary and Jesus. In the portrayal the Virgin Mary was stepping on a human face as she stood on a crescent moon. There were also 18 sculptures of tranquil angels gripping candlesticks on the sides of the choir. One of the keystones featured a rare scene of Jesus going to school as Jesus was portrayed as human. In the nave I found some epitaphs by Kraft.

The Beautiful Fountain on the main square

The Beautiful Fountain on the main square

We had some minutes before the noon scene at the clock, so we admired the Beautiful Fountain, constructed at the end of the 14th century. Over 17 meters high, it boasted 40 stone figures on four levels. At the bottom there were the seven arts and philosophy. The Four Evangelists made an appearance, too. The seven electors, Hector, Alexander and Julius Caesar were also sculpted in the central part. Old Testament figures were also present along with Charlemagne and King Arthur. The top part showed Moses and the seven prophets. The well was a copy from the early 20th century. The original was in the German National Museum. I admired the decoration and latticework. There was also a Wishing Ring that could be turned, and many gathered around the well climbed up the steps to turn the ring three times for good luck.
We watched the noon scene at the clock tower. Trumpeters announced the arrival of Emperor Charles IV, and the seven electors paraded around him three times, symbolizing the “Golden Bull” decree that made Nuremberg the seat of the first imperial diet when the seven electors selected a new German king. It was nice to see King Charles IV appreciated in a country other than the Czech lands. I decided I must come to the famous Christmas market in this square someday. It must be enchanting. I tried to imagine knights’ tournaments that had taken place in the square so many centuries ago. Or I tried to imagine the days when the imperial crown jewels had been shown to the public on this square. History sure seeped through the heart of this city.

Old Town Hall

Old Town Hall

Before lunch we went to admire the Italian Renaissance style Old Town Hall, which hailed from the 17th century. The figures of Wisdom and Justice adorned the façade. We even got inside to the Great Council Chamber, which was not often open to visitors. Renaissance in style, it was 40 meters long. I admired the timbered ceiling. It was a reconstruction. The original had had burned down in 1945. I thought of all the council meetings, trials, balls, imperial assemblies and signing of peace treaties that had taken place here over so many centuries. If only I could have been a fly on those walls! Another Old Town Hall dated from 1330 and was an example of Gothic architecture. Visitors could tour the dungeons underneath it.

The interior of the Old Town Hall

The interior of the Old Town Hall

For lunch I found a small café where I could munch on a sandwich after devouring a large soft pretzel from a stall.
Next up was the medieval castle. Dominating the city, it looked romantic, perched on a rocky hill. The castle dated from the founding of the city, before 1050, when a fortress was situated on the site. Every German emperor set foot in this structure from 1050 to 1571. The imperial crown jewels had been stored in this fortification with four towers.

While walking uphill toward the ticket office, the views of the rooftops and town were superb. Half-timbered buildings were on the premises, too. I liked the look of these buildings; they reminded me of cottages and had a very intimate quality. It was possible to climb Sinwell Tower, though I did not feel like trying to conquer my fear of heights on this day.

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

Soon we entered the Imperial Palace. The highlight of the interior was the Romanesque double chapel, hailing from the 12th century. Twin chapels, featuring a hall structure with two spaces on top of each other, are rare; there are only about a dozen in all of Central Europe. The emperor and his entourage entered from the Gothic portal of the upper level while the commoners came inside from the outer courtyard. On one capital there was a grotesque decoration of animals’ heads spouting leaves. A 15th century statue of the Madonna was on the main altar. Statues of four rulers were also present in the chapel. In the gallery above there were three bays with groined vaulting.

Part of Nuremberg Imperial Castle

Part of Nuremberg Imperial Castle

What impressed me most in the other rooms were the ceilings. The Knights’ Hall had an impressive massive joist wooden ceiling with no less than 30 crossbeams. Wall paintings from 1490 decorated both sides of the Late Gothic portal. Christ represented as a ruler was portrayed above the arch. The Emperors’ Hall featured a black-and-yellow ceiling with depictions of the imperial double eagles. Coats-of-arms adorned the ceiling, too. A small green stove caught my attention, too. Allegories of the liberal arts and portrayals of emperors decorated it. The Imperial Reception Hall had a painted imperial eagle painted on its ceiling. Its wall paneling was adorned with rosettes. The ceiling hailed from the 15th century, and the furnishings were Renaissance in style.

A tower at Nuremberg Imperial Castle

A tower at Nuremberg Imperial Castle

An exhibition featured how the emperor interacted with the empire and with the city. It explained the Golden Bull’s significance, the role of the electors and how Nuremberg had flourished during the Middle Ages.
After the tour of the castle, the other members of the group went to the German National Museum, the largest museum of German art and cultural history. I opted to visit Dürer‘s former home, a 15th century house that now was a museum dedicated to the artist. Dürer was so dear to my heart. I also did not think that two hours was enough time for me to visit the German National Museum, where the largest collection of pianos plus paintings and sculptures through the ages, were exhibited. I was also tired. I had woken up at 3 am, and I wanted to visit the museum when I had more energy and would appreciate the exhibits better.

Statue of Albrecht Durer in Nuremberg

Statue of Albrecht Durer in Nuremberg

The Dürer Museum displayed reproductions of the artist’s copperplates, portraits, etchings, sketches and woodcuts. The furniture hailed from the period when Dürer lived there, from 1509 until his death in 1528. It was a small, though intriguing, museum, and I also learned about Dürer’s life. I did not know that at the German National Museum originals of his work were displayed, but I was glad I had gotten a glimpse into the life and work of an artist I truly admired.
I had about a half hour free after that, so I sat at the outdoor seating of a restaurant and had one of my favorite foods, a hamburger. I watched the comings and goings of people at the Easter Market, which was filled with such joy and celebration. I loved seeing the city while a market was taking place. It gave the town even more energy. Then I walked down a few of the narrow, picturesque streets before heading to our meeting place, the German National Museum.
I was more than satisfied with the day trip. We had had a superb guide, and the sights had been remarkable. I loved the churches the most, especially the rose window and the Annunciation grouping suspended from the ceiling. I bought a booklet about the city and found out that there was much more to see –a tour of underground Nuremberg and the Art Bunker ranked high on my list along with the German National Museum. Yes, I knew I would be coming back to Nuremberg.

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

The magnificent vaulting at St. Sebald's Church

The magnificent vaulting at St. Sebald’s Church

Pilsen (Plzeň) Museum of West Bohemia and Pilsner Urquell Brewery Diary

The Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew, a landmark in Pilsen

The Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew, a landmark in Pilsen

I had been to Pilsen many times. After all, it was only an hour away via the comfortable Student Agency bus service. I had even spent several days in the town, staying in a pension above a beer hall-restaurant, but I did not do much sightseeing. I had been in town for a theatre festival and found myself in various theatres the entire time. Indeed, I was ashamed that did not really know Pilsen well after having lived in Prague for more than 20 years. It had always been one of those places where I changed trains.
I would soon find out that Pilsen certainly is worth visiting. It was even selected the European Capital of Culture for 2015. With a population of more than 170,000 inhabitants, Pilsen is the fourth biggest city in the Czech Republic.
A travel blogger on Twitter mentioned that he had really enjoyed the tour of the Pilsner Urquell brewery. Although I rarely drink alcohol, I thought it would be intriguing to see how beer had become an integral part of the town’s history. I wondered what processes were entailed in brewing it.

