We approached the yellow-and-white Baroque chateau that was located about 16 kilometers south of Pilsen. Nebílovy had two horseshoe-shaped sections, a front and a back wing. The front part of the chateau boasted a beautiful yellow exterior. However, the outside of the back chateau was in bad condition. When my friend saw the back wing, she asked me if the chateau was open.
Because this was my second visit, I was able to explain to my friend that the building in the back sported some beautiful interiors of representative rooms, including a dazzling dancing hall and an impressive chapel. Unfortunately, finances had not yet permitted the exterior of the back wing to be restored. Many rooms in the back wing had to be renovated, and it would take a long time. Czech chateaus and castles just didn’t have the money to do repairs quickly. I wished I was a billionaire and could donate money to cats and the restoration of chateaus and castles in the Czech Republic. Alas, this was not to be.
I was familiar with the history of Nebílovy. The chateau came into existence during 1706 thanks to Count Adam Jindřich from Steinau, who had it built for residential purposes. The Viennese architect who made this possible was Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt. Count Adam Jindřich would be a major player in the chateau’s history. He had made a name for himself as imperial general and field marshal of the Venetian Republic. However, Adam Jindřich passed away in 1712, before construction was completed.
Then Nebílovy was sold to the Černín family, and construction was finished before 1720. Count Vojtěch Černín from Chudenice, an accomplished hunter, had it reconstructed in the late 18th century, when master artist Antonie Tuvora painted the interiors. Unfortunately, most of his painting had not survived. It was still visible, though, in the 18th century Dancing Hall due to a lengthy and complicated restoration process.
The Wallenstein-Vartemberk clan then had possession of the chateau, but they lived at Kozel Chateau nearby. I had visited Kozel with its one-floor unique architectural style several times. Later, Nebílovy became decrepit and would remain in bad condition for 100 years. From 1816 it was no longer inhabited. It was used for agricultural purposes. After World War I, parts of the property were divided into plots and sold. Restoration didn’t start until 1968, when the state got control. It was open to the public in 1998.
We walked through the park, which had many flower arrangements and an intriguing fountain. One side was fenced off. Sheep, rams and goats called that part home.
Soon it was time for the tour of the front and back wings. Even the hallway of the front wing was impressive with its delightful paintings of herbal flowers. I especially liked one painting near the beginning of the tour – it showed two hamsters eating grapes. I hadn’t seen many hamsters in paintings in chateaus.
One feature I loved during the tour was the presence of impressive Venetian chandeliers. The Oriental porcelain and furnishings also captured my attention. The porcelain in general was also worth praising, especially the Meissen works. An avid tea drinker, I especially liked a white tea cup decorated with painting of ivy and red flowers. It had a cheery, Christmasy feel. I loved Christmas Eve. It was my favorite holiday. Another piece that interested me was a blue porcelain peacock adorned with real feathers. I also was drawn to a black jewel chest, its drawers sporting floral, plant and bird motifs. The pianos in the chateau were another delight.
While we were examining the back building, we saw the Dancing Hall. I stood in the middle of the 180 meters squared room and stared at the wall and ceiling frescoes of an exotic landscape with Classicist and Rococo elements. It almost made me dizzy with glee.
The frescoes were dotted with monkeys, peacocks, birds and ancient ruins as well as a few people in 18th century attire. The palm trees started at floor level and reached to the ceiling. The doors and fireplace became parts of the landscape, surrounded by trees and architecture from antiquity. I particularly liked the painting of the monkey praying. The faux window, made using illusive techniques, was another thrill. A temple stood in the idyllic landscape, where several people relaxed. Broken statues and pedestals added to the motif of antiquity. I was awed at how Tuvora’s delicate work really drew the viewer into the setting. I was even more fascinated by the restoration process of the fresco. They had arranged it into 650 parts and restored each piece during a lengthy process that was not ready until 2013. The fresco restoration had been even lauded by the National Monument Institute.
After the tour, we entered a small doorway from the courtyard of the back building. It didn’t look like it would be anything special. But inside there was a chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony, an impressive Baroque creation with gilded altars that included wonderful statuary. On the other side of the back building, there was a modern art exhibition that was interesting to see.
