Travel: American Nobility

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I have decided that Prague is seductive. It teases you with old medieval charm that whispers of knights in armor, damsels in distress, ancient architecture, and of course, unhygienic conditions, shorter life spans, and social hierarchies.

For obvious reasons, I ended up extending my stay by two days for the following destinations that spoke to me of family and tradition.

I ventured in to explore the private art and history collection of the Lobkowicz Family, who holds several estates in Prague, but far less than they did a mere century ago, and the loss of this land did not occur as you might think. (Once again, No picture policy)

The Lobkowicz name spans over seven centuries of nobility; it is one of the oldest and most distinguished surnames of Bohemia. Many have held high titles or been inducted into prestigious organizations (i.e. Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, High Chancellor, Dukes of Sagan/Roudnice, and Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece.) Their adamant support of the arts resonates at a groundbreaking magnitude even today.

Fast-forward six centuries. At the end of WWI, the young Prince Maximilian Lobkowicz was a progressive; His political background allowed him to wholeheartedly provide support for the newly democratic Czech Republic. As such, he adamantly opposed the rise of Hitler in Nazi Germany; this resulted in his name being placed on an arrest list. Fortunately, due to the deviousness of his wife, who understood the Nazi Soldiers discussing military action in her train car (they believed she did not speak German), he was able to escape to London prior to arrest when the country was occupied in March 1939.

At the end of WWII, the properties and collections were returned to the family, but it was not to be permanent. In the onslaught of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and the encroaching dominion of the Communist Regime, Maximilian and his family were once again forced into exile in 1948.

After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, and the dismantling of Western and Eastern Europe, which were formerly split by the Communist Regime, the Czech president began the issuing of legislative acts to return all confiscated property. At this point, the duty was left to Maximilian’s sons, who had been raised in America. William Lobkowicz, a Harvard grad, and his wife, Alexandra took on this burden, relocating his family to Prague to help maintain the restoration of their estates, and the opening of doors to provide the public with access to their large collection. Unfortunately, due to the decades, the properties were quite damaged due to neglect, so executive decisions were made as to what land could be sold, in the hopes that the money would go towards preserving some of the more historical holdings. These include the Lobkowicz Palace, Nelahozeves Castle and Strekov Castle.

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Theological Hall

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Philosophical Hall

I wrapped up my day by visiting the Strahov Monastery to check out the sprawling Philosophy and Theology Halls. My final wind-down involved drinking Strahov Beer that has been brewed from the same recipe that was used centuries ago.

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Despite the struggles that the Lobkowicz Family was subject too, one can help but feel whimsical about this fairy-tale dream of American Nobility. It did materialize a bit late for it to seem like a happily ever after however. In the challenges faced during the sequential confiscation and restitution of their priceless buildings and art, three main values have steadfastly kept them determined.

  1. Family and Friends
  2. Faith and Beliefs
  3. Education

What values do you hold on to as you traverse life? How do they keep you grounded as a wholesome human being? Have they aided you in the challenges and struggles we face everyday?

Travel: Old Prague

In the midst of Prague lies the old town. I ventured into this step back into time, to bear witness to sprawling medieval architecture that helps maintain the city’s archaic atmosphere. I used the word archaic not to emphasize viewing her as rough or uncultured, but to stress how well her ancient roots are preserved.

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An Astronomical Clock on the face of the city hall’s tower dominates the old square. It’s name is the Orloj; It is an ingenious contraption designed by clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel in 1410. Jan Šindel was a professor of astronomy and mathematics at the Charles University. Over the decades and centuries, it has been subject to additional decorative features, maintenance, and repair. The clock itself was almost lost to the incendiary fire from German attacks on May 7-8, 1945 during the Prague Uprising.

 

There are two legends about this icon of Prague:

  1. The first is that the clockmaker was blinded by the city so that he could not repeat his magnificent work; they say that in revenge, he broke the clock and it was irreparable for the next hundred years. 
  2. The second is that if the clock is neglected, or it’s operation is in jeopardy, the city will suffer.

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I was fortunate enough to approach the clock a few minutes before it hit the hour. On each hour, a rotation of 12 figures can be seen within its windows. This is known as “The Walk of the Apostles.”; Glimpses were caught as each appeared for a brief moment before giving way to the next apostle.

Additionally, there are four figures that flank the clock, representative of 4 virtues that were despised in the 1400; they were vanity, greed, death, and pleasure or entertainment.

After this, I detoured to (you guessed it!) two of Prague’s most famous churches in the square:

St. Nicholas Church was built between 1704 and 1755, and is often described as “the most impressive example of Prague Baroque.” It lies on the remains of a 13th century gothic church. The interior decoration is particularly mesmerizing due to the detail of the frescos by Jan Lukas Kracker and Frantisek Xaver Palo. Furthermore ornamentation is provided with Frantisek Ignac Platzer’s sculptures. Mozartis known to have made an appearance here when he played the Baroque Organ, consisting of 4,000 pipes and up to 6 meters in length, in 1787.

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Our Lady before Tyn dominates the Prague Skyline as if it is the Watchdog of the city. This site originally housed a Romanesque Church in the 11th century, and was replaced by an earlier Gothic Church in 1256. The oldest pipe organ in Prague lies within it’s walls. Additionally, the Danish Astronomer Tycho Brahe is buried here. You may also consider it fascinating to know that this is the church that appears in the opening scenes of xXx.

I wrapped up my history  filled day by treating myself to a famous Czech Opera at the State Opera House. The interior was decorated extravagantly and I felt a little drab amongst my peers. (I am backpacking across Europe after all, how fancy did you think I could get?). Rusalka was filled with magic, beautiful soaring voices, and ethereal actors.

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