The town hall with its sgraffito Renaissance facade

The town hall with its sgraffito Renaissance facade

Before my tour of the brewery, I made a stop at the Museum of West Bohemia, where I visited an exhibition on the city’s history from medieval times to the 19th century. First, I explored other areas of interest in the museum. The Gothic armor in the armory was impressive, and the Meissen collection certainly caught my attention. I was especially drawn to a bowl with the entire surface covered in three-dimensional, handmade flowers with leaves. The handle looked like a tree branch. Dating from 1739, it was truly exquisite.
Then it was time to concentrate on the history of the town in context with the events that had so greatly affected this land. The exhibition also focused on everyday life from the various centuries. There was an exposition of a medieval, rural house, for instance and recipes from the 15th and 16th centuries as well as a section on food and textiles in the Middle Ages.

The Plague Column in Pilsen

The Plague Column in Pilsen

This is what I learned: Pilsen was established in 1295 by King Wenceslas II. It was designed in a regular Gothic ground plan with a rectangular square that was 193 meters x 139 meters. In the beginning about 3,000 people lived in 290 houses. The town was significant because it was situated on a trade route from the German borders to Prague.
When the Hussite wars ravaged the lands during the 15th century, the town at first supported the revolutionaries but then turned toward the Catholics in 1420. Pilsen was never conquered.
During the second half of the 15th century, Pilsen became a regional center. It had a Catholic majority, most of whom spoke Czech. Because the town was located on an important route to Germany, there was much trading with Germans. Non-Catholics wanted to teach Pilsen a lesson for taking such a strong Catholic stance, so they set fires deliberately and destroyed part of the town. This happened, for example, in 1507. During the 16th century, because the city had a Catholic majority, it supported the monarch.

The exquisite facade of a building on Republic Square

The exquisite facade of a building on Republic Square

In the mid-16th century Pilsen ranked third among the biggest cities in Bohemia. The town flourished by buying villages and creating ponds. The beer brewing industry also proved successful – but more about that later. By 1557 Pilsen was ranked as the second wealthiest town after Prague. The inhabitants were mostly from Bohemia. At the end of the 16th century, Emperor Rudolf II took refuge in Pilsen when the plague epidemic spread through Prague.
During the 17th century Thirty Years’ War, Pilsen, not surprisingly, supported the Catholics, who were victorious, so the town was not punished after the war. However, the 17th and 18th centuries were not all that rosy. In 1623 a fire destroyed parts of the town. The plague made its way to Pilsen in the 17th and early 18th centuries. There was another fire in 1729.
Pilsen soon found itself as a provincial town. The population decreased, and the city experienced financial problems. In the middle of the 18th century, many immigrants came to the town. Some of the newcomers were officers for the administration of the city.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Pilsen contributed to the National Revival, a movement to revive the Czech language, improve Czech culture and emphasize Czech national identity. Pilsen was one of many places where this revival was successful. Czech schools were established. Theatres put on performances in Czech. There were Czech technical organizations, and Pilseners contributed to Czech literature. Yet there were hardships, too. In the 1830s, ethnic controversies riddled the town. Poor harvests and financial crises did not help matters.

Republic Square

Republic Square

In 1848 Pilseners were among the Czechs who demanded national democratic and constitutional rights in the monarchy. At the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century, Pilsen was a town oriented in trade and agriculture and had promise in the industrial sphere as well. The food industry grew thanks to breweries, mills and distilleries.
The 19th century brought major developments in the city. For instance, Škoda Works was established by Emil Skoda and became the top arms producer in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Later the company became a leading engineering enterprise. The brewery brewed its first batch of beer on October 5, 1842. The Pilsner Urquell brand and the pilsner type of beer would capture worldwide attention. But more about that later.
One feature I really liked in the history section of the museum was the focus on individuals who had made a difference during these centuries – people who were not necessarily famous. I learned about Joseph Vojtěch Sedláček, for example. Active during the National Revival, he collected art-related objects for Prague’s National Museum. While he taught math and physics at a monastery, he also scribed poetry. He is also the author of the first Czech textbooks on math, geometry and physics.

Part of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery complex

Part of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery complex

Now it’s time to get to the main topic: beer. If there is one thing that symbolizes the city, it is beer. The beverage was first brewed there at the time of the founding of the city in 1295. King Wenceslas II gave 260 townspeople the right to brew beer in their homes. The quality of beer was controlled by town councilors in the entrance of the town hall. The town magistrate poured beer on oak benches. Then councilors would sit on the benches for an hour. If their leather britches did not stick to the bench when they stood up, the beer was deemed undrinkable.
In 1838, 36 barrels of undrinkable beer were spilled out in front of the town hall, an event which compelled some brewers to set up a brewery. The Burghers’ Brewery opened on October 5, 1842, when the very light, bottom-fermented Pilsner Urquell came into existence.
Pilseners have the then 29-year old Bavarian brewer Josef Groll to thank for their internationally-acclaimed beer. He’s the one who put local ingredients of soft Bohemian water, very pale malt and Saaz hops into the mixture using a new method to produce bottom-fermented beer and then came across the new type of beer – the pilsner type — by accident on October 5, 1842.

Historic barrels in the brewery cellars

Historic barrels in the brewery cellars

Two of the Czech Republic’s most famous brands of beer, Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus, are made at the vast complex near the center of town in buildings that had been constructed on a former executioners’ site. I picked up my ticket in the Visitors’ Center, where an original wort barrel is displayed. The place was crowded with tour groups. It was not possible to tour the Gambrinus brewery. For some reason there were no tours in March.
When it was time for my English-speaking tour to start, we stepped outside, and the guide pointed out a few landmarks. The water tour hailed from 1907 and was 47.2 meters high. It reminded me of a lighthouse that I remember seeing as a child while on vacation near Freeport, Maine. As a young child I had wondered if some evil person had inhabited that lighthouse. The Pilsen water tour is no longer used.
There was also a decorated historical gate built on the 50th anniversary of the brewery, in 1892. By the way, that year 462,550 hectoliters of beer were brewed there, and the brewery had more than 600 employees. The cellars even already had electrical lighting. The gate brought to mind the historical gate at the entrance to the town of Mělník, where I had visited a chateau a week earlier. The guide elaborated on the history of the brewery, mentioning Josef Groll and the 1838 barrel-spilling event, for example.
Then we got on a shuttle bus and went to the packaging hall, where we would see the bottle lines in action. The packaging hall was modern, hailing from 2006. There were four lines, one reserved for cans. On the premises was a washing machine as well as a camera that takes a picture of each bottle to show if it is clean. The bottles were filled, warmed at 25 degrees Celsius, dried and then labelled. We saw the huge bottle lines from above, behind glass. At that time two lines were working.

