With the start of the tourist season in April hundreds of castles and chateaus around the Czech Republic open their doors to visitors. The National Heritage Institute which administers over 100 castles and chateaus selects a special theme every year to highlight some of the country’s architectural gems. This year it is Renaissance Nobility Year, focusing on the lives, homes and art collections of country’s leading aristocratic families of the time. I asked the spokesperson for the National Heritage Institute Jan Cieslar to tell me more about what is in store for visitors this year.
“Renaissance Nobility Year is a follow-up on the National Heritage Institute’s previous successful projects in recent years: The Year of the Rosenbergs, Year of the Pernštejns, Year of French Culture, and, last but not least, Year of the Luxembourgs. Renaissance Nobility Year will open with an exhibition at Prague Castle that introduces key works of art from the time of Emperor Rudolf II which was assembled from collections at castles and chateau administered by the National Heritage Institute. This season-opener at Prague Castle is really nice and we want to attract visitors not only to Prague Castle, to see this particular exhibition with paintings by Aachen and other works by Dutch, French, Flemish and German painters of the time, but also to visit our other castles and chateaus to see these masterpieces in their natural setting.”
So how many castles and chateaus will be highlighted this year?
“Smaller exhibitions and cultural events devoted to the life of the Renaissance aristocracy are being prepared in 30 castles and chateaus where the Renaissance nobility left their mark. Visitors can acquaint themselves with outstanding personages from the ranks of the Renaissance aristocracy, the riveting architecture of Renaissance chateaus, illustrious interiors and their furnishings, splendid gardens, and dozens of stories linked to the lives of the aristocracy in the castles and chateaus in Velké Losiny, Uherčice, Pernštejn, Rožmberk, Český Krumlov, Třebon, Červená Lhota and many others.”
Does that mean that you recreate the environment –arrange the furnishings as they were when the aristocratic families lived there?
“That is the traditional approach and I think it is typical of Czech castles and chateaus that most of them are fully furnished and we try to bring home to the public how the nobility lived in the past. I think that is a unique phenomenon on European and maybe world scale. ”
“Exhibitions and cultural events devoted to the life of the Renaissance aristocracy are being prepared in 30 castles and chateaus where the Renaissance nobility left their mark.”
I understand there is an exhibition of Renaissance portraits and artefacts at Sternberg Palace in Prague?
“ At the end of the season Renaissance Nobility Year will return to Prague with an exhibition called Images and Stories and this exhibition will offer a unique collection of Renaissance portraits and personal belongings of the highest placed persons of Czech and Moravian nobility of the time. In one place it will be possible to see the portraits of the main nobles of the time and their memorabilia. This exhibition was organized in cooperation with the National Gallery in Prague.”
What is the highlight of the season – what is the big event for you?
“Well, it’s hard to say, because there are very many exhibitions linked to Renaissance Nobility Year but I think we should mention one castle in particular, Námešť nad Oslavou, which will be at the centre of this year’s Night at the Castle celebrations. That is a traditional event in which hundreds of cultural monuments take part. And this year the “headquarters” will be at Náměšť nad Oslavou, the Renaissance chateau of the Žerotín (or Zierotin ) family and on this occasion there will be a presentation of a copy of the Kralice Bible printed at the private printing establishment of Count Zerotin in Kralice, in 1579.”
“During this night almost one hundred cultural monuments, chateaus and castles open to the public and offer a very different atmosphere from that which visitors know from day visits. The castles are lit up by hundreds of candles, there are many cultural programs, concerts, fireworks and so on. This night is the highlight of the summer season. Last year we had over 30,000 people visiting and it is really, really popular.”
And that is on August 26th?
“Yes, this year it will be on August 26, but traditionally it is held on the last Saturday in August. ”
Do you have a favourite place or exhibition that you would not miss out on?
“There is a new tour of Červená Lhota, a nice, small castle in southern Bohemia and visitors can see what the castle looked like inside around 1920 when the last noble family of Sterberg- Hartstein lived there. I think it is something different, something maybe a bit more modern, but from my point of view, very interesting. One other thing that I would like to mention is the opening of a watchtower – a Neo-Gothic watchtower in the park of the Krasný Dvůr chateau. This watchtower was the first Neo-Gothic architecture in Bohemia. And for smaller visitors I should mention that the Kunětická Hora castle has prepared an exhibition called Back to the Fairytale that brings together costumes from the very many fairytales filmmakers produced in this country.”
The National Heritage Institute has had problems in recent years getting tourists out of Prague to actually see some of these gems that are out in the country. Have you made any progress in this respect with these special events that you are organizing?
“On one night of the year almost one hundred cultural monuments, chateaus and castles open to the public and offer a very different atmosphere from that which visitors know from day visits.”
“Well, to be honest, the most visited castles are the ones on the UNESCO list – Český Krumlov, Lednice and castles like Hluboká. That’s the reason why we prepared a project last year called Hidden or Undiscovered Treasures which highlighted 36 lesser known monuments with special programs. These monuments are usually located further from the big cities, but there are other compensations such as the fact that those places are not overcrowded so the atmosphere is different from that you will experience in Český Krumlov or Hluboká. And one such place is not a castle, but a coal mine in Ostrava and visitors can see what the mine looked like when miners finished their last shift there.”
And have you had a good response from the public to that kind of tourism?
“Yes, we’ve had a very good response and I have to say that in the course of last year we had two or three weddings in that mine!”
So you organize special events at these places as well?
“Yes, of course. Our castles and chateaus are very popular with film crews, many films have been shot at various castle locations in the Czech Republic and we also offer them for events such as weddings. So if anyone wants a wedding in such a setting all they need to do is contact the manager of the given castle or chateau and enquire about the possibilities.”
For a fairytale wedding?
“For a fairytale wedding.”
And how many visitors are you hoping to attract this year? Last year’s record figures will be hard to beat, won’t they?
“Yes, that’s true. Last year we had 5. 6 million visitors at the castles and chateaus we administer, so it will be hard to beat that number, but I think that if we manage to stay at the same level we will be satisfied. ”