A cup of coffee is remembered for forty years


In recent weeks, a turn-of-the-century story went viral on the Turkish net about the Istanbul coffee maker Yusuf the Wise, and the Greek fisherman Stelios, who each did a good turn for the other a decade apart. The story bears all the features of the apocryphals: it is too didactic and too beautiful to be true, no info on its characters can be found elsewhere, and its referenced source Üsküdar Belediyesi Kültür Hizmetleri Arşivi (Üsküdar Municipality Cultural Service’s archive) also occurs only in the shared versions of the story. The circumstances of the Samos revolt included in it are also inaccurate. It was not in 1905 but in 1908 that the island of Samos, which had had its autonomy within the Ottoman Empire since 1835, revolted for unification with Greece, which happened in 1912. And Pasha Damat Ferid, who in the story is sent to quell the revolt, only returned from his two-decade voluntary exile in London in 1908, so he could hardly receive such an assignment. And in any case, he favored the ethnic minorities of the empire: in 1919 he officially recognized the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians, for which he again became persona non grata in Turkey.

Nevertheless, I have mentioned the Turks negatively so many times in relation to other ethnic minorities, Armenians, Greeks, Christian Assyrians and Kurds, that now I also have to retell this story to improve their image. Se non è vero, at least the fact that they compose such a story, and so many people take it over, retell and positively comment on it, that they regard it as so important that there was at least one Turk and one Greek who helped each other in this way. As if this would counterpoint to some extent the atrocities committed by their compatriots. Even if at first glance, the real hero of the story is the Greek. But at second glance, the Turk is also a hero who dares to confront the real agent of the genocides, the military officer. I wish many more simple Turks had done so.

I quote the story from Arkeoloji Tarihi (Archaeology and History), one of its earliest (mid-June) and most commented occurrences, but of course this is probably not the original source.


“1895. A Turkish military officer enters the café in the port of Eminönü, and he says: «Master Yusuf, a coffee for everyone except that Greek there.»

Wise Yusuf serves the coffee to everyone. He also puts a cup in front of the Greek Stelios. The officer is shouting: «Didn’t I tell I don’t pay it for him?»

Wise Yusuf does not lose his composure. «Captain, his coffee is paid for by me. He also deserves one.»

Stelios looks up gratefully at Yusuf.



Years go by. In 1905, a Greek uprising breaks out on the island of Samos. The troops of Pasha Damat Ferid land on the island. Among the soldiers there is the same Yusuf, who falls in captivity at the first clash. He spends two years in the prison of Samos. After that, the Greeks trade the prisoners on the slave market. At Yusuf’s turn, a loud voice is heard:

«Five kuruş for the Turk! I pay it immediately!»

Nobody overbids him. The Greek puts Yusuf on a chariot, they drive out of the city. On the seashore he stops the horses, turns to Yusuf, and tells to him:

«Wise Yusuf, you are free.»

«Sir», Yusuf asks in astonishment, «who are you? Why do you release me?»

The Greek starts from afar, from the port of Eminönü twelve years earlier. He describes that day in detail. «I am Stelios, the fisherman who on that day deserved a coffee.»

Both of them have tears in their eyes. Yusuf illegally gets home to Istanbul. Their friendship lasts for thirty-five years. They visit each other every year. On each visit, another cup of coffee. Their children and grandchildren also continue the tradition.

Thence the well-known proverb: Bir kahvenin 40 yıllık hatrı vardır, ʻA cup of coffee is remembered for forty years.’”



Březnice’s Renaissance Jewish quarter


In Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated (2005, see here) the researchers of the past, who rumble by Trabant from Odessa to North Ukraine in search of a destroyed shtetl, eventually find an old wooden house in the middle of a huge grain field, where the last survivor of the shtetl lives.


The Jewish cemetery of Březnice also stands in the middle of a huge grain field, surrounded by a wall, along the road from Rožmital to Březnice. Wherever you look, you see only fields, no trace of a settlement.


More precisely, along the small street that turns off the main road to the cemetery, called U židovského hřbitova, To the Jewish Cemetery, there are two buildings, a renovated farmhouse – called Na Čampulce in 18th-century sources – and an abandoned mill called Nový Mlýn, New Mill, on the banks of the Skalice stream. Between the two there is the stump of a former large multi-branched tree, on which a polar bear family seems to have squatted.