The bottle lines at the packaging plant

The bottle lines at the packaging plant

Everything was so mechanical, so efficient. And to think that I only saw several people in the room while all this action was taking place! I almost expected to see Charlie Chaplin running from one side to the other as in Modern Times. It also made me think of Karel Čapek’s science fiction play R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in which robots made by man take over the world, bringing about the extinction of the human race. Everything was so mechanical. It was as if an army of bottles were marching into battle.
The process also reminded me of one of my favorite episodes of I Love Lucy, when Lucy and Ethel are stuffing chocolates into their mouths, picking them off the conveyor belt at the chocolate plant. That scene had such a human quality to it, though. I missed seeing many people in the hall. I tried to imagine it back in the days when people had worked at the belts. It both impressed me and saddened me that technology was so advanced.

A bottle line at the Pilsner Urquell Brewery

A bottle line at the Pilsner Urquell Brewery

Then we took the bus to another location and saw some cylindrical tanks outside. They were used for the fermentation and saturation of the beer. The guide mentioned that there were 20 cylindrical tanks outside and 110 in the building. A green-and-white train from 1952 stood to my right. At one time it had been used to take beer to the brewery. We went inside and got onto the largest passenger elevator in the country with room for 72 passengers.
We watched a short film about beer production in a panorama cinema with a revolving floor. One of the things I learned from the film is that it takes about five weeks to make the beer. Then we went to an exposition on barley and the stages of malt production. You could hold the barley in your hand and sniff it. You could also see how yeast looks through a microscope and taste hops that came out of a machine that looked similar to a soap dispenser. The Saaz hops had a subtle aroma. An exposition explained about granulating the hops. It told how they had to be dried, ground and boiled.

The packaging plant

The packaging plant

Then we went to the old brewhouse in a 1930s era building and the new brewhouse above it, which has been used since 2004. The former brewhouse had been used for 75 years. During that time five million hectoliters of beer had been brewed there. The tanks used in the brewhouse looked like alien space ships and brought to mind the TV serial Mork and Mindy and the movie E.T.

The old brewhouse

The old brewhouse

Two million hectares of beer are produced in the new brewhouse annually. The filtration process, for example, takes two hours, and the boiling process lasts 90 minutes. After that, the wort is chilled to six degrees Celsius. Only two people seated in a small office behind a glass wall controlled the mechanisms. Such a complicated process and only two people are needed to monitor it! Again I viewed technology as both awesome and disheartening.

The brewhouse

The brewhouse

From there we went to the room called The Hall of Fame, where the brewery’s trophies and various awards are shown off. A copper bin on display once held the first batch of Pilsner Urquell. Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph, who reigned from 1848 to 1916, had penned his name in the visitor’s book, but his handwriting was messy. The guide mused that the ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire might have been drunk when he signed it. I thought about the suicide of Franz Joseph’s son, Crown Prince Rudolf, and the assassination of his wife, Empress Elisabeth, nicknamed Sisi. To be sure, Franz had good reason to drink!
Nineteenth century Czech poet Jan Neruda even wrote a feuilleton praising the brewery after his visit. It was published in Hlas on May 5, 1863.

Emperor Franz Joseph signed the visitors' book at the brewery.

Emperor Franz Joseph signed the visitors’ book at the brewery.

The guide also mentioned that the oldest house where beer had been brewed is at number 58, but I do not remember the street. Now the Beer Museum is located in that building. I had hoped to get there that day, too, but I would not have enough time.
Then we explored the cellars. They were nine kilometers long, with a size of 32,000 square meters. Of course, we did not walk through every passage! I thought of how difficult it must have been to have built this vast underground area – it must have taken many people to make all these tunnels. No machines had been used to make the cellars. It had all been accomplished by hard, sweaty manual labor. I wondered who had done this sort of work. Poor people who needed the money? Prisoners? Maybe both.

The barrels in the cellar

The barrels in the cellar

These underground spaces were once used for the fermentation and saturation processes. We saw storage areas with big, historic barrels. We walked through an ice room, too. In the second half of the 19th century, they used to cut ice from rivers and ponds to keep the place cold.
At the end of the tour, we tasted unfiltered and non-pasteurized Pilsner Urquell beer. It was tapped straight from an oak lager barrel. The beer was very good, but since I am not much of a beer drinker, I am not enough of an expert to compare it with other brands. I tended to like black beer, but this light brew was as good if not better than any of the dark beers I had tasted.

Republic Square

Republic Square

After the tour I went back to Republic Square in the center of town, where there are three modern gold fountains with black Chinese basins. I liked the gargoyles from which the water spewed. (I’ve always been a fan of gargoyles and the grotesque.) There was a 17th century Plague Column, too.
For years I had wanted to go inside the Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew on the square, but it was never open when I was in town. It was only open certain months during weekdays. I had read that a Neo-Gothic altar featured the Madonna of Pilsen showing the Virgin Mary with a very expressive and sorrowful look on her face. I loved gazing at the Renaissance town hall with all the sgraffito decoration on its façade that dates from 1558.
I was very hungry, and I decided to eat lunch at my favorite eating establishment in Pilsen – the famous U Salzmannů restaurant around the corner from the square. During the 19th century this had been the most significant pub in the city. A famous event in Pilsen’s history was connected with this former beer hall. In April of 1843, the original owner of the place, Martin Salzmann, sent some beer to his close friend in Prague, a tailor named Jakub Pinkas. The tailor was so impressed with the taste that he decided to hang up the scissors and open a pub, U Pinkasů. The pub still serves Pilsner Urquell beer.

A tower of the Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew

A tower of the Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew

Supposedly, Salzmann had been quite a character. He was known as a very grumpy and unpleasant man. He would place a coaster on the table for each customer and put the mug of beer on it. If he became disgruntled with a customer who was too drunk and too loud, he would take away the coaster and kick the guest out of the pub.
There was another way to lose your coaster. If you clinked glasses – Salzmann hated it when customers did this – you also lost your right to drink in the establishment. Salzmann also disliked students and deterred them from visiting his pub because they often did not have enough money to pay for their drinks.
After my late lunch, it was time to head back to the bus station. I vowed to come back to tour the underground areas of the city and to wander through the Beer Museum. I now am very aware that there were many sights to see in Pilsen, and I want to visit as many as possible.


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

The new brewhouse

The new brewhouse


Kutná Hora Diary

A view of the town

A view of the town

I had visited to the medieval, former mining town of Kutná Hora back in 1992. I recalled exploring the mines, touring the awe-inspiring cathedral and gazing at the Italian Court.  I could not forget my visit to the creepy ossuary with shapes made out of human bones. Still, it had been a long time ago. So, in 2012, I decided to return to this special place that for some reason I had not made time for during so many years.

