Kozel Chateau


For today's Spotlight we have come to the countryside of west Bohemia to visit Kozel Chateau. Kozel was originally a hunting lodge, and when it was built in the late 18th century bore the German name Waldschloss or Jadgschloss, meaning Forest or Hunting Chateau. Why is it now called Kozel (Goat in Czech)? Apparently, the ancient Slavs used to sacrifice a goat on this site at the spring equinox. Their aim: to win the favour of their pagan gods and, hopefully, a good harvest.

But when the chateau acquired the name Kozel nobody seems to know. What is known is that it was built between 1784 and 1789. Here's estate manager Karel Bobek.

"It was built by Václav Haberditz for Jan Vojtěch Černín, the supreme huntsman of the Czech kingdom and was a member of Emperor Joseph II's court. Černín was at the start of his career, and building a place like Kozel was the done thing for someone in his position."

Kozel was built in a relatively simple style, square in shape with three ground-floor wings and one wing which also has a second storey. It is charming and unusual, but rather unimposing, and many visitors tend to notice its outlying buildings before the chateau itself.

"People who haven't been here before tend to head straight for the outlying buildings, not the chateau itself. The other buildings were designed by Ignac Jan Nepomuk Palliardia, a Prague architect of Italian origin, and they're much more impressive architecturally."

By the way, Ignac Palliardia also made his mark on Strahov Monastery in Prague, which was adapted after his design in 1793. And his buildings at Kozel may dominate the actual chateau proper, but visitors do not leave disappointed says Mr Bobek.

"I think once people go inside they are pleasantly surprised by the variety of individual interiors, by the wallpaper and the furniture."

But back to history for a moment. Following the death of Jan Vojtěch Černín, Kozel was inherited by another old Czech aristocratic family, the Valdštejns. One of the most interesting members of the family was Arnošt Valdštejn-Vartenberk, who owned a nearby ironworks. In 1859 he set up the Valdštejn Engineering Works in the nearby town of Pilsen.

A decade later he was bought out by an enterprising employee by the name of Emil Škoda. That's right, Škoda as in today's Škoda cars and machinery. Emil Škoda built the plant up into the biggest engineering works in the Austria-Hungary of the time. His portrait is on display at Kozel.

Getting back to the outlying buildings we heard about earlier, one of them has the amusing title of Lackeyhouse. Karel Bobek points out that 200 years later it still retains its original purpose, in a sense.

"This building actually serves the same purpose as it was built for - employees live there once again. It's a simple building like the whole of Kozel. An important element in all the occupied rooms - the Lackeyhouse included - was the stoves which were tiled and fired by wood from outside the rooms. But today the staff who live in the Lackeyhouse have electric heating."

While the Lackeyhouse, the main building, the chapel and the Riding Hall are visited by thousands every year (and the latter is where students of Pilsen's University of West Bohemia have their graduation ceremonies), the most popular attraction at Kozel is its gardens. Many people make the 15-kilometre drive from Pilsen to visit the gardens in spring, summer and autumn.

They were designed by a man named František Xavier Franc, who gained his expertise at Schonbrunn in Vienna. He had 6,000 trees from around the world planted in the gardens, the borders of which blend in with the surrounding woods and fields.

As I say, many locals take advantage of Kozel's charms. It also has many international visitors, though Karel Bobek has seen something of a change in their composition in his time as manager.

"In the past most of our foreign visitors came from the former Eastern Bloc, mostly from the former East Germany, but also from Russia and Hungary. After the political changes we had a big falloff in numbers, before a boom in the mid-1990s. We had visitors from western Germany, mostly on route to Prague or south Bohemia. Nowadays we get Russians coming here again, but mostly on daytrips from the nearby spa towns of Karlovy Vary and Mariánské lázně."

The episode featured today was first broadcast on November 3, 2004.