Buchlov Castle Diary

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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.

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Nové Hrady near Litomyšl Chateau Diary

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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

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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.

Velké Losiny Chateau Diary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It did.

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

Arcades of Velke Losiny Chateau 2

Broumov Monastery Diary

Broumov2Getting to Hradec Králové from Prague was the easy leg of the trip, only taking one hour and 15 minutes courtesy of the comfortable Student Agency buses with plush seating. I had an hour before my connection, which would take me to Broumov on a journey lasting two and a half hours.

I had wanted to visit Broumov for about 10 years, but I was always put off by the four-hour or longer bus ride to get there. I do not like traveling by bus. A four-hour trip seemed too much to bear.

This time, though, I was determined finally to see the monastery that many of my friends had praised. Unfortunately, I would not have time to explore any of the rock formations near my destination, a town at the Polish border of northeast Bohemia.

My connecting bus pulled up on time. I spent about an hour reading about the monastery’s history. The town, I found out, had been established as far back as the 13th century. The first mentioning of the monastery that I could find came from 1306, when the Benedictines began to run a grammar school there. Several of the students would make names for themselves in Czech history: Arnošt of Pardubice, who served as the first Archbishop of Prague during the middle of the 14th century; writer Alois Jirásek; and the first Czechoslovak Minister of Finance, Alois Rašín. The history of the school was fraught with trials and tribulations, though. The Hussites destroyed it during 1420, and the uprising of the Bohemian Estates from 1618 to 1620 during the Thirty Years’ War also forced the school to shut its doors. The history of the uprising was intriguing, to say the least. Holy Roman Emperor Matthias had appointed Ferdinand as his heir, which caused a major fuss among the Protestants because Ferdinand abhorred Protestantism.

Broumov3I also read that in the early 17th century, Protestants constructed their own church near the Lower Gate of the monastery, causing much friction. Even though Emperor Ferdinand II ordered it to be shut down and put some rebels in prison, the church remained open. This Catholic-Protestant conflict in Broumov helped instigate the Prague defenestration of vice-governors on May 23, 1618, when the two representatives Ferdinand had sent to oversee the Czech government at Prague Castle were pushed out a window along with the secretary. (They survived because they fell on a pile of horse manure.) This marked the Second Defenestration of Prague and triggered the Bohemian Revolt.

That is when the directors of the Bohemian Estates confiscated the monastery, which was purchased by the citizens of the town. The complex was returned to the Benedictines after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, when the Catholics, led by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II’s army, defeated the Protestant Bohemians. The monastery was in ruins but was restored. The school was not closed again until 1939, when the Nazis controlled the complex. Benedictines from the USA oversaw the monastery from 1945 to 1948, but then the Communists took over, and the American monks went home. During 1950 the monastery became an internment camp for monks. It was not returned to the Benedictines until 1990.

To get to the monastery, I had to walk through the main square. Renaissance house number 105 boasted of a portal from 1595. I noticed two buildings in Neo-Renaissance style as well. The monastery was practically on the square. I purchased my ticket and gazed at the Baroque statues of saints on the balustrade of the monastery’s terrace before the tour began. Saint Prokop, in almost fluttering drapery, proudly gripped a cross. The Baroque masterpieces seemed to twist and turn on their own and gave the exterior a dramatic and dynamic atmosphere.

First, we entered the Church of Saint Vojtěch (Adalbert) – a Baroque wonderland thanks to Italian builder Martin Allio and the Dientzenhofer team of father Kryštof and son Kilián Ignáz during the 18th century. (The Dientzenhofers remodeled the other monastery buildings in Baroque style as well.) I was overwhelmed by the pink fresco-filled ceiling with white stucco décor. I felt dizzy with awe as I peered at the fresco showing the death of Saint Vojtěch. In the Saint Benedict Chapel, white angels fluttered amidst spiraling pink columns. In the choir I admired the carved wooden benches with gold decoration as well as the frescoes above them.  The 20-something guide with long blond hair pointed out a rendering of “The Last Supper”. The main altar, dating from 1706, was not disappointing, either. Flanked by Saint Václav (Wenceslas) and Saint John of Nepomuk, Saint Vojtěch stands proudly in the middle.