 I sharpened my knowledge of the town’s history during the one and a half hour bus ride on that perfect, sunny morning. Kutná Hora gained recognition thanks to its silver mines from the 13th to 15th centuries. At one time, the town’s mine in was the deepest in the world. There was an international demand for its silver, which was exported to one-third of Europe. During Kutná Hora’s golden days of the Middle Ages, the Prague Groschen, a significant currency in Europe, was produced here. Even after the turbulent years during the Hussite Wars in the 15th century and during the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, mining in Kutná Hora preserved. The mine was not even shut down from World War II to 1991.

Plague Column in Kutná Hora

Plague Column in Kutná Hora

I came to the downtown area and soon found myself at the plague column where impressive statues twisted and turned. Then I headed for Saint Barbara’s Cathedral, passing the art museum in the former Jesuit College that hailed from the 18th century. Unfortunately, I did not have time to peruse the art collection during that excursion, but I promised myself to make another trip there in the near future. Too many other sights awaited me on that day. I admired 12 statues of saints, forged from 1650 to 1716, on the way to the impressive cathedral.

A statue on the way to St. Barbara's Cathedral

A statue on the way to St. Barbara’s Cathedral

I could not help noticing the cathedral’s outer buttresses. The gargoyles and monsters on the neo-Gothic façade were imposing, defending their holy site from evil. (By the way, I love Neo-Gothic!) I had familiarized myself with the history of Saint Barbara’s. Its past had much to do with mining. The cathedral was even named after the miners’ patron saint, Barbara. Although construction started on the cathedral in 1338, it was not completed until 1905. The building was as I had remembered it  – absolutely stunning. Once again I marveled at the many Baroque works of art, including three Baroque chapels and a magnificent Baroque organ case.


St. Barbara's Cathedral

St. Barbara’s Cathedral

I was particularly drawn to the oldest piece in the cathedral, a statue of Our Lady Enthroned, hailing from 1380. Flanked by two angels in mid-flight, the gold-clad Our Lady gripped a golden orb. The stained glass windows did not disappoint, either. They were exquisite, dating from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. I spotted the cathedral in the background of two of the windows. I also noticed soldiers on horses raising their swords.

KHsvBarb10Then I came to the unique late Gothic frescoes focusing on the mining profession. I had not seen art with a mining theme anywhere else. In the Mint Chapel frescoes from the 15th century depicted miners making Prague Groschens, striking the coins with mallets. That made me think of how my favorite painter, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, portrayed people at their trades or in scenes from everyday life. A few weeks earlier I had visited the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, where I had feasted my eyes on 12 canvases by the masterful Bruegel the Elder.

 “The Battle between Carnival and Lent” came to mind. In this depiction celebrating humanity and peasant life, the artist set the scene at a market and church squares. Mass had just ended, and the churchgoers carried their chairs out of the holy building.  Crippled people begged for money in front of the church. A corpulent man dressed in pink and yellow stockings was playing a guitar and wearing what looked like a ceramic pot on his head. Bruegel the Elder’s “Seasons of the Year” cycle was another of my favorites. It focused on activities in the countryside. I thought of the depiction of winter, “Hunters in the Snow,” and the hunters in the scene that visually and poetically described man’s relationship to the last season of the year.

The main altar in the cathedral

The main altar in the cathedral

“Peasant Wedding” also showed the lower class at their trades. A servant was filling mugs with beer, for example. Rich in tradition, it depicted the bride without the groom, seated at the table with her head crowned in a small wreath. A child tried the creamy porridge, licking the bowl. Everyday people were engrossed in what were for them everyday activities, some profession-related, others focusing on leisure. The portrayal of the common man as a miner minting coins was, in my mind, connected to the Flemish and Dutch canvases celebrating everyday life. A statue of a miner appeared in the cathedral as well, which made the relationship with Dutch and Flemish works of art even more apparent.

The exquisite stained glass windows in the cathedral

The exquisite stained glass windows in the cathedral

In another Chapel the Smíšek family huddled around an altar. Saint Christopher carried a child on his shoulders in one large fresco. Then I meandered to the other side of the cathedral, where I saw a mural with a different theme:  Created in 1746, “The Vision of Saint Ignatius Wounded in the Battle of Pamplona” showed off angels fluttering through pink clouds. I was also entranced by the stone pulpit, built in 1560. The 17th century ornate wooden pews caught my eye, too.

Hrádek, a museum about the town, mining and silver

Hrádek, a museum about the town, mining and silver

After exploring the interior of the cathedral, I was hungry. I stopped for chicken on a skewer at a restaurant with outdoor seating in a courtyard on Ruthardka, a romantic and picturesque street cutting through the center of town. After lunch I stopped by Hrádek or The Small Castle and was eager to see the museum about the town as well as the history of mining and silver in Kutná Hora’s past. The entranceway was full of  teenage tourists enthusiastically chatting to each other. I did not want to visit the mines again – I was too claustrophobic – so I asked for the short tour. The man at the box office said he did not think there would be a short tour that day, but maybe he would have one around four p.m., when I had to be back in Prague. I was disappointed as I had read that the former royal residence was decorated with a Renaissance coffered ceiling from 1493 and consisted of halls featuring late Gothic ribbed vaulting. The medieval Saint Václav Chapel boasted wall paintings of Czech saints, I had read.  This museum would have to wait until another time.

I carried on to the Stone House, which harkened back to the era before the Hussite period of the 15th century, though it was last reconstructed at the turn of the 20th century. I was fascinated by its richly decorated Gothic façade, even though it dealt with the grim theme of death. I spotted Adam and Eve under a tree in the gable.

The Stone House

The Stone House

First, steep stairs led me down into the lapidary in the basement, which was part of the pre-Hussite structure. The collection boasted stone fragments from medieval times. I was especially enthralled by the pieces of the outer buttresses of the Cathedral of Saint Barbara, especially with the stone set in a fleur-de-lis pattern. I also saw pinnacles, finials and crockets. The angels that had originally decorated the cathedral entranced me, too.

Then one of the guides, a cheerful woman in her forties, gave me a tour of the first and second floors. Part of the first floor was devoted to objects representing the city’s former guilds throughout the centuries. This I what I liked about small museums. They often contained pleasant surprises.  I had never seen an exhibition dealing with guilds. One artifact looked like a griffin sticking his tongue out. Two lions and a crown represented another guild. The symbols of the guilds were intriguing.

A closeup of the Gothic facade of The Stone House

A closeup of the Gothic facade of The Stone House

In the hallway stood a painted wardrobe and chest with folk themes. I loved folk art, so rich in tradition. Another space featured Baroque and Biedermeier furniture as well as a forte piano from the 19th century. The Baroque desk and wardrobe from the 18th century caught my attention.

On the second floor relics from religious orders greeted me. A New Testament hailed from 1677. I also saw a silver reliquary and pewter altar vase. Especially intriguing was the small, woodcut relief of Madonna and Child from the 19th century. A Pieta scene from the 18th century captivated me as well. My favorite, though, was a sculpture of Saint Mary surrounded by miners. She wore a star-studded golden halo, her hands clasped in prayer. Bruegel the Elder also dealt with everyday people’s relationship to religion. I thought of the canvas featuring Carnival and Lent again.

