Crowded Out – Cesky Krumlov: Mass Tourism In A Small Town (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Thirteen)

At breakfast on our last morning in Cesky Krumlov I struck up a short conversation with the young lady and her husband who owned the pension where we had spent the last four nights. I expressed my relief that we had come in the winter. Despite the continuous snowfall during our visit, the town had lived up to its billing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle/chateau was enchanting. The medieval Old Town stuffed with atmospheric buildings and its natural setting, wrapped around a bend in the Vltava River, nothing short of spectacular. The entire experience had been delightful. Cesky Krumlov was one of the few places that could match its outstanding reputation. Since the fall of communism that reputation has been a boon for the town’s economic development. On the other hand, it has also led to an oversaturated tourist market.

The Off-Season - Cesky Krumlov in the depths of winter

The Off-Season – Cesky Krumlov in the depths of winter

Herd Mentality – Capitalizing On Popularity
The number of visitors to Cesky Krumlov has risen exponentially since the Iron Curtain fell in 1989. It is now hard to imagine how a small Czech town of some 14,000 manages to host 800,000 visitors a year. It was that fact which made me remark to the pension’s proprietress that “I would not want to be anywhere near this town during the summer.” I was making this remark after my wife and I had just spent several days slipping and sliding our way down cobblestoned streets in the Old Town. Footing was treacherous, but tourist traffic light. Outside of a small army of selfie stick wielding Chinese, there were only a few scattered tour groups and couples visiting in what was the dead of winter. Thank goodness for that! I could only imagine the crush of tourists packed into the Old Town’s serpentine streets on a hot summer’s day. Cesky Krumlov was quaint and atmospheric when half-empty. The opposite would be true when the town suffered its annual invasion of package tourists, days trippers and grizzled geriatrics.

Our pension’s proprietress confirmed this when she said, “I cannot go into the Old Town during the summer. I can’t even move.” According to her, throngs of tourists jostled with each other for every inch of space. It was almost impossible to enjoy yourself. I imagined all she or anyone else would have seen was the hair on the back of someone’s neck, a zillion selfie sticks and Cesky Krumlov Castle towering above it all, a symbolic reminder that there was something worth seeing, if only everyone would get out of the way. The summer tourist season sounded dreadful. One long slog of sharp elbows, queue jumpers and tourists who preferred shopping over sightseeing. At least, the proprietress could lament this state of summer affairs with a silent glee. After all, she along with many of the locals were making a good living off the town’s outsized popularity. Large infusions of Euros went a long way to mitigating the annoyances of mass tourism.

Cobblestones Covered In Snow - Cesky Krumlov in January

Cobblestones Covered In Snow – Cesky Krumlov in January

False Economy – Congested With Crowds & Haute Couture
Traveling in the Czech Republic during winter can be a challenge. The roads are often icy, the sidewalks covered in snow, but it is a risk worth taking if travelers can have Cesky Krumlov mostly to themselves. That is an increasingly rare experience. Modern tourism is a runaway train, heading for the Cesky Krumlovs and Dubrovniks of the world. Running over and through these ultra-popular places while monetizing everything and everyone in the process. Cesky Krumlov does have much to recommend it, but there are also reasons for caution. Perhaps Cesky Krumlov is the way modern mass tourism is meant to be. If so, then the situation is rather disturbing. While I never got to experience the crush of tourists that descend on the Old Town, my eyes were affronted with another scourge that sprung from the town’s popularity with tourists. These were the ultra-expensive shops of luxury designer brands that can now be found in the heart of Central and Eastern Europe’s Old Towns. I expect stores high end fashion stores such as Swarovski and Zara in Monte Carlo not a small historic town in southern Bohemia. In Cesky Krumlov these stores seem incongruous, outliers that call into question the uses and abuses of this uniquely historic townscape.

My question is why would anyone spend their time at Cesky Krumlov shopping for designer brands? Perhaps there is something about the Old Town that encourages visitors to open their wallets in order to make their experience more memorable and/or dreadful. It all depends upon your perspective. I do not wish to begrudge locals of the hard won Czech crowns they earn from such stores, but I sincerely doubt anything within the gilded walls of these establishments has much to do with the Czech people or culture. It is ironic that someone would travel hundreds if not thousands of kilometers to visit Cesky Krumlov, only to eschew its magnificent history, culture and architecture for the superficial eye candy of haute couture. These stores only add to congestion in the town. They add little of value in my opinion and send the wrong message. Cesky Krumlov is unique, not like any other place in the world. Then again, it was unique until Michael Kors set up shop.

All To Yourself - The joy of a winter visit to Cesky Krumlov

All To Yourself – The joy of a winter visit to Cesky Krumlov

Spillover Effects – The Consequences of Overcrowding
The most alarming aspect of the mass tourist influx to Cesky Krumlov is that there is no end in sight. The Old Town is already bursting at the seams with visitors. This is not only the case during the summer months. Spring and fall have been effected by the spillover from summer. Speaking of spillover effects, Cesky Krumlov is close enough to Prague for day trippers. This means that many millions of visitors are within reach. The tourist experience at Cesky Krumlov is in danger of being totally degraded. I doubt this bothers those who just want to visit for just a few hours. The town’s charm will likely survive, but only for those who venture out on early mornings during the high season or those who brave winter conditions. For everyone else, Cesky Krumlov will be a constant fight to avoid being crowded out.

