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HISTORY OF BÍTOV CASTEL
The ancient cultural landscape on the confluence of the Dyje and Želetavka rivers has been inhabited since Neolithic times. According to the local findings a Great Moravian fortified settlement used to stand near the castle in the 8th – 9th centuries. The castle was an important support point of the Premyslide dynasty. It was built on a narrow rocky promontory about 70 m above the surface of the river Želetavka, which flows around the promontory. The small town of Bítovec was established below the castle, and served as an important stop for merchants and pilgrims travelling from Austria towards Prague. The king entrusted Prince Conrad Oto to take control over the Premyslide castles. Later, during the reign of Přemysl Otakar I, Bítov became the centre of one of the Moravian regions – the Bítov district. The castle ruled over the areas of Slavonice, Dačice, Jemnice, Moravské Budějovice and Telč. The oldest preserved stone structure at the castle comes from these glorious days – the defence pointed-edge tower with Romanesque foundations.
The first written note about Bítov comes from the foundation paper for cannonry at Stará Boleslav, dating back to 1046. The core of the document leads to the assumption that Bítov castle was founded by Prince Břetislav I. The continuous fortification line of castles protecting the Czech-Austrian border was established here, on the river Dyje, at the beginning of the 12th century. It is interesting that a similar fortification line was built also on the Austrian side to protect their land from Czech attacks (Raabs, Pernegg, Walkenstein, and other castles).
After the death of the last male Premyslide (the murder of Wenceslas III in Olomouc), the castle, as a fiefdom, becomes the property of the old aristocratic family of the Lichtenburgs in 1307. The Lichtenburgs descended from the large Czech family of the Lords of Ronov. The founder of the family is thought to be Smil Světlický, the builder of the family castle of Světlík (Lichtenburg). The family became wealthy from their silver mines near the today’s Havlíčkův Brod. In 1278 Bítov was in the hands of Rajmund, who becames the founder of the Moravian branch of the Lichtenburgs. He was also the first Moravian Land Marshall. During Rajmund’s days the castle went through substantial reconstruction – its centre moved higher up the rock towards the east where he had built a massive fortification with three more towers and a new residential quarter. The castle church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary was also newly built.
To reinforce their powers the Lichtenburgs built another castle – Cornštejn (meaning sulky or truculent castle, from the German name of Zornstein).
Rajmund’s sons Smil and Čeněk made the castle their permanent seat and started calling themselves the Bítov Lords of Lichtenburg. Bítov thus became one of the main Lichtenburg residences for the next 250 years. The Lichtenburgs bravely fought on the side of the Czech kings against the Prussians, the Hungarians and the Turks. This is also why they always had great authority in Czech politics. The last male heir was Jindřich of Lichtenburg, who died on September 29, 1572, leaving the castle and property to his sisters.
Bítov was held by Ludmila, who sold it to Austrian aristocrat Wolf Strein of Schwarzenau (marshal of Znojmo castle) in 1576. The following 36 years of Strein rule at Bítov was a mere episode. Wolf’s son Hanus Wolfart, inspired by the period’s great aristocrats of Italy, after purchasing a chateau in Uherčice launched a costly reconstruction, turning the castle into a renaissance seat in the style of North Italy, with arcaded courtyard and gardens. This, along with the demanding life of a renaissance cavalier (feasts, dances, mistresses, etc.) amassed an enormous debt, forcing him to sell his family holdings. Bítov was sold as the first of them in 1612. He also lost his beloved chateau in Uherčice.
The Jankov Lords of Vlašim took their name from the village of Jankov near Benešov. Jan I Jankovský of Vlašim was the first to move to Moravia and in 1405 he is noted as a member of the Land Court. The Bítov dominion was bought by Fridrich Jankovský of Vlašim, one of the most powerful Moravian aristocrats in the aftermath of the events the White Mountain, being also one of the authors of the Moravian constitution. Moravian patriot Fridrich commissioned the building of an agricultural complex within the southern ramparts, establishing a successful brewery there. His son Hynek – imperial councillor and advisor to Emperor Ferdinand III wrote the first Czech work on hippology – The Equestrian Apotheque. During the two Swedish attacks he lent money to his vassals to pay a ransom and protected his castle by giving an unspecified number of beer casks free to the Swedes. In 1638 he extended the castle church and started building a residential palace with an arcaded courtyard and a gate tower. He established a new entrance to the castle and fitted a new bridge. From the outside part of the gunnery wall he attached the so-called Swedish chapel. After his death the castle was inherited by his son Maxmilian Arnošt I. Unfortunately he turned out to be a lunatic and the castle was run by his wife Alžběta. At that time the reconstruction of the southern wing was taking place – the characteristic supportive pillars were erected to reinforce the stability. Maxmilian II Jankovský of Vlašim married the heir of Dietrichsteins and Dauns in Vienna and as a close friend of Joseph I he was ennobled as a count. His wife was Catherine of Lemberg – the last heir of Adam Zrinsky – who brought the famous collection of weapons and her family library to the castle. After Maxmilian’s daughter Marie Johanna married countess Cavriani, and following a long dispute between the heirs, the castle ended up with the nephew of Maxmilian František – Count Daun.
The Dauns were an ancient family, originating in the Rhineland town of Daun. Legend says that the name Daun comes from the Celtic “Dune”, which means hill. The time of their greatest social rise was during the Thirty Years’ War, when they were ennobled as counts for their military services. The field marshal and imperial advisor Vilém Jan Antonín Daun received citizenship in Bohemia and Hungary, as well as Moravia. One of his sons, Jindřich Josef, whose wife was the daughter of count Max of Vlašim, Marie Leopoldina, founded the Moravian-Austrian line of the family. Bítov was one of the seats of this line. The castle went through further construction development. A fountain was built in the place of the original well. The northern wing with castle kitchen is built. The Dauns built a theatre instead of an old granary, and on the northern side they added an Empire carriage shed with stables. A number of follies were constructed in the forest park (a rotunda, an ornamental well and the Love Lake), and the gardens were reconstructed too. František’s son Jindřich extended the castle church and tomb. The castle was adjusted to fit the New Gothic period style, complete with the palace interiors. After Jindřich’s death, despite the protests of his brothers Vladimír and Otakar, Jindřich’s widow Antonie Countess Voračická of Bissingen, sold all the furnishings of the palace. After the Dauns the castle was inherited by the Haugwitzs.
The Haugwitzs are also an ancient family of Slavonic origin, coming probably from Meisen. Via the Haugwitz estate in Lusatia, from which they derived their name, they moved to Silesia. Their coat of arms was a black ram’s head on a red plate. In Moravia they appeared in the 14th century. In 1752 the Haugwitz counts bought the Náměšť nad Oslavou dominion, which became their family seat. It was Náměšