“Left to rot” Sudetenland chateau slowly being resurrected by conservation enthusiasts

Chateau Čečovice

Located on Czechia’s western border with Germany, Chateau Čečovice is one of the many estates that were almost destroyed during Europe’s tumultuous 20th century. But a committed group of enthusiasts is doing its best to keep the architecturally diverse building standing.

Chateau Čečovice was nothing more than a burnt out ruin when the Czech Union of Monuments Defenders (Český svaz ochránců památek) purchased it from its original owners for a symbolic CZK 1 payment in 1998. The group was made up of enthusiasts who cared about Czechia’s architectural heritage, says one of its members Miroslava Šusová.

“I was teaching archaeology at the Philosophical Faculty at Charles University. I became friendly with my students and they told me they were members of this union. I felt I needed to show them that there are other values in this world than just money and so I joined too.”

Chateau Čečovice in 1999 | Photo: Miroslava Šusová,  Český svaz ochránců památek

The origins of the chateau stretch back to the 1300s. Over the subsequent centuries, it was owned by various leading Bohemian noble families, such as the Rosenbergs and Lobkowitzs. As the estate expanded, renaissance and baroque features were added to the originally gothic fort, creating a diverse architectural mix.

Chateau Čečovice in 1976 | Photo: Zámek Čečovice

However, the chateau fell into disrepair during the Communist era, when it was used as a storehouse and lodging house for seasonal workers at the local collective farm. Then, in 1990, the complex was ravaged by a major fire, says Mrs Šusová.

“The flames destroyed a large part of the roof, but the collective farm refused to conduct any repairs. Water would leak in, damaging the arches and decorative stucco. Dry rot set in too.”

It looked like there was little hope left for the building. What’s more, the union’s numbers started dwindling as more and more people from the original group of conservations began settling down and had little time to spare for maintaining the chateau.

The estate’s location also didn’t help in attracting investors, says Mrs Šusová.

“The Chateau lies in the border regions, the former Sudetenland, so even the people who live there now aren’t really locals. It was really hard for us in the beginning because the chateau was basically left to rot. They took everything they wanted. It’s a complicated, problematic area, far away from Plzeň or any other major city.”

Chateau Čečovice | Photo: Miroslava Šusová,  Český svaz ochránců památek

But the union didn’t give up, sending funding requests to a wide range of state and private institutions. One of those that agreed to help out were the Friends of Czech Heritage, a British charity focused on funding repairs on the many buildings and historic sites strewn across Czechia. Further work, including the building of a new CZK 10 million roof, was funded by local Czech state and regional bodies, Mrs Šusová says.

Chateau Čečovice | Photo: Zámek Čečovice

“But the problem is that, if we want to ask for funding, we need a sponsor and we have none. Therefore, we organise various events in the chateau’s spaces and use the money we raise this way to back up the funding requests.”

This has led to the run down chateau becoming the venue for several public shows over the past years, ranging from medieval re-enactment to balls and country music festivals.

Chateau Čečovice | Photo: Miroslava Šusová,  Český svaz ochránců památek

Despite life slowly returning to the run-down estate, Mrs Šusová admits that she doesn’t have much hope for the full restoration of the chateau during her lifetime. However, she has managed to also involve her son in the long-term reconstruction effort. One day, she hopes, the estate could serve as a local hub for social and cultural events.

“The baroque granary would be perfect for hosting exhibitions. The other spaces could be rented for various cultural, educational or private events. It’s close to the German border and it would be great to revitalise the social life in the surrounding region.”

To help realise this dream, the association is not just looking for sponsors and funding, but also for volunteers to help in the maintenance of the estate.