The Italian Court

The Italian Court

I did not have time to go to the Italian Court that day, but I would come back again soon to visit it. I recalled its royal chapel in Gothic style with Art Nouveau decoration. The Italian Court, hailing from the end of the 13th century, had played a significant role in the town’s history. The Prague Groschen was first minted there. Kings of Bohemia had stayed at the Italian Court, and Vladislav of Jagollen had been voted King of Bohemia there during 1471.

A chandelier made out of human bones

A chandelier made out of human bones

I knew that the 12-sided stone fountain was under reconstruction, so  I headed for the suburb of Sedlec , where there was an ossuary and cathedral. A 20-minute walk took me to the ossuary with a cemetery, hailing from the 13th century, the resting place of many plague victims and fallen soldiers from the Hussite wars.

The ossuary in Sedlec

The ossuary in Sedlec

The ossuary in the All Saints’ Chapel went back to the 14th century.  I remembered the space being bizarre and morbid yet fascinating at the same time. The Schwarzenberg clan had purchased the ossuary in 1784. They arranged the 40,000 bones and skulls into various shapes. Before that, architect Jan Santini Blažej-Aichel had renovated the space in his unique Baroque Gothic style, which I deeply admired. I gazed at the bones forming a huge chandelier, a Gothic tower and a chalice.


The Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms

Another decoration in the ossuary

I was enamored with the Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms. Bones depicted a severed Turk’s head and a raven. The chandelier was my favorite, though. I also gazed in wonder at the skulls from soldiers during the Hussite wars of the 1420s in one display case. I could hardly believe that I was looking at skulls that were so many centuries old, skulls that had once been heads of living human beings.

A chalice made out of human bones

A chalice made out of human bones

Last but not least I visited the oldest cathedral in the country. The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist has been a UNESCO site since 1995. It was constructed from 1282 to 1320 and got a makeover in Baroque Gothic style by the brilliant Santini Blažej-Aichel.

The cathedral flaunts Baroque artworks

The cathedral flaunts Baroque artworks

I was astounded by the seven chapels and the renderings of saints. I was very excited to see three paintings by my favorite Czech Baroque painter, Petr Brandl, whose works evoked such strong emotions in me.

An impressive chapel

An impressive chapel

I admired the Baroque confession booths, hailing from 1730. Saint Vincent’s and Saint Felix’s relics, donated by Pope Benedict XIV in 1742 on the 600th anniversary of the monastery, were also fascinating. The Chapel of the Virgin Mary of Sedlec was impressive with its elaborate Ionic columns and plump putti with angels. The statues originally on the west front of the building intrigued me, too. My favorite was a haloed Saint Benedict gripping an open book. I thought of how literature had opened up new worlds for me, especially the Slovak writings of Václav Pankovčín and his penchant for magic realism.

Once again, Kutná Hora had cast a magical spell on me. I had strolled down medieval streets, toured two cathedrals, visited an ossuary and a museum- all delightful  and inspiring experiences. Now it was time to catch the bus back to Prague. One thing was for certain:  I would definitely be coming back here. Soon.

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

A picturesque street in Kutná Hora

A picturesque street in Kutná Hora

Buchlov Castle Diary


I had wanted to walk through the forest from Buchlovice Chateau to Buchlov Castle, but I did not have enough time before my bus back to Brno left from Buchlovice. I went to the information office and asked if there was any way I could get to Buchlov and have enough time for the 90-minute tour. The young, blond woman suggested I call a local man who gives rides back and forth. Since the information office recommended him, I thought it would be safe. The stout, bearded man came within 10 minutes, and soon massive, Gothic Buchlov loomed above me, overpowering me with its sheer size and strength.

First, the guide, a lanky man wearing a T-shirt that pictured the castle, explained that the history of Buchlov went all the way back to around 1300, when it was first mentioned in writing. At that time, Buchlov was royal property, but Moravian noble families were put in charge of it. The design of the Early Gothic chapel, forged in the 1370s, was inspired by Sainte-Chapelle Chapel in Paris. Unfortunately, it was mostly destroyed by Hungarians in an attack during 1468 and later abolished. The first private owners of the castle were the Lords of Žerotín, who took it over in 1520. Their tenure at Buchlov was short-lived, however, and the Zástřizly nobility called it home for 100 years, from 1544 to 1644. During this era Renaissance reconstruction took place.

In 1644 the Petřvalds came and would own Buchlov until 1800. The Petřvald family made some Baroque changes in the 17th and 18th centuries. From 1800 the property was transferred to the counts of Berchtold, who would become major players in the castle’s history. The two half-brothers Leopold I Berchtold and Dr. Bedřich Berchtold had been world travelers, and many of the souvenirs they had collected on their trips were displayed in the castle. Dr. Bedřich had another claim to fame: he had been the co-founder of the collection at Prague’s National Museum. The older brother, Leopold I, was known for setting up schools and a poor house, among other achievements.

The family kept it until 1945, when the so-called Beneš decrees made it state property. The Beneš decrees stated that Germans, Nazi collaborators, traitors and others living in Czechoslovakia had to relinquish their Czechoslovak citizenship and property without compensation. The guide did not specify the reason why the Berchtolds had to give up the property, but I guessed it was because they had had German citizenship. Much reconstruction took place during the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century.

ImageAn intriguing legend is associated with the linden tree situated in front of the Dancing Hall, home to 18th century furnishings and Baroque portraits. According to the legend, some 400 years ago the tree was planted with its roots upward and its crown in the ground.  It was said to be proof that a man sentenced to death for poaching was really innocent.

After passing through a gate hailing from the middle of the 16th century, our group arrived at the third courtyard. In the black kitchen I marveled at the oldest architectural feature in the castle – the Late Romanesque arch dating back to 1340s. The pots and utensils were copies of those used in the Middle Ages.

The armory offered an intriguing perspective on the battle-ridden history of the castle. Some weapons dated back to 1421, when the Hussites tried to conquer Buchlov, and others hailed from the 17th century Thirty Years’ War when the Swedes did much damage. Buchlov survived that war only because a ransom was paid. There were weapons from all over the world – from Asia as well as Central and South America, for example.

ImageOn the first floor we entered the Baroque library, which was home to about 10,000 volumes. Books that promoted Protestantism were removed after the Thirty Years’ War Battle of White Mountain in Prague during 1620. The Bohemian Protestant rebels were defeated by the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, who was devoutly Catholic, and the German Catholic League.

In the early 17th century the majority of the Bohemian nobility had been Protestant. When die-hard Catholic Ferdinand II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, it meant serious trouble for the Protestants. After the Battle of White Mountain, the Czechs would find themselves under Habsburg rule, and German would become the prominent language of the lands. The books in Czech mostly came from the Czech National Revival, an 18th and 19th century movement that strived to promote the Czech language, Czech culture and national identity.

