Aristocratic Castles and Châteaux

The nobility did all they could to keep up with their rulers, and so their residences often grew to spectacular proportions. The seats of distinguished aristocratic families were greatly admired and awe-inspiring structures in their time. Nowadays, many of them are historically and architecturally valuable heritage sites and well worth visiting.

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Veltrusy Château

Veltrusy was acquired through marriage, by Václav Antonín Chotek – a member of an old aristocratic family impoverished by the post White Mountain battle confiscations. Count Chotek was a very capable man, who soon gained considerable social status and held high state functions. Along with this came the need for a suitable and dignified residence. Construction began in 1704. From the beginning, Veltrusy château was built with an ambitious Baroque concept as a complex of buildings decorated with a series of allegorical sculptures from the workshops of Matthias Bernard Braun. In its original form, it was one of the most important works of Bohemian Baroque architecture. Václav Antonín’s son followed his father in both the expansion and beautification of the estate and in his political career. Yet again, for a man of such a reputation, the château complex was now insufficient by the standards of the time and the residence grew even larger. The third owner was Jan Rudolf Chotek, who was as educated, politically active and successful as his predecessors. During this period, a significant modification of the park took place. The delicate French gardens were transformed into a natural landscape park, which is among one of the five oldest and also the largest in the Czech Republic. After 1804, the appearance of the château changed once again, as it was embellished with Classicist elements. The last owners from the Chotek family were Karel and Livia. During World War II, the château was occupied by the Nazi Army, followed by the Red Army. After 1945 it was nationalized and now falls under the National Heritage Institute.

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Kačina château

Kačina château is one of the most important buildings of Empire-style architecture in the Czech Republic. We owe the existence of this elegant monument to Count Jan Rudolf Chotek. This member of the esteemed aristocratic family held a very important political function and, as the highest Burgrave in the Kingdom of Bohemia, needed a suitable representative seat. Therefore, in the years 1806 to 1824 he had Kačina built, intended from the beginning as a summer residence. The Chotek family lived in Kačina until 1911. After the last extant member of the local branch of the family died, the estate was inherited by the nephew of the last Chotek, Quido Thun-Hohenstein. This aristocrat led a markedly flamboyant life, fell into debt, and in the early 1930s was forced to leave his property. A sad chapter in the history of the château is the World War II period, when it was used by the Hitler Youth organization and, in the last years of the conflict, by the SS. In 1950, the entire building was made available to the National Agricultural Museum, whose subsidiary branch, The Museum of Czech Countryside is still based there today. A great rarity is the library of the Chotek family, which originally contained over 40 thousand volumes of educational and fine literature from the 16th to the 19th century. A feature of similar distinction is the large-scale English-style park, which was planted in 1789 to the design of Viennese botanist, and director of the Imperial Garden in Schönbrunn, Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin.

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Mnichovo Hradiště château

It was the noble family of the Wallensteins who had the greatest influence on the château and surrounding estate. However, the first owner of significance was from another family – the leader of the Bohemian Estates’ and Protestant opposition, Václav Budovec of Budov. He took over the land in 1602 and extended it by the neighbouring estates. It was probably he who had the original two-winged Renaissance château built, a typical small-scale aristocratic mansion of the time in terms of size and appearance. Václav Budovec paid with his life for being a key figure of the uprising, in 1621. His property was subsequently confiscated and the estate was acquired by Albrecht of Wallenstein. The members of the family extended their property by the surrounding estates and Mnichovo Hradiště formed the base of their economic power for the next three centuries. It was in the 17th century that the château was rebuilt into the form we see today. The structure lost its Renaissance appearance and the sprawling château complex became an extremely valued example of Bohemian Baroque architecture.

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Jemniště château

Jemniště château is often described as the Baroque gem of Central Bohemia and this is no exaggeration. Now a private mansion with apartments and restaurants, it was returned to its rightful owners, the Sternbergs, in the Restitution. The Sternbergs, among the oldest aristocratic families in the country, were not the first owners of Jemniště, however. The individual in question was Count František Adam of Trauttmansdorff, who bought the Jemniště estate in 1717 and had the château built to his wishes soon after. The author of the project was the famous architect František Maxmilián Kaňka and apart from one modification following a fire in 1754, the appearance of Jemniště has not been altered by any other major reconstruction. Thanks to this, the structure is a unique example of an aristocratic mansion from the High Baroque period. During the 19th century, the château changed hands many times, until it was finally bought by Zdeněk Sternberg in 1868. Not even this estate went unharmed by the events of the 20th century, however. In 1943, Theresa Sternberg and her husband, Count František Mensdorff-Pouilly, were forced to leave their residence. The château fared no better even after the war tribulations ended. In May 1945, it was occupied by Soviet troops. Almost nothing was left of the original inventory upon their departure. The château was then nationalized and was only returned to its rightful heirs, in this case the nephews of Theresa and Francis, in 1995.

