Czech chateaux and castles ready for new season

Konopiště, photo: CzechTourism

The Czech Republic boasts hundreds of castles, chateaux, and summer palaces visited by countless visitors each year. It is, in short, one of the biggest attractions. The new season began on April 1 (individual sites may vary) and in this week’s In Focus, I talk with The National Heritage Institute’s Simona Juračková about upcoming exhibitions and events not to be missed.

Kunštát,  photo: Ben Skála,  CC BY-SA 3.0
She began by telling me about the institute’s role.

“The visiting of castles and chateaux is of course very popular in the Czech Republic, both for local and foreign visitors. The National Heritage Institute (NPU) has got 104 sites it runs and looks after and we see 4.5 million visitors per year, which is huge. The tradition goes back to the mid-19th century and even earlier.”

The NPU’s Guidebook to Monuments shows a little map of all the sites, with the iconography indicating that the overwhelming majority are open to the public at some time during the year. It must be a huge endeavour to administer so many sites…

“It’s true. And it’s not just castles. There is, for example, also an historic mill for visitors to see and a former mine in Ostrava. The sites they can see are very variable.”

What about the new season that has just begun? What are some of the highlights?

“This year we are marking the 550th anniversary of a meeting of rulers including George of Poděbrady, the Czech king and a member of the Kunštát noble family. George attempted to secure peace with Rome by a radical suggestion, considered by some to have been a proposal before its time of a European union, based on common ideals. George as the Czech king was descended from old Czech and Moravian ancestry – the only one.

Konopiště,  photo: CzechTourism
“There are several activities to this theme: exhibitions and cultural events. ON June 21 we will open a large exhibition at Kunštát Castle. The castle is not that big and not as well-known as some sites. We would like to change that.”

Castles in the Czech Republic often feature a number of architectural styles, sometimes Romanesque, High Gothic, Renaissance, different stages. In this respect, what is Kunštát like?

“This castle has a medieval ‘heart’ which is where the upcoming exhibition will be held. Otherwise, much of the castle was renovated in in the 19th century – but its older heart is hidden inside.”

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of WWI, sparked by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia Chotek (Žofie Chotková of the Chotkovy Czech noble family) in Sarajevo in 1914; what is planned there?

“We want to commemorate their tragic deaths. Konopiště Chateau, near Prague, was their last place of residence. So we have a lot of their personal belongings and we even have the bullet which killed him – which is a little creepy.”

Was that recently acquired?

“No, but it is only going on view now.”

So a sort of historic ‘ballistics report’...

“Kind of. There will also be a commemoration of the whole family. There are three other chateaux with linked exhibitions: there is Zákupy, where the couple married; there is the chateau in Velké Březno where Zofie grew up.”

Nové Hrady,  photo: CzechTourism
What is the relationship that Franz Ferdinand had with the Czech lands?

“I think he was accepted. He was a Habsburg but he chose to live here and I think he was accepted within the Czech context within the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. And of course, the date of his and her assassination went down as a turning point in history on which we want to refelect.”