Anyone who has visited Cesky Krumlov will agree that it resembles a village in a fairy-tale with its combined Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, still intact after a tumultuous history.
Like many of the towns we have visited on this trip, its Golden Age was the 1500s, when artists and intellectuals from all over Europe made their way here and the Renaissance greatly influenced architecture and culture.
The Habsburgs (remember Vienna?) bought the region in 1602 and ushered in a more Germanic period. After that, 75% of the population was German, until 1945 when the Potsdam Treaty-approved ethnic cleansing expelled most of them. Afterwards, it became a ghost town and many of the new residents were gypsies. During the communist era, it fell into disrepair and the beautiful Vltava River was polluted by a nearby paper mill. However, no money, no new construction, so the town basically cocooned for 40 years.
In the 1990s tourists discovered the quaint town, and it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Money flowed in to preserve the buildings and it is now the second biggest tourist magnet in the CR.
Foremost among the sites is Krumlov Castle. It is one of the largest castle complexes in Central Europe and the second largest in the Czech Republic after Prague Castle.
It is situated on a rock outcropping high above the Vltava River, the same river that flows through Prague, 3 hours away.
The Lords of Krumau built a fortress on this spot in 1253. In 1302 one of the most important noble families in Bohemia, the Rozmberks (Rosenbergs), acquired the property. The 16th century was the most important period because it was owned by Wilhelm von Rosenberg (1535-1592), one of the last of the family. Inspired by his travels in Italy and the styles of the Renaissance, he had Cesky Krumlov rebuilt on his return home. Unfortunately, despite four marriages, he had no heirs. His fourth wife was Polyxena (her wedding dress was on display) who later married a Lobkowicz whom we learned about in Prague when we went to the Lobkowicz Palace.
Since there were no heirs, the property passed to the younger brother. Deeply in debt, he sold it to Emperor Rudolph II in 1602. Thus the Habsburgs owned it for 20 years and then gave it to the Eggenbergs for their service in the Thirty Years War. This family died out, too, and the castle passed into the hands of the Schwarzenbergs in 1719. They undertook extensive renovations at the castle.
In 1802, the family line split (into the good and the bad). One line continued to live at Krumlov (the bad), although it was not their main residence and it suffered from lack of care. In 1939 Dr. Adolph von Schwarzenberg went into exile and his entire estate was confiscated by the Nazis. After the war ended, this families' assets were all transferred to the state, through a special legislative act that targeted only them (said they collaborated with the Nazis). At the time they were the largest landholder in the country. Imagine the US passing a law that targeted only one family!
The other side of the family lost their property to the communists, but they were able to get it back through restitution in 1990.
As you approach the castle, one of the most striking features is the colorful round tower built on the site of the first castle.
An attempt has been made to preserve some rooms from the time period of each of the three main owners.
The Rosenberg rooms were decorated with dark wood furniture, frescoes and tapestries from Belgium, and the ceilings were coffered, like the ones in Telc.
The Eggenberg era had several highlights. They had an "antecamera" room containing a number of game tables where guests would entertain themselves while waiting for an audience.
The most unique piece, which was positioned in the Eggenberg Hall, was a huge golden coach, built in Rome in 1638. (Photo from internet)
Other rooms of note date from the mid-18th century and most of the furnishings are original.
-- the Chinese Salon, with exotic Asian furniture, a Meissen porcelain chandelier and Delft tiles that covered the walls like wallpaper.
-- the Rococo Baldachin Salon with its red wallpaper and red furnishings with white and gold trim
-- the Masquerade Hall with brightly colored murals covering every wall, showing a festive crowd of carnival goers and figures from "Comedia de l'Arte. (from internet)
What I found fascinating was the "trompe l'oeil" (fool the eye) design of the sets. The stage is roughly 70 feet in depth, and yet the paneled sets have just the right perspective to make the stage appear much, much deeper. There are no curtains. The scenes are changed by sliding differently decorated panels off and on the stage. These panels are secured in movable frames which slide along wooden tracks under the stage. The frames are connected by a trolley winch in the center floor. By turning the winch, backdrops from one scene are pushed back and the next are simultaneously rolled out. A scene change using this technique took between 6 - 12 seconds and required only 10 men. How did they know when to change them? A stage manager who understood Italian and knew the opera gave the orders to change the scene.
There were also some very primitive but effective methods for making sound effects such as thunder, horses' hooves and rain. Flying machines sent people soaring across the stage and stage trap-doors allowed the devil to pop up from below.
The theater still has more than 350 backdrops and sets, 600 costumes and the ability to produce 13 different shows. It seats 150 and there is an orchestra pit in front of the stage. Only two things have changed since 1766: electricity has been added, but in a way to simulate candles, and the former dirt floors have been covered. The theater is now used twice a year for a special theater series.
Following our tour, we had lunch at a famous local brewery - the Eggenberg.
Then we boarded our bus and rode 1-1/2 hours to Orlik Reservoir for a boat ride.
Then we continued another 1-1/2 hours to Prague, where we checked into the Clarion (my place from before and same room!) and walked to Hotel Opera for a delicious meal.