Waiting for the tour to start, I was excited that I would soon see the historical interiors of a chateau I had never before visited. Although Baroque Loučeň (also sometimes referred to as Lautschin) had been open to the public since 2007, I had heard about by chance only in 2015 via an article posted on Facebook. The place sounded magical. I knew I had to make a trip there. And soon. While there are many tours for children, I had opted for the classic tour of the interiors.
I was surprised that a settlement at Loučeň had existed as far back as 1223. A castle was in the town even during the Middle Ages, but a turning point in the history of Loučeň came in 1623 when Adam von Wallenstein became the owner. That is when the chateau was built in Baroque style, construction taking place from 1704 to 1713. Adam had a famous nephew: Albrecht von Wallenstein had made quite a name for himself in the military. He even held the post of supreme commander of the armies of the Habsburg Monarchy and was a major player in the Thirty Years’ War. The Wallenstein family tree died out in 1752.
In 1809 the Thurn und Taxis family came into the picture when Maxmilián Thurn und Taxis purchased the chateau. I had become familiar with this dynasty when I had visited Regensburg, where the family had had their main residence. I had toured their elegant palace and distinctly recalled the grotesque figures on the ceiling of the Conservatory, the Brussels’ tapestries in the Large Dining Room and the lavishness of the Rococo and Neo-Rococo Ballroom.
The family’s great influence on the postal system had left me in awe. The Thurn und Taxis family descended from the Tasso clan from the 13th century. During the end of the 15th century, Francesco Tasso created the first postal system going from Innsbruck to Brussels. It took a week for the mail to reach its destination. The key to its success was that the rider and horse were changed at each postal station. For his ingenuity, Tasso was given nobility status by Emperor Maximilian I and thus became Franz von Taxis in 1512. Before long the Thurn and Taxis family had the monopoly of the postal services in Central and Western Europe. By the end of the 18th century, the postal system was enjoying great success.
The Thurn und Taxis clan had some prominent members, that’s for sure. For example, Rudolf von Troskow established the law journal Právník, the first of its kind in the Czech language. He also created some legal vocabulary that is still in use today. His interests were not limited to law, though. He was a patron of the arts as well.
During 1875, when Alexander Thurn und Taxis, a violinist and patron of the arts, wed Marie von Hohenlohe, an amateur painter as well as friend and patron of Rainer Maria
Rilke, times changed at Loučeň, a place many well-known artists and politicians proceeded to visit. Rilke stopped by – not once – but twice. He even dedicated his Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge to Marie. Composer Bedřich Smetana lived nearby toward the end of his life and performed on one of the Thurn und Taxis’ pianos. Smetana was a friend of the family; he dedicated his composition Z domoviny to Alexander. Other prominent visitors included Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, his daughter Alice, Czech writer Eliška Krásnohorská, musician Josef Suk and American storyteller Mark Twain.
Alexander Thurn und Taxis was a man of many accomplishments. He gave his animal trophies to Prague’s National Museum and helped build the first railway in the region. During the tour I would discover the role he played in bringing soccer to Bohemia.
The Thurn und Taxis clan would lose the chateau at the end of World War II, when it became the property of the state. In 1945 the Soviet army and locals plundered the chateau. Under Communism the chateau’s history was not rosy, either. It became a recreation center for Ministry of Transportation employees. Later it was turned into a railway trade school. A landmark event occurred when the company Loučeň a.s. took over the chateau in 2000. Even some of the original furnishings were retrieved.
Our guide was a descendant of the Thurn und Taxis family. I had never been on a tour led by a member of a family that had had such a remarkable impact on the chateau I was visiting. It was a real treat. In Staircase Hall I was captivated by a large painting of Duino Chateau, a romantic structure perched on a cliff in Italy. The young man’s parents were there now, he said. The place had been the Thurn und Taxis’ property for centuries. Rilke had written his Duino Elegies there.
In the first room there was a sleigh which had been used to move the mail through snowy terrain. It was painted black and yellow, and it was no coincidence that taxis often used the same shade of yellow. In fact, the word taxi derives from the name Thurn und Taxis. I also saw the huge winter boots that a postman would have worn delivering the mail in wintry conditions. A map of Bohemia from 1720 hung on one wall. I loved old maps! It made me think of the vedutas and maps of towns at Mělník Chateau. The family’s coat-of-arms was prominent, too. It featured a badger. (The original name of the family, Tasso, means badger in Italian.)
