At the time of Charles IV Prague was one of the largest cities in Europe with over 40,000 residents. The Prague of today has 30 times that many and it houses the inhabitants in seemingly endless rows of high-rise concrete blocks. The tradesmen of yesteryear were spared this rather grey view of the town, and that is why we chose to approach the city of a hundred spires along a different route. Prague was not only full of churches, but also surrounded by a ring of castles and fortified houses that should not escape your attention. But first we will stick to our original plan and near the town of Udolky, the last port of call before Prague, we will visit a fictional medieval village.
The entrance to the medieval village in Tulezim.
Open Air Museum Tulezim
The Czechs love the Middle Ages. Between 1999-2000 enthusiasts built a village from scratch and named it Tulezim. It is a walled settlement with towers, gates, residential houses and a church. It is pretty, informative and the ideal place to take a deep breath before jumping head first into the Golden City. Reporyjske Náměstí 13, Praha 13, June-August 9am-6pm. Mondays closed.
Apropos fans of the Middle Ages. As you are very well aware by now the Czechs do not lack a castle or two to visit and view. In 2000 a self-made millionaire set out to build another in the village of Cerveny Ujezd (18 km west of Prague) using only the building methods of the era. The eccentric idea as completed within a year and is worth a visit. The museum has displays of country life at the time and the Restaurant Krema serves real old Bohemian specialities. Cerveny Ujezd 280, Tel. (00420) 312 698 924. www.hrad-cervenyujezd.cz
Don’t be put off by the lees than pretty extremities of this industrial town, it is worth weaving through the prefab buildings and factories to reach the core.
In the Middle of the Middle Bohemia
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic is the throbbing centre of the region known as Central Bohemia. It stretches between Rakovnik in the west and Kutna Hora in the east,and from Benesov in the south to Mlada Boleslav in the north. The city is the largest and most populated of the 14 “Kraje
Kladno: Town bear in the castle enclosure.
Here you will find the renaissance town hall, a roman basilica Maria Himmelfahrt, a 30m high Statue of The Virgin Mary and a baroque castle. The castle was refurbished between 1738-40 by our old friend Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer. The frescos in the Wenceslas Chapel and the Palace gallery should not be missed.
The royal town of Louny with around 20,000 residents was one of the important stops on the route taken by the tradesmen on their way to Dresden. The sensational Nikolaus Church with its 3 naves is built in the Vladislav Gothic style. The town’s ancient defenses still stand and the remains of the Jewish Ghetto with the synagogue are worthy of a visit.
The route to the north was always of great importance to the Bohemian kings, and John of Luxembourg bought Chleb Castle and several surrounding villages including Libochovice in 1314. The castle, which still stands today was built between 1560-64 to replace the original fortress and was later rebuilt in the baroque style by Antonio della Porta (1683-90). The English and French Gardens are home to a pair of very vocal Peacocks.
Central Bohemian Mosaic
Vrany: Private baroque castle and a closed baroque church dedicated to St John the Baptist 9 km northwest of Skury.
Podlein: A memorial to the industrial age in the form of a railway bridge dating from 1872. 11.5 km northeast of Kladno.
Zlonice: Baroque parish church, Jewish cemetery, railway museum. 12 km northeast of Podlein.
Skury: Gothic Bartholomew Church with mysterious early Christian etchings on the wall of the cemetery. 6 km east of Zlonice.
Budyne nad Ohri
The moated castle in the nature reserve of the Auwald on the Eger was built to protect the little town of c. 2000 residents on the road to Libochovice. It was again Charles’ father John of Luxembourg whose influence gave the town its importance. He awarded Budin von Hasenberg the lordship of the regionin 1336, a title that the family held for many generations, and signified by the hare, which appears on the coat of arms. In the renaissance palace there is an exhibition of the laboratory of Jan Zbinco von Hasenberg (1560-1616) who spent his life trying to discover the secret of alchemy. The red and white baroque Marien Church on the marketplace is a further attraction in the town.
Roudnice nad Labem
Thanks to the restitution following the end of the cold war the trademark of the town has been restored to its rightful owners, the Lobkowitz family. The baroque castle from the 17th Century was built by Antonio Della porta and it houses the family’s wine in the cellars below. It is possible to visit exhibitions in the pink and white complex with a central tower and two large wings to the east and west.
Where Čech Rested
The Holy Rip Mountain: According to the chronicles of Cosmas von Prag, the ancestors of today’s Czech Republic paused to rest here under the orders of their leader Čech and they surveyed the land around them. He announced, “Here I am a man, I will stay here
Charles IV awarded the royal town many privileges and allowed vines from burgundy to be cultivated on the banks of the rivers where the Moldova and the Elbe meet. The pretty town has been entered through the Prager Gate since the 15th Century. The town square with its surrounding arcades, the baroque town hall or the roman church of St Peter and St Paul would be worth a visit even without the castle which is built around it. The perfect mix of baroque and renaissance, with the view of the river and a pretty courtyard to sit in while tasting the wine are just a few of the reasons why this town should not be missed from the tour. Wine is part of the scenery here, as you will notice when greeted by the oversized portrait of Jiri Lobkowitz, the greatest wine connoisseur and lord of the manor.