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Nelahozeves château

The builders of Nelahozeves château, currently owned by the Lobkowicz family, found inspiration for their work in northern Italy. This, one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Bohemia, was architecturally conceived as an Italian barracks with decorative bastions. A very progressive building for its time, it has been altered very little over the centuries and retains its original form to this day. As the building work lasted a long 60 years, the aristocratic family who dreamed up the spectacular work got into financial difficulties and were forced to sell the indebted estate to Polyxena of Lobkowicz. After the Thirty Years’ War, Polyxena’s son, Duke Václav Eusebius, had the castle reconstructed. At the end of the nineteenth century, Vilemína of Lobkowicz founded a boarding house for unmarried and widowed noble ladies in the château. Vilemína herself was also the last member of the Lobkowicz family to live here. In 1948 it was confiscated and was returned to its rightful heirs in restitution proceedings in 1993. It now features, among other things, a comprehensive exhibition illustrating the lifestyle of the aristocracy in the 19th century.

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Konopiště château

The château was originally a castle dating back to the 13th century, built along the lines of French fortresses featuring cylindrical towers named castellas. The castle was acquired by the Sternbergs in 1327 and remained in their possession for 275 years. From the 17th to the 19th century, ownership of Konopiště passed between a number of influential aristocratic families. The first changes to the medieval structure of the building were carried out at the end of the 15th century, with later ones taking place in the 17th. A Baroque reconstruction was carried out in the 18th century under the ownership of the Lords of Vrtba. Konopiště castle is nevertheless most connected to its last aristocratic owner, Franz Ferdinand d’Este. The Archduke had an extensive reconstruction done in a historical style; the famous Czech architect Josef Mocker was also involved. He also had his valuable art collections moved here. The surroundings were transformed into a romantic landscape park, whilst keeping e.g. the Lobkowicz-founded bear-enclosure. After this heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated, the Czechoslovak state took over the château from his successors. During World War II, it served as the headquarters of the SS, fortunately however, the castle survived this difficult period and was again opened to the public.

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Brandýs nad Labem château

Brandýs nad Labem was a very distinguished seat in Czech history. This is evidenced by the fact that it was visited by every single ruler from the Hapsburg dynasty. It was here in 1813 that Emperor Franz I of Austria met with Russian Tsar Alexander I and King of Prussia Frederick William III, which led to their joint strategy in the war with Napoleon and subsequently to victory in the battle of Leipzig. This popular seat of kings and emperors was originally a Gothic fortress. This was gradually transformed into an architecturally elaborate, late-Gothic castle. It’s transformation into a Renaissance château began in the mid-16th century. The precious sgraffito decoration dates from this period. One of the most distinguished periods in terms of the history of the château is the Rudolfine era. Emperor Rudolf II liked the castle immensely, and made it his main seat when out of Prague, hosting many celebrities of the time here. One of those to accept the Emperor’s invitation was the renowned astronomer Tycho Brahe. Brandýs was also a place of good fortune for Empress Maria Theresa, who met her future husband František Štěpán Lotrinský here. The Baroque period also left its marks on the structure, some at the hands of acclaimed architect František Maxmilián Kaňka. Some modifications in the Romantic neo-Gothic spirit were requested by members of the Tuscan line of the Hapsburgs, for whom Brandýs became home after 1860. The last Hapsburg owner was Emperor Charles I of Austria. The monarch invited his new spouse Zita Bourbon-Parma here; the couple would look back on their time at Brandýs as the happiest days of their lives.