I wanted to sit in the red, plush chairs at the dining room table and stare at the exquisite porcelain service. Overall, there were 600 pieces, but only a portion of them were on display. The fancy gold candlesticks got my attention, too. In the Chinese Salon I was impressed with the big Chinese vases, so colorful with superb designs. The white wallpaper featured pink flowers and green leaves and had a sense of fragility and intimacy to it.
The Prince’s Study was filled with his souvenirs from two trips to Africa, including a crocodile. Paintings of horses also decorated the study. In one rendition a horse was jumping over a barrier in a Pardubice steeplechase race. (I would learn more about the Pardubice steeplechase when I visited Karlova Koruna Chateau a few weeks later.)
In the Prince’s Bedroom I noticed a photo of Prince Alexander with his four cats, three of whom slept on the bed with him. Curled up on the bed were three stuffed animal cats. I thought that was an interesting touch. My late cat had almost always slept on my head during almost 15 years, and I thought of how much I missed him. I wondered what my five-year old cat was doing at that moment. She liked to sleep at the foot of the bed. I didn’t think I could live without cats in my life. Maybe Alexander had felt the same.
In the servant’s bedroom I saw something that really surprised me. At first I did not understand why there was an iron next to replicas of old banknotes. Then the guide explained. The servant ironed the prince’s money so that it would not be crumpled. That was not all. The servant also ironed the prince’s newspaper to prevent the color from fading and to keep it from getting dirty.
In the hallway I saw a vacuum from the 1930s and red buckets on one wall in case a fire would break out. A picture of the Loučeň soccer team from 1893 also hung in the hall. That team played in the first official soccer game in Bohemia, thanks to Alexander’s interest in the sport.
An avid fan of classical music, I have always enjoyed visiting the music salons in chateaus. This time was no different. I tried to imagine Smetana performing on the piano in the room. On the piano was a red box of Mozartkugeln truffles. The music sheets were turned to Concertino for violin and piano by Leo Portnoff, who was born in Russia during 1875 and emigrated to the USA in 1922.) I wondered if Alexander had played the violin accompanied by Marie on the piano when performing this piece.
The Princess’ Salon was decorated with books by Rilke and an upright piano from the 18th century. The view of the park from the window here was very romantic and picturesque. There were 10 mazes and 11 labyrinths in the park. I would have to check it out later, I told myself. I loved the bright green painted walls and a nook in one part of the room. I wanted to relax and read, seated in that nook, losing myself in a mystery or art catalogue.
In the Princess’ Bedroom I saw her ravishing pink-and-cream wedding dress, which she had donned at age 40. I marveled at how young she looked in photos. Crowns and lions adorned the light blue wallpaper. A piano made by Rudolf Stenhamer in Vienna stood in the room, too. I admired the richly carved patterns on the front and back of the bed. I also was interested in the personal items that had belonged to the princess. On display were fans, a crocodile handbag and beautiful necklaces as well as a jewelry bag. The Oriental carpet was a nice touch, too.
The Children’s Room came next and then a small classroom for Thurn und Taxis children. It was very plain. There was a small bench for two students with small blackboards. On the desk were two books called Histoire de la Revolution Française. In the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary there was a real treat. The artwork over the main altar was made by my beloved Czech Baroque painter Petr Brandl. I recalled his altar paintings in the cathedral at Sedlec, which I had visited earlier that year for what must have been the fourth or fifth time. Still, his work never failed to amaze me.
The library consisted of a gallery and ground floor. One of the books prominently displayed was an English version of a fairy tale by Princess Marie – The Tea Party of Miss Moon. I would have been interested in reading it to get a sense of the princess’ writing style, but it was not for sale in the chateau shop. The most valuable book was the huge chronicle of the Thurn und Taxis family. Another enormous volume on a table tackled the theme of the romantic Šumava region in the Czech lands. The room was not without its distinguished family portraits, either.
I walked through the park a bit and then made my way to Nymburk, a town closely associated with my favorite Czech writer, Bohumil Hrabal. In Nymburk I did not have much time for sightseeing, though. I peeked into a Gothic church and had lunch before heading back to Prague, more than satisfied with the trip’s outcome.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.