In the cemetery, documented since 1553, the Baroque and 19th and 20th-century tombstones are well separated from each other. The latter stones – grouped around a Neo-Gothic funeral home built in 1893 – have almost all disappeared, their foundations just standing out from the all-embracing ivy. As we will find out later, the granite tombstones were sold by the town to the construction company Stavba Olomouc in the 1980s.

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The Baroque tombstones, however – the earliest from the late 17th century – stand in nice rows, just as in the 1923 painting by the Viennese painter Heinrich Bachrich (1868-1935) who died here. The Nazis did not vandalize the cemetery as much as did the Czechoslovakian Communists, who made great sport of the matter, having similarly destroyed the German cemeteries in the area. But there was no market for sandstone and limestone.

A special feature of these tombstones are the contours shaped with Baroque playfulness, provided with single or triple circle- or heart-shaped additions. As the morning sun shines on their edges, it is as if the rows have drawn the parallel voices of a Baroque piece of music. Most stones only have inscriptions, mostly in full-bodied Baroque typography. Only a few of them are adorned with floral ornaments, and only one has an animal symbol, although this, as we have seen, is very common in Hassidic cemeteries of the period.


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This single animal symbol is the wolf, which refers to the name of the deceased, Benjamin Wolf Popper (1702-1767).


Wolf Popper rose from a local family of craftsmen, merchants and money lenders to become the tax collector and judge of all the rural Jews in Bohemia (Primator der Landesjudenschaft). He was one of the three Jews to whom Emperor Leopold I transferred the Bohemian tobacco monopoly, which provided him with a huge income. His great fortune and good relations were also inherited by his son Joachim Chayim (1730-1795), who became the largest moneylender for the Bohemian nobility and a supplier of the Austrian army during the Seven Years’ War, and who, in 1790, was the second Austrian Jew to receive a noble rank from Joseph II with the title “Edler von Popper” without having to be baptized in exchange. He was a great fighter for the rights of Bohemian Jewry, and during the famine of 1770-1772 he supplied grain to the poor of the town, Christians and Jews alike, at his own expense. However, in 1780 he moved to Prague, where he is buried. Only his father remained in Březnice, whose tomb rises far above the other Baroque tombstones.


Two other tombstones can also be linked to well-known local personalities. A stone decorated with a rose stands above the tomb of Rabbi Abraham Luria, deceased in 1765, and another with three sephiroths (Kabbalistic emanations of the Divine One) above that of Rabbi Moshe Baruch Muneles, deceased in 1801.

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The Popper House in Březnice’s Jewish quarter today (above) and before the war, with the name of Moritz Popper (below).


The Jewish quarter of the town is a special architectural unit: a single large rectangular square surrounded by a closed row of façades of twenty houses, with two additional buildings on the square itself: the Baroque synagogue and the Popper House. A veritable planned quarter from the Renaissance, a tiny ideal city, a separate little closed world where time seems (somewhat) to have stopped.


The whole quarter bears one single street name: Lokšany, which shows that it has traditionally been considered a single independent quarter. The name derives from the name of the lord of Březnice, Ferdinand von Loxan, who gave here land to the Jews to settle in 1562, at that time outside the city walls. Since the settlement and fate of the Jews – just like in most places in Eastern Europe – were closely connected with the owners of the town, it is worthwhile to quickly review the history of the latter.

Březnice’s Renaissance castle after the 16th-c. rebuilding by Georg Loxan. From the local guidebook

The castle in Březnice, as we have seen, belonged to the Buzic family in the Middle Ages. A lively trading town developed around it as early as the 13th century, thanks to its location on the so-called Golden Trail, one of the most important trade routes in medieval Bohemia, along which salt and other goods were carried from Passau through Prachatice to Prague. This branch of the Buzic family became extinct in the early 1400s, and the town was passed on to the superintendent of the royal mint, Peter Zmrzlík von Schweißing/Svojšín. It was him who, between 1411 and 1414, commissioned one of the most lavishly decorated Bohemian codices, the three-volume Bible of Litoměřice, the first surviving Bible translation in Czech. Over time, however, he lost the royal favor and his possessions due to his Hussite sympathies. In 1533, Březnice was given by Emperor Ferdinand I to his secretary, Georg von Loxan, marking the beginning of the most exciting, Renaissance, period of the castle’s history.