Broumov4Next, we went upstairs to the library – one of my favorite rooms on any tour. Originally, there were three libraries with a total of 67,000 books, but now only one remained, and the number of books has dwindled to 17,000. The guide explained that during the totalitarian regime, Communists threw books out the window. Other books went to Prague, and still others were stolen.  I tried to imagine someone hurling these exquisite volumes outside, but it was too painful. It was just one of the many ways that the Communists tried to suffocate Czech culture. Once again, I was reminded of how horrific the totalitarian era was. The reading material that remained was written in Latin, Spanish, French and Czech, among other languages. The books dealt with subjects such as law and history, the guide remarked, showing us a seven-volume set of The Old Testament, which made up the heaviest books. Each weighed 20 kilograms. I was moved by the portraits decorating the balustrade and the frescoes that adorned the ceiling. The illustrated manuscripts featured in display cases were a treat, too.

Downstairs to the first floor, we entered the refectory. The treasure in the room was one of 40 copies of the Shroud of Turin, discovered in the Saint Cross chapel during 1999. What a day that must have been! Imagine discovering a 17th century relic three centuries later!

Supposedly, Jesus Christ was wrapped in the original shroud after his body was taken down from the cross. Those who believe in its authenticity argue that an impression of a coin circulated at the time of Jesus of Nazareth’s death was shown on one of the eyes. Originally kept in Constantinople, it has been stored in Turin since the 16th century.

Made in 1651, this copy – the only one found north of the Alps – was a gift to Broumov Abbot Sobek of Bílenberk from Turin Bishop Bergirius. The shroud featured a brown impression of Christ’s body with a light outline. For some reason I had expected the impression to be more pronounced and the outline more visible, darker. Still, it was exciting to be able to see such a significant piece.

Broumov12In the corridor we stopped at three charts on boards. One denoted events from the 19th century, marking that the cholera epidemic had ravaged the region during 1836. A board from 1812 showed that hop-plant was the most expensive product that year.

Then the tour guide asked who wanted to see the mummies. I did not know anything about any mummies there, but, curious, I tagged along with two others. We walked deep down into the crypt. In two spaces I saw 20 mummies of 17th and 18th century townspeople in open coffins. There were 32 mummies in all, but only 20 were on display, the guide remarked. Then she explained that due to renovation work in Vamberk, the mummies had been kept here since 2000. She did not know when they would return home. I was aghast that the mummies were so small, the size of children rather than most adults. For a moment I was brooding and philosophical. I wondered if that is all there is after life. You wind up in a coffin, there is no God, no Heaven. You are stuck in a dark place for eternity. Moved by the sight of the open caskets, I tried not to dwell on those depressing thoughts and instead marveled at the mummies’ preservation.

The tour ended, and I went to the museum in the monastery, six halls focusing on 700 years of the Broumov region’s rich history. Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque objects were just a few of the attractions. Weapons, folk nativity scenes, shooting targets and regional folk costumes rounded out the permanent exhibition. There was also an exhibition of clocks – from ornate Baroque clocks to 20th century alarm clocks. The most intriguing object for me was the poster announcing that this region – the former Sudetenland with a German majority – was being incorporated into The Third Reich. The German citizens had been enthusiastic about it, I remember reading. They had welcomed the Munich Agreement of 1938 that ceded Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to Hitler. And I thought of the Beneš decrees instigated after World War II when Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš expelled all Germans from the Sudetenland. History had certainly made a poignant mark on this seemingly tranquil town. Looking at that poster, I saw the brutality of 20th century events that had seeped throughout the region.

Wooden church in Broumov

Wooden church in Broumov

Next, I made my way toward the hospital. Across the street was a small cemetery with an exquisite wooden church – the Church of the Virgin Mary – that is the oldest preserved all-wood construction in Central Europe. There may have been a church on this site as far back as the 12th century, when this part of town made up a village. Legend has it that the church was built by a pagan princess during 1171. However, the first written documentation of its existence dates from 1383. In 1421 the church was destroyed by the Hussites, though the extent of the destruction is uncertain. The current church was constructed by the Benedictines in 1449. The Gothic structure had a single nave with a trihedral end and a steep gabled roof. A pyramid steeple punctuated the building. The ground floor was surrounded by an open gallery, and the interior was covered with planks.