Benatky nad Jizerou
The observatory, which Kaiser Rudolf II for had built for his court mathematician Tycho Brahe, stands high above the river Iser in a renaissance palace. It was built for Brahe, but he didn’t much use out of it having died during the construction. The Drazice Castle stands nearby.
Wenceslas, Duke Chotek of Chotkows built Veltrusy Castle in 1716 in the middle of a large park with an Empire pavilion. It has high halls and a rococo interior in which his porcelain collection was housed.
Don’t drink and drive, but drink and view
Wine tasting in Melnik: A selection of the fine wines in the collection are part of the tour of the cellars. One can choose between 2 examples at 70 Krones or the all-inclusive package for 220 Krones with 12 different wines to try. A cheese platter can be ordered for 60 Krones to line the stomach. If you require the director to accompany you on the tour a mere 350 Krones will assure his presence. Na Zdravi! www.lobkowicz-melnik.cz
The fourth oldest monastery in the Republic stands in Cerne Budy, a district of Sazava directly on the river of the same name. The river meanders through the valley past the abbey, which is a mix of all styles from all epochs, from Roman to baroque. It has an almost cult-like status because of its importance at the centre of the production of religious scriptures. At the time the abbey masons (a kind of early builders union) was very active in the surrounding region. The Kapitelsaal is full of works of art by unnamed artists from the pool of Charles IV’s court portraitist.
What a wonderful view. The gothic castle is almost completely intact and it follows the flowing line of the river alongside which it was built. The castle is reflected in the waters of the river and is still inhabited by Zdenek Sternberg. Tours are still possible.
The castle in the style of a French Castelle from the 13th Century was rebuilt by Grand Duke Franz Ferdinand d’Este who planned its use as the future seat of Kaisers. In other words, the rooms were decorated with expensive works of art and even in the gardens the Grand Duke wanted no less than to feel like a god. It is now a national monument. Konopiste Castle, Benesov 256 01.
Kostelec nad Cernymi lesy
Roughly translated the name of this town means ‘Little Church in the Black Wood’, which explains its origins to the east of Prague. The Czech royal family, the Premysliden, colonized the area in the 13th Century, and the Margrave Heinrich, one of Charles IV’S brothers, swapped the Feste Costelicz in Nygra Sylva with Nagrod Castle. The Austro- Bohemian King Ferdinand I ordered that the castle be refurbished after a fire in 1548 and it was restyled as a renaissance palace. Albrecht von Wallenstein was also a resident for a short period of time. The currentlate baroque ‘look’ was provided by the Tyrolean architect Josef Jäger. The rooms are now part of the Czech Agricultural University of Prague.
First a hunting lodge, then a Cistercian monastery, a baroque Convent and even a sugar factory, then the castle home of an industrial magnate and now it is the home of a branch of the Czech National Gallery. The castle in the district of Prague called Zbraslav has had a colourful past and therefore has no problem coping with the colourful collection of Asian Art that it now houses. . Bartonova 2, Prague 5.
This lodge called ‘The Star Palace’ was quiet for a rather long time. It is so-called due to its architectural form. Arch Duke Ferdinand closed up the lodge for 4 years. Then, the title Cultural Capital was awarded the to the city and the castle in the district of Brevnov was given a new lease of life. There is a convent in the same quarter, and with the new windows, freshly polished mosaic floors the museum for two of the Republic’s biggest heroes can shine again. The Painter Mikolai Ales and the writer Alois Jirasek are represented here in a permanent exhibition. Liboc 25c, Prague 6.
There are two major reasons to pay a visit to this town on the Moldova. Firstly Antonin Dvorak, whose birth house is here and whose name has been given to a massive classical and jazz music festival. Secondly the swanky castle built by Florian Griespek von Griespach, who was not only the owner of a rather silly name, but was also not very good with money. Building his palace ruined him. He frittered away his fortune despite the financial support of Kaiser Ferdinand I, but it should not distract you from the treasures within. It still remains one of the best-kept renaissance palaces with works of art by Lukas Cranach (the Elder), Pieter Brueghel (Elder and Younger), Paolo Veronese, Peter Paul Rubens and Diego Velazquez.
The main body of the castle stands tall surrounded by the gothic chapel and the semicircular bastion from the 14th Century. This is the setting of an annual festival, which is not only a must for medieval fans. Or why not take a walk along the old stream running past the old mill.