 I saw an intriguing architectural detail of an Early Gothic portal where the chapel from the 1370s was situated, now an empty space with spectacular views of the countryside.  Then we came to the Buchlov Madonna, whose expression seemed to be asking, “Is this kid mine?”  The statue dated from the first half of the 14th century. Another Madonna appeared to be trying to keep her son from wriggling away.  There was also a rendition called “The Last Supper of the Lord,” a double-sided painting, part of a winged altar, which is composed of a central panel and two side panels. It dated from the end of the 15th century. It always astonished me that artifacts from the 14th or 15th century could survive to the present day.  It fascinated me how they were tangible connections with the distant past.

ImageThe Knights’ Hall featured cross vaulting and reticulated vaulting. These architectural elements were decorated with the coats-of-arms of significant Moravian clans. Then we came to a room decorated with an ornate tiled stove that flaunted cherubs and floral motifs in brown, green, yellow and white. A complete knight’s armor from the 16th century weighed 30 kilograms. I could not imagine wearing it. I do not think I would even be able to stand up in that armor. I was intrigued by the calendar from the Middle Ages. I learned that February of 1693 had had 31 days.

The next section was the castle museum. It had been opened by Count Zikmund I Berchtold in 1856. Zikmund I had revolted against the Habsburgs in Hungary during 1848 and 1849. The rebellion was unsuccessful, and he got the death penalty. The court reduced his sentence to house arrest for life, so he organized the family museum. I saw plumed helmets, weapons of American Indians and the skins of a zebra, polar bear, grizzly bear and alligators. There were also human skeletons and a collection of shoes ranging from sandals to boots. In a jar was an embryo of a baby pig with eight legs and two tails. It made me think back to the revolting human embryos that Peter the Great had collected, now gathered in Saint Petersburg. My stomach had violently churned when I had seen them during that freezing April morning several years ago.

ImageThen the guide explained that after the Battle of Slavkov in 1805 the nearby Buchlovice Chateau had been used as a hospital where military personnel and civilians had received free medical attention. Leopold I Berchtold caught typhus there and died at the relatively young age of 50. On the wall was a picture of a woman in the third stage of syphilis. She had large empty sockets for eyes, and her nose was black. Her teeth made her look sinister and dangerous. It was absolutely horrifying. She looked like a monster, not like a human being. I thought of people with cancer and how the horrible disease could make people look so emaciated. I felt lucky that I did not have cancer and that my father had survived two bouts with the terrifying illness. I knew I would keep the image of that woman, stripped of human dignity, in my mind for a long time.

The next room was totally different. It featured an Egyptian mummy in a coffin made of cedar wood. It was about 2,300 years old. The illusive wall painting dated from the first half of the 19th century and made me feel as though I was inside an Egyptian tomb.

Last, we climbed the tower and saw astounding views of the south and east Moravian countryside. I could also see the church where the family tomb of the Petřvalds and Berchtolds was located, but it was not nearby, and we did not go there. We descended many steps and came to the locked door. For a moment I was disoriented and lost sight of the guide. Then he appeared and opened the door with one of his many large keys. We all filed out, into the sunshine. When I turned around to thank the guide, he had disappeared.

My driver came for me, and soon I was back in Buchlovice, standing at the bus sign on the highway as car after car sped by me. The bus did arrive on time, though, and before long I was back in Brno.


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


Nové Hrady near Litomyšl Chateau Diary


About eight years ago I mentioned to several English students how I loved traveling to castles and chateaus on the weekends. “Have you been to Nové Hrady near Litomyšl? You have to go there!” my 25-year old female student blurted out, explaining that she was from a nearby town. I had visited Nové Hrady Castle in south Bohemia, but I had never heard of a Nové Hrady Chateau in east Bohemia. I could not find any public transportation at a convenient time, so I put this chateau on the back burner and explored others. Then, on a Friday in 2011, I was so eager to see the Rococo chateau I had looked up on the Internet, that I took the Student Agency bus to Hradec Králové, and then made the one-hour trip to Litomyšl.  From there a friend who owned a cottage nearby gave me a lift to Nové Hrady.

The history of Nové Hrady began with the construction of a church on this site in the 12th century. After the Hussite Wars in the 15th century, a Gothic castle called “Nový Hrad” or “New Castle” was erected there. In the 16th century the castle was transformed into a Renaissance chateau, but during The Thirty Years’ War it was plundered and destroyed. Duchess Anna Barbara Harbuval de Chamaré bought it in 1750, and Nové Hrady got its Rococo appearance from 1773 to 1777, when her son, French nobleman Jean-Antoine Harbural de Chamaré made it his summer residence.

ImageBack then it was dubbed the “Small Schonbrunn” or “Czech Versailles.” The French garden, English park and chateau chapel were created at this time, too. In 1935 Knight Bartoň of Dobenín purchased it and carried out the needed repairs. During the Second World War, the SS and Hitlerjugend occupied the chateau. In 1948 it became the property of the state. One wing of the chateau was turned into an elementary school, which existed here until the 1980s. An exhibition of Rococo art was placed in another wing. During the 1950s the chateau’s situation became even more desolate: Its basement was transformed into a fattening farm for pigs.

Reconstruction was carried out in various phases, but the chateau was still in a very decrepit state when it was returned to its original owner’s grandson, Josef Bartoň, in 1990. Unfortunately, he did not renovate the chateau. Instead, he put it up for sale. In 1997 the Kučera family from Prague purchased it. It finally opened to the public in 2001.

Now it looked so majestic that it was impossible for me to imagine the chateau in such terrible condition. After going through a three-part gate, I walked through a Rococo garden with fountains and ascended a lavish staircase studded with statues. I liked the coral orangish color of the chateau that made the exterior appear playful, cheerful and vibrant.

ImageI had visited enough chateaus to I know a little about the Rococo period. The key word for this style was ornate. Small sculptures often appeared as did lavish mirrors and tapestries. Rococo was even more extravagant than the Baroque style that had preceded it.

The tour began in the hallway below a monumental staircase enriched with putti statues. The side walls of the entrance hall were decorated with hunting trophies. We entered the large Main Hall with its creamy yellow walls and white rich stucco décor. The yellow and white colors made for an airy, joyful combination. The white tile stove was original, in Late Baroque style, and a white piano stood nearby. The crystal chandelier from Empress Marie Theresa’s era used 64 light bulbs and weighed 180 kilograms.

One window looked out to the Classicist circular gazebo with Baroque theatre of evenly sheared high bushes. In the wall the guide showed us two doors that opened outward to reveal a bar. From the terrace I saw the Rococo garden I had passed through to get to the box office.  The staircase looked even more elegant from this perspective.

ImageNext we entered a Baroque bedroom. The pillowcases on the Baroque bed had delicate, lace patterns. A brown table, oak closet and desk featured intarsia. A kneeler also hailed from the Baroque era. In the following room there was a grandfather clock that the guide claimed was impossible to repair. A kneeler featured an engraving of a house and trees using the intarsia technique. A Baroque intarsia table from Holland with motifs of flowers, birds, butterflies and vases rounded out the room.

Then came the Rococo Salon. The table and armchairs had a white floral design. The table impressed me the most with the ornate, gold ornamentation of its legs and sides. A white wardrobe decorated with green laurels was pleasing to the eye. The couch and chairs were pea green with yellow, flaunting a floral pattern. The green color combined with yellow gave the furniture a cheerful appearance.