Georg von Loxan – in the language of the Czechoslovaks, who adore translating the names of all their foreign-blooded aristocrats, Jiří z Lokšan – was Bohemian Vice-chancellor from 1530 and secretary and eminence grise to two kings. Nevertheless – or perhaps just because of this – it is just as difficult to collect reliable information about him as about other such eminences. He was born around 1491 in Silesia, where, however, no Loxan/Lokšan can be found. At a young age he probably toured Italy, where he became an educated humanist, and throughout his life corresponded with many humanist scholars under the name Georgius Loxanus.

Georgius Loxanus’s two silver medals with humanist motti, and with the Renaissance visual topos of Truth coming to light on the reverse of the above one. It might have some autobiographical relevance.


In 1523, he somehow became the secretary of King Louis II of Hungary. Then, after the lost battle of Mohács in 1526, where the king fell, he went into the service of Emperor Ferdinand I. Soon he became the emperor’s secretary and chief adviser, which Ferdinand honored with a number of gifts, including the title of Bohemia’s vice-chancellor, as well as the mining town of Kašperk in South Bohemia and Březnice. He had Březnice’s medieval castle rebuilt with Milanese masters in Renaissance style, but he did not live to see its completion in 1567, for he died in 1551. The construction was finished by his wife, Katherine von Loxan, daughter of the merchant-patrician Philipp Adler of Augsburg, who was only given a noble title after her husband. According to contemporaries, it was a great marriage of love.

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This castle also became the nest of one of the great love stories of the Renaissance Hapsburgs. Katherine invited her niece, the beautiful Philippe Welser from Augsburg, who met here the second son of Emperor Ferdinand, Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol. In 1557, the couple married in secret in this castle, and in the following years they had four children. When the emperor learned of this, after his initial rage subsided, he only relented to approve the marriage if it remained a secret and the children did not inherit from their father. They had to be entered in the registers as foundlings, but at the same time they were allowed to bear the name “von Austria” and the title of Marquis – and later Prince – of Burgau.

Archduke Ferdinand (Francesco Terzi, after 1557, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) and Philippe Welser (anonymous painter, 1557, Ambras Castle).

In 1564, the Archduke was appointed governor of Tyrol. He moved with Philippe to Innsbruck, where they were followed by Aunt Katherine, who was buried there in 1580. Her sarcophagus is in the castle chapel. Březnice was taken over by her son, Ferdinand von Loxan, who, as a sober-minded humanist landowner, allowed Jews to settle next to this important town of the Golden Trail, yet outside the town walls, on an estate of the landlord. The new quarter was named Lokschan/Lokšany after the landowner. Ironically, the name of this noble family, the town from whose name originally derives is unknown, is today tied to a single existing settlement, which is a Jewish shtetl. Until the 20th century, the quarter was an independent settlement, with its own municipality and responsible only to the landlord, although it was practically in the heart of the old town: a single gate, the Judenbogen led from Březnice’s main square to the quarter.

The Judenbogen today. Opposite, the Popper House, and at the far end of the street, the synagogue

Ferdinand von Loxan’s sons supported the Protestant orders during the anti-Hapsburg uprising of the Bohemian nobility, so their property was confiscated after the Battle of White Mountain (1620). It was donated in 1623 to the “Prague blood judge”, Přibík Jeníšek z Újezda (von Aujezd), who sentenced 26 members of the uprising to death and had them executed on the main square of Prague’s Old Town. A painting of the execution commissioned by the new owner can still be seen in Březnice Castle. This marks the beginning of the town’s Counter-Reformation era. Jeníšek had a chapel built for the castle, and in 1630 he founded a Jesuit mission in the town, which by 1640 grew into a college. He commissioned at Carlo Lurago the main square’s impressive Jesuit church in honor of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier, as well as the adjoining college, which, as we have seen, has taken over care of the pilgrimage site of the Holy Mountain in Příbram since 1647.

The Jesuit church and college towering above the Jewish quarter of Lokšany

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The blood judge’s grandson, Johann Joseph von Aujezd, who ruled the town from 1677, was especially supportive of the Jews. In addition of a number of grants, the Jewish quarter was built in its present form in his time, in the early 1700s.

An interactive map of the Jewish quarter at the synagogue’s exhibit. The houses marked in red are the façade of the main square. In the middle of the large square of the Jewish quarter stand the large Popper House and the smaller synagogue.

The houses of the quarter were numbered in Roman numerals from I (the Popper House) to XXII. Number III was the rabbi’s house, XIV the kosher kitchen, and XXII was Philippe Welser’s own accommodation during the visits of the Archduke.