Click here for: Seriousness With A Smile – A Traffic Ticket In The Czech Republic (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Fourteen)

It Will All End In Fears – The Fall Of The House Of Schwarzenberg (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Eleven)

“It will all end in tears.” That expression might best describe the course of human history. Nothing lasts forever, far from it. The same expression also applies to Central European history, specifically the House of Schwarzenberg in southern Bohemia which took a mighty fall during the first half of the 20th century, one from which it would never recover. Surely there were tears shed by the Schwarzenbergs who were unfortunate enough to live during a time of radical upheaval. It is likely that at some point they broke down, unable to cope with the totalitarian forces which stole their property and stripped them of their livelihood, the only one they had ever known. Such was the insidious nature of the Nazi and Soviet regimes that were responsible for ending the House of Schwarzenberg’s supremacy in the region.

To Fight Another Day - Adolph and Hilda Schwarzenberg

To Fight Another Day – Adolph and Hilda Schwarzenberg

Duty, Honesty, Loyalty – Ideology, Insecurity, Depravity
Perhaps it is only right in a world where almost everything went wrong that a bit of word play on the lead expression is in order. The end time for the House of Schwarzenberg might also be called, “It will all end in fears.” That is because fear ran the family off their ancestral lands. Fear of occupation, fear of theft, fear of imprisonment and fear of even worse to come. This was how one world ended, with both a whimper and a shiver. Ironically, that fear cut both ways. The Nazis and Soviets were in many ways the flipside of the same coin. Just as much as their tyranny arose from radical notions of ideological superiority, their fear was born from deep rooted insecurities.

The Nazis feared the Schwarzenberg’s loyalty to the Czechoslovakian state and their fervent opposition to fascism. The Soviets feared their democratic ideals and the refined sense of noblesse oblige that was diametrically opposed to the vulgar degradation of Stalinism. These fears led the two regimes to cast the Schwarzenbergs as enemies of the state when in fact they were guardians of it. The state that the Schwarzenberg’s stood for believed in duty, honesty and loyalty. And the Schwarzenbergs would not stand for anything less. Totalitarianism feared these values as much as anything else. Thus, the Schwarzenberg’s had to fall. In a sense, they were felled by fear. Both that of their own, as well as that of their enemies.

The Resistance - Adolf Schwarzenberg and Edvard Beneš at Cesky Krumlov

The Resistance – Adolf Schwarzenberg and Edvard Beneš at Cesky Krumlov

Photo Finish – Sizing The Situation Up
There are hundreds of photos on display in Cesky Krumlov. Many of these can be found in two of the town’s major attractions, Cesky Krumlov Castle and the Regional Museum in Cesky Krumlov. Two photos remained in my memory long after I visited these sites. I happened upon the first photo in Cesky Krumlov Castle, where the main exhibit is filled with artifacts that represent the three families (Rozmberks, Eggenbergs and Schwarzenbergs) who owned and developed the castle. On display are weapons, uniforms, hunting trophies and paintings along with hundreds of other items. Each preciously crafted and meticulously presented, unique in their own way. Many of the items, such as the decorative weapons from around the world must be of great monetary value. It was all very impressive, but what caught my eye was a simple black and white photo of a couple taken at chest level. The man is wearing a pinstriped suit, has his hair slicked back and looks at the camera with an expression stuck somewhere between serious and skeptical. It as though he is sizing the viewer up. His wife looks straight ahead at the camera, her expression one of placid sincerity.

The couple is Adolph and Hilda Schwarzenberg, the last owners of Cesky Krumlov Castle and many other properties scattered throughout what was then Czechoslovakia. The photo was taken during the 1930’s. By the end of that decade, the Schwarzenbergs would be in exile while fleeing Nazi Germany’s takeover and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939. They first fled to Italy. After a brief sojourn there, they traveled to the United States. This was where they would spend the next five years. It would save their lives, but not their property. Several years later, the Soviets would finish what the Nazi’s started. It was not as easy as one might believe. Adolph Schwarenberg was not a man to give in easily, no matter what the odds were facing him and his family’s legacy.

The Appearance of Strength - Adolf Hitler in Cesky Krumlov

The Appearance of Strength – Adolf Hitler in Cesky Krumlov

To Fight Another Day – Warm Welcomes & Cold Shoulders For The Fuhrer
The second photo that lodged memorably in my mind was in the final gallery at the Regional Museum in Cesky Krumlov. Adolf Hitler was shown during his visit to the town on October 20, 1938, following the German annexation of the Sudetenland regions of Czechoslovakia. In the photo, Hitler is reviewing German troops in the main town square (namesti Svornosti). He strides forth between flowers laid out in two parallel rows atop the cobblestones. His right arm is stretched forth in the Sieg Heil (Hail To Victory) salute. In the background can be seen the Town Hall, where a Nazi emblem and several banners have been attached. People peer out intently from open windows. The photograph is a powerfully frightening celebration of occupation and dominance. I found it even more startling because it portrayed the same square where I stood an hour earlier drinking hot chocolate at the annual Christmas market. Times have changed so much that the scene depicted by the photograph is almost inconceivable.

One person who was not there to greet Hitler during his visit to Krummau – as Der Fuhrer and the town’s ethnic German population called it – was Adolph Schwarzenberg. He had refused an invitation to meet Hitler upon his arrival. This was not surprising since Schwarzenberg was a loyal supporter of Czechoslovakia. A year earlier he had met with Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes for breakfast at Cesky Krumlov Castle. At that meeting he gave Benes a substantial sum of money, one million crowns, for Czechoslovakia to defend itself against German aggression. Schwarzenberg was not about to give up his lifelong commitment to the Czechs. He refused to fire Czech workers from his estates, offered support to the Jews and made his contempt for Nazism well known. He was forced into exile due to well- founded fears that he and his wife would be arrested or worse. Schwarzenberg was smart enough to know that he needed to live long enough to fight another day. I got that much from looking at his facial expression in the first photo.

