There is a place in the south-east of Czechia that will strongly remind you of London or the Royal Palace of Windsor. Surprised? That might be understandable, but the fact is that the romantic ideas of the English Gothic Revival or neo-Gothic architecture traveled far and wide in continental Europe. Lednice Chateau in South Moravia, very close to the Austrian border, is a prime example of such architectural ideas easily moving from the British Isles to the heart of Central Europe.
It was all thanks to Alois II, Prince of Lichtenstein. Born in Vienna at the very end of the 18th century, he grew up and reached adulthood when the romantic music of Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and many others resounded in concert halls from Budapest to Paris. Later on, as Alois took up the responsibilities that went with his prestigious social standing as a member of one of the leading European noble families, he was sent to Britain to represent the Austrian Monarchy at the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838.
The festivities and the coronation procession were a truly global event. It drew unprecedented crowds and a large diplomatic representation to the metropolis of the British Empire, at that time an unrivalled superpower. We do not know for sure what Prince Alois of Lichtenstein made of all the pomp and ceremony. But he must have been greatly impressed by the architectural expression of the same romanticism that influenced musicians and poets of that period: the Gothic revival or neo-Gothic style. Because not long after returning from London Prince Alois ordered a major reconstruction of the Lichtenstein family residence: the Chateau of Lednice in what is now the Czech Republic.
These days it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. If you take a stroll around the front courtyard, filled with visitors of many nationalities, you cannot help but notice how closely it resembles the Neo-Gothic estates of Britain from the same period. True, it is not as grand as, say, Windsor Castle, but still, it is very majestic indeed. After all, a reflection of the social standing of the family that owned the chateau is the fact that it had and still has a small country for itself: the Principality of Lichtenstein.
After World War II, the Czechoslovak government nationalized all the Lichtenstein properties. The Chateau of Lednice housed the Museum of Agriculture. Given how poorly the communist governments of the time often treated historic properties, this was in a way a blessing as it ensured relatively good care and upkeep of the historic buildings. One of the guides at Lednice, Vendula Jandová, says the chateau is in good condition and very popular with tourists:
„There were many reconstructions. Today we are on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and that helps to bring in necessary donations and European Union funds. We have many visitors from neighboring Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Germany. Recently, more and more tourists have been coming from far away countries such as the United States and more recently even South Korea and Japan. That is probably because some two years ago the Koreans filmed a full-length documentary solely about this chateau."
And then there is the park: nearly 200 hectares or 500 acres of it in all. It is a unique historic monument in itself. It is no coincidence that the agricultural Mendel University of Brno has a Faculty of Horticulture based right here in Lednice. For it was precisely the tradition and know-how of the chateau gardeners that led to the establishment first of a school training gardeners and winemakers, and then an institute of horticulture that later became a regular part of the Mendel University. The dean of the faculty, Professor Robert Pokluda, explains what makes the park in Lednice so special:
"The first written documents relating to plans to establish a park next to the castle date back to 16th century. But the really extraordinary development of the park began in 1799. We found written orders for some trees from North America from that year. These were the first instances when such fairly exotic species were planted here in Central Europe and perhaps the whole of Europe in general. We are talking here mainly about broad-leaf trees such as sophora.”
“But the park is unique not just for its size and assortment of plants and the trees you can find there. It was developed very sensitively in harmony with the surrounding landscape, carefully adapted to the local countryside. The builders, for example, did not dry up the land as was the habit at that time. Instead, they made use of the water and the naturally marshy character of the area. They developed a whole picturesque system of small lakes and streams. It keeps the water within the park which, of course, helps the micro-ecosystem and encourages a healthy growth of all the plants and trees.”
So, it does not really matter, whether you prefer a beautifully preserved park half French, half English in style, or a magnificent residence with its splendid outlook and interiors. In the small Moravian town of Lednice, only about an hour’s drive from the cities of Vienna or Brno, you can enjoy both.
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