The main altar

The exquisite interior of the church

The tombstones outside the church

The tombstones outside the church

The art work was incredible. There was a remarkable stencil mural on a wall. I admired the black stencil motifs of geometric shapes and vegetables on the ceiling and walls, too. The main altar depicted the Virgin Mary looking up to Heaven, surrounded by a gold frame supported by two angels. Two columns were situated behind the angels. A huge halo dominated the top of the exquisite structure. 

Another photo of the interior of the church

Another photo of the interior of the church

After spending about a half hour in that modest yet fascinating architectural gem, I had lunch in a hotel restaurant with a garden and terrace. There was a fountain and statuary in the garden that seemed to belong to a palace. The prices were the same as the pizzeria I often visited in downtown Prague, yet the dining atmosphere was much classier. I felt as if I were at a resort.

My stomach filled with delicious chicken and diet Coke, I walked around the corner to the bus stop. It would be a four-hour journey back to Prague on the direct bus. I was surprised to find out that there was no break during the trip, such as a 10-minute interval to use the bathrooms. I did have five minutes in Náchod, though, where I raced around the corner to the train station restroom and made it back with a minute to spare. While the skies had foreshadowed rain during my entire trip, it did not start pouring until I got off the bus at the Černý Most Metro station in Prague. Still, nothing could damper my excitement about a trip that had been well worth the arduous journey.Broumov5

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

Opočno Chateau Diary

Opocnochateau3The trip went well. I changed buses at Hradec Králové after a little over an hour’s ride and then took another bus for almost an hour to the main square of the small town in called Opočno, where there is a chateau of the same name. I was in northeast Bohemia, near Poland, not far from the Orlické Mountains.  It didn’t take long to find the chateau as it was only 300 meters from the bus stop. After I bought my ticket, I walked through another courtyard and found myself staring at a façade with two-tiered light and airy arcades and a columned balcony on the third level. Flanking the arcaded façade were adjoining buildings of a pleasing red brick color complemented by white. Neatly trimmed circular hedges added color to the courtyard.

I had done enough reading about the chateau to know that the name Opočno conjures up a few intriguing stories connected with the chateau’s history. In the second half of the 15th century, the owner, Jan of Drslavic, protested against the legendary preacher and martyr Jan Hus being burned at the stake. Then he changed his mind and supported those who did Hus in. Jan Žižka, Hus’ successor with the Hussites, razed some of the surrounding villages and partially destroyed part of the chateau. Jan of Drslavic even hired a hitman to murder Žižka. He was unsuccessful.

When, during the 16th century, the Trčka family retained ownership of the chateau, Mikuláš Trčka Jr. not only reconstructed the chateau but also had his wife immured alive because she was unfaithful to him. Her lover was beheaded.

A significant historical event took place here as well. From June 16 to June 23, 1813 this was the setting for meetings dealing with the strategy to defeat French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Austrian Chancellor Klemens Wenzel, Prince von Metternich; Russian Czar and Emperor Alexander I; and the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III, were the main players in this historical drama.

Perhaps the 16th century is better known for the Trčka family’s work on the chateau. Jan Rudolph Trčka constructed a summerhouse and had built a garden and orangery with a Renaissance park and ponds. During the 18th century the façade took on a Baroque appearance.

The most significant changes, though, probably came about when Rudolph Joseph Colloredo-Mannsfeld became the owner in 1807. A greenhouse was built, and the English style park was filled with ponds and many types of plants, some of them exotic and rare. In 1896 the family moved their impressive picture gallery to the chateau.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Joseph Colloredo-Mannsfeld transformed some interiors into Rococo style.

His successor, though, was not so lucky. The Nazis overtook the chateau and grounds in 1942. After the war the chateau became the property of newly independent Czechoslovakia. The chateau underwent much restoration during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but disaster hit in 1998, when floods ravaged the park. It took two years to clean the mud out of ponds, bridges had to be rebuilt, and rare species of plants had to grow anew.

Although the Colloredo-Mannsfeld family asked for the property back during 1992, they did not get their wish granted until 2003. Some legal disputes have yet to be settled, though.

