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)

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

Adam Franz zu Schwarzenberg was a very lucky man who met with terrible misfortune. That statement may seem contradictory, but so was his life and death. He would become the first in a long line from the powerful House of Schwarzenberg that make Cesky Krumlov Castle their prime residence. The Schwarzenberg’s were the third and final family to own the Castle, along with numerous other estates in southern Bohemia. Adam Franz’s rise to power, prestigious reign and sudden demise is a microcosm of the Schwarzenberg’s three centuries in power. One day, one event, one moment can change everything for the better and sometimes for the worse.

Heir To Cesky Krumlov - Adam Franz zu Schwarzenberg

Heir To Cesky Krumlov – Adam Franz zu Schwarzenberg

On The Hunt – Building a Power Base
Adam Franz’s name has become synonymous with Cesky Krumlov Castle. He managed to acquire the castle, along with many other valuable possessions in the surrounding region, because he was nephew of Marie Ernestine von Eggenberg. Marie Ernestine was last in the line of the Eggenberg family that reigned over Cesky Krumlov. She and her husband, Johann Christian, failed to produce an heir. Thus her closest kin, Adam Franz, inherited the family’s vast holdings throughout southern Bohemia in 1719. Adam Franz was already extremely powerful. His holdings included the estates at Trebon and Hluboka. Adding the Eggenberg estates to his own added made the Schwarzenberg’s one of the most powerful aristocratic families in central Europe all the way until the mid-20th century.

Adam Franz built upon his good fortune with sound management practices that kept his estates economically prosperous. He was especially interested in forestry, where he displayed a talent for cultivation. His leadership and management capabilities, along with his aristocratic lineage, brought him into the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. There he held a series of high positions. Adam Franz eventually rose to become the Emperor’s chief advisor. Both men had a shared passion for hunting. Royal hunts were an elite sporting pursuit for the upper echelons of Central European society during the Renaissance era. Emperor Charles, Adam Franz and a host of others would spend many days together in the Bohemian forests hunting game. These hunts brought them closer together, but in one tragic case tore them apart forever.

One Last Shot – A Fatal Mishap
After visiting Cesky Krumlov In the late spring of 1732, Emperor Charles, Adam Franz  and an entourage traveled to the Bohemian countryside not far from Prague. Together they would take part in a deer hunt at Brandys nad Labem, an estate and chateau located on the left bank of the Elbe River. In an area thick with underbrush Charles and Adam Franz positioned themselves to await deer which would be driven to them by beaters. Charles and Adam Franz were only 60 meters (65 yards) from one another. The undergrowth must have camouflaged the spot where Adam Franz was standing. Charles failed to realize just how close they were to one another. When Charles sighted a deer, he took aim and fired. His shot rang out through the underbrush followed by the wounded cries of Adam Franz. The Emperor had shot him.

For all the good fortune Adam Franz had enjoyed in life, he was now beset by the ultimate in misfortune. The bullet had first struck his left hip, then passed through the intestines and a kidney before lodging in his right hip. The best medical care at the time was useless when faced with such a wound. An initial examination by an on-sight imperial physician concluded that the wound would surely prove fatal. While in wrenching pain, Adam Franz was transported by carriage back to Brandys nad Labem. In the evening, a priest was called for and last rites administered. In the early morning hours of June 11, 1732, twelve hours after he had been wounded, Adam Franz slipped out of consciousness and was soon dead. He was fifty-two years old at the time.

The Huntsman - Holy Roman Emperor Emperor Charles VI

The Huntsman – Holy Roman Emperor Emperor Charles VI (Credit: Johann Gottfried Auerbach)

Taking Aim – The Emperor’s Exoneration
Meanwhile, Emperor Charles VI was wracked with guilt. He had just killed one of his closest confidantes and longtime companions. An account taken by Adam Franz’s valet states that he did not blame the Emperor. He said that it had been an act of God. All Adam Franz asked was that Charles see to it that his 10 year old son, family and servants be well treated and receive their just inheritance. The Emperor would make sure Adam Franz’s family was treated with the utmost regard in the years to come.
Of course, the usual rumors cropped up concerning conspiracy theories. Rumors began to circulate that the Emperor purposely murdered Adam Franz. Despite, or perhaps because of Charles’ position as emperor, a special commission was created to carry out a thorough investigation.

The cause of the accident was obvious to investigators, the men had been stationed much to close for comfort, but not for tragedy. They should never have been that close to one another within shooting range. Coupled with ground cover, this was a recipe for an accidental shooting.  Charles VI was exonerated of any wrong doing. There is no compelling evidence to the contrary that it was anything other than a tragic mishap. One does have to wonder, if the shooting had been the other way around, with Adam Franz committing accidental manslaughter, what would the consequences have been for him? It is likely that the investigation would have turned out differently.

One Final Shot - The coat Adam Franz zu Schwarzenberg was wearing when he was accidentally shot by Emperor Charles VI

One Final Shot – The coat Adam Franz zu Schwarzenberg was wearing when he was accidentally shot by Emperor Charles VI (Credit: Cesky Krumlov Castle)

An Astonishing Reminder – The Misfortune Of The Fortunate
An astonishing reminder of Adam Franz and his untimely death can still be seen today. The coat he wore during the hunt is on display at Cesky Krumlov Castle. A small hole can be spotted on the right side of the coat. This is where the bullet first struck before it then tore through Adam Franz’s body. The coat is part of the Castle’s museum collection.  These holdings contain thousands of items related to both the great and terrible times that the House of Schwarzenberg endured at their numerous estates in southern Bohemia. Like Adam Franz, the House of Schwarzenberg enjoyed great fortune until they too were suddenly swept away by misfortune. The difference was that their demise took place in the mid-20th century. It was one from which they would not recover. Proof that historical forces are much more powerful than any individual or family.

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


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)


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.