We soon left the chateau, full of awe at the 18th century interiors and intriguing architecture of the exteriors. Images of the Dancing Hall kept popping through my mind. It was definitely exceptional, a true work of art – precise and masterful. We came back to Prague, knowing our trip was a great success.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
I have taken many strolls through Wallenstein Gardens in Malá Strana (the Little Quarter) to clear my head or bask in beautiful weather on a weekend afternoon. Once I met a friend whom I hadn’t seen for 10 years there, and it was an unforgettable reunion as we walked by all the remarkable features of the gardens. I also was thrilled to show my parents this gem situated behind the Malostranská Metro, near the Wallenstein Riding School, a building housing fantastic temporary art exhibitions. For me it has been an oasis of tranquility, a place of eternal wonder no matter how many times I set foot on its grounds. One minute I am on a busy street near the Metro, the next I am in a sort of paradise with Prague Castle in the horizon, giving the gardens a dreamy character. Whenever I saw the Castle in the distance, I thought back to my many morning walks there during 1991, when the sellers on the Charles Bridge were just beginning to set up their stands.
The Senate occupies Wallenstein Palace in the gardens that date back to the original construction of the palace, between 1620 and 1630. The complex is named after Albrecht von Wallenstein, a military hero of the Thirty Years’ War who commanded the Catholic army. He only lived in that palace for about one year because he was assassinated in Cheb on the orders of Emperor with whom Wallenstein had serious disagreements.
The Early Baroque Italian gardens feature a pond boasting a statue of Hercules, a Renaissance fountain, much statuary, a grotto wall, an aviary and a sala terrena with fantastic arches. Peacocks saunter on the grounds. The limestone wall has some grottoes and is situated next to an aviary that features an eagle owl. The grottoes and aviary date back to the original structure. Rows of bronze statues include the pairs Adonis and Venus; Apollo and Bacchus; Hercules and the Centaur; and Neptune and Laocoon as well as his sons. Sandstone statues also abound. A marble fountain displays a bronze statue of Venus and Cupid.
The sala terrena, an open and arched structure, is the dominant feature of the gardens. I always spend a lot of time staring at the ceiling and walls. While the ceiling features mythological frescoes, three lunettes show pictorial narratives of the Trojan War, and medallions portray heroes of Trojan Wars.
Major renovation on the gardens took place from 2000 to 2001. Then the floods of 2002 ravaged the gardens. It was reconstructed, though. Various types of trees adorn the gardens, such as English oak, honey locust, magnolias and figs.
Tracy Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
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 Dining Room
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.
The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
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 ceiling of the church
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.
View from Loučeň Chateau
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.
For the first time in a long while I went on a trip by car. Since my friend did not have a highway sticker that permitted her to drive on the highways, we had to take side roads that made the trip to northern Bohemia’s Frýdlant Castle and Chateau more than three hours long but much more scenic and intriguing.
I already was familiar with the history of the mammoth castle and chateau complex, as I had visited it eight years earlier. The first reference to the impressive sight went back to 1278, when the castle was sold to the Bibrštejn clan who ruled here for 300 years. During the 15th century Hussite wars, the Hussites did not capture the castle, as it was spared the Hussites’ wrath that had destroyed so many sites throughout the Czech lands. The chateau came into existence at the beginning of the 17th century, when Catherine of Redern had it constructed with sgraffito decoration. She also was responsible for adding the exquisite church.
Protestant noble Kryštof of Redern participated in the uprising against the Catholics during the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, and after the Protestants lost, Frýdlant was confiscated. Albrecht von Wallenstein, commander of the Habsburg armies and a major player in the Thirty Years’ War, bought the place during 1622. However, Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II started to distrust him and in effect gave him a pink slip. When the Protestants notched some victories over the Catholics, Ferdinand asked him for help again, and help he did. Yet, when in 1633 Wallenstein did not attack the enemy during a battle, he was accused of high treason. Unhappy with the way the emperor treated him, he had also been thinking about joining the Protestants. But he would not have the chance. Emperor Ferdinand II had Irish army officer Walter Devereux assassinate Wallenstein in Cheb during 1634.
