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.

Image