TRAVEL THERE: TAKE MORE TIME HERE THAN WE DID
Cesky Krumlov Castle is a treasure trove of history, architecture and decorative arts. Let’s start with the history.
The Medieval Lords of Krumlov
There’s not much left from the Middle Ages, but this has been a castle since the 13th century. The one remaining tidbit is the castle tower, left over from the days when the castle’s first job was defense. According to Rick Steves, if you go up its 162 steps you’ll get a find view of the Czech countryside, but I wouldn’t know.
Moving on to the Renaissance
While the tower is Medieval, it’s decoration is not. That’s all Renaissance, so let’s move up a few years. When the Krumlovs died out, their cousins, the Rozmberks, moved in. (Rozmberk is often rendered as Rosenberg, but let’s be Czech about this.)
The Krumlovs had been your basic local gentry, but their cousins were a whole different animal. The Rosmberks went on a serious building campaign, but don’t let the pictures fool you. Those walls in the courtyard are just plaster. All the fancy stonework is merely painted on. They weren’t being cheap, it was just the style. In fact, they probably could have gotten the stonework cheaper than the painting, but they were all about the show.
Everything had to look modern and up-to-date for the Rozmberks. They turned that practical, defensive tower into a folly of astrological signs and symbols. I’m not sure who came up with the idea of a pastel yellow and baby pink as an acceptable color combination, but I would like to complain about it. Pink and beige were often used together throughout this region, too. Both color themes make me a little nauseous, but they were all the rage apparently, based on the frequency of their use.
While I didn’t approve of their color schemes, I have to admit they did do a great job out in the gardens. The glorious Renaissance gardens in the French style, with a magnificent central fountain, were something to see. It was a little early in the season for floral displays.
Visions of Grandeur
It wasn’t enough for the Rozmberks to have the best castle around, they wanted to climb even higher on the social ladder. So they decided they wanted to be kin to the the Orsinis, who were ruling the roost over in Italy.
Now there are a number of stories about their claim to Orsinism. Some say they just added a fake limb to their family tree and were powerful enough to pull it off with aplomb. Others claim they actually did have a legitimate claim. My favorite story is they expressed their desire to be Orsinis to that family and for X amount of money, the Orsini’s adopted them. That sounds about right from what I know of the Orsinis.
Whichever story is true, the Rozmberks celebrated their promotion in a couple of ways. They altered their family crest and added a bear to their moat, because as we all know, Orsini comes from the Italian word for bear.
When I titled this post as “a quick stroll” I’m referring to the way I saw the castle – almost at a dead run! We were in and out of the castle environs almost before I could get out the camera for a few photos. (Confession, we did not take the bear picture. It’s off the Viking memory stick we purchased. The bear hid from us during our quick stroll.)
What’s more, the tour was only outside and we didn’t get so much as a peek inside. Museum Girl was about to have a fit. Here she had a well-furnished Czech palace to check out and we’re ripping through the courtyards at a fast pace. One of the reasons the castle is well-furnished is because once a Hapsburg-related family gained control of the place it fell out of favor and became a sort of over-sized attic.
Another reason you can enjoy the castle in its former furnished glory is because Czech curators share better than Americans. They actually try to get the various bits and pieces they find to the appropriate castles. Because Cesky Krumlov Castle spent so many years as a warehouse of out-of-fashion and damaged furnishings, there are still huge areas of the castle that are still cleaned out and cataloged. When they find a piece that seems to belong to another castle, they send it along with their regards and curators at other castles do the same. American curators seem to share a penchant for hoarding. The bowels of their institutions hold tons of items the public never gets to see, because the museums hold on to every bit they get for dear life. I liked the Czechs even better for this little tid-bit.
Once we’d checked out the bear pits we had a choice to make. We could either head to the ticket office and go on one of the interior castle tours or we could head out to the picturesque town. The town is charming and I had a wonderful time with our cruise buddies, but Museum Girl was about to go into melt-down.
I’ll share a treat with you. While I didn’t go through the castle, someone on the Viking crew did and they got some marvelous pictures, which I’ll include at the end along with more of my pictures of the exterior, but there’s one more bit of history you need to know about Cesky Krumlov.
The Baroque Theater
I chose to get a degree in Performance instead of Literature and I’m glad, because to get the degree you have to have a smattering of all the arts, including the performance arts. One of my classes was the history of theater and I thoroughly enjoyed it. (The professor was somewhat of a kook, but welcome to the university!)
We studied all the old playwrights and reviewed the various venues. I reveled in the Renaissance era when cathedrals used to fly children through the air on wires as cherubs. (No child labor laws to contend with.) However, the Baroque period was also something. Every castle worth its appellation had its own theater and each theater proprietor tried to outdo the other on special effects – only there was no digital CGI. They used actual flames and fireworks to get their effects. And that’s exactly why there are only two of them left in the world. Cesky Krumlov is one of them!
It killed me to forego the pleasure of touring the theater. If I ever get back to the Czech Republic, wild horses won’t keep me away from taking every tour offered in Cesky Krumlov. Now enjoy the pictures and come back next week for a tour of the town.