A Czech treasure trove
Gardens and Castle at Kroměříž, Czech Republic
In a previous post, I told you about the Liechtenstein family and their wealth and influence across the land that now lies within the boundaries of the Czech Republic. That story was about the Lednice-Valtice estate with its two castles and enormous gardens.
Well, the Liechtenstein family spent a lot of time and money across the region and their legacy can be seen in quite a few places. Today I would like to tell you about another beautiful site that they influenced. It’s called Kroměříž Castle.
The castle at Kroměříž existed before the Liechtensteins came along. The first residence was built on the site in 1497. Records from the time tell us that it was in a Late Gothic style with a few details that could be described as Renaissance. It stayed like this for about 150 years until the Swedish army ransacked it in 1643 during the Thirty Years War.
Kroměříž Castle was an important building even then. It was the home of the bishops of Olomouc – bishops at that time having as much a political role as a religious one. So there was a desire to restore the castle after its destruction.
In stepped the Liechtensteins… twenty years later. They paid for the castle to be renovated in a Baroque style and made liveable again. At the same time, the Pleasure Garden was built (it is now in the middle of the old town that exists around the castle). This garden is still considered to be one of the finest in Europe.
UNESCO has included Kroměříž Castle and its gardens on the World Heritage List. Interestingly, it notes that the castle is not particularly special and that it’s the Pleasure Garden which has justified the inscription. I can see why that could be the case from a bureaucratic stance – but I think it misses something quite important.
I have previously written about Litomyšl Castle in the Czech Republic, another World Heritage Site, and made the observation that its interiors offer nothing unique. But what Kroměříž Castle has that Litomyšl Castle doesn’t is a trove of treasures!
Visiting Kroměříž Castle
The only way to go inside Kroměříž Castle is with a guided tour, so I join the group and we’re slowly led through a selection of the rooms, one by one.
We start in the ‘games’ room where a large billiards table in the centre is surrounded by dozens of animal heads – hunting trophies – mounted on the walls. We go through residential rooms with plush couches and ornate sitting arrangements. And there are the ceremonial areas with thrones and paintings of bishops and archbishops.
But these decorations are rather standard for the castles of this vintage in Central Europe. What is special are some of the particular items. Let’s take the library for instance.
In this wonderful section of the castle, there are tens of thousands of volumes of books. Within them is a deep history of the politics and society of the periods they were collected and treasured by the rulers of these lands. Look for the musical cabinet and you’ll see manuscripts from composers like Mozart and Beethoven. In another cabinet is an extremely valuable collection of coins and medals.
In another part of Kroměříž Castle is a collection of paintings from the 15th – 18th century that has been declared as the second best gallery in the whole country, after the National Gallery in Prague. There are more than 500 paintings kept here and it is an extremely important European collection.
Kroměříž Castle Tower
The ticket that I’ve bought for the castle tour includes a trip up the tower. This I do alone, step by step, slowly climbing upwards. At the top, the view makes it all worthwhile. From here I can look down into the main courtyard of the castle but also – more interestingly – across the town itself. The town has a population of about 30,000, which is more than I would have guessed. It must spread out beyond sight because here in the centre it still has the quaint feeling of a history.
The same could be said about the English-style garden right behind the castle. Unlike the special Pleasure Garden, this is like a meandering parkland that seems to have no boundaries until you suddenly stumble across an iron fence. The small lakes and flower displays are charming and just add to the experience of a visit to Kroměříž.
If you remember my story about Lednice-Valtive, which I referred to earlier, you’ll recall that is is still contested – that the Liechtensteins want it back. There’s no such controversy about Kroměříž Castle. It is what it is. A wonderful palace with lovely gardens. And carefully guarded inside, some of the greatest treasures of the Czech Republic. It’s a pleasure to unlock them.