Then Wallenstein’s General Matyáš Gallas took over the castle. The Gallas family owned Frýdlant until 1759, when the Clam-Gallas family became the owners. The castle museum opened in 1801. In 1945 Frýdlant was confiscated due to the Beneš decrees that ceded all property held by Germans to the state, and it was nationalized.
As we approached the castle, it was impossible not to notice the high circular wall that had been built by the Swedes in 1647. After entering the front gate, we walked over the drawbridge to what was called the Swedish courtyard, taking its name from the 17th century occupation by the Swedish army. Then we came to the courtyard of the chateau and negotiated a steep path to the castle. In the castle courtyard we peered at a 13th century round tower and saw Renaissance sgraffito on part of the castle’s wing. One part of the sgraffito portrayed a deer hunting theme.
I was glad that my friend and I were the only people on the tour. We went inside. What impressed me the most in the first room were not the huge portraits of the Redern family but rather the richly carved Renaissance chairs and the Renaissance chest. The green and white tiled stove also caught my attention. In the next room a portrait of Albrecht von Wallenstein showed a man with a serious expression, a small beard and moustache. One painting in the room depicted his assassination. In the dramatic rendition Devereux stabs the unarmed Waldstein in the stomach with a halberd.
Next came the Portrait Gallery, which boasted of huge paintings of Gallas family members. The Baroque fireplace astounded me with the Clam-Gallas coat-of-arms, cherubs and golden crowns adorning it. In the museum part of the exhibition, the legendary Czech nobleman and Austrian Marshall Jan Radecký of Radče was featured in several displays. His light blue uniform was on display as was a circular portrait of Radecký with gray hair and a gray moustache. A picture of Emperor Franz Joseph I’s wife, Empress Elizabeth (Sissy), who was assassinated in 1898, decorated a cup. A likeness of Emperor of Austria and King of Bohemia Franz Joseph I adorned a silver medal.
Then we entered a room featuring many uniforms for the servants during the 19th century. I was surprised that the summer clothing for the carriage driver was so warm and heavy. He must have been burning up inside that thick attire. The embroidery on the sleeves and shoulders for the estate’s clerks was detailed and exquisite as well.
Following the guide, we saw a narrow, yellow women’s carriage. A Baroque sleigh was decorated with a dolphin that looked like a dragon – that was how the dolphin was rendered during those days. The Hunting Salon featured a table of 130-year old wood. In the Dining Room I saw a vibrant Baroque light green and yellow tiled stove. I particularly noticed the emperor’s eagle carved on the back of a black chair that also sported a golden crown.
The armory was a treat for those interested in weaponry. Even I was enthralled by it, though weapons are certainly not my cup of tea. Helmets, cannons, spears and knights’ armor adorned the rooms. Some of the spears came from the 15th century Hussite wars; it was hard for me to grasp that I was looking at spears that were so old. Muskets also made appearances as did rifles from the 17th century Thirty Years’ War. What intrigued me the most in the spaces was not a weapon but rather the huge hat and large boots that couriers had worn. The hat was so big because the messenger needed to store the letters inside it in order to keep them dry when it rained.
Soon we arrived at the exquisite, stunning chapel. The black and gold altar practically glimmered in the space. While the chapel was built in the 16th and 17th centuries, it now had a 19th century appearance. A gold Renaissance altar also greeted me with its ornate Renaissance pulpit. Saints were gathered around the Baroque altar. A stained glass window added even more ambiance to the room.
Next we came to the attic of the chateau, where rooms were designed as they had looked in the 19th century. In the servants’ room the 19th century suitcases looked more like bulky chests. The children’s room was intriguing. It included a model of the castle and chateau plus wallpaper made from the comics section of old newspapers, reminding me of today’s wallpaper featuring the Czech Little Mole character or Disney figures.