Supposed Strength – The Façade Of Immaculate Superiority
As for the Hitler photo, I would later have second thoughts about my initial impression that it was a show of dominance. All those uniforms, emblems, placards and posturing now seem to me symbolic of a man, an army and a people wanting to give the appearance of strength. It is all too much macho, self-conscious toughness. The idea was to intimidate the opposition and at the same time make the German people swell with ethnic pride, but beneath that façade of immaculate superiority lay a deep rooted fear. Fear that perhaps the German nation was not good enough or strong enough, a pervasive inadequacy that caused it to show off for itself. An arrogance formed from false confidence. The rush to occupy, dominate and unleash war was born from a supposed strength. A strength that in a not so far off future met its match on the Eastern Front. Then it would all end in fear for one regime and begin all over again under another.

Click here for: The Winner Takes It All – The Fate of Adolf Schwarzenberg (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Twelve)


It Ended In A Bed Chamber – A Tale of Murder At Cesky Krumlov Castle (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Nine)

Most of what is known about European History in the Renaissance era comes from written sources. If an event or incident was documented in writing than it became part of the historical record. If something was not written down, then it might as well have never happened. For many events, the ending is much more well-known than the beginning. Finding an exact starting point for an event can be an exercise in futility. Chroniclers were most likely to document a significant event after it occurred, not at its very beginning. The historical importance of an event is rarely known until it is already in progress or after its conclusion. This is the case with a sensational murder committed by Don Julius Caesar d’Austria, the son of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Due to the efforts of Cesky Krumlov’s chronicler Vaclav Brezan we know the details of how Don Julius’ most notorious affair ended. Just exactly how it started is open to speculation and relies on generalization rather than specifics. Nonetheless, the beginning of this most sadistic of affairs is open to the imagination. This makes what occurred even more terrible to contemplate.

At The Mercy Of A Madman – Bound By Fate
In the year 1607, Don Julius had been placed in a pseudo-exile at Cesky Krumlov by his father Rudolf II. He took up residence at the magnificent castle that loomed over the town. From there, Don Julius could look down from his quarters at the citizenry of Cesky Krumlov. He would see hundreds of innocents – potential prey for him – going about their business with little knowledge of the fate that would soon befall one of them. Despite his crazed mania, Don Julius was so powerful that to displace him would have taken an act of his father, who had installed him at Cesky Krumlov in the first place. This was not about to happen despite the schizophrenic madness which plagued Don Julius. Like the most powerful royalty of that age, he held the power of life and death over many people. They were at his mercy, a precarious and soon to be deadly position for one of them.

Exactly when and how Don Julius Caesar d’Austria first met Marketa Pichlerova, the daughter of a local barber in Cesky Krumlov, is open to question. Was it during one of his drunken rampages? While passing though the town with his entourage of misfits? Or just by happenstance? No one can say for sure, but the questions do not end there. What was it about Marketa that caused Don Julius to become obsessed with her? He had attacked and sexually assaulted many women in his life up to that time, but he usually moved on from one conquest to the next. That would not be the case with Marketa. Perhaps it had something to do with their initial encounter. What is known, Marketa’s father Zikmund was using his barbering skills to “bleed” Don Julius. Just the type of useless medical treatment that was going to do nothing for Don Julius’ overwhelming mental problems other than exacerbate them. Somewhere in that mad mind of his clouded by schizophrenia, Don Julius must have fallen for Marketa. The reason will never be known, unlike the outcome. Whether brought together by luck or chance, they would be bound forever together by fate.

Bound By Fate - Don Julius Caesar d'Austria after committing the murder of Marketa Pichlerova

Bound By Fate – Don Julius Caesar d’Austria after committing the murder of Marketa Pichlerova

The First & Final Cuts – A Lethal Bloodletting
Don Julius chose Marketa as a pseudo-consort/concubine. Her parents allowed Marketa to move into the castle with him. This was quite a step up in society for Marketa. She went from being the daughter of a humble barber to the wife of the Habsburg Emperor’s oldest son. Conversely, she had also become the virtual prisoner of a debauched degenerate who was descending ever deeper into the throes of madness. Marketa would soon realize this for herself. When Don Julius grew weary of her, rather than send Marketa back home to her parents he instead acted out his violent impulses upon her. A fight between the couple escalated into a near lethal bloodletting. Don Julius attacked her with a rapier. He managed to stab her several times, then proceeded to fling her out of a castle window to what he surely supposed would be her death. Rather than perish, Marketa instead landed on a trash heap which saved her life for the time being.

Once Don Julius discovered that Marketa had survived, he demanded that her parents turn her back over to him. They refused. This led Don Julius to imprison her father for over a month. He sadistically tortured Zikmund and threatened to kill him. Marketa’s mother finally gave in to this insidious blackmail. She offered to allow Marketa to return if her husband was freed. This was done on Sunday, February 17th. A day later Don Julius exacted revenge in a fit of ultraviolent anger. According to chronicler Vaclav Brezin, “Julius, that awful tyrant and devil, bastard of the Emperor, did an incredibly terrible thing to his bed partner, the daughter of a barber, when he cut off her head and other parts of her body, and people had to put her into her coffin in single pieces.” Eyewitnesses reported that they found Don Julius covered in blood, guts and feces. Even by the standards of that time, the crime was shocking in the extreme. Rudolf II was scandalized by his son’s crime. He vowed that Don Julius would never go free again.

Historic painting of the Minorite Monastery in Cesky Krumlov - Within the walls are buried the bones of Don Julius Caesar d'Austria

Historic painting of the Minorite Monastery in Cesky Krumlov – Within the walls are buried the bones of Don Julius Caesar d’Austria

Disturbing Truths – The Last Days Of Don Julius
While Don Julius avoided capital punishment – almost certainly due to his lineage – he still suffered massive anguish. His mental state had deteriorated to such an extent that he began living more like an animal than a human being. His personal hygiene eroded to the point that he would not bathe or take care of himself at all. Servants were so fearful of Don Julius that they avoided him. The rancid smell coming from his quarters was overpowering and only grew worse with time. He took to laying in the floor naked while using his soiled clothing for bedding. His health declined precipitately. It was reported that in the days before his death he let out full throated howls. The bellowing finally stopped on June 25, 1809 when Don Julius died of a ruptured ulcer. He was interred at the Minorite monastery in Cesky Krumlov.