Unfortunately, original Rococo chapel had been destroyed. The present chapel was sparse.  It featured two stained glass windows and a large carving of Jesus Christ on a cross.

ImageThen it was time for another Rococo style room featuring intarsia. The tops of two dressing tables were decorated with beads shaped into green swirls on a blue and black background. The space also contained two intarsia dressers decorated with floral motifs and a kneeler boasting intarsia.

In the former kitchen the 18th century grandfather clock, varnished in red, was engraved with Oriental themes, one feature of the Rococo period.  A desk featuring Oriental themes, depicting Chinese people and nature, caught my eye. The two jewelry boxes were Chinese, too.

The next room was called the Classicism Room. Classicism relied on order, symmetry and simplicity and began after 1765 as a reaction to Baroque and Rococo. It was connected with the French Revolution. The striped grey with tan couch and two chairs certainly fit the Classicist description. In a display case there were two elegant fans.

However, a clock glittering with gold made me think of the Empire Style that would be featured in the next room. After all, the gold and black color combination was one trait of the Empire style that corresponded with the era of Emperor Napoleon and his military maneuvers into Egypt during 1796. Oriental themes also played a part in the Empire style. Sure enough, in The Empire style room, black and gold freely mingled. A black clock featured two black men wearing gold loincloths and sporting heads of golden hair. Another gold clock was decorated with a seated angel. The furniture featured Oriental and animal themes.

ImageThe next room was set up in the Biedermeier style, from the first half of the 19th century. Carving and intarsia still appeared in smaller objects. A picture of a semi-circular square flanked by columns showed a passion for symmetry and order. I wondered if the painting depicted a place in Rome. The striped chairs and couch featured a simple yet elegant style.

The Smokers’ Salon was all about green. The rug was green, the cushions on the brown chairs were green, a partition was green, and a loveseat was decorated with green and tan stripes. This room was designed in the Art Nouveau style from the beginning of the 20th century.

ImageAfter the tour I explored the garden. There was a pond to my left, near the road. One part consisted of trees and plants on a slope, rising in tiers. It looked wild and untamed. Purple flowers lined a path behind the back gate that had its private garden. I spotted the Baroque theatre of shrubbery and the Classicist garden summerhouse. Further on, there was a hotel, an orangery, a paddock for horses, and an area where deer were bred.

I was very impressed with the Rococo exterior of the chateau, and it had been intriguing for me to see furniture and objects from various periods inside. The tour enlightened me as to the differences between eras. My understanding of the various time periods was enriched. I loved the black with gold combination of some objects. I wish the chateau had more paintings, though. A painting gallery of Baroque and Rococo art would have really added to the already stunning tour.

Soon I got back to Litomyšl, where I ate some chicken with peaches and cheese – my favorite – and then hurried to catch the 1 pm bus back to Hradec Králové. Upon arriving there, I ran to the other side of the terminal, where the Student Agency bus was about to leave for Prague. I made it just in time.Image

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

Vranov nad Dyjí Chateau Diary


It was my second visit to Vranov nad Dyjí, one of my favorite chateaus, located near Znojmo in south Moravia. Its façade was a hodgepodge of at least three architectural styles. Some medieval elements of the Baroque chateau had been preserved. The Crow’s Tower and the building in the first courtyard harkened back to the Middle Ages. The Baroque fountain was spectacular. I had to stop to admire the garden bursting with color as I walked toward the chateau. The white and yellow Baroque church with belfries was perched on a cliff to the left and below the chateau. It looked to me that it was positioned precariously, as if it would fall off the edge at any moment.

The chateau, part of Podyjí National Park, blended in with the cliffs and picturesque countryside, a characteristic that I found attractive. Vranov nad Dyjí did not disturb nature but rather complemented it. I felt comfortable here in this stunning, natural environment. The rooms were small and intimate (except for the vast Ancestors’ Hall) and were filled with exquisite objects. All the items gave the chateau a unique identity without one artifact overwhelming the others.

I was already familiar with the history of the chateau. Vranov was first mentioned in the Kosmas Chronicle during 1100. Originally, it served as a fortress made of wood and became a stone castle at the end of the 13th and during the 14th century. There were additions made in the 15th century, but in 1665 it succumbed to flames. When Michal Johann II von Althann bought it in 1680, the chateau stayed in the family for more than a century. Michael Johann II made it into a Baroque chateau. Under his guidance the astounding Hall of Ancestors and the chapel were built. Later, the chateau became a three-wing residential palace. Neo-Gothic and Romantic style elements were added during the 19th century. During that century, it was the property of two Polish clans – the Mniszek counts and the Stadnickis. The state took control of the chateau after 1945.

Vranov7Waiting for the tour to begin, I was overwhelmed by the two-flight Baroque main stairway decorated with sculptures. Hercules battled the giant Antaeus. Prince Aeneas carried his feeble father from burning Troy. Then 15 young children scampered toward me. It was my worst nightmare. I was worried that all these children would accompany me on the tour of my beloved chateau, and I would not be able to hear the guide over their cries. At least that had been my experience when visiting other chateaus with groups of young children.

Finally, the tour began. The guide, a tall, lanky, serious blond woman in her early twenties, ushered me and the children as well as a few other adults into the Hall of Ancestors. It took eight years to complete the lush décor of this space with its walls and ceiling covered in breathtaking frescoes celebrating the Althann family. Its stunning beauty made me dizzy. I looked up and noticed a golden chariot floating on the clouds. The female charioteer symbolized the Earth’s fertility, the guide explained. Between the oval windows I could make out the figures of Hercules, Orpheus, Theseus, Odysseus and Perseus praising the Althann ancestors. The family members’ statues decorated the niches of the hall. I was amazed by something else, too. None of the children were misbehaving. Some mumbled to themselves, but they were all fairly quiet and seemed interested in the guide’s descriptions. Maybe they would not be so badly behaved, after all.

Next we went outside onto the terrace, created at the end of the 18th century. The children loved the cannon balls there. The guide explained that the Swedes tried to take over the chateau twice during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, but failed to do so. I peered at the valley and romantic landscape that surrounded the chateau. The scenery was postcard perfect. It was so peaceful and tranquil. I could have stared at the landscape forever. Standing there, looking at the countryside of south Moravia, I found inner peace. Perhaps that is why I loved this chateau so much. Here, I found a sense of inner peace, calmness and strength to take on future trials and tribulations.

Then it was time for the residential rooms, furnished as they were at the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century. In the tiny entrance to the Pignatelli bedroom, a space that could not fit all the children, I saw a painting of Vranov five years before it was engulfed by flames in the 17th century. I was especially drawn to the scraggly cliffs and the meandering river in the picture as well as to the stone bridge that I walked on earlier today. Then we entered the main room, which was once the private chapel. A moustached man told a few rambunctious children to be quiet. The room exuded a sense of symmetry so typical of the Classicist era.  I noticed the exquisite fabric texture of the wall hangings, decorated with hunting themes and picturesque landscapes. Two statues inspired by antiquity flanked a canopy bed and stood on pedestals. I was enamored by their exquisite green leaf motifs.

