Melnik Chateau

By Tracy A. Burns

Melnik ChateauLess than an hour north of Prague, Melnik Chateau offers visitors a tour of its stunning interior, filled with valuable pieces of art and historical furnishings. The exterior of the chateau is impressive, too. Renaissance arcades and sgraffito give the chateau a romantic air. A sundial is also featured on the façade. The chateau’s history is closely tied with the prominent Lobkowicz family, who currently own the chateau.

The history of the chateau

Melnik Chateau is described in Czech legends. It is said that Princess Ludmila often resided there and even raised her grandson Wenceslas in Melnik. Wenceslas would later become the Duke of Bohemia and then the patron saint of the Czech state. The chateau was originally a wooden castle that was rebuilt with stone in the late 10th century. During the 13th century, it got a Gothic makeover. Wives of Bohemian princes owned the town, and later Bohemian Queens resided there. It was Queen Elizabeth, King Charles IV’s fourth and last wife, who had the chapel built in the 14th century.

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The Lobkowicz era

Melnik ChateauWhen Marie Ludmila Countess Czernin married August Anton Eusebius Lobkowicz in 1753, the Lobkowicz era of the chateau’s history had begun. During World War II the Nazis took control of the chateau. Then, in 1948, it was nationalized, and the family was forced to leave the country. The chateau was given back to the clan in 1992.

The Lobkowiczs in Czech history

The Lobkowiczs have been a well-known noble family for 800 years, and they have played significant roles in Czech history. George Popel Lobkowicz of Vysoky Chlumec served as the highest chamberlain of Emperor Rudolf II in the 16th century. Anton Isidor helped found what is now the National Gallery in Prague. George Christian held the post of Supreme Marshal of the Bohemian Kingdom in the 19th century. Seventeen members of the clan have been decorated with the chivalric medal, the Order of the Golden Fleece.

The stunning artwork in the chateau

Melnik ChateauThroughout the chateau, there are breathtaking paintings by Baroque master Karel Skreta. His lunettes from the Saint Wenceslas Cycle that depict scenes from Saint Wenceslas’s life hang prominently in several rooms. Several portraits by Baroque painting guru Petr Brandl stand out in the chapel, where a painting by Peter Paul Rubens also makes an appearance. A bust of George Christian Lobkowicz was created by legendary modern sculptor Josef Vaclav Myslbek at the turn of the 19th century. Yet another significant artwork is the painting Christ and Veronica by Paolo Veronese with a self-portrait of the painter holding the cross.

Maps and Vedutas abound

Perhaps the highlight of the tour is the Big Hall with Maps and Vedutas, where detailed 17th-century maps of countries and European towns are exhibited. Cities rendered include Paris, London, Venice, Vienna, Florence, and Madrid. Look for the map of Prague. Notice that the Charles Bridge is the only bridge in the town and that it does not yet have any statues on it. The Small Hall with Vedutas features black-and-white depictions of European towns from 1728, including Prague and Brno. The Concert Hall shows off vedutas of the Palace of Versailles and its park.

Features of a bedroom, study, and dining room

The Big Bedroom is dedicated to George Christian Lobkowicz, who in the early 20th century, died tragically in a car racing accident at the age of 25. The headboard of the exquisitely carved Baroque bed is adorned with a painting of the Madonna. Two exquisite French writing desks, hailing from the 17th and 18th centuries, dominate August Longin’s Study. In the Dining Room, two Baroque bureaus are inlaid with tortoiseshell and boast carved gilded decoration. The Baroque chairs are adorned with upholstery made from tapestries.

More rooms and the chapel

The Grand Drawing Room features mostly Rococo furniture. Two tables have gilded brass figures of angels decorating the legs. There are 16th-century suits of armor in the Knights’ Hall. Look for colored lithographs of Old Town Square and Prague Castle in romantic renditions from the end of the 18th century in the staircase hallway. Valuable paintings and Sèvres white porcelain are displayed in the Grand Dining Room. The chapel was originally dedicated to Saint Louis but was reconsecrated to Saint Ludmila. Her baptism is shown on the 17th-century main altar. Astounding works of art also are on display in the chapel.

The wine tradition

Wine tours at the Melnik ChateauHowever, there is more to Melnik Chateau than merely its stunning interior. Under the chateau, there are three floors of wine cellars, founded by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, though some of the cellars were built as late as 1909. To be sure, winemaking has a long history in Melnik. It is said grapes were harvested here for winemaking even when Ludmila was raising Wenceslas. Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV imported burgundy grapes to the region and promoted winemaking, too.

Winetasting tours

Now visitors can get a sense of that history by taking winetasting tours at the chateau. Wine tasting tours are available for individuals or for groups. The first cellar includes a press and fermenting tanks. The second cellar is used to store the wine. In the third cellar, wine is stored, and there is also a filling room with a storage tank, filling system, and corking machine. Wines offered on the tour include Ludmila wine, sparkling wine Chateau Melnik, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Traminer, and Lobkowicz’s St. Laurent.

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