Sunday 14 October 2007

Charles has left the building

This time two weeks ago I was struggling through the crowds to get to Karlštejn castle. I’m sure this place is reasonably busy at the best of times, but my uncanny knack for stumbling into festivals, long weekends or public holidays reared its head again, and the crowd for the Karlštejn wine harvest festival was as dense as any I’ve ever seen on Charles Bridge. Happily most of them seemed content with the wine and burčak on sale down in the village and the crowd was much thinner up in the castle grounds.

The castle is only accessible as part of a guided tour and I made a bit of a mistake when I bought my ticket. There are two tours, imaginatively titled Tour 1 (220Kč) and Tour 2 (330Kč). Tour 2 takes in all three main buildings of Karlštejn castle; the royal palace, the Marian tower and the great tower, which is the tallest and most heavily fortified part of the complex. For some reason that remains unclear to me, I chose tour one, thus missing out on the most spectacular part of the castle.

I’d asked the girl at the ticket window what time the next tour would be leaving and was asked ‘English or German?’ (This ability of people to discern my foreignness from the first Czech syllables to leave my mouth is a continuing source of frustration to me-apparently my accent is about as good as my singing voice, i.e. abysmal) ‘Czech’ I said, partly through indignation and partly because tours in the local tongue are around half the price (130Kč) of the preferred tourist languages. “Is not possible”. No Czech tours due to the wine harvest festival. English then. Perhaps the ticket girl sensed my wounded linguistic pride because she slipped me a half-price ticket for which I’m clearly about fifteen years too old. “Děkují slečno, jste hodná

The 2pm tour started at about 2.02pm, much to the annoyance of the other people in the queue. We started in the royal palace and first inspected the knight’s hall. As the home of the Bohemian kingdom’s most precious treasures, Karlštejn was a heavily fortified castle further protected by knights who were granted ownership over the adjoining parcels of land. In this hall their coats of arms are faded but visible on the heavy wooden chests and trunks used for weapon storage.

The hall of ancestors is next, its walls covered with huge canvasses depicting the dukes and kings of the Přemyslid dynasty. The Přemyslids were the most famous and legendary dynasty of Czech rulers. Their beginnings are lost in the years of myth and legend, but they ruled until teenage King Vaclav III was assassinated, heirless, in the Olomouc castle in 1306. Vaclav’s sister Eliška married king John of Luxembourg, who became the first foreigner to sit on the Bohemian throne. Their son Karel (Charles) was born in and went on to become one of the most notable monarchs in the history of the Bohemian kingdom. Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) Karlova Univerzita (Charles University) and Karlův most (Charles Bridge) all bear his name to this day.

Next room on the tour is the bedroom of Charles IV. Busts of the king and the wives from his four marriages are on display and there’s a small chapel, a long-drop toilet; and a discreet staircase. “Leading to where?” asks the guide. To the queen’s bedroom, of course. From there it’s through the bodyguards’ quarters and back out into the sunshine to climb the staircase to the Marian tower.

The Marian tower acts a something of a teaser; showcasing a wonderful cutaway model of the great tower. The great tower is like a fortress within a fortress and within its Chapel of the Holy Cross the royal treasures were stored. In addition to the heavily guarded fortifications, the treasures were also protected spiritually; with the walls of the chapel covered in paintings of various saints, some even with holy relics mounted within the frames. Some of the wall panels are reproduced here in the Marian tower, but if you want to see the originals, you need to go on the longer and more expensive tour two, because this is where tour one ends. If I’d done my research better (actually if I’d done any at all) I definitely would have chosen the longer tour.

Never mind, it gives me a good excuse to go back.Resources:

Karlštejn castle official website
Map showing the walk from the train station to the castle
Charles the Fourth on Wikipedia
Train timetables

1 comment:

Michael said...

I've often made the same mistake as you while choosing between tours - though, in my case, it's down entirely to cheapness.