Opocnochateau1It was soon time for the tour. The first room I entered was the Ethnographic Hall, where I saw various objects from Sudan, Egypt, Central Africa, and South America. There was an Arabic sword and breastplate armor as well as a tonton drum.  Arabic furniture and the apparel of the Sioux and Apache Indians were also on display. The Central American Indians were also represented.

Swords, shields and armor from the 16th to 19th century adorned the staircase as did paintings of the chateau as it had appeared at the beginning of the 18th century. Colloredo-Mannsfeld family portraits also hung here.

The Chapel of Saint Anne, dating back to the early 18th century, took up two floors. It was adorned with a fresco showing the coronation of the virgin, a painted ceiling showing swirling figures and also images of patrons of the Czech Lands. It boasted rich wooden décor.  It was breathtaking to look up at all those swirling figures. I felt gripped by their beauty.

The Study boasted Italian commodes from the 16th to 17th century and a Neo-Renaissance wardrobe. One painting, called “The Twelve-Year Old Jesus in the Temple,” was executed by a follower of Hieronimus Bosch around 1550. The bright pink robe of one of the rather static figures caught my eye.

In the Smoking Room I was impressed with the glass – there was a collection of Venetian glass from the 16th century as well as Czech cut glass. German guild goblets, German pottery and Empire style Viennese porcelain also made the room intriguing. I spotted an ashtray shaped as a horn and made out of brown leather. I especially liked the hand painted vases and the glasses sporting coats of arms. I recognized pictures of Dobříš Chateau, near Prague, and Opočno Chateau on two glasses.

A Hapsburg dynasty portrait gallery called the Dining Room home. I spotted Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in a blue dress as well as Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Leopold I and his first wife, Margaret Theresa of Spain. I had visited enough chateaus to know that the pair was considered the ugliest and most faithful couple, according to legend. Somehow the curly, long black hair and moustache didn’t suit Leopold I’s disproportionate face, only making him more displeasing to the eye. Elaborate candlesticks were 200 years old, dating from the 18th and 19th century.

The chateau park

The chateau park

Flemish tapestries and hunting trophies from North America and Africa dotted the Game Room, which was also fit with a pool table. While I was always entranced by Flemish tapestries, I did not like hunting trophies, as I do not approve of killing animals for sport.

The Changing Room was distinguished by the 18th century Flemish tapestries with a hunting theme as well. Baroque still life paintings also adorned the walls. The guide told us that during the 18th century women could not show their ankles because it was considered the most erotic part of the body.

The Ladies Bedroom had a small bed because women remained in a sitting position while asleep so they wouldn’t mess up their elaborate hairdos. That was how the guide explained it. But I had also heard on many tours that people back then were afraid they would die if they lay down at night. I was particularly drawn to one black-and-white painting showing Empress Maria Theresa of Austria with 13 of her 16 children. Why only 13? Because three had already died before the painting was executed. The colorful chandelier made of Venetian glass will fall if an unfaithful man steps under it, the guide told us. I hoped there were no unfaithful men on the tour.

The Guest Rooms exhibited various styles of furniture, from Renaissance, Early Baroque and High Baroque to Classicist and Empire. In the Classicist room I noticed an intriguing stand for candles with three-tiers, one with figures of people, another with ravens and a third with what looked like cherubs.

Then we came to my favorite rooms, the small and large picture galleries. There were so many swirling Baroque figures in the paintings that it was overwhelming. I was dizzy with awe. The paintings were side-by-side, so close to each other. The small gallery featured Italian paintings of the Venetian and Ferraro Schools, to name a few, ranging from the 16th to 18th century while the large gallery was dominated by the work of the Neapolitan School and others during the 17th and 18th centuries. Three large paintings also depicted the history of the Italian town Mantova. I noticed a rendition of a hilly landscape, in calming blue and green, with a man in the foreground kneeling in front of some water. In the large gallery some seascapes caught my eye. One painting depicted a man with six toenails. On a hall there was a map of the area around Opočno with a legend of various places depicted on the painting. Yet another showed a battle scene with ruins in the background.