Rudolf II once again turned tender hearted. His wish was to have Don Julius moved to a burial site more worthy of an heir to the emperor. Before this could happen Rudolf died. Don Julius’ remains were later moved to another area of the monastery. He is said to be buried somewhere within the walls. The exact place is not known. If only those walls could talk, they would howl in derision. Don Julius Caesar d’Austria was a deeply troubled man who was destined for a very bad end. His schizophrenia was uncontrollable. His father could only do so much to protect him, but no one could protect Don Julius from himself. Tragically, the innocent Marketa suffered a horrible death due to his madness. It is impossible to know what exactly drew Don Julius to Marketa. Just as it is impossible to know the exact place he is buried. Some things can never be known and that is probably for the best. The truth is disturbing enough on its own.

Click here: Accidental History – The Deadly Destiny of Adam Franz zu Schwarzenberg (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Ten)


It Began In A Bed Chamber – A Tale of Madness At Cesky Krumlov Castle (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Eight)

“If only those walls could talk.” That phrase has popped into my mind on innumerable occasions while traveling across Eastern and Central Europe. Astride the old city walls of Pecs and Sibiu, outside the crumbling remains of the Gothic church at Zsambek, while staring at a red brick World War I fortress in the woods on the edge of Prezmysl, I wondered just what stories were hidden by those walls. I tried to imagine all the things I did not know and would never know. The human and historical dramas that were hidden by walls that now stand as a final testament of all that has vanished. This “hidden history” seemed so far away, but it was closer than I imagined. Much of it lies buried deep within history books, waiting for the curious or serendipitous to do research leading to a rediscovery. It was in this manner that I stumbled upon a piece of murderous history from Cesky Krumlov Castle that by turns fascinated and horrified me. I would soon discover that if those castle walls could talk, they would let out a howl. This would be the cry of a once powerful madman who will be forever notorious. That is because of an horrific act he carried out behind the castle walls.

Cesky Krumlov’s Castle is so fantastical that it seems to be from another world. Seeing it for the first time, illuminated under the cover of darkness amid falling snow, I felt a childlike sense of enchantment. This feeling never left me during my visit. The castle did not take me back in time, instead it took me to a place that stood outside of time. A castle and town situated in a forever land. Here was the ultimate destiny of dreams, where the mythical supersedes reality. I saw the castle as a heroic place with a happy history marked by fearless leaders, spectacular feats of high culture and satisfied courtiers. I could not imagine that hidden behind, and in one horrifying case within the castle walls, was a story of madness, mayhem and murder. A tale of horrifying degeneracy that arose from schizophrenic insanity. A shadowy, sordid tale that began in a bed chamber of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and his most beloved mistress.

Infinite Curosity & Eccentricity - Rudolf II

Infinite Curosity & Eccentricity – Rudolf II (Credit: Hans von Aachen)

A Passion For The Bizarre – Bedroom Manners
Rudolf II was a cross between an ineffective ruler, crazed wunderkind and outrageous eccentric. Politically, he made a host of bad decisions that helped bring about the Thirty Years’ War. The most egregious of which was a badly conceived plan to unite all Christian forces in a crusade against the Ottoman Turks. The fact that Rudolf was aloof, moody, and indecisive at the best of times only made matters worse. His willful ambivalence helped ignite what became known as the Long War (1593 – 1606), which eventually led to his ouster. Rudolf’s political mistakes pale in comparison to his remarkable eccentricities. He moved the royal court from Vienna to Prague where he obsessed over the newest developments in astrology and alchemy. Imperial affairs often came a distant second to his scientific pursuits. There was also his love of art, which tended toward the obsessive. At times he could be found staring for hours on end at a painting that had captured his imagination.

Many of Rudolf’s passions were outright bizarre. He allowed a lion and tiger to roam Prague Castle where they attacked and even devoured the unwitting. Rudolf’s private life added to his less than savory reputation. He never married, but instead had a succession of affairs with both women and men. This was an attempt to satisfy his ravenous sexual appetite. Rudolf’s most noteworthy affair was with his favorite mistress, the highly intelligent, Viennese educated Catherina Strada (Katerina Stradova) who bore him six illegitimate children. The eldest of these, the magnificently named Don Julius Caesar d’Austria, was groomed for greater things by his father. Rudolf saw to it that the boy received a first-class education along with an exalted position in his court. Despite his father’s focus on ensuring he received the proper schooling, there was no amount of education that could rescue Don Julius from his natural proclivities.

Catherina Strada (Katerina Stradova) - Possible portrait

Catherina Strada (Katerina Stradova) – Possible portrait

No Escape From Sadism – The Scourge of Schizophrenia
During his youth, Don Julius displayed a tendency towards the sadistic, namely torturing animals and exceedingly violent behavior toward his own friends. By the time he reached adulthood, Don Julian was already a raging alcoholic. Sexual assault soon became an outlet for his violence. He traipsed around the Bohemian countryside with a gang of like-minded lackeys who took to raping women and pillaging in local villages. It was nothing for them to kidnap and sexually assault peasant girls. The situation grew to such extreme proportions that Rudolf was forced into action. Don Julius was sent against his will to a Carthusian monastery where he was forcibly held in the hope that his behavior might improve. His treatment involved denying him the vices he so dearly craved. The confinement soon became a failed attempt to correct his degeneracy, on the contrary it seemed to inflame his madness.

