Today we're in Brandys nad Labem-Stara Boleslav just north-east of Prague. This place has a rather long name - the longest in the country, in fact, and that's because it actually used to consist of two separate towns: Brandys nad Labem and Stara Boleslav.
While Brandys was first founded as a market village sometime around 1300, Stara Boleslav is about four hundred years older and dates back to the Middle Ages. It is one of the most important places of pilgrimage for Czech Catholics as this is where the country's patron saint Wenceslas was murdered and where an important icon of the Virgin Mary called the "Palladium" is on display.
The first written record of Brandys Chateau dates back to 1304. It was originally built as a fortress by the Michalovic nobility and stayed in the family's possession until 1420. Some of its gothic elements from that time are still visible today, such as the decorative bay window in the northern wall. By the time King Ferdinand I of Habsburg - who later became Holy Roman Emperor - took over the building in 1547, it had undergone reconstruction and was transformed into a castle that became one of the most popular places of residence for the region's kings and emperors.
"From the time of the first emperor Ferdinand I, Brandys Castle was very famous and people liked to come here to hunt. It was a typical summer and hunting seat as it was not far from Prague. Then, there are also some religious reasons [why it was popular]. The second part of the town, Stara-Boleslav, has the biggest Czech tradition of Saint Vaclav or Wenceslas which is also very connected to the second biggest Christian tradition of the Palladium of the Czech lands. Throughout the centuries, the emperors were connected with both traditions because they were not only Austrian emperors and heads of the Central European monarchy but they were also Czech kings."
The castle's golden age is believed to have been in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, under the rule of Rudolph II, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, who made the chateau his primary residence outside of Prague.
"The period of the rule of Rudolph II was the most important and most famous time of Brandys Castle. He used the castle and the surrounding forests very often and at the time Brandys was very nice. The garden was very famous and one of the best in Europe at the time. But then, in the time of the Thirty Years War, Brandys - its buildings and the garden - was destroyed. Now we only have a few authentic documents from the time of Rudolph II."
"Maria Theresa visited Brandys Castle several times but the most important moment in her life and for her future was in 1723 when she visited the castle with her father Emperor Charles VI before his coronation as Czech King in Prague. On that day she met her future husband Francis III Stephen of Lorraine for the first time."
"One important moment was a meeting of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz I, with Russian Tsar Alexander I and the King of Prussia [Frederick William III]. The meeting was held at Brandys Castle to discuss their policy and tactics against Napoleon. They made an agreement to organise their soldiers and armies for the great Battle of the Nations (also known as the Battle of Leipzig), which was fought in 1813."
The last emperor to own the chateau was Charles I of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. After the end of the First World War in 1918, the chateau housed companies, flats, stores, and was used for workshops for some eighty years until it came into the hands of the municipality in 1995.
"In 2004, we finished a large reconstruction of the internal court with nice sgraffitos and also the first floor. All imperial halls and apartments - about 25 different rooms and halls have been reconstructed and now they are open to the public. We have a big historic exhibition where visitors can see and read many authentic things - the history of Brandys Castle and the family of emperors, which is very interesting."
From May to September, the public can visit the chateau chapel, the knights' hall, military halls, and graphic art exhibition. The Tuscan Library of the National Museum, also open to the public, commemorates Archduke Ludwig Salvatore, a renowned scholar of the Tuscan Habsburgs who travelled the world and had an extensive collection of books and drawings at the chateau. The castle grounds are also used for weddings, concerts, and festivities. Part of the chateau is still used by private companies - there is a recording studio, cable television studio, but also a wine shop and a wine bar.