Wilderness in the Troja Valley
The Prague Zoo: If the gesticulating gorilla Moja is more your scene then a rococo painting then a visit to the zoo is just the thing for you. On the right is Troja Castle, on the left the zoo with over 1600 animals of 378 different types. It is the biggest zoo in the country on 57 hectares of land on the north loop of the Moldova which feeds the cascades throughout the complex. The family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children costs around 450 Krones, or a little more than €20. U Troskeho zamku 3/120.
In order to find this opulent baroque palace built by Wenceslas Adalbert Duke of Sternberg in the north of Prague you don’t need to be Indiana Jones, but a sat-nav and nerves of steel will certainly help you to survive the Czech capital’s traffic. This pleasing combination of the central building with open stairs, east and west wings, an orangery and large well-kept gardens designed by Jean Baptiste Mathey among others. Trojska, Prague 7.
The first abbey to be built in Bohemia is not far away from the Sparta Prague football stadium. Prague’s second bishop Adalbert, who has since been canonized, founded the Benedictine abbey with the help of the religious Duke Boleslav II in his court at Brevnov, which is now a district of Prague in 993. There is a Roman crypt under the main nave of the baroque abbey church of St Margareta. The complex was designed by Dientzenhofer the Elder, and Kilian Ignaz, his son was responsible for the interior. There are opulent frescos on the ceiling of the Prelate’s Chapel (The Miracle of St Günther) by Cosmas Damian Asam, whose brother Egid Quirin was responsible for the stucco fittings.
The last stop on our tour of the Golden Road is the Prague’s second castle, with which we complete the ring within the Golden City. If you choose to come here on a Sunday you might well almost have the entire district to yourselves. Along the Moldova the crowds will be fighting for space and on top of the hill you will be able to stroll and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. You might meet a few Czechs who walk their dogs here,
perhaps a dachshund, (the national dog of the Czech Republic according to Pavel Kohout) along the ancient stone walls from the 10th and 11th Centuries, past the Roman Martin’s Rotunda, the colourful monastery church of St Peter and St Paul and on to the Slavin Cemetery where the likes of Dvorak and Smetana were laid to rest.
So to bring to and end this tome and this tour, walk down to the old town wall and take a seat overlooking the Moldova and think of the words of Duchess Libuse, mother of the Czech royal line of the Premislydens who in 775 foresaw, “On these rocks a town will grow, whose prestige will touch the stars”.
The wealth of the Upper Palatinate and Amberg with its official residence and importance at the centre of the mining industry influenced the architecture in the area greatly. Between the ‘Hammerschlösser’ (the mansions built by the aristocracy near their works) a union of the owners of the mines and iron works was established, the Hammereinigung (1387-1626), a fore-runner to the European agreements of today and a kind of mining union enabling the free trade and transport of the materials between signatories was ratified.
It is at this stage of the journey that the Golden Road splits. The good took the ‘right’ way through Weiden and Bärnau, the bad through Wernberg and Waidhaus, which in the end proved to be the cheaper of the two. Despite the popularity of two routes the trade that Charles IV supported and promoted brought much wealth to many a town and the region in general. Majestic town halls sprang up in which the tradesmen could do business. Later during the baroque period the acanthus leaf found fame in interior architecture and decoration. The Ancient Greeks and the Romans used the motif widely, and it was ‘rediscovered’ and used in the embellishment of many an altar and church.
Kaiser Barbarossa made Eger the seat of his Kingdom and the surrounding area was redesigned and refurbished, creating what was to be an example to all regions under the name of Provincia Egrensis. Later as Kaiser Ludwig of Bavaria had to give up the town to his rival and successor Charles IV the region retained its importance and its own parliament until 1806 when it became a part of Bohemia.
The neighbouring Stiftland, or as it was known the ancient province of Tirschenreuth, was under the jurisdiction of Cistercian monks in Waldsassen during this time and they kept a very close contact with Egerland.
The Kaiser ordered the use of his own official route but was also very aware of the advantages of the ‘forbidden’ option. Charles IV sent his own Imperial Regalia on the forbidden street through Waidhaus, which shows that there was indeed good reason to circumnavigate the heights of Bärnau as proved by the routing of the A6, the modern alternative to the ancient trade route, which seems to follow the unauthorised path.
Goethe composed poems during his stay in Karlsbad around July 1806 of which several contain references to the healing waters and clays of the mineral springs. He did more for Bohemian bathing culture than anybody else and he probably owed his Faust-like creativity and libido to his stay here, having drunk the waters then as we do today, from a small spouted cup decorated with roses.
The Golden way, or Zlata cesta drives a path through Bohemia, a blessed land that had been cultivated for years by the locals until it was torn to pieces in the Nationalist uprising of the 1930’s and 40’s. Villages and towns were raised to the ground and all that remains are mere traces that might be stumbled upon by the more adventurous of ramblers.