Denial as a form of punishment may have worked for some, but Don Julius lacked self-control. In truth, he just could not help himself. He suffered from schizophrenia which manifested itself in extremely violent and self-destructive behavior. Don Julius showed little sign of improvement, but Rudolf tended towards forgiveness. After Don Julius was granted his freedom, Rudolf provided him with another gift. Don Julius was given Cesky Krumlov and the surrounding region as his domain. This was a sort of internal exile where it was hoped the wayward son might correct his erring ways. Once firmly ensconced at the castle, Don Julius and his henchmen went on the rampage again. Soon those in the town and countryside were being terrorized. Violence, lewd sexual behavior and the most depraved activities were fomented on an alarming scale.

Schizophrenia & Sadism - Don Julius Caesar d'Austria

Schizophrenia & Sadism – Don Julius Caesar d’Austria

Close To Untouchable – A Path To The Truly Terrible
The Emperor’s officials did their best to cover up the worsening situation. This did nothing to help matters. Don Julius was plagued by a sadistic madness that could never be satisfied. Sex and violence went hand in hand. The more he got, the more he wanted. His exalted position made him close to untouchable. This was a recipe for something truly terrible to happen. That was exactly what would happen.

Click here for: It Ended In A Bed Chamber – A Tale of Murder At Cesky Krumlov Castle (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Nine)

Patron’s Place – Cesky Krumlov & The Eggenbergs (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Seven)

If Cesky Krumlov Castle and its surroundings are largely the history of three families than the middle child of that triumvirate, the Eggenbergs, get the least notice. There are two reasons for this oversight. First and foremost, their reign over the region was by far the shortest. The Rozmberk family held Cesky Krumlov three times as long as the Eggenbergs. While the Schwarzenberg family’s reign was over twice as long. One of the more prominent members of the Eggenberg family, Johann Ulrich von Eggenberg received Cesky Krumlov Castle and the surrounding lands as payment from Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand II in 1622. Less than a century later, in 1719, the family would lose their holdings after failing to produce an heir.

The Eggenberg’s are also overlooked because they neither started not ended the period of family reign over Cesky Krumlov. It is always easier to remember the beginning or the end of something, the in between period is another story altogether. A story that is most often not told. Historically, the Eggenberg’s act as a bridge, stuck between the medieval and the modern, the Renaissance and Baroque eras. They were gifted ownership of Cesky Krumlov during a time of war and would later die out in a period of peace. It is little wonder that they have languished in relative obscurity when it comes to the history of the castle they once lorded over.

A Man Of Taste And Style - Johann Christian I von Eggenberg

A Man Of Taste And Style – Johann Christian I von Eggenberg

Opposites Attract – The Rise Of A Family, The Decline Of A Castle
Originally a merchant family from the region of Styria, the Eggenberg’s enjoyed a meteoric rise to power and prominence. The family member most responsible for their ascendancy was Johann Ulrich von Eggenberg. His conversion to Catholicism at a time when Protestant families were losing their power and property to the Habsburgs sealed his position among the most powerful men in central Europe. He became Emperor Ferdinand II’s closest advisor. According to several accounts Johann Ulrich was present for everyone of the Emperor’s most important decisions. He was awarded several noble titles and vast compensation for his services. Among these were governor of Inner Austria, First Minister to the Emperor and Duke of Krumlov. The Eggenberg’s newly acquired land in southern Bohemia would soon be designated as a Duchy. They were even given the right to mind their own coinage. The family now radiated wealth and power.

The Eggenberg reign at Cesky Krumlov may have been relatively short, but it was also notable. The family’s ownership would save the castle from falling into total disrepair. It is worth remembering that during the twenty-year period (1602 – 1622) after Peter von Rozmberk sold the castle that the structure was badly neglected. Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II was its owner, but he never took the time to visit the castle. Rudolf did allow an illegitimate son to use it as a base of power for a few years. The son then decided to murder a woman he lured to the castle. At that point Rudolf made sure he got a new home, prison for life. Meanwhile, other calamities plagued the castle. A fire damaged one of the courtyards and Bavarian troops occupied the grounds. This led to the usual excesses of foreign soldiers. The castle had become less than useful. It was no longer the administrative, social or cultural hub for the surrounding region. That would slowly begin to change after the Eggenberg’s took over.

An Eggenberg Legacy - Cesky Krumlov Castle Mint building (on the left)

An Eggenberg Legacy – Cesky Krumlov Castle Mint building (on the left)

Theatrical Personalities – Setting The Scenes
Neither Johann Ulrich nor his son Johann Anton would make the castle their residence. Instead they continued to reside in Inner Austria. It would not be until Johann Anton’s son, Johann Christian, took it upon himself to make Cesky Krumlov the family’s residence that a new era in the castle’s history began. He and his wife Marie Ernestine were lovers of the arts. As such, they would kick start an artistic renaissance at the Castle. This would lead to renovations that transformed it into a structure worthy of the Baroque era. Lavish theatrical productions began to be staged in what was then known as the Deer Hall. The productions were elaborate in the extreme with the creation of 15 different scene settings. Among these were a village, military camp, winter and summer forest scenes, in addition to heaven and hell. This only whetted the appetites of Johann Christian and Marie for more. This led to the creation of the first standalone theater at the castle complex. It was constructed in one of the courtyards.

The theater was far from the only upgrade during the Eggenberg’s reign. The entire upper part of the castle was reconstructed over a five-year period. During this time work also started on the Castle Mint. It is still of the most noticeable buildings at the castle complex still today. This is due to its location, the four-story ochre colored Baroque edifice looming above the Vltava River. The Castle Mint never produced a single coin, instead it became headquarters for the Castle’s hunting master. The reconstruction also included a covered walkway leading to the splendid Castle Gardens. All the work on the castle was done in a style of spectacular refinement, indicative of the Baroque era. The couple succeeded in putting their own indelible personal stamp on the Castle. This would be the most enduring legacy of Eggenberg family rule at the castle.