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The synagogue was built in 1725. It burned down in April 1821, but was immediately rebuilt in its old form, with an enlarged women’s gallery (as was customary all over Europe in that period, when women began to more intensely attend the synagogue). The reconstruction was generously supported by the then landowner Kolowrat-Krakowsky family, so the pedestals of the columns of the Torah Ark are decorated with an arrow and a laurel wreath, elements of their coat of arms. The painting with the magnificent golden starry sky above the Torah Ark and the bimah was made in 1874 by Ladislav Kuba of Prague.

The Kolowrat-Krakowsky family inherited the town from the extinct Újezd family in 1727, shortly after the construction of the synagogue and the Baroque quarter. An interesting trivia is that in 1872, when the male branch of the Kolowrats died out, the town was inherited by the Hungarian Count Eduard Pálffy, whose mother was a Kolowrat girl. It will be confiscated from him by the Czechoslovak state in 1945, in terms of the Beneš decrees, which deprived the Germans and Hungarians of their citizen’s rights. (An important distinction: had he been deprived of it as an aristocrat, the family would have been able to get it back under the new Czech compensation laws. However, the ethnic groups affected by the Beneš decrees have received no compensation this far.)

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Upstairs, at the level of the women’s gallery was the cheder, the Jewish elementary school. Here we now see an exhibition on the history of Jews in the region and the literature of Bohemian Jewry. After the cheder, the Jewish children continued their education in the Jesuit grammar school, which was German-language until 1901. From the windows on the three sides of the cheder, you can see almost the entire Jewish quarter, especially the Popper House, and the restaurant opposite it, now called Hospůdka u dědy Jehudy z Lokšany, ʻSmall restaurant of Uncle Judah of Lokšany’.

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Beginning in the late 19th century, the Jews of Lokšany – just as Czech and Moravian Jews in general – gradually moved to large cities, and their rural centers became depopulated. As Jaroslav Polák-Rokycana writes in his 1934 study Geschichte der Juden in Březnice (Judenstadt Lokschan): “The «Lokschan» is in the process of extinction. It’s only a few more years, and this rural Bohemian ghetto will be a thing of the past.” He knew not how quickly he would be right. From Březnice, once home to hundreds of Jews, “only” twenty-eight people were deported to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz.

After the war, the synagogue was used as a storehouse, and the houses were occupied by new residents. The quarter was restored around 2010 as part of the “Deset hvězd” (Ten Stars) program, within which fifteen monuments from ten Bohemian Jewish centers were restored. Today, the synagogue can be visited every day, and the lively quarter faithfully preserves the atmosphere of a once-strange little microcosm.


In the Land of the Rose, minute by minute


The Land of the Rose is just as non-existent a country as Kurdistan, although you can travel through it just as well. The country that includes it does not deny its existence as Turkey does that of Kurdistan, and it even promotes it to tourists, but under a name that is just as prosaic as “Southeastern Anatolia” is for Kurdistan, West Armenia or the land of the Christian Assyrians.

The Land of the Rose came close to becoming an independent country in the Middle Ages, as did other briliant but now forgotten monarchies such as Aquitaine, Provence, or Burgundy. Its lords did everything for it, and it really wasn’t up to them to fail. Witiko, who, in the late 1100s, founded the province, left a vast and rich legacy to his sons, who successfully repulsed the power aspirations of both their own king and their neighbors. The province – just like the duchy of Burgundy – ceased to exist at the peak of its wealth and brilliance, in the early 1600s, with its last and most powerful lord simply being unable to leave a male successor. The estate passed to lateral heirs, who became also extinct, just in time for the Hapsburgs, who conquered the country in 1620, not to take it away from them by force, but to reward their own followers with it as vacant estates.

The province’s founding history also befits a medieval knight novel. Witiko/Vítek (1120-1194), a minor nobleman of Purschitz/Prčice came young to the Prague court in the service of Vladislaus II. From there he stepped up the ranks, always standing on the right side in the civil war following the death of the king, until he eventually became the lord of all of South Bohemia. His family was German-speaking, as was the vast majority of the province he dominated, which in the Middle Ages, in the absence of nationalism, was not yet a particular element of identity. All the more so at the end of the 19th century, when the great German-language author of the region, Adalbert Stifter, wrote about him his masterpiece, the historical novel Witiko (1867), the great founding epic of the Land of the Rose. Since the author, along with his three million potential readers and their language, was cut out of Czechia’s cultural memory a few generations later, the novel is no longer read in his native country, but mostly in Austria, which adopted, together with a part of the refugees, the legacy of Stifter, and consider him an Austrian author.

