12 November 2010

Trosky – the Two Towers of the Czechs

Deep in the Czech Republic, about 10 kilometers south of Semily stands something which at first sight seems as if it would be more at home in a Tolkien novel such is its unusual shape, size and structure.   Erected on two basalt outcrops – volcanic plugs – is one of the more bizarre castles of Europe.

Trosky Castle (or Hrad Trosky in the Czech language straddles the two towering outcrops.  They dominate the otherwise flat landscape around – even though the higher of the two is only 57 meters in height, the smaller being ten meters less.

As peculiar as they may seem they were there for a reason.  The structures at the top have names.  The one on the larger peak is known as the Virgin (or Panna) while the other is known locally as the Old Woman (or Baba).  They watch over the surrounding countryside benignly, for now the country is at peace but even when times were more fraught it was still known as the Bohemian paradise.

The place has nothing to do with a long dead politician – there is a t missing in the name for starters and its history goes back much further, way beyond this century and its immediate predecessors.  In the late fourteenth century the Bohemian Wars were raging: they were the first conflict in Europe where gunpowder was used extensively.

Out of this conflict, which saw many atrocities, a moderate commander, Čeněk of Wartenberg, emerged.  It was he who ordered the construction of the castle at Trosky – to serve primarily as watch towers and to protect the local communities.

So it was that the two towers were constructed, one atop each of the basalt plugs.  Although the Bohemian War was ultimately inconclusive the towers remained for centuries, with outhouses and buildings constructed between the two and three rings of fortifications around them all.

The castle came in to hands of Wenceslaus IV (not the good one about which we sing Christmas carols) after the death of Čeněk and thence in to the hands of the Bergov dynasty.  One of these, Bergov, was said to have razed a local monastery and hidden its treasures in the cellar of the castle, which he blocked with an enormous boulder.

It is said that the treasure is still hidden somewhere in the depths of the castle’s foundations.  Many tourists climb the stairs but it must be said that many are content just to look at the castle from the safety of the ground.

The castle went through the hands of several prominent families but its significance as a center of authority and protection dissipated in the early sixteenth century.  In 1648 the castle was burned to the ground by the Imperial Army during the Thirty Years War – a conflict effectively between Catholicism and Protestantism and one of the most ruinous conflicts the European continent has ever seen.

So the castle was left to moulder until the nineteenth century – the age of the Romantics – when some restoration was attempted but never finished.

It is cared for today by the Czech Institute for the Care of Historic Monuments – and remains one of the cooler castle ruins of Europe.