Karel IV and Karlštejn

Today is Cyril and Methodius Day, a day in the Czech Republic that honors the two Greek men who brought knowledge of Christ to this country, translating the Bible into the Slavic language, and thus bringing written form to the language.  It's a state holiday, and tomorrow is another, which honors Jan Hus, an early reformer.  Thinking of these men and some recent trips have made my mind astir with thoughts of various Christians and kings in Czech history, particularly Karel IV and Jiří z Poděbrad.

This past weekend, I went to Prague to drop some things at the Fulbright office.  After then doing away with my baggage, I took a train out to Karlštejn, "the most beautiful castle in the Czech Republic."  It takes it's name from King Karel IV (Charles in English--think Charles Bridge, Charles University, etc.), king and Holy Roman Emperor.  I had seen the castle from a distance in 2010 while on a hike, but had never toured inside.  I was eager for a trip outside the city, so after missed trains, lost metro passes, and hot June heat, I finally got on a train for the 40-minute ride.  Also in my car was a party of about 10 people. One pulled out a guitar and began singing Czech songs.  It was the perfect way to unwind after the tactical errors in travel and prepare myself for a peaceful trip to the castle.  The castle is only about a 30 minute walk from the train station, and the views along the way are lovely.

The streets were vacated and the sun shone bright.  Despite having missed two trains, I wasn't too late for an English tour, and I learned many delightful snippets about the castle and the man responsible for it.  First of all, Karlštejn was built for three reasons: to house the crown jewels, as a national archive, and as a summer residence for Karel IV.  It was founded in 1348 and built in the gothic style.  It's three buildings, each of which climbs higher on the hill  represent the earthly realm, purgatory, and heaven.  Charles was a believing Christian, and this is evidenced as one walks through the castle.  In his private room there is also a chapel, which houses one sculpture that legend holds that he created as therapy for his arthritic fingers.  In his bedchamber, there is also a kneeler credited to be his handiwork. It sits before a statue of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catherine of the Wheel, from the 4th century).  This princess became a Christian as a teenager, and supported her beliefs by her intelligence, converting court philosophers and those who came in contact with her after she was imprisoned under the pagan emperor.  After withstanding torture, the emperor changed tactics, offering her marriage.  After  refusing these advances, they tried to kill her with the breaking wheel, which was destroyed after her prayer.  She was then beheaded.  Though her historicity is debated, Charles IV nevertheless venerated her, particularly because he won a battle that was not in his favor on her feast day.

The buildings ascend from right to left.
She was probably among the five most important women in his life, the others being his four wives (no, he wasn't a polygamist).  Each of these wives was of a different nationality, helping him in his very successful political career during Bohemia's golden age.  His wives were: Blanche of Valois (French),  Anna of Bavaria (Bavaria[southern Germany]), Anna von Schweidnitz (Hungarian), and Elizabeth of Pomerania (Polish).  It was his third wife that bore Václav, who later became king, though never officially crowned emperor.  His fourth wife was alleged to be as strong as a man and able to break a sword with her bear hands.  Perhaps this wasn't tested, but she did bear six children.

Interesting anecdotes about Charles and his family abounded, but the castle itself bore some interesting characteristics.  It was built up in brick and stone, and then the walls were lined with wood on the interior as insulation.  In the room where people could bring their concerns to the king, the king sat on a throne between two windows that took in much sunlight.  In this way, the king's face and emotions were veiled, while the visitor could not hide, thus allowing the king to test their intentions.  Other interesting snippets included the knowledge that the well at the castle isn't a well at all because the water for the castle is taken from a brook.  Nonetheless, a tower that houses the "well" was built to mislead attackers of the castle, and with good cause.

The castle was attacked twice--once in the 15th century by the Hussites (followers of the teachings of Jan Hus, and people who opposed the authority and beliefs of the Catholic Church) and later by the Swedes in 1648.  The tallest tower, literally called the big tower, however, was never conquered (I believe).  This is the area that housed the crown jewels under 19 locks and behind four doors.  Moreover, their was an extra thick wall protecting the tower on the perceived more vulnerable side of the castle.  This wall measures 7 meters thick.  The tour was enjoyable and the weather fair.  After the interesting visit, I stopped by a bakery for a koláč (a poppyseed one to be specific) and then enjoyed my walk back to the train station.  I rode the train to Prague, not yet knowing how pleasant my next day's traipsing would be, only hoping it would lead me to Poděbrady, giving me reason to think on the man and king, Jiří z Poděbrad.  Stay tuned for tales of that adventure and maybe even a snippet of history.

My first ticket, which was only a limited area, so I purchased
a second for the actual tour.

The "well"


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