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Zruč nad Sázavou château

The château in Zruč nad Sázavou is shrouded in mystery. This is due to the fact that in 1781 it completely burned down. The precious Renaissance interior décor, as well as the furniture and archive, were lost forever. The castle developed gradually over the centuries. Initially a medieval castle, it was later transformed into a Renaissance residence, and subsequently into a Baroque and Classicist château. At the end of the 19th century it was rebuilt in historicist style. It is most closely associated with two families – the Kolowrats and Schebeks. The former nobles owned the estate for more than 200 years from 1334. After the great fire we’ve mentioned, the château was rebuilt in neo-Gothic style, at which time it belonged to the Schebeks. Once the Communist regime fell, the château was returned to its rightful owners, from whom it was later bought in 2003 by the town of Zruč nad Sázavou, which had the heritage monument renovated. It currently houses the Town Hall and a gallery, with the southern wing open to the public. A walk through the castle interiors is a journey through time, as each of the chambers is furnished in a different style, from Antiquity to L’Art Nouveau.

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Zásmuky château

The confiscation of 1948 proved almost fatal for Zásmuky château. The once opulent seat of Bohemian aristocracy was used as a military warehouse after nationalization and was almost destroyed after years of neglectful treatment. Franziska Diana Sternberg, who got the property back under the Restitution in 1992 took up the responsibility for saving the rare monument. The origins of the aristocratic settlement date back to the time when Gothic strongholds were being built. The château itself was originally such a building. The austere stone fortress was converted into a more comfortable residence around 1546, when the estate was owned by the Lords of Říčany. After changing hands a number of times, the estate was bought by Jan Rudolf of Šternberk in 1636. With only two interruptions, the château has been with this old aristocratic family to-date. The Baroque period left its mark on the architecture as did the neo-Gothic reconstruction in the second half of the 19th century.

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Český Šternberk Castle

Český Šternberk castle is a one-of-a-kind structure in our lands. The first reason for this is the contrast between its exterior appearance and the interior décor – the austere Gothic shell conceals an ornate stately home interior. The second is the history of its ownership – Český Šternberk has belonged to the descendants of its founder, Zdeslav, of the Divišovci family line, for almost eight centuries. Zdeslav, whose coat of arms with its gold star gave the name to the mansion built in 1241-1242, himself adopted the ‘of Sternberg’ epithet. The first major disaster took place after the Hussite wars, when the castle was conquered and destroyed. The overwhelming defeat caused by the inadequate defence system required an extensive reconstruction, which put emphasis on improving the fortifications. Another generous renovation, this time in the style of early Baroque, took place in the 1660s. It was necessary to upgrade the medieval chambers into more comfortable and decorative living spaces. This renovation did not affect the exterior, hence the medieval character of the castle remains unchanged. There followed a period of over a century when young members of the nobility stayed here, but in 1841 the castle was once again in the hands of the Sternbergs. After the Communist coup the castle was confiscated. Český Šternberk was returned to its rightful owners in 1992 and is now owned by the twentieth generation of its founder’s descendants.

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Krakovec Castle

Krakovec castle was founded in 1381. The now partially defunct mansion was a rare example of the transition between a castle and a château. It was more of a Gothic château than a castle, fulfilling the demanding requirements of its proprietors, who wanted to impress. Its founder, the Křivoklát burgrave Jíra of Roztoky, embarked on an ambitious project and eventually the residence could almost compete with the royal castles in terms of comfort. Even the Protestant preacher Master Jan Hus visited here – in 1414 he accepted the invitation of the then owner and stayed here before travelling to the Council in Constance. After several fires, Krakovec fell into decay, and as restoration only began as late as 1914, only parts of the once significant structure are preserved. Even so, with just a little imagination, you can feel the spectacular charm of the past and the ambience of the King Wenceslas IV era.

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Ruins of Valdek Castle

Ruins are all that remains of this Gothic castle, which dates back to the 13th century, with additions made over the following centuries. Only remnants of the fortifications, towers and Renaissance-style palace from the 16th century are still standing. The first written record of the castle dates from 1263, when its name was mentioned in the predicate of Oldřich Zajíc of Valdek. From about the mid-14th century the castle changed hands many times, most of the owners hailing from the ranks of the lower nobility. For a certain period at the beginning of the 15th century it even belonged to king Wenceslas IV himself, after which the castle kept changing hands again. The structure began to decay, and as far back as 1623 it was already referred to as being in a desolate state. Valdek came to prominence once again during the time of the National Revival, as artists took an interest in this ancient stately residence. It was visited by Karel Hynek Mácha and Božena Němcová for example. After certain areas of the Brdy region were turned into a closed-off military zone, the castle deteriorated even further, and the situation is now so serious that it is off-limits, access prohibited.

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Created 6.2.2020 4:10:54 | read 4338x | ernest
 
 
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