The space below was called the women’s floor, primarily decorated in blue because that was the color attributed to women during the 19th century. One room was fashioned after a military tent with a blue and white painted ceiling and wallpaper of the same design. A blue and white tiled stove also contributed to the atmosphere. A Baroque closet also adorned the space.
The Small Salon featured blue and white floral decorated furniture and a display case with women’s hats from the 19th century. What intrigued me most were the two Baroque cabinets with painted drawers. One drawer was decorated with pictures of animals while two others flaunted countryside scenes. The toiletry area was unique as well. There was a lounge chair that reminded me of a chair at a dentist’s office. I had never seen such a piece of furniture in chateau, let alone in a toiletry space. From the space in front of it, I could see all the rooms in the women’s section all the way down to the exquisite Flower Salon at the end.
The Flower Salon made me practically dizzy with its blue and white delights. The blue and white floral wallpaper complemented the blue and white striped armchairs, making for an intimate and cozy decor. A while tiled stove also stood in the room. The lovely tea set was Rococo, hailing from the 19th century. To give the room an even more dignified touch, a violin was set on a chair. The marble brown table with white ornamentation also entranced. Plants decorated the room, too, bringing it to life, so that it became more than a museum space.
In the hallway of the Castellan wing, I noticed an engraving of Rome from the 18th century. I could see the Coliseum, which evoked fond memories of showing that sight to my parents a few years earlier. In the entertainment room hung two renderings of battles from antiquity.
The Morning Drawing Room would not have been my ideal place to spend my mornings or any other part of the day for that matter, because it was decorated with hunting still lifes that featured dead birds. Birdwatchers would no doubt be enthused, though, as some of the dead birds portrayed were no longer found in the Czech lands. Another painting that did not impress me featured a dead deer. Certainly not my idea of how to start off the day.
But the Women’s Bedroom did not disappoint. The intarsia table, jewel chest and Baroque dresser with intarsia charmed me. Yet another room was decorated with furniture from the 19th century in Biedermeier style.
Next was the men’s floor. The Men’s Bedroom featured a hidden door that led to the women’s floor above and a lovely Baroque closet. The leather wallpaper in the Smoking Salon was gold with green in a floral pattern. The next room was decorated with leather wallpaper and English style blue furniture. A red and blue carpet made the room cozy yet lively as well.
The Coat-of-Arms Salon enthralled me. The dark green fireplace with white columns had a dignified air. On the walls I saw the coat-of-arms of the families that had owned the castle and chateau from the Berka and Dub clan to the Clam-Gallas group. I noticed the blue and yellow wheel on the Redern dynasty’s coat-of-arms and the yellow and light blue stripes of the Gallas family’s coat-of-arms.
The Dining Room was one of the last rooms on the tour. Velvet chairs with comfortable cushions and a red and blue carpet gave the space a lush appearance. The ornate green tiled stove was decorated with blue and yellow figures. Blue and white porcelain hung from the top of the walls. What I loved most about the space, though, was the richly carved wood paneling. The Baroque bureaus with intarsia greatly impressed me as well. In the still functioning large kitchen areas downstairs I was enamored by what was the largest collection of copper dishes I had ever seen, perhaps the biggest in the Czech Republic.
The tour took almost two hours. I loved long tours of castles! I would be happy to be on a tour that lasted four or five hours! I could spend all day in a castle or chateau. Thanks to our knowledgeable guide, we enjoyed the tour immensely.
After visiting Frýdlant, we made our way to the basilica in a village called Hejnice, but we often got lost one-lane roads with two-way traffic. The scenery in the Jizerské Mountains was breathtaking. At one point we were driving down a narrow road flanked by trees, yellow and green fields surrounding us. It was so peaceful and tranquil, just as I imagined the road to Heaven. So relaxing, putting my mind entirely at ease –until a truck came straight at us on the one-lane road. We moved over to the side, partially on the grass and let it pass us. Still, we did not get much of a warning on that winding road whenever a car would come at us from the other direction.
Traveling through the Jizerské Mountains, I realized how devastated the area had been by the floods of the previous year. Whole villages had been practically destroyed, homes in ruins. Barriers put up along rivers were now bent and deformed. The roads were in awful shape, too. I thought back to the floods of 2002 in Prague and the devastation that the natural disaster had unleashed on the capital city. I felt as if I was riding through an area that had just witnessed a war.
