Czech castles and chateaus going through hard times
The Czech Republic’s many castles and chateaus, visited by millions of tourists every year, are going through hard times. The Covid restrictions together with the soaring price of electricity are proving an enormous financial burden.
The country’s historic and architectural legacy has always been a magnet for tourists. Under normal circumstances the castles, chateaus and ruins which dot the countryside are a beehive of activity from early spring until late autumn, showing off their magnificent interiors, authentic furnishings from the days when they were home to the country’s nobility and expansive English-style parks with swans, deer and peacocks. Some would organize historical fencing and fairs to increase their attraction for visitors.
The Covid pandemic brought this to an abrupt end. Foreign visitors stopped coming and the locals were put off by the Covid restrictions. When the country’s state monuments were allowed to reopen to tourists under strict hygiene conditions last June, they saw a significant drop in visitor numbers. Foreign tourists were few and far between and among Czechs –who like to organize weekend family outings to castles and chateaus - there was a significant decline in interest in guided tours. Those who planned trips chose to visit castle ruins and parks where they spent time outdoors.
Many castles reviewed their strategy – organizing art and other exhibitions on their premises to attract visitors and increasingly they opened their doors to visitors during the winter period or organized late night tours when tales about the ghosts of former owners said to haunt the premises were enhanced by the spooky atmosphere of the castle at night.
The castle in Český Krumlov, once home to the Rožemberk clan, welcomes visitors in the winter months as well - having brought out all its treasures and furnishings from the 16th to the 19th century for a special exhibition in which the tour guide explains the history of each piece and its original purpose. Pavel Slávek, the man in charge of the “manor” says putting it together was quite a feat.
“Over 8,000 artefacts were gradually taken from the depositories and given a special place in our museum exposition.”
Despite its efforts visitor numbers to Český Krumlov Castle have dropped to around 30 percent compared to pre-pandemic years. It’s the same story with most other castles and chateaus around the country. Moreover, maintenance costs have sky-rocketed, driven by a 6 percent inflation and soaring electricity prices. As a result, entrance fees are up by around 15 percent this year, which is not ideal at a time when most of these places are trying to lure back visitors, but in view of the mounting costs it is unavoidable. As the head of Opočno Castle explains, cutting costs is not always possible. “We could switch off the arcade lights which are on all night to save money, but that would render the security camera system useless, he says. So at least they are cutting back on heating in areas that are not accessible to visitors.
Like many others, Opočno Castle is looking to see the light at the end of the tunnel and hoping that 2022 will finally bring an end to the pandemic and a return to normal life.