Sunday, September 5, 2010

Château Konopiště

Château Konopiště is one of the most visited chateaus in the Czech Republic. It is in a small town called Benešovn, about 44km south of Prague. The chateau was owned by many different people, but the last one was the famous Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria whose assassination in Sarajevo triggered World War I.

The chateau was originally built in the 13th century in a Gothic style. Later around the 18th century, it was transformed into a Baroque style. Then Franz Ferdinand bought the chateau in 1887 and remodeled it into a luxurious residence. The chateau stands on top of a hill overlooking a surrounding forest. I felt a quiet peace as we walked up the hill in the shadows of tall trees. There is a lake near the chateau, which you can enjoy a beautiful view of from the top of the chateau.

What's interesting about this chateau is the history surrounding Franz Ferdinand. He was the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The former heir, his cousin Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide scandalously, leaving Franz Ferdinand's father, Archduke Karl Ludwig, first in line to the throne, but he then renounced his succession making Franz Ferdinand the heir. He was also one of the wealthiest men in Austria after inheriting most of the huge estate of his cousin Duke Francis V of Modena. 

So, yes, he was wealthy and powerful.  Then he fell in love with someone who could not be allowed in such a high-powered top-drawer noble family.  Her name was Sophie Chotek. They met at a ball in Prague. They dated secretely for a while until the relationship was made public by Archduchess Isabella (there is always a gossipy lady), and at that point Emperor Franz Joseph made it clear to Franz Ferdinand that he could not marry Sophie, as her family was not a member of one of the reigning or formerly reigning dynasties of Europe which would make her an eligible partner for a member of the Habsburg Imperial Family. Sophie's family was noble but not noble enough.

However, that didn't stop the love between Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. After getting support from powerful people like Pope Leo XIII and Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, Emperor Franz Josef was successfully convinced to let them marry but as a morganatic marriage which prevented their descendants from succeeding to the throne. Sophie also could not share her husband's rank, title, or precedence. They were married on July 1, 1990. Neither Emperor Franz Josef nor Franz Ferdinand's siblings attended the wedding.

In 1909, Sophie was given the title "Duchess of Hohenberg" (Herzogin von Hohenberg), which raised her status considerably. However, whenever the couple attended the gatherings with other members of royalty, Sophie was forced to stand far down the line of importance, separated from her husband. But their marriage was strong. They had three children; Sophie, Max, and Ernst. And, despite the bad-tempered characteristics of Franz Ferdinand described by many people, he seemed to be a great father and husband and continued to be so until he and Sophie were assasinated together in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 (a couple of days before their 14th anniversary).

Typically Sophie would not be allowed to accompany her husband, but on this particular occasion, Franz Ferdinand arranged for her to come along as an anniversary gift. What an irony :(  They were still breathing after being shot, and his last words to Sophie were 'Don't die darling, live for our children.'  Sad story indeed. Their children were only 13, 12, and 10 years old when their parents were killed.

At Konopiště, there are three guided tours in different languages. We took Tour 2 (the tour for the weapon collections) simply because that was the only tour available in English around the time we arrived. But, we had a private tour! You see thousands of horns of hunted animals on the wall throughout the chateau, as Franz Ferdinand was famous for liking hunting. He is said to have killed over 300,000 animals (average of 15 per day)!

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