Litomyšl – UNESCO Site

 

By Tracy A. Burns

On UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1999, Litomyšl chateau is remarkable for its exterior and interior. The detailed sgraffito on its façade, the Baroque theatre, the Rococo style painted walls of its rooms and a wealth of paintings make it an astounding day trip from Prague. This is the birthplace of Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. The town itself is worth exploring as well.

History of Litomyšl

Litomyšl ‘s history goes at least as far back as 981. Originally a monastery and bishopric, the chateau was constructed in Renaissance style during the 16th century by Vratislav II of Pernštejn. During the 18th century, the Valdštejn-Vartemberk owners gave the place a Baroque makeover and founded the theatre. The chateau was purchased by a German nobleman, Maxmilian Prince Thurn-Taxis,  during an auction in 1856, and his family kept the property until the end of World War II, when the place was nationalized, according to the Beneš decrees, asserting that all property owned by Germans during the war should become state-owned.

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Baroque Theatre

Built in 1796 and 1797, the chateau’s Baroque theatre is a rare gem – one of five theatres in the world from this era. (The other Baroque theatre in the Czech Republic is in south Bohemia’s Český Krumlov.) The sets are breathtaking, the curtain original. The theatre is even still used today.

Sgraffito Ornamentation

Another one of the chateau’s unique features is its façade’s rich sgraffito decoration from the 16th century Renaissance period.  The dominant pictures show Rome conquered by Emperor Constantine. A colored sundial is prominently displayed. Mythological figures also appear. Try to spot Mars and Helena.

The Chateau´s Interior

Inside the chateau, the Audience Hall does not fail to impress. Though they resemble framed paintings, mammoth portraits of Empress Maria Theresa, her husband Francis Stephen of Lorraine and son Emperor Josef II are painted on the walls. Notice the exquisite gold embroidery on the empress’ light blue dress as the yellow curtain above her seems to be fluttering.

The largest space, the Dining Room, is another sight to behold. Its Meissen porcelain amazes, especially the two giant fruit bowls and centerpiece on a side table. The walls are graced by paintings of horses and countryside scenes.

Next door is the Billiards’ Room, with its large 18th century paintings of battles against the Turks. Frescoes depicting a romantic countryside – hills, cottages, trees, a horse and carriage, and cows on a bridge – are breathtaking in the Music Salon. The highlight, though, is the piano, which Smetana actually played. The last room on the tour is dominated by large paintings of horses.

The chateau also features a gallery with works by Czech masters.  In Antonín Hudeček’s “Sunset” from 1900, one can see the texture of the thatch roof and hear the leaves rustling. In Jan Zrzavý’s “Town Hall Steps” from 1915, the viewer’s eyes tumble down the narrow stairs.

Other Sights on the Chateau Grounds

The chateau’s garden features a summerhouse called a “sallet” from 1796. Eighteenth century vases and statues of gods stand adorn the garden, too. The rooms where Smetana was born on March 2, 1824 and where he spent the first years of his life are located in the chateau’s former brewery.

The Town Litomyšl

The town has a lot to offer, too. The 14th century Chapter Cathedral of the Raising of the Holy Cross, part of the former Augustinian Monastery, features the oldest preserved Gothic art in the town, with stone and ledge window frames, portals, domes, engraved tops of arched windows and wall paintings. Its main altar, though, dates from the end of the Rococo to the beginning of Classicism.

The main square is lined with Gothic and Renaissance burgher houses and arcades. Take the Knights House, for example. The façade (1540 to 1546) shows a knight in armor as well as mythological figures. Notice the unicorn and mermaids. Designed in Renaissance style, the town hall tower dates back to 1418 and has an astronomical clock.

The Music Festival

Opera lovers are in for a treat, too. Since 1949 Smetana’s Litomyšl International Opera Festival, the country’s largest open-air classical music festival, has graced the chateau grounds during the summer.

The Baroque theatre, sgraffito ornamentation and impressive paintings at the chateau as well as the town’s treasures make Litomyšl an intriguing stop on any tourist’s itinerary.

 


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