Opocnopark3I would like to point out some of the paintings that particularly enthralled me. In Luca Cambiaso’s “The Holy Family,” I took note of how Mary gazed so lovingly at the baby Jesus as she tickled his foot. The darkness contrasting with light caught my attention in Francesco Trevisani’s “The Assassination of St. Wenceslas.” While angels congregated in the light sky above, a helmeted man decked in blue gripped a dagger in the lower portion of the painting, almost complete darkness enclosing him as he was ready to strike an almost lifeless, chained Saint Wenceslas. Rays of light streamed into the darkness at a right angle. In “The Battle,” by a follower of Salvatore Rosa, one fighter on horseback shoved his sword into his foe, who began to slide off his horse. The wounded lifted up one hand toward Heaven as if asking God to stop time. I was moved by the helplessness of such a gesture.  The atmosphere was totally different in Giacomo Po’s “Victor’s Apotheosis II,” as I saw a swirling figures and horses carried out in Baroque style. The clear, light blue sky melting into the horizon and the dark green color of the trees in the foreground had a calming effect on me in Jan Frans van Bloeman’s (known as Orizzonte) “Landscape in Campagna.”

The library became another of my favorite rooms as I was entranced by its rare books. Martin Luther’s German 16th century translation of The Bible was here, and I knew how much that book had influenced the evolution of the German language. There was a French encyclopedia dating from 1765, too. Altogether there were about 7,000 books, bound in what looked to be gold, written in languages such as Latin, French and Italian. The subjects ranged from religion to history to linguistics to philosophy. One manuscript was called The Czech Chronicle of the World – this was my favorite – and it had been printed before 1423 in Nuremburg. I loved old, fragile manuscripts. The ancient, crisp paper with the neat, careful, fancy script always caught my eye. Each page seemed to have a life of its own, to tell its own story. To me such manuscripts seemed magical.

I wasn’t keen on weapons, but the three rooms – the Asian Armory, the Hunting Hall and the Knights’ Hall – were impressive, no doubt about it.  The Asian Armory featured weapons from the Near East and Far East, from countries such as Turkey, India and Japan.  Perhaps the highlight of the room was the 2,000-year old small bronze drum from the Dongon culture of what is today North Vietnam.  I took note of a sword from Thailand with beautifully carved handles. What intrigued me the most, though, was one object from Japan. It consisted of poles with spikes that had been used to catch the kimonos of thieves in the market.

The Knights’ Hall portrayed the development of weapons and armor from the 15th to 18th century, some pieces harkening back to the 15th century Hussite Wars and the 17th century Thirty Years’ War, for example. The guide showed us one sword that had no sharp point because it was used for executions. A Roman helmet was 2,000 years old and found in what is now Moravia. Another unique object that caught my attention was a painting of Opočno. It looked nothing like the chateau because the painter had never been there

Opocnopark1After the tour I went to the park. It was a very hot, sunny day. I sat on a bench not far from the entrance, under a tree in the shade and stared at the pond and leafy trees that looked like enchanting scenery from a postcard. This was my favorite park, I was certain. I felt so at ease here. I couldn’t exactly explain why. I didn’t need to go to the sea to relax. I just needed to go to Opočno’s chateau park. When I first visited Opočno 10 years earlier, I had thought that I would like my wedding to be here, so I could walk with my new husband through this park, through this fairy tale of natural wonders. Ten years later, still with no husband, I sat on the bench and read The Death of the Beautiful Deer by Czech author Ota Pavel. I stayed there for about two hours, content, not wanting to leave. But I had to get something to eat before I caught the five o’clock bus back. The closest restaurant was reserved, so I found a pub with attractive seating on the main square and chose my favorite – chicken with peaches and cheese plus a diet Coke.

I got to the bus stop on the main square about 20 minutes before five o’clock. According to the schedule on the Internet, the bus was supposed to come a little after five. I wanted to check it on the schedule on the bus stop, but I couldn’t. It was June 12, and the bus schedule changed June 13. Tomorrow’s schedules were already posted; today’s had been taken down already. I could only hope my information from the Internet was right. Then two teenage girls showed up at the stop. The bus came about 10 minutes before five o’clock.

I had been lucky. In early August, when I looked up the times of buses from Hradec Králové to Opočno, according to the web site, no such connection existed.

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

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