Lounovice pod Blanikem

Lounovice pod Blanikem, photo: ŠJů, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported

For today's Spotlight we've come to the town of Lounovice pod Blanikem, pod Blanikem meaning "under Blanik", a mountain associated with some of the most colourful and famous of Czech legends. They say the story of the Knights of Blanik was first told to Charles IV by a blind young man, who was travelling through his kingdom.

Lounovice pod Blanikem,  photo: ŠJů,  CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
Here to tell us about the Knights is the mayor of Lounovice, Milos Lehky.

"The story goes that there is a group of soldiers, the Knights of Blanik, stationed in our famous Blanik Mountain. It's said that they will come to help the Czech nation in their darkest hour. They have never emerged because, they say, things have never yet gotten so bad, it could always have been worse."

Legend has it that there are several signs which will herald the darkest hour of the Czech nation: the tops of the trees in Blanik forest will dry up, a dead beech tree by a local fish-pond will come back to life and the rock-face at the entrance to an underground chamber inside Mount Blanik will break in two.

When that happens St Wenceslas will rise from the dead, awaken the sleeping soldiers and set forth to save the nation.

The people of Lounovice hold a festival every year in honour of the Czech patron saint. Here's Mayor Lehky again.

Knights of Blanik
"This year's event will be the ninth Saint Wenceslas celebrations. It's always held on St Wenceslas's Day, which is on September 28. This year though it's on a Tuesday so the celebrations will be the previous Saturday, when people have more time. It starts with a mass in the morning at the lookout tower on Blanik."

The ceremony at the mountain's famous lookout tower follows the arrival of Saint Wenceslas from Lounovice. When the mass is over, he and his followers head back to the town.

"That's followed by a ceremonial procession which is always organised by local children's groups, with Saint Wenceslas returning to the town here on horseback. When they procession arrives Saint Wenceslas appears on a stage in the square and addresses the people, and the evening ends with music and singing in the Chateau gardens."

Getting back to the fabled cavern inside Mount Blanik, local people will tell you they know for sure which rock on the peak of the mountain marks the entrance. The underground cavern is also associated with another local legend.

"The story goes that a brave knight asked a local girl to follow him into the cavern inside the mountain, where he asked her to clean. When she had finished cleaning he told her she could take the dirt she had swept up with her. But when she exited the mountain she just threw the dirt away."

When the girl got home they were all surprised to see her - she'd been away for a year, though to her it only felt like a day.

"In the end when she was dusting off her apron a little bit of the 'dirt' fell out of her handkerchief, but it was actually gold! So she had thrown away a great reward by not keeping the dirt."

By the way, there is another version of that story in which a smith is rewarded in horse manure, which he throws away, and that also turns out to be gold.

Lounovice is a small town, with a population of less than 700 people. The biggest local landmark is the town's early Baroque chateau, which stands on the site of a former convent.

"Its south wing, or on the site of its south wing, became an abbey of the Premonstratensian order, which was founded in 1149, which, by the way, is the year usually given as the foundation of the town of Lounovice. It was actually a convent; the abbot wasn't allowed to stay in the convent, so his abbey was outside the grounds."

Lounovice chateau,  photo: SchiDD,  CC BY 3.0 Unported
Then, in the 15th century, there was another turn in the story of Lounovice Chateau, which, by the way, where you'll now find the local museum, and the best restaurant in the town.

"At the time of the Hussite wars when the army arrived here they destroyed the convent. Now there is only one wall left here, just a few dozen metres from our town hall. Lounovice Chateau then fell under the control of the famous Hussite town of Tabor, before being owned by various noble families. The last of them was Adam Lev from Ricany, who had no heirs and left the Lounovice estate to the Prague Archbishopric."

Lounovice pod Blanik's most famous son is the composer Jan Dismas Zelenka, who was born in 1679. A monument to him stands just metres from Mayor Milos Lehky's office.

"He was born in Lounovice pod Blanikem; his father was the village schoolmaster and he also played the organ in the church. He left to study in Dresden when he was very young. He was a contra-bassist in the orchestra, and also began composing. All of his original scores are now kept in Dresden."

If you are interested in Zelenka's music, you might want to visit Lounovice later in the year, says Milos Lehky, just before we say goodbye to this charming village in central Bohemia.

"A group of people who appreciate Zelenka's music hold what they call the Podblanik, or the Under Blanik, Autumn. It's a series of concerts, which usually begins at the nearest big town, Benesov, and ends here at the Lounovice Chateau with a concert in honour of Jan Dismas Zelenka."