A Garden To Behold - Castle Gardens at Cesky Krumlov Castle

A Garden To Behold – Castle Gardens at Cesky Krumlov Castle

Short Lived – A Brief Glory
Johann Christian and Marie could afford to focus on their shared passion for high culture. The fact that they did not have children allowed them more time to patronize the arts. It also meant that the Eggenberg family’s reign at Cesky Krumlov Castle was short lived. Johann Christian died in 1710, Marie lived on a bit longer. When she passed away in 1719, Cesky Krumlov went to her nephew Adam zu Franz Schwarzenberg. The Schwarzenberg family name would become synonymous with the early modern and modern periods in Cesky Krumlov’s history. Despite its brevity, the Eggenberg family’s time in power had been a success, one worth remembering for its architectural restorations and cultural achievements. The Eggenberg’s reign was remarkable even though it did not last for very long.

Click here for: It Began In A Bed Chamber – A Tale of Madness At Cesky Krumlov Castle (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Eight)

Heir To The Fall – The Collapsing House of Rozmberk (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Six)

The speed with which the House of Rozmberk’s three century long reign over southern Bohemia came to an end was breathtaking. It was the antithesis of slow decline and ossification as their wealth and power vanished in the space of a generation. In 1592 the magnificent reign of William of Rozmberk came to an end with his death. A decade later, the Rozmberk estates were bought out by the Habsburg Emperor, Rudolf II. William’s time in power had been marked by a seemingly endless array of economic, architectural and cultural achievements bringing the House of Rozmberk great acclaim. They had also come at great expense. Nonetheless, his reign was a true golden age as the Rozmberk dynasty brought the renaissance to southern Bohemia. Then it all fell apart. What happened? The person most responsible was a man as flawed as William was gifted. This was his brother Peter Vok, who led the House of Rozmberk into a precipitate decline from which it would never recover.

Ladies Man - Peter Vok in his younger years

Ladies Man – Peter Vok in his younger years

Heavy Debts – Marriage, Morals & Money
Peter Vok of Rozmberk did not seem to have much in common with his brother William, other than the fact that they both came from the same exalted family. The one common denominator in their personal lives was a fatal flaw that helped bring the House of Rozmberk down. Peter, like his older brother, failed to produce any offspring. Unlike William who was married four times, Peter was only married once. Unfortunately, the marriage turned out to be a disaster. He did not wed until he was forty-one years old. Prior to the marriage, Peter had a reputation as a frivolous playboy who was uninterested in a serious relationship. When he did finally decide to marry it was to Catherine of Ludanice. Catherine was a teenager, only 15 years old at the time. Peter was a quarter century older than his wife. This odd match got off to a surprisingly good start as Peter lavished attention on his young wife, but over time he grew increasingly hostile to her. The young lady began to show signs of mental instability. The couples’ failure to produce an heir only made matters worse.

Meanwhile, Peter was in dire financial shape. This was nothing new. His spendthrift ways had left him with little room to maneuver financially or politically. This was not the first time he had been on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1569 after purchasing Castle Bechyne, he set about on an uber expensive renovation of its dilapidated Gothic Castle into a Renaissance style chateau. He then used the chateau to throw lavish parties where alcohol flowed freely. Peter loved nothing more than drinking copious amounts of alcohol, carousing with women and being the center of attention at the parties he threw. This behavior led to massive amounts of debt. Even a man as disciplined and level headed as his brother William had trouble at times with his own financial situation. For someone of Peter’s dubious morals financial insolvency was more than just an existential threat. In the case of the debts he had incurred during this period, William ended up bailing Peter out for a promise of further financial rectitude. This worked, but only temporarily. The brothers would eventually have a falling out as William became increasingly exasperated with his brother’s behavior.

The Chateau at Trebon - Peter Vok's final home

The Chateau at Trebon – Peter Vok’s final home (Credit: Richard Mortel)

A Loss Of Credit-ability – Cost Of Living
By the last decade of the 16th century Peter was once again in bad financial straits, but William was now dead. In addition, there was no future family heir. This meant that there was no one to rescue Peter from himself.  Peter was the new head of the House of Rozmberk. This further increased the burden on his finances since he now took on William’s financial responsibilities. Peter first tried transferring many of the properties to his wife before she died. This did little to alleviate his indebtedness. Creditors continued to close in on him.

Peter was soon left with only one choice, to begin selling off Rozmberk estates. Despite sale after sale, Peter was only able to reduce his debt burden by a little over half. Paradoxically, he continued to spend excessive amounts to lead a life of luxury in Cesky Krumlov Castle. He kept almost 200 courtiers employed, a number that was unmatched even at the height of William’s reign. One outrageously expensive purchase – silver matrimonial beds from Italy – was indicative of Peter’s largesse. All the while, Peter struggled to keep his creditors at bay. He was incapable of frugality.

A Debt To Pay - Peter Vok late in life

A Debt To Pay – Peter Vok late in life

The Unrecovered – A Family’s Fortunes
Peter’s massive debts were such that he was finally left with no other choice but to sell what had been the family’s most important base of power, Cesky Krumlov Castle. In 1602, the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II purchased the castle complex from him. This effectively put an end to three hundred years of Rozmberk rule over the castle and its surrounding area. All the incredible renaissance renovations done by William that had made Cesky Krumlov one of Europe’s greatest architectural set pieces was now under the ownership of Rudolf. Peter moved to Trebon, where he immediately proceeded to continue spending loads of money. This time he set out on a mission to create one of the great libraries in Europe. He succeeded, but at considerable expense.