According to the founding legend, Witiko, before his death, divided his estate and the rose he wore in his coat of arms among his five sons. The five new estate centers were Neuhaus/Jindřichův Hradec, Krumau/Český Krumlov, Rosenberg/Rožmberk, Wittingau/Třeboň and Platz an der Naser/Stráž nad Nežárkou, and the coats of arms of the five families were decorated with roses of different colors. These roses still mark the castles and churches built between the 12th and 17th centuries in the region which we are about to visit for a week.

The division of the five roses. Anton Steer’s fresco in the castle of Český Krumlov, after the original painted in Telč Castle, 1742

The road to the Land of the Rose leads through Prague. Disembarking from the train, it is pleasant to see that we have been missed during the long quarantine. We are greeted as guests of honor with one of the longest words in our strange language.

“A month of author readings. Guest of honor: Hungary. Megszentségteleníthetetlenség” (ʻimmunity-from-being-desecrated’, a hapax legomenon used only for demonstration purposes).

Although you cannot trust the inscriptions of Prague. The sign on the Chotkova tram serpentine below the castle shows well that no one is irreplaceable.

“My heart beats for Maruška.” A palimpsest of at least two repainted female names hangs over the name

In the shadow of the attention focusing on the coronavirus, many countries have introduced changes by stealth, widely opposed laws, municipal ordinances, or restrictions of local governments. In Prague, in these hundred days they have put a point on the end of a long and heated debate with the reerection of Mary’s Column in the Old Town Square, reported by Lloyd here in the blog. The column, erected in 1650 for Mary’s having more or less defended the city during the Swedish siege of 1648, and whose shadow marked Prague’s local noon, was demolished in 1918 as a monument to the Hapsburg slavery. In the place of the statue, as we wrote and photographed it at that time, there had been a sign in the pavement for some fifteen years with the inscription “here stood and here will stand again the column of Mary”. Nevertheless, the restoration has so far been opposed by many, and even the second sentence – marked here in italics – was also crudely hacked out of the stone inscription. At the time of the epidemic, however, the pedestal and column were erected again in the deserted main square, and a copy of the former statue of Mary, made by Petr Váňa, was lifted onto it by crane. When we come there a few days later, only the two angels were missing, and the copy of the gothic Madonna icon of the Týn church, which originally was there on the pedestal of the statue. The sculptor is happily explaining to the crowd gathered around the monument. The empty gaze of the statue of Jan Hus, standing a few meters away, has found a target again after a century, focusing again on the column like it did for three years after its erection in 1915. And it does not yet know about the icon to be included there, whose original was hidden from the devastation of his Hussites in the Týn church.

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BROWN LIVES MATTER! Prague still has monuments of another kind of slavery. They cannot be overthrown, because they do not depict the oppressors, but the oppressed in chains.

In the Ungelt court behind the Týn church,

on the Lesser Side end of Charles Bridge,

and in the Land of the Rose, in Český Krumlov, next to the stairs leading up to the castle.

Prague also has a number of monuments to voluntary servants. On the completely tourist-free Charles Bridge, on the statue erected in memory of St. John of Nepomuk, thrown into the river from here, they completely steal the show from the saint. Their fortune-bringing bodies have been rubbed away just as brightly as that of the saint.

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In the church and on the gate of the Dominican (Domini canes = “the Lord’s dogs”) church


The way out of the city leads through the monster stadium of Strahov, which, after many decades of hesitation, has finally begun to be demolished. The Victory statue of the stadium wishes us good luck. We do the same to her. Who knows where she will be by the time we get back.



We turn towards Příbram. This Baroque silver mining town – with its heavy socialist realist town center – is still outside the northern border of the Land of the Rose, but the Virgin Mary pilgrimage site on the local Holy Mountain has attracted pilgrims from all Bohemia and even Bavaria. The first chapel of the miraculous Gothic statue of the Virgin was built in the 14th or 15th century, but its cult really flourished during the Hapsburg era, when, from 1647, it came under the care of the Jesuits of Březnice. The Jesuits intuited a great opportunity for mass communication in a sanctuary lying in the middle of the country, and in a hundred years made it the most popular place of pilgrimage in Bohemia. Between 1658 and 1709, they commissioned the present magnificent Baroque building by Carlo Lurago, the builder of several large Baroque churches in Prague, who mainly worked for Jesuit orders. The courtyard of the church is surrounded by an arcaded gallery with a domed chapel on each corner.

