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,
Bivoj, that is Jetřich Buz with the wild boar, from an 1893 card set representing Czech heroes. Museum of Plzen
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

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