Peter soon found himself in yet another unenviable fiscal situation when Bavarian soldiers from Passau began to ravage southern Bohemia. He was forced to pay them off in order to keep the peace. Peter only found refuge from his debts and permanent peace when he died in 1611. If anything, his lack of self-control and wastrel behavior had helped bring the situation about. When the Thirty Years’ War broke out less than a decade later, the Renaissance that had been led by the Rozmberks in southern Bohemia was once again viewed with great fondness. The architecture and culture had left a lasting impression of wealth and refinement. It had been a time of gifts bestowed upon the region and its people by William and Peter. That golden age had vanished into history, like the Rozmberk family it was never to return.

Click here: Patron’s Place – Cesky Krumlov & The Eggenbergs (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Seven)

A Tale Of Two Brothers – The Great Creator Of Cesky Krumlov: William Rozmberk (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Five)

The history of Cesky Krumlov is as much the history of three families as is it of anything else. These families had a tremendous effect upon the development of the Castle and Old Town. The names Rozmberk, Eggenberg and Schwarzenberg are as central to the town’s identity as the winding cobblestone streets. It is not an overstatement to say that without these three families, Cesky Krumlov would probably not have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. When that designation took place all the families had long since become part of history, but it was their legacy that brought international recognition to the town’s architectural and cultural wonders.

Coming of Age - William of Rozmberk in his youth

Coming of Age – William of Rozmberk in his youth

Family Affair – The Lords Of Krumlov
It is daunting to consider just how much power these families had in earlier centuries. Some held the power of life over their subjects, while all held the power that allowed their subjects to earn a livelihood. There is also something rather comforting in learning just how much certain family members influenced the history of both Cesky Krumlov and southern Bohemia. They serve to remind us that history has been propelled forward as much by individuals as it has been by events, economic forces and social movements. There is no better illustration of this than several members of the Rozmberk family.
The Rozmberk family inherited Krumlov Castle when the last Lords of Krumlov died without an heir in 1302. The Lords of Krumlov and the Rozmberks both hailed from branches of the Vitkovci, a powerful family of Czech nobles.

While the seat of power for the Lords of Krumlov had been in Cesky Krumlov, the Rozmberk’s ancestral home was farther upstream at another castle on the Vltava River, close to the present-day village of Rozmberk nad Vltavou. Only after inheriting the Cesky Krumlov Castle did it become the family’s power base. Of the many different Rozmberk’s who called Cesky Krumlov castle home, two men stand out. One for his many successes, the other for ultimately being a failure. Ironically, the two were brothers, William of Rozmberk (William of Rosenberg) and Peter Vok (Peter Vok of Rosenberg). In the space of a couple of generations, it was William who presided over a golden age for the Castle and town. Conversely, Peter’s time in power effectively ended the Rozmberk reign over Cesky Krumlov forever.

The Quintessential Renaissance Man - William of Rozmberk

The Quintessential Renaissance Man – William of Rozmberk

Positioned For Greatness – A Renaissance Man
William Rozmberk was the prototypical Renaissance man.  He was astoundingly good at almost everything he did. A precocious talent, William began administering the family possessions at the tender age of sixteen. It was also at this age that he took a trip to Italy, one that would bring him into contact with Renaissance art and architecture. This would influence his patronage activities for years to come. At the age of twenty-one, William took the high chancellor of Bohemia to court over the prominence of Czech noblemen. He won the case and proceeded to embellish the famous Rozmberk five petaled rose coat of arms with color and imagery that linked them to a famous Italian family.

At the age of twenty-five, Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand I appointed William as the powerful High Treasurer of Bohemia. He soon added commander of the Bohemian Army to his duties. By the time he turned thirty-five, William had risen to the highest office in Bohemia. In this position he was a master diplomat, mediating in such politically fraught decisions as war with the Ottoman Turks and advocating on behalf of Habsburg candidates to the Polish throne. William’s meteoric rise was well deserved as his efforts to cultivate private enterprise turned out to be just as successful as his government service. His achievements included business start-ups in areas as diverse as mining and fisheries. Every aspect of brewing interested William to the point where he cultivated enterprises that farmed hops, stored malt and brewed beer.

William was just as active in arts and architecture. Among his more notable achievements, William collected a library that grew to 11,000 volumes, one of the largest at the time. He patronized education initiatives, starting schools, including a Jesuit College on the premises of Cesky Krumlov castle. The castle became his main residence though he owned many others. He made his most lasting impression in architecture, creating a legacy that can still be seen today. There was the expansion of the Rozmberk Palace at Prague Castle, renovations of Trebon and Roudnice Castle, as well as the new Kratochvile Castle at Netolice. Then there was his intense interest in redesigning the Cesky Krumlov Castle. It was soon transformed into a Renaissance residence beyond compare. Gothic edifices were re-stylized with Renaissance faces, decorative effects were added on both interior and exterior surfaces while vaulted ceilings became all the rage. The castle as it is seen today is primarily the work of William and the master artisans he brought from Italy to reimagine the castle and its associated structures.

A Man of Many Holdings - Roudnice Castle was among the properties owned by William of Rozmberk

A Man of Many Holdings – Roudnice Castle was among the properties owned by William of Rozmberk (Credit: Harke)

A Fatal Flaw – Tragedy Without Triumph
There was really only one area that William did not meet with success. Several of his marriages ended in tragedy. Unfortunately, this would have a decisive effect upon the Rozmberk family’s future. This was not through much fault of his own or his wives. William was married four times. None of his first three wives lived beyond the age of twenty-five. He married his third one, Anna Maria of Baden, when she was only 15. Just six years after the couple married, Anna was dead. William must have loved her dearly, as he was buried beside her in Trebon.

