Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Konopiště Popup

Caroline has a pop-up book of Czech castles that she's using as a center bouquet this season. It's currently surrounded by browning leaves and horse chestnuts in various stages of decay, so I did a tight crop tonight of her chateau of the week. I thought ya'll might like to see what we're eating dinner with these days...

And now for some history:
Not far from Prague, on the road to Vienna, the red roofs of Konopiště stand sentinel above the treeline. Drive closer and you'll find the castle and lake surrounded by parkland that stretches to the edge of the closest town, Benešov.

Konopiště has everything we've come to expect in a Czech castle - bears in the moat, falcons on the lawn, working tile stoves and ghost stories. We like to take our house guests to visit this particular spot though, because it was part of a story that almost all of our friends recognize.

Does the name Franz Ferdinand ring a bell?

Not the band, I hasten to add; the Archduke. He bought the castle in 1887 and used it as his country estate until his assassination in 1914.

If your only memory of Franz Ferdinand is an open car and a shot heard round the world, I'm not surprised. Here he has more dimensions. Czechs like him - he spent a lot of time in our neck of the woods, and he was an advocate of greater Czech autonomy at a time when most members of his family were not.

Tour guides make him human. They tell the story of his love affair with his wife Sophie, of his children and of his favorite rose garden. They also like to show off his massive trophy collection. The man clearly liked to hunt. He shot thousands of deer and birds and blanketed the castle walls with heads (a form of insulation from cold winters? the ultimate guy's castle?). The effect is a bit creepy. Oddly, it also makes the castle look lived in*, in a way that many castles around the country do not.

* Check out these pics if you want to see the castle looking even more lived in. I love how bored the boys look.


Lucy said...

Makes me want to come and visit even more, though the animal heads do sound a bit yuk! We generally know so little about him except that he died. I'm glad he had a nice life anyway. The pop-up book looks charming.

eurolush said...

Thank you for sending me off on a very interesting read. The life of Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie was fascinating. Theirs was a true love story, wasn't it?

I feel as though I have a much better understanding of the details leading up to WWI now. It's nice to know more intimately the story--and the man--behind "The shot heard 'round the world."

Julia said...

Lucy, the castle is open from April to October, so we should time your visit accordingly. Those are the best times for visiting Prague anyway, the weather is much more pleasant and the sun is shining!

E, they really were a loving couple to the end. A sad story, but I'm also glad to know more of the details than what I learned in 10th grade!