The pilgrimage church on the Holy Mountain on the earliest view of Příbram (1665), before its Baroque refashioning (above), and an aerial photo from the pilgrim guide (below). The history of the Holy Mountain was written by the Jesuit historian Bohuslav Balbín (1621-1688), also known as the “Bohemian Pliny”. I have the richly illustrated first edition of Diva montis sancti seu origines et miracula magnae Dei hominumque Matris Mariae (1658), but still in an post-house-moving state, in the box of Baroque books. As soon as I get my hands on it, I will post its engravings.


The vaults of the gallery display the miracles that took place through the intercession of the Virgin Mary of the Holy Mountain, accurately dated. A significant number of the miracles was to prevent falls or mitigate their consequences. The occupational safety conditions depicted here today would be approved by any authority only for an extremely high informal amount. The church is surrounded by the statues of the most popular saints in the country, making the place more homelike for the pilgrims. Right after the coronavirus, there are only a few people, but according to the bookshop cashier, the church and the courtyard are normally crowded at this time, on weekends. A pilgrim leader tells Lloyd not to take photos. Lloyd raises his eyes to heaven: “Light was created by God. I only collect it.” The pilgrim leader thinks. “All right. But don’t take photos.”

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Prague pilgrims on their way to the Holy Mountain

Near the pilgrimage church stands an old oak tree, called the tree of St. Wenceslas (921-935), although it is less than half as old. A group of tourists thickens around the tree. You can see from afar that they are Russians, because they cling to the tree with both hands to receive its energies, and they also document it on selfies (поселфиться), in the artificial poses typically struck by young Russian women.




In this region, the dominant note of color are the poppies. We meet the rose just a little further south, in the name of Rosenthal / Rožmitál pod Třemšínem.

Rožmitál pod Třemšínem in summer and winter. From Jirka Jiroušek’s “aerial poscards”.


The town, as evidenced by its name, lies under the 827-meter-high Třemšín mountain. The area is the estate of a family just as ancient as that of Witiko; the Busices, who trace their origins back to Jetřich Buz / Dietrich Burckhardt, who died in 1110. According to the family legend, Jetřich once defeated a wild boar with his bare hands, which was then included in the family coat of arms. One branch of the family controlled the castle of Hasenburg/Hazmburk (Rabbit Castle) in the Sudetenland, whence the family received the name Zajíc (Rabbit). I have already mentioned them in connection with John Rabbit of Rabbitburgh the Fourth, who, each year, enacted the scene of St. George and the dragon with a live crocodile brought home from the Holy Land. Here to the right we see their coat of arms, which combines the boar of the Buzices with the rabbit. The family has a Renaissance castle in the nearby town of Bechyně, where the crocodile battle is also depicted on a fresco, but we will skip it during this journey. From this branch came Zbyněk Zajíc z Hazmburka, Archbishop of Prague (1403-11), a fierce opponent of Jan Hus. Zajíc was chased away by the enraged people of Prague after burning the books of Hus and Wycliffe, and died in exile in Pozsony (today’s Bratislava). The other branch of the family took the name Lev (Lion), and they controlled the castles of Rožmitál, Třemšín and Březnice. From here came Johanna, the wife of King George of Poděbrady (Jiří z Poděbrad, 1458-1471), whose brother made, by royal commission, a successful European tour of country image building between 1465 and 1467. Třemšín was destroyed by the Hussites, and since the 1860s, the mountain became  a site of Czech anti-Hapsburg “national pilgrimages”, as a secular counterpoint to the nearby Příbram pilgrimage site. But the castles of Rožmitál and Březnice still stand today, and we will visit both. The Levs of Rožmitál held an “anti-fascist national pilgrimage” on Třemšín even in 1946, before they were expelled by the new state.

The castle was built by the first Buzices in the lake district, and they also developed the town’s water defense system, which posterity calls the “Venice of Rožmitál”. The castle, rebuilt in Renaissance style in the 16th century, fell into disrepair during communism, and is now beginning to be restored. Its façade and gate tower facing the city have alredy been beautifully renewed. Several of its rooms are still inhabited; the elderly residents bask in the sun in the circular castle courtyard, resignedly tolerating our tour of the sometimes life-threatening premises of the castle. Next to the castle, a 19th-century house hosts the cozy Castle Restaurant with traditional Czech cuisine and a back terrace overlooking the lake district.