William’s fourth wife would outlive him and remarry, but none of the marriages produced an heir. This was his only flaw, one that would prove fatal to the family’s prospects. The Rozmberk family’s future would end up falling to William’s younger brother. Peter Vok became the most powerful living family member after William’s death in 1592. Peter could not match any of William’s stellar achievements. He would be unable to escape his brother’s shadow and most importantly his own. A disaster waiting to happen, major problems for Peter and the Rozmberk estates were just a matter of time. That time arrived in the last years of the 16th century.

Intimidate & Inspire – Sizing Up Cesky Krumlov’s Castle (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Four)

What is the difference between a castle and a chateau? To my mind, the former has battlements, crenellations, perhaps a moat, a multitude of portholes, menacing spires and was sculpted out of stone. A chateau evokes images of a palatial manor house that is meant to be both impressive and inviting. The castle was largely made for defensive purposes and as a power base, the chateau for relaxation and enjoyment. I am sure an official dictionary definition would be a bit different from my highly personalized conception of what each of these structures should be. Nonetheless, the difference between the two is one of degree rather than nuance. Castles were built for survival, chateaus for pleasure. At least that was what I believed before arriving at Cesky Krumlov.

A Castle Complex - Cesky Krumlov's Magnificent Castle

A Castle Complex – Cesky Krumlov’s Magnificent Castle

A Complex Situation – Defeated At A Glance
An incredibly well preserved and spruced up medieval townscape in Cesky Krumlov is home to the second largest castle in the Czech Republic or as some prefer to call it, the Chateau. It literally stretches the meaning of either word. At first glance, mostly due to its massive walls and infectiously stylized bell tower, I deemed the structure worthy of the castle moniker. While visiting I also noticed it had similarities with chateaus. Calling it a castle is something of misnomer because that designation is not plural. A more apt title might be the Cesky Krulov castle complex. That is because referring to it as a chateau happens to be a massive understatement. There are multiple structures inside the grounds that are worthy on their own of chateau status. The official name when translated is the State Castle of Cesky Krumlov. This officious title has all the appeal of bureaucratic necessity. The most appropriate designation I found was “castle complex”, a description which incorporates both the main structure and all associated ones.

Upon my first glance at the castle complex, in a haze of snow and floodlit illumination, the words formidable and impressive both came to mind. Here was a structure meant to intimidate while inspiring potential conquerors to retreat. I was not surprised to find that in the structure’s long and rich history it seems to have suffered little damage in warfare. Any potential conqueror would have likely been defeated by its appearance. My first encounter with the castle complex came, like that of most visitors to Cesky Krumlov, during a walk to the Old Town, passing beneath the Upper Castle’s covered bridge. This was the most massive thruway I have ever had the awe-inspiring pleasure of passing under. The covered bridge is so high above ground level that it is not easily discernible from below.

A Strategic Situation – Massive Castle, Crooked Meadow
Imagine walking beneath a towering railway viaduct or entering a massive Roman arena. Such examples come closest to explaining the effect of entering Cesky Krumlov’s Old Town beneath the covered bridge. At that point I was not in the castle or anywhere close to the main point of entry, but that fact was lost on me. There was so much to take in that I lost awareness of the immediate surroundings. This was due to the huge shadow cast both literally and figuratively by the complex over the rest of Cesky Krumlov’s Old Town which I would soon enter. I could not shake the massive edifice that loomed well above everything else. The outsized effect of the castle complex makes the rest of the Old Town seem even more quaint than it looks, as though it has been preserved in miniature.

The castle complex is so large that it is hard for the mind to grasp its sheer size and length. Much of this has to do with how it stretches for a kilometer along the Vltava River. Its situation, atop a large rock outcropping bordering Bohemia’s most important waterway, is easy to overlook. That is because the rock looks more like an appendage than a foundation due to the huge structures that have been overlaid atop it. The history of both Cesky Krumlov and the castle has been informed by the Vltava going all the way back to its very beginnings. It is even expressed in the town’s name, which is a translation of the German “Krumme Aue”, which means crooked meadow. The town and castle wrap around an S-shaped bend in the Vltava. This bend in the river was one of southern Bohemia’s most important strategic points going all the way back to the late Middle Ages.

Bending to the Rivers Will - Cesky Krumlov's Castle complex & Old Town border the Vltava River

Bending to the Rivers Will – Cesky Krumlov’s Castle complex & Old Town border the Vltava River

A Textbook Of History – Sculpted Out Of Stone
The first of the castle’s constructions took place during the 13th century when a tower was built to protect a river ford on an important commercial trade route crossing the Vltava. The castle really began to develop when the powerful Rozmberk family took control of it and the surrounding lands in the early 14th century. This was the beginning of a residency that would last for exactly three hundred years. It was during the Rozmberk’s (Rosenberg’s) reign that the Upper Castle area was first constructed and the structure that still exists today began to truly develop. Across the centuries, two other families, the Eggenberg’s and the Schwarzenberg’s, provided their own constructions, reconstructions and embellishments. The structure mirrors the military, economic and cultural history of southern Bohemia. It went from being a fortress, to a castle, economic engine and massive residence, to a plaything of the aristocratic nobility over the course of seven centuries.

The architecture is also reflective of a diverse range of styles with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements standing side by side, piled atop each other or fused together. The Cesky Krumlov castle complex can best be understood as a textbook of history written in stone, a grand work that reveals more and more of its treasures upon close study. I found that approaching it not in the singular, as a castle or chateau, but as a multi-volume work was the best approach. The sections of this work could be divided by building or style, historic era or historical personages. It was that last one which most appealed to me, primarily because those who developed a work of art and architecture this compelling could only have done so by marshaling incredible amounts of imagination and ambition. This was the material that Cesky Krumlov’s castle complex was made of.

Click here for: A Tale Of Two Brothers – The Great Creator Of Cesky Krumlov: William Rozmberk (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Five)