The Křivoklát Castle is an attractive tourist destination; it was founded at the beginning of the 12th century by Prince Vladislav, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.Prague - Malá Strana, Vltava River, and Charles Bridge, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.Prague towards the northwest, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.The beauty of the countryside, known as Bohemian Paradise, has enchanted many artists, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.Český Šternberk Castle, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.Koněprusy Caves, the largest cave system in Bohemia, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.Mělník Chateau and tower of the Church of St. Peter and Paul as seen from the historic locks in Hořín, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.
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Central Bohemia - the central Elbe and Mělník areas

The fertile lowlands of the Elbe river basin and the Mělník area have served as the “breadbasket” of the country since time immemorial. This is also where the main trade routes led from east to west. Archeological excavations have dug up the oldest copper tools in our country, about 6 thousand years old, in prehistoric deposits in Poříčany and Třebestovice in Nymburk. The mysterious cult shrine in Velim near Kolín still baffles archaeologists and historians today – it emerged in the 13th century BC as a complex fortified settlement in which five gold treasures were found, as well as many skeletons which bear traces of cannibalism. Findings in Štítary in Kolín gave the name to one prehistoric culture (1200 – 750 BC) which forms the basis for the emergence of the Celtic culture. Their oldest origins are named according to Bylany near Český Brod in Kolín (Bylan culture). The tumulus tomb in Hradeníň was even the property of one of the richest Celtic princes. The treasure of Celtic coins from Starý Kolín and the expensive furnishings of the tombs in Klučov and Kšely show that by the close of the 1st century BC, the Celtic tribes in this area were doing well. Even the Germanic tribes left their traces here (Dobřichov in Kolín, 1st century AD).

St. Adalbert (Vojtěch) – the second bishop of Prague, founder of the Břevnov Monastery, and a fierce champion of ChristianitySlavs inhabiting the local areas probably did not belong directly to the main tribe of Czechs; myth holds that the Elbe basin was divided among the Zličan and Charvat tribes, while the Mělník area was inhabited by the Pšovan tribe. The oldest fortified settlements from the 8th century in Klučov, Libice, and Kouřim were later the core of the vast Slavník dominion, which managed to remain partially independent of the Přemyslids until 995. In Malín, Soběslav Slavník even began to mint his own silver denarii, and his son St. Vojtěch became the Bishop of Prague in 983, although his education and opinions alienated his peers in Prague. St. Adalbert (Vojtěch) – the second bishop of Prague, founder of the Břevnov Monastery, and a fierce champion of Christianity. He spoke adamantly against such social practices like the slave trade and alcoholism. He came from the powerful Slavník clan, born sometime between 955 and 957. He died a martyr’s death in Prussia in 997 and was canonized by Pope Sylvester II in the year 999. Even then, it was clear that the situation between the Slavníks and Přemyslids had to be settled for good. It finally came to pass – on 28 September (coincidently, the same date as an infamous Czech fratricide) in 995, the Přemyslids conquered Libice (some experts say Malín), and killed every Slavník, including the women and children. Only Vojtěch and Soběbor survived, since they were in Poland. Libice was later taken by the Vršovec tribe, but they met with the same fate – in 1108, the great Přemyslids slaughtered them as well. There are still remnants of the original fortified settlement and church from the 10th century visible in Libice today.

Kouřim

At the edge of Kouřim lies an Outdoor Museum of Folk Architecture, photo by: www.muzeumkourimska.czKouřim later became an important centre for the region. This was the seat of the proud Děpolt III, who revolted against his ruler Přemysl Otakar I in 1223. He was defeated, though, Kouřim was conquered, and Děpolt’s line was driven out. The city saw brighter times again in the later 13th century, when Přemysl Otakar II fortified it and founded the local church of St. Stephen with its bold octagonal vaulted crypt. As the oldest foreshadowing of later Late Gothic star vaulting, this is one of the country’s treasures of the 13th century. Up until 1850, Kouřim remained the region’s main administrative centre, until it was overtaken by the industry developing on the Elbe River.

Not far from Kouřim, in the village of Lipany, a battle took place on 30 May 1434 which effectively ended the era of the Hussite Wars. The more radical Hussites were defeated by a more moderate fraction of the same movement. The romanticism of the Czech National Revival of the 19th century depicted this lost battle as a national tragedy, but at the time in 1434, all of Central Europe actually breathed a sigh of relief.

This rich but relatively unstable region of Central Bohemia was always being fought over by the powers that be, resulting in several centres of power along the Elbe. Older court villages with Romanesque churches (most notably the monumental basilica from the 13th century in Tismice) were eventually replaced by towns.

