Lipnice Castle: the stone guardian of the Sázava region
There are two very good reasons why you should visit Lipnice. The small town, lying south-east of Prague, is dominated by a romantic castle that is a favorite setting for international filmmakers. It was also the last home of Jaroslav Hašek, the author of Good Soldier Švejk, the most translated novel by any Czech writer.
It is like taking a trip back in time: I am walking around the courtyard full of men in medieval mail armor. Some are practicing fighting positions, sword in one hand and shield in the other, their helmets glistening in the sun. Obviously, they are getting ready for battle.
But then I spot one of them checking something on his smartphone, another with an iPad in his hands. And that brings me back to the 21st century. Yes, they are just extras in an American TV history fantasy series. So famous and popular, that before I was even allowed anywhere close to Lipnice Castle I had to promise not to divulge the name of the series. This place is very popular with international filmmakers for its authentic yet romantic look that it managed to preserve over the centuries even though the castle was owned by many different aristocratic families. Marek Hanzlík is the present manager appointed by the Czech National Heritage Institute:
But why build a castle right here? In the hilly, thinly populated and heavily forested region on the border of the historical lands of Moravia and Bohemia?
“At the beginning when this region was being colonized in the 13th century there was a real silver and gold fever. The landlords were usually absent and they needed to build a network of fortified posts to secure the holdings that were making them wealthy. Some of these posts developed in new towns but there was also a need for strategically located castles. Since there wasn’t one in the vicinity Raimund of Lichtenberg decided to build one on a rocky bump between two hills. The silver-mining town of Německý Brod is nearby and there was an important road passing through it. That is most probably why Raimund selected this place for his castle.”
“Besides members of the nobility, there were their personal servants staying at the castle. There was also a military detachment but in peace times it would not be very strong – usually around ten soldiers. Of course, when there was some kind of threat the number of troops would multiply. Later, during the Thirty Years‘ war, this castle was actually occupied by the Swedish army. They made it their base and there were hundreds of them harassing the civilian population and causing a lot of trouble far and wide.“
As the centuries went by, the castle changed hands many times over. With warfare becoming more and more mechanized and artillery stronger, its original defensive role was losing in importance. In 1869, a great fire destroyed most of the town and severely damaged the castle. It was only gradually renovated and today most of it is accessible to the public. As any other respectable castle, Lipnice inspired folk legends. The most popular concerned sex, violence, and sacrifice. Lipnice Castle castellan Marek Hanzlík told me about it:
But Marek Hanzlík would not let me leave without mentioning a completely different kind of story whose author also found inspiration here. The best parts of Good Soldier Švejk, a novel by writer Jaroslav Hašek, were written when he moved here after WWI. In case you have not heard about this most translated Czech literally work, it is considered one of the classical anti-war novels of the 20th century. Notably, Joseph Heller, the American author of another famous novel Catch -22, said he would not have written it if he had not read Good Soldier Švejk. Jaroslav Hašek spent the last years of his life here in Lipnice. He was famous not only for his writings, but also his Bohemian way of life and a peculiar, mischievous sense of humor. Marek Hanzlík explains:
Be it as it may, Jaroslav Hašek’s house stands very close to the castle and remains one of the main reasons why people visit this charming place. It is open on weekends but groups can arrange a special visit if they call the local town-hall. Lipnice is easily accessible by road from the main highway connecting the capital Prague with the second biggest city of Brno. Since it is often used as a film set and may be closed to tourists, it is advisable to plan ahead and register your visit on the castle’s website at www.hrad-lipnice.cz