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After the tripe soup and Rožmitál carp, we go over to the other Buzic estate, Březnice. The local ensemble of monuments, the Renaissance castle, the main square with the Jesuit church, and especially the intact Renaissance Jewish quarter and Jewish cemetery form such a complete unit that I have to dedicate a separate detour post to them.


The Vltava, which flows from the Land of the Rose to the royal estates of northern Bohemia, has always offered a corridor for the symbolic intrusion of one power into the land of the other.

The reign of King Ottokar II, barely a quarter of a century (1253-1278), was an amazing attempt to make Bohemia a Central European, or even European great power. The king led a campaign against the pagan Prussians and founded the town of Königsberg, named after him. Then he turned to the Austrian lands which, with the extinction of the Babenberg dynasty, became lordless, and he became lord of all the small duchies from Austria down to the Adriatic Sea. He also competed for the imperial title, and had it not been received by his rival, the then-unknown Rudolf Hapsburg of Switzerland, then, who knows, perhaps the Czech language would have become the Latin of Central Europe for six hundred years. However, Rudolf Hapsburg, as emperor, occupied the Austrian principalities and made them his own family property, and then in 1278, with the support of the Hungarian King Ladislas IV, he defeated and killed Ottokar at Marchfeld. This was the end of a glorious Czech dream that would eventually emerge as a ghost at the conference in Versailles, in the idea of a “Czech corridor” leading to the Adriatic Sea.

However, Ottokar’s greatest enemy was not Emperor Rudolf, but the Witiko/Vítkovci family, who ruled the Land of the Rose. For them, Ottokar’s conquests in Austria were a kind of encircling operation around their South Bohemian provinces centered on Český Krumlov and Jindřichův Hradec. Therefore, they made every effort to stand in his way, and Ottokar’s final defeat was also caused by the family’s rebellion and backlash during his war with Rudolf.

The war between the royal house and the Witiko family also took shape in a number of symbolic foundations. These were done mainly along the Vltava, which – both the waterway and the land road in its valley – was the most important route between the king-dominated northern part of the country and the southern Land of the Rose. At the height of his power, Ottokar II founded the town of Budweis (České Budějovice) and the Cistercian monastery of Zlatá Koruna, deep in the heart of the Land of the Rose, to stop the expansion of the Witikos. These were overthrown by the Witikos, who then invaded the royal territory and took over the rule of the castles of Orlík and Zvíkov, founded by Ottokar on the lower reaches of the Vltava, which will thus be the outposts of the Land of the Rose in royal territory.

Orlík and Zvíkov were once among the eagle nests dominating the rocks along the Vltava, which Smetana paints so beautifully towards the end of his program music Vltava. Today, however, there is no trace of the rocks. The Orlík dam raised the water level of the Vltava to the foot of the castle, turning the cliff eagle into a fishing eagle. The easiest way to cover the 15-kilometer distance between the two castles is by boat. It leaves from Orlík at 10:30, 11:30 and 15:00, and an hour later back from Zvíkov. From here, the water front, you have the best sight of both castles, which were designed for a valley view.

Wilhelm Ströminger (1845-1901): Burg Worlik (above) and Orlík today (below)


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Karl Liebscher (1856-1906): Burg Klingenberg (above) and Zvíkov today (below)


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Červená Lhota is a beautiful representative of the small estates wedged between the two Bohemian powers, right on the northern border of the Land of the Rose, barely twenty kilometers from Jindřichův Hradec. The families who have have owned it have changed almost by generation since the 14th century. The Gothic castle was rebuilt in Renaissance style by the old Bohemian Káb of Rybňan family between 1542 and 1555. Its last owners are, from 1835, the Saxon Schönburg-Hartenstein princes, who left the present furnishings behind. The beautiful little Renaissance castle based on a regular square stands on a granite rock surrounded by a lake, formed by a dam in the Dírenský stream. When we arrive there, the bed of the lake is just being cleaned, the water has been drained, so that only a thin stream of water goes across, and the castle is enthroned over the dry lake bed as if it were standing on the seashore at low tide. Not bad either.


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To be continued