Mělník

Town Mělník, photo by: www.melnik.czOriginally a royal dowry town above the confluence of the Vltava and Elbe Rivers, Mělník is best known for its viticulture. The town's dominant feature is the three-nave church of St. Peter and Paul and the adjacent chateau. The first impression of the church, especially from far away, is its massive Gothic tower which provides an impressive view from inside onto the surrounding area. The local ossuary is also worth a visit. The chateau offers tours of its interiors as well as an opportunity to taste the wine from the local chateau vineyard. The highlight of the main square is the Baroque Town Hall with its dominating tower and functionalistic fountain with sculpture ensemble by V. Makovský. The underground corridor system below the town square leads its visitors to the widest Medieval well (4.5 m) in the Czech Republic. Tours are arranged by the Tourist Information Centre. The former Capuchin monastery now houses the Regional Museum, featuring traditional exhibitions of the area's history and nature as well as the development of children's carriages in a separate building. A visit to the wine cellars is a favourite among visitors, where you can taste wine samples from the entire Czech wine area. Mělník is a starting point for visiting one of Bohemia's most beautiful natural areas – the Kokořinsko Protected Landscape Area.

The Vltava River is the longest river in Bohemia, flowing into the Elbe River below Mělník Chateau as kind of its left “tributary”. This is odd, since the Vltava has 430.2 km of river behind it at this point, which is much more than the Elbe has. The Vltava even has a stronger flow. It would be more logical, therefore, that the Elbe would be a tributary to the Vltava. This “inconsistency” is usually explained in that the Celtic tribes who inhabited this area since antique times considered the Elbe to be the main flow.

Kolín

One of the oldest and most important centres of this region is Kolín. It was founded in 1257 on the site of an older settlement. A number of local homes conceal Gothic walls and numerous details beneath Baroque and later facades. Also notable is the Jewish quarter with synagogue from the 17th century. We are reminded of the city’s former glory today by the Church of St. Bartholomew; in 1360- 1378, a monumental presbytery was added to its early Gothic part from the late 13th century by the Prague cathedral workshop of Peter Parler. The remnants of the original sculpture decoration are supplemented by Baroque works of Petr Brandl and reliefs of the Stations of the Cross from Bohemia’s best Art Nouveau and symbolist carver František Bílek from 1910-1914. Kolín is associated with the famous composer František Kmoch, who is celebrated every year with a brass band festival in June.

Poděbrady

Poděbrady – today‘s castle appearance is the result of Baroque modifications by F. M. Kaňka from 1723 - 1757, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.In the 15th century, the renowned spa town of Poděbrady was the administrative base for George of Kunštat and Poděbrad (1420-1471), who served as bailiff from 1452 and was later known as the Czech “Hussite” King (1458- 1471). The town’s dominating feature is the Renaissance castle from 1545-1557, partially the work of B. Wohlmut (before 1510-1579) and the Rudolfine architect Ulrico Aostali. Most of Poděbrady, however, is represented by Late Baroque and modernist style. The town’s development is also credited to its spas, founded in 1908 and specializing in treatments of diseases of the heart and circulatory system.

Stará Boleslav

Stará Boleslav made its mark in Bohemian history as the site of the most famous Czech fratricide. In 929 (or 935), Prince Boleslav invited his brother, the reigning Prince Václav, to come be the godfather at the baptism of his son. Boleslav feigned noble intentions and brotherly feelings during the evening banquet, but on the morning of September 28, his retinue murdered Václav. Václav was canonized after his death, and St. Václav (St. Wenceslas) has since the country’s main patron and eternal ruler and protector. The former Church of St. Cosmas and Damian was replaced by the Church of St. Václav in the 11th century, completed in 1046, with an impressive crypt added in the 12th century. The nearby Church of St. Clement also received its painted decorations at this time. Both buildings provide a characteristic illustration of Czech Romanesque art. The Baroque Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary from 1613 to 1623 by Rudolfine architect Giov. Mario Filippi holds one of the greatest treasures of Baroque piety – the Stará Boleslav Palladium, a gold relief from the beginning of the 16th century. The Baroque works in this pilgrimage centre were created by a number of leading masters of the time, including K. Škréta and K. I. Dientzenhofer.

Nymburk

The royal town of Nymburk is spread out over both banks of the Elbe River in a fertile part of the Central Elbe river basin, photo by: www.mesto-nymburk.czOne of the state’s traditional mainstays used to be Nymburk. This town was also founded in the 3rd quarter of the 13th century by Přemysl Otakar II. During the Thirty Years War it was sacked twice (1631 and 1634) and severely damaged by imperial troops. Today, the oldest part of the city’s history has been preserved in a large part of the fortification walls from the early 14th century – this is also one of the best preserved town fortification walls in all of Bohemia. Also notable is the Gothic Church of St. Giles with remnants of the original sculptures from the end of the 14th century, and the Renaissance Town Hall from 1526. Nymburk was awakened from its “slumber” in the 19th century by the introduction of the railway.

