The mysterious, hidden Belveder near Kutná Hora

The summer palace Belveder on Vysoká Hill near Kutná Hora in Central Bohemia

The summer palace Belveder, near Kutná Hora in central Bohemia, was once an architectural gem. Although it is now in ruins it has a powerful presence and many visitors say they feel a special energy within its ancient stone walls. 

Belveder in the Royal Gardens of Prague Castle | Photo: Oleg Fetisov,  Radio Prague International

Most people, who are familiar with the Czech capital, associate the name Belveder with the beautiful Renaissance building in the Royal Gardens of Prague Castle. The summer palace which Ferdinand I built for his wife Anna Jagiellon between 1538 and 1560 , now serves as an exhibition space for fine art and is visited by millions of people every year.

But, away from the beaten tourist tracks, hidden in a forest on Vysoká Hill near Kutná Hora in Central Bohemia you can come across another Belveder - the Belveder Summer Palace which Count František Antonín Špork built on his estate at the end of the 17th century.

The monumental building, which hosted the nobility and artists of the time, eventually went to ruin, but its impressive octagonal shape, reminiscent of one-time grandeur, and its Chapel of St. John the Baptist bespeak of a fascinating past.

The summer palace Belveder on Vysoká Hill near Kutná Hora in Central Bohemia | Photo: Belveder Society

In its hey-day, it was a place of lavish festivities, but also quiet contemplation due to the presence of monks who looked after the building. The place appears veiled in mystery and many visitors say they feel a special energy within its ancient stone walls.

Its history begins with a curious story. During one of his frequent stays at the Karlovy Vary spa, Count Špork won a large amount of money in a card game against the Saxon Elector Frederick Augustus I, later King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. The count decided to use the winnings for the construction of a summer palace. Looking for a suitable site, he chose Vysoká Hill on his estate. The plan was to include a chapel to St. John the Baptist and a small hermitage for the monks. The summer palace was completed in 1697 and was named Belveder.

The work is attributed to the architect Giovanni Battista Alliprandi who later created many works in Bohemia. The layout of the building and its overall concept is based on the drawings of summer palaces created by Alliprandi’s teacher and mentor - the outstanding Viennese architect Johann Bernhard Fischer from Erlach.

Although there is no direct proof, Alliprandi's authorship of this summer palace is almost certain, since at that time he was already working in the service of Count Špork, and Belvedere on Vysoká Hill was very likely his first significant architectural work in Bohemia. He managed to successfully combine a summer palace, a chapel, a hermitage and a place for lavish Baroque festivities in one building.

Petr Portl from the Belveder Society says the octagonal construction, with its many openings and well-orchestrated play of light, give the building a special feeling.

“It must have been an amazing construction in its time. Špork was a rich man who had a feel for art and culture and he clearly invested a lot of time and money to build something truly exceptional. To this day, even in its present state, when you enter the ruins of the building you feel a powerful atmosphere. Here in the inner building there was a gallery with a fountain and there were special openings in the roof through which the sunlight streamed inside, creating an intense golden glow.“

Fortunately, the appearance of the building was preserved on several silver medals, which Count František Antonín Špork had stamped in 1697 for the consecration of the chapel by the canon and prelate of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Tobias Jan Becker. An engraving from the beginning of the 18th century has also been preserved, showing the summer palace in its full glory.

Petr Portl | Photo: Markéta Vejvodová,  Czech Radio

Petr Portl says the construction was highly sophisticated for its time.

“The ground plan of the building was a square with semicircular projections and the central square chapel itself had chamfered corners, thus forming an octagon. The construction had a roof with a turret. Even in its present state one can perceive the unique charm of geometry. On the first floor was a large hall and four rooms, which served as the count's residence. Two hermitage buildings were built for the monks who were to look after the palace and the grounds and right at the top there was a lookout tower. The building was surrounded by a circular wall. In those days, the hill was bare of trees and from the lookout tower you could see far into the distance.”

The opening of the Belveder summer palace was accompanied by lavish celebrations. Nobles from near and far headed to the palace for the consecration of the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, and it is said that up to 20,000 subjects from the Malešov estate were invited to the celebrations. Wine flowed from the marble fountain, and deer and oxen, ducks and geese were roasted on the grounds. The celebrations lasted for several days and commemorative coins were minted to commemorate the occasion. Petr Portl says the ruins of the palace and the stories surrounding it capture the imagination.

“It is a sight for sore eyes. When you enter the remains of the building you can imagine just how impressive it must have been in its day and what went on here. You can still see many of the details that went into making it exceptional, for instance the entrances on the ground floor had the appearance of a cave with stucco stalactites, the remains of which can still be seen at the southern entrance. Architecturally it was a veritable work of art.”

Belveder on an engraving from 1715 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

In 1699 Count Špork celebrated the baptism of his son in the summer palace. It was the last of many lavish celebrations held there. Tragedy struck and the young heir to the estate died. After losing his young son, Count Špork sold the summer palace and the monks had to leave the grounds. For some reason, the new owners did not show much interest in the palace and it slowly deteriorated.

The final blow came in 1834, when the building was struck by lightning and burned down. It happened on Walpurgis Night when bonfires burned around the country so the locals did not suspect anything was wrong when they saw the fire on the top of Vysoká Hill. By the time they realized this was more than a bonfire it was too late. The fire was so devastating that the summer palace was never rebuilt. However its monumental octagonal walls have survived to this day, firing people’s imagination and preserving its unique atmosphere.

In 1958, the summer palace was placed on the list of National Cultural Monuments of the Czech Republic, but it was decaying and gradually fell into a state of complete disrepair. Fortunately, the locals were not indifferent to its fate and founded the Belveder Society to help save it for future generations. Thanks to their activities, it was possible to repair the walls and vaults and preserve the building so that it would not deteriorate further. In 2019, the Belveder Society was awarded the Golden Brick award for best restoration of a historical monument.

Authors: Daniela Lazarová , Markéta Vejvodová | Source: Český rozhlas
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