The next space had been a dining room since the 1720s. The printed stoneware on the table featured the Italian town of Ferrara and came from the prominent Vranov earthenware factory founded in the 19th century. I was filled with awe as I took in the pictures on the wall. The hand-painted canvas showed landscape views of a park with ancient, medieval, Chinese and Egyptian structures. The guide pointed out a scene showing the Park Monceau in Paris. Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, whose tenure on the throne lasted from 1711 to 1740, made an appearance in the scene. No stranger to the Althann family, Charles VI was a close friend of Marie Anna, who was an owner of the chateau in the second half of the 18th century. The emperor had even visited Vranov. Two children were scolded for pushing each other.

In the Family Salon the owner’s relatives and guests would discuss private and public topics after a meal. They played cards or chess, read books, listened to music and sipped coffee, tea or hot chocolate. A samovar tea urn from Russia’s Tula town attested to this ritual. The white-grey and pistachio colors of the wall fabrics entranced me. They showed Pompeii and other ancient towns. A young girl with bright blue eyes giggled.

The Blue Salon, the ladies’ living room, exuded a Classical style with its blue wall hangings and two sculptures of Aphrodite on white stoves. The furniture, an elegant blue mahogany, hailed from the 19th century and was made in Empire style. There were various kinds of porcelain – Viennese and Meissen, for example – in the room as well. The children began to appear restless, no longer paying much attention to the exhibits.

Vranovview2The Respirium was where the family relaxed after taking a bath. The wall and ceiling décor fascinated me. The Classicist relief stucco and ornamentation featuring carved wood was so elegant, and I felt so comfortable in this space. The white columns had hidden compartments where toiletries were kept. I loved the stucco decorations above the door. In one scene, Artemis, goddess of the hunt, was being watched by Actaeon, who happened to be hunting in the forest when he saw her naked. Artemis turned him into a deer that her dogs devoured. I was glad that I was able to hear the guide as the children talked and argued among themselves. One girl with long chestnut-colored hair who would someday turn into a very beautiful woman began to cry.

Next we saw the Classicist bathroom, hailing from the 18th century. Artificial marble lined the walls. I loved the four black columns that appeared so elegant without being extravagant.  The guide, her voice a bit hoarse now, explained that the central pool had been used as a bathing area, but now visitors threw coins in the water for good luck. The children became excited and pleaded with the adults to give them some change. The chaperones shook their heads.

Hailing from the 18th century, a Rococo screen with Chinese motifs took precedence in the Oriental Salon. On the screen I could make out oriental gardens with bodies of water and paths. An aristocratic couple was celebrating around exotic figures. I was fascinated by the three unique sections of a 19th century Chinese scroll preserved in three rectangular frames. The scroll depicted a poet who had lived in the third century. The scribbler was coming home after being captured by the Huns. The scrolls showed her Hunnish escort, musicians and a general riding under a canopy while the poet held a child under a royal standard. This time a few of the children appeared interested in the scenes on the scroll as they talked among themselves about ancient battles.

Next came the Pompeii Salon with graphics on the walls depicting interiors of ancient palaces and villas. Vranov stoneware made a prominent appearance here. My eyes wandered to a pink vase with green décor. How I would love for my mother to be able to see that! She would love that vase! Maybe some day she would, I told myself. I wanted to show my parents so much of this country, but I would never have the chance to show them everything. The children showed no interest in the space.

The Althann Salon was another delight. Many of the paintings depicted members of this family, so significant to the development of the chateau. I admired the Baroque traveling altar. Brightly colored Vranov stoneware from the 19th century could also be found throughout the salon. By now the children were whining, restless, ready to leave.

The Gentlemen’s Salon hailed from the 19th century, and the decorations were inspired by spiritual alchemy. The scene above the door showed two female figures sleeping. Naked figures above four landscapes held torches. The symbols under the landscapes were focused on the Freemasons. The compasses and the square represented the meeting of heaven and earth, the guide remarked over a din of children’s cries. I admired the four landscapes on the walls, especially the depiction of the waterfall. I could almost hear the cascading water. The youngsters were not able to sit still.

The Swiss Rooms with 19th century landscape paintings on the walls were the next stops. I recognized Hercules in the midst of a battle. A black-stained cabinet was inlaid with marble depicting castles, towns, and rocks. The Picture Gallery included paintings by Dutch and Austrian artists from the 17th to 19th centuries. The Study was decorated with 19th century symbols of alchemy.

Last but not least came the library rooms. Created at the beginning of the 19th century, they now housed some 10,000 volumes. The black cabinets with geometrical designs looked sleek. Most of the books were written in French, German and Polish and hailed from the 18th and 19th centuries. The volumes consisted of both fiction and non-fiction that included subjects such as philosophy, mathematics, geography, theatre and history. I gazed at Voltaire’s collected works in cabinet 13.

Soon the tour was over. The children and their escorts scrambled away, and I took off toward the Chapel of the Holy Trinity in its romantic setting on the edge of the cliff below the chateau.  It was hard for me to believe that this impressive structure was completed within two years (1699-1700). Relieved that the children were not going to the church, I turned out to be the only one on the tour. I overheard a couple above the stairs leading down to the chapel.

“Do you want to see the chapel?”

The answer: “No, it does not seem so interesting.”

Vranovchurch1That couple did not know what they were missing. Architecturally, the interior had a central cylindrical nave with six oval rooms. There were three altars. Notably absent from the main altar was a picture or any kind of centerpiece. I had never seen a main altar like that before. I liked it because it was unique. I could see the Holy Trinity, and a pigeon represented the Holy Spirit. Angels also appeared in the Baroque creation, and golden rods shot out of the work.

The fresco in the cupola celebrated Archangel Michael, the defender of the Catholic Church, wielding a sword as he defeated Satan. Victorious, he placed his foot on his opponent’s chest. Angels danced and swirled around him. One side altar showed Saint Sebastian struck with arrows and Saint John the Baptist accompanied by sheep. The other altar portrayed Saint Barbara with a tower and Saint John with an eagle, holding a book. The Virgin Mary wore golden, flowing drapery.

Oval panels above the altars dealt with themes such as Heaven, Paradise and the Last Judgment.  The panel depicting the Last Judgment featured skeletons. One skeleton’s gesture seemed to be saying, “What? Me?”

After the tour of the church, I gazed at the romantic countryside and at the elegant chateau that blended with its surroundings, becoming a part of nature yet still retaining its own identity. Yes, I felt at peace here, even when among the rambunctious children on the tour. This place gave me strength that I often lacked. In the countryside here I also found a sense of hope.  The panorama gave me energy and a sense of optimism.

I left, reluctantly, to walk down the steep hill to the village below. From there the bus would take me back to Znojmo, where I would see a castle with magnificent interiors, a stunning rotunda, a spectacular church and several picturesque squares. I would stay in that intriguing south Moravian town overnight before heading back to Prague.Image

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