Trips from Prague, Zbiroh Castle
There are several reasons for visiting Zbiroh not least for the surrounding countryside hiking experiences but the Castle/Chateau is fairly unknown to tourists. It has an interesting history so if you are driving between Prague and Plzen it might be worth a stop especially if you are a Slav Epic fan. Originally built as a fortified residence in the late 12th Century it acquired the name Zbiroh 50 years later through a family inheritance and in the year 1277 it was taken over by the Bohemian King Otakar II so that’s where the history really begins.
The Da Vinci Code Connection
Don’t worry, Tom Hanks never came here but the main characters in the book certainly did. The late 13th Century puts you almost at the end of the Crusades and the Knights Templar. As King Otakar II was a supporter of the Knights Templar he gave them Zbiroh as a grand Templar House. Although only used for a short while this was a place that acted as a fortress on the east-west journey through Europe but also as a refuge and even as a kind of bank where wealthy people could leave actual valuables in one country and take a credit note to another Templar House in another country to redeem. It was basically the first credit system. So at Zbiroh Castle you’ll find a great collection of Knights Templar memorabilia and note that Zbiroh Castle is still the seat of the Templar Order of Central Europe.
The Freemason Connection
In the next century ownership of Zbiroh Castle passes to the Luxembourg dynasty and it’s noted that in the year 1333 it was bought by the future Holy Roman Emperor King Charles IV. It later passed to his son Holy Roman Emperor Wenceslas IV and then to his son the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. It’s in this period that a society is formed called the Brotherhood of Hoops and Hammers which was a craft guild that can be directly connected to the later Freemason guilds so Zbiroh Castle becomes linked with this Brotherhood by 1400.
The Infant Jesus Connection
The Church of Our Lady Victorious in Prague is the location of the famous Infant Jesus statuette given to the church by the daughter of Spanish royalty. But on it’s journey to Prague the family stayed at Zbiroh and the castle still has some of the original 16th Century clothing that came with the statuette. This is on display in the Mason’s Lounge (part of the “Zamek” tour) in the glass case by the window.
Thirty Years War – Reposessed Again
After about 150 years in private possession the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II acquires Zbiroh Castle after the previous owner got found guilty of treason. In 1620 in the early stages of the Thirty Years War after the defeat of the Protestant army several of the army commanders were imprisoned and tortured here. At the end of the war in 1648 the Swedish Army looted and burned it.
Baron von Strousberg
For 200 years the Zbiroh Castle was either abandoned or had served as a prison so it was in a rough condition when the estate was bought by one of the richest Germans, Baron von Strousberg in 1868. He launched a general renovation and altered the appearance to a neo-renaissance style but in 1875 he fell foul of the Tsar in Russia and was imprisoned in a business deal gone wrong. Because he was jailed he could not pay his debts and that included the mortgage on Zbiroh so the Vienna Bank foreclosed and Von Strousbergs creditors looted the place. In then stands empty until 1879.
In 1879 Zbiroh Castle was again in the hands of Czech nobility in the form of the Colloredo-Mansfeld family who spent another 25 years renovating and restoring before moving there to live permanently from 1904.
Charles Crane, an American social acquaintance of the Colloredo-Mansfeld family, arranged for Alfons Mucha to have the use of part of Zbiroh Castle where he and his family could live as he worked on the grand Slav Epic art project between 1910 and 1928. Mucha had his own apartments and a room for entertaining his guests which is now called the Mason’s Lounge. It was a little known fact but as well as painting the Slav Epic, Alfons Mucha was also responsible for recording the history of the Freemason movement and was a Grand Master so the Mason’s Lounge has many references to that. The picture above shows the hall where the Slav Epic was created and you’ll wonder how they managed to get paintings that were 8m by 6m down the stairs and out of the door.
WW2 and Post WW2
You could say that Zbiroh Castle was repossessed again in 1940 when the German Army took it over but they stumbled across a special characteristic of the castle in that the surroundings reflected radio waves very well. Later, the Communist regime ejected the Colloredo-Mansfelds and the castle was taken over to act as a radar installation. For the next 40 years the Communists basically erased Zbiroh Castle from the map. Literally, maps in the Communist period do not show the estate as it contained sensitive military radar equipment called “Tamara” (which was not decommissioned until the 1990s) as well as one of the Eastern Bloc’s spy training centres.
1989 to Present
After the Velvet Revolution the army left Zbiroh in 1991 and surprisingly the castle was not returned to the Colloredo-Mansfeld family. In 2004 it was officially given to the town who then sold it to a private company who opened it to the public in 2005. Zbiroh Castle is now partly a hotel and a stunning venue for weddings. You can find more details about the Castle services on the Zbiroh Castle website.
All year round there are two main tours. One is the “Zamek” which explores the newer neo-renaissance part of the castle which includes historic rooms and the hall where Alfons Mucha painted the Slav Epic. The other tour is the “Hrad” tour which explores the Gothic part of the castle which is partly outside and could be cancelled in bad weather. Both these tours are 50 minutes but they are only in Czech language. In the winter season it’s possible to pay for a 15 minute tour only of the Alfons Mucha hall. There’s also the small exposition of photos taken while Alfons Mucha lived at the castle including whilst he was painting the Slav Epic which you’ll find connected to the Castle pub (hospoda).
Coming Here With Kids
Take my word for it that your kids will NOT want to do the official tours. Zbiroh Castle has a lovely associated park for general rambling. You can pay to go on the Rope walk (a low one for small kids and a higher one for bigger kids and adults) and there are external concession huts for snacks. Or enjoy the park and if you are a Slav Epic fan then just go to the Castle pub (hospoda) to feed the kids and see the little photo exhibit.
On the way from Prague to Plzen leave the D5 motorway at exit 41 and follow the signs. There is a shortcut route to the left just before you enter the town so aim for the road called “Muchova”. If you miss that then go into the town and follow the “Zamek” signs.