Nelahozeves

The nearby castle of Nelahozeves still belongs to the Lobkowicz family; it was built in 1553-1600 and still has excellently retained its original Renaissance appearance. Partial restoration work before the First World War revealed hidden sgraffito, typical for the Renaissance in Bohemia. The renowned Lobkowicz portrait gallery overshadows the richly preserved interiors and armoury from the 17th century; this gallery is the most representative collection of its kind in Bohemia. It shows the development of portrait art from the Renaissance to the Baroque in Bohemia as well as in the world (Fr. Clouet, A. Sanchez Coello, J. Pantoja de la Cruz), and the restitutions from after 1989 returned original works from L. Cranach the Elder, P. Brueghel the Elder, and P. P. Rubens.

The numerous local castles demonstrate the attraction of a comfortable life in this, the most fertile region of Bohemia. It is true that some of them were gained by the monarchs through confiscation from their original owners, but this detracts from none of the beauty. Such an example is the castle in Brandýs nad Labem, opposite Stará Boleslav, whose decorations are the work of court artists of the 16th century (Paolo della Stella, G. A. Brocco), and the castle in Kostelec nad Černými lesy not far from Kouřim. This was reconstructed into a hunting lodge in 1547 for the needs of Ferdinand I. It changed hands again soon afterwards, but the work of the court artists remained (G. M. Aostalli, Paolo della Stella). The castle’s Renaissance furnishings perfectly resonate with the small Church of St. Vojtěch from 1568-1569, built in the Renaissance and attached to the castle; the church also holds much of its original furnishings.

Not all castles in the area have undergone such proprietary switches, and their construction often encouraged other buildings in their surroundings. The viability of these residences is also shown by their numerous subsequent modifications and adjustments to adapt to changes in tastes and lifestyles. The Zásmuky castle in the Kolín area, for example, was built for Adolf Vratislav of Šternberk at the end of the 17th century. In the later 18th century and 19th century, it was rebuilt and today is one with the Franciscan Church of the Stigmata of St. Francis. The Furstenberg Baroque castle of Loučen with its Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by F. M. Kaňka from the beginning of the 18th century is supplemented by an English park with rich sculpted decorations from the 1st half of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 18th century, Václav Antonín Chotek founded the chateau in Veltrusy in a similar way. Its architect was either F. M. Kaňka or G. B. Alliprandi. At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries it was rebuilt into its present classicist appearance. The rich interiors are supplemented with an English park with many romantic Neo-Gothic, oriental, and Classical architectural elements.

Lysá nad Labem

A supreme example of a perfect noble residence is the chateau Lysá nad Labem. It was built on the site of a fortified castle which had been transformed into a residential castle in the middle 16th century, then completely reconstructed at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries by the renowned generous patron, Franz Anton von Sporck. Sporck was not of high noble origin, but all the more so wanted to place himself among the older aristocracy. He wished to confirm his nobility through art, so he completely transformed not only the chateau, but the town and surroundings as well (chateau park, Augustinian monastery and Church of St. John the Baptist in the city, Hermitage of St. Václav towards the town of Brandýs nad Labem, the small chateau with “Maison de Bon Repos” above the village of Čihadla, the Chinese Pavilion and chapel, and many small chapels in the surrounding areas). Unfortunately, this perfect “gesamtkunstwerk” was gradually disrupted by later, mostly classicist, modifications which also affected the chateau. What has remained from his Baroque splendour, however, convincingly cultivates the ambitions of his patronage (P. Brandl, M. B. Braun, J. A. Quitainer, F. M. Kaňka, A . Lurago, J. Brokof and others).

Liběchov

The tradition of countryside residences was continued upon in the middle 19th century in the Mělník area by the romantic and patriotic benefactor Jakub Veith. He had the original Baroque garden and chateau in Liběchov (1730, architect F. M. Kaňka, sculptures by M. B. Braun) supplemented by patriotic decorative paintings from Josef Navrátil and sculptures from Václav Levý. He is also the author of the curious sculptures in the forested hillsides above the chateau, “Klácelka” – an artificial cave with reliefs inspired by fables of J. Grandvilla of Blaník. These are gigantic relief figures of Z. Zásmucký, the Hussites Jan Žižka and Prokop Holý, accompanied by a group of dwarves who are preparing their weapons, and a greatly dilapidated or intentionally unfinished cave with a lizard, snake, harpist, and various heads, apparently human.