It brought to mind the damaged chairs and tables littering the sidewalks of Prague during 2002, so many homes and businesses destroyed. And thoughts of my good friend’s flat decimated in Prague’s Karlín district. It was still hard for me to believe that the flat where we had spent much time discussing anything and everything over cups of Earl Grey tea had been destroyed. I thought of the damaged theatres where I had worked, too. And I thought of the damage in my own flat because workers had been repairing the roof when the downpour had accompanied the floods. Mold everywhere, wet, wool sweaters destroyed, my cat traumatized – at least my home had survived in one piece, and most of my belongings had been saved. Riding through the destruction wrought by those floods in the Liberec region made me realize how quickly we can lose something precious to us and how we have to value each moment in life because drastic change can come at any time, anywhere.
Hejnice Basilica seemed to magically appear in a village nestled in the Jizerské Mountains. The Baroque masterpiece used to be, back in the 13th century, a stone chapel with Gothic vaults. Ambulatories were built around the Gothic church in 1676. By 1725, the church was able to hold 1,000 pilgrims. Between 1699 and 1725 there were 1,381,176 people who came here to pray to Our Lady. After suffering a fire in 1761, the religious site was rebuilt during only 18 months. By the beginning of the 19th century, though, the church was plundered and all its valuable items stolen.
Interior of Hejnice Basilica
But restorations took place, and in 1936 the church was proclaimed basilica minor. After the war, however, Germans living in Hejnice were expelled from the country, including the Franciscans who lived in the church’s monastery. In 1950 all monks there were arrested and forced to leave the basilica, and the monastery became a concentration camp of sorts under the Communist government. Later, the monastery served as a school cafeteria and a kindergarten. Not surprisingly, the place that was once a glorious pilgrimage site found itself in ruins during the 1970s and 1980s. Thankfully, the church was renovated and restored after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
One step inside and the frescoes and main altar enthralled me with their beauty and charm. I could hardly believe that the main altar was illusionary. An architectural feat, it was painted onto the wall rather than three-dimensional. The ground plan of the basilica took the form of a long cross. At the entrance I admired the two towers with a central convex buttress. In a niche I noticed the statue of the Hejnice Madonna.
The vastness of the space awed me. The basilica is the biggest cathedral in northern Bohemia, measuring 50 meters long in its southward cross and 37 meters wide. The cupola is 35 meters high. The central cupola fascinated me. Supported by four Corinthian columns, it was decorated with frescoes portraying events in the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. Above the main cupola scenes depicting the crucifixion and the Assumption bewitch the viewer with a swirl of movement of angels along with clouds and sharp light. A group of Apostles filled with awe watch the Assumption. Some angels raise the lid of the coffin while others carry the Holy Cross to Heaven.
The main altar in Hejnice Basilica
The main altar can be divided into parts. There is the fresco of the illusionary altar, which depicts allegorical figures representing belief, hope and love. In the middle of the altar, a large altar-piece portrays Saint Elizabeth and the Virgin Mother. The lower part is a stone altar that includes relics of saints and a tabernacle. A Madonna made from lime wood dominates, called the Mater Formosa or Sleek Mother. It was hard to believe that the Madonna hailed from as far back as the 13th century. I also took special note of the pulpit, dating from 1740. Along with evangelists there was a hand holding a cross with Christ. A large chandelier also hung from the rafters.
Going back through the Jizerské Mountains, along the narrow lane flanked by trees and surrounded by fields, I admired the fantastic scenery that seemed to belong in a film. We made our way to Dubá, where we stopped at an intriguing church and then to Mělník and finally to Prague. It had been a fantastic day during which I had learned how important it was to appreciate what I had in life, to not take anything for granted.
The interior of the church in Dubá
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague. Some of the photos in this blog were taken by Lenka Hilbertová.
Some of my photos of Frýdlant from a 2022 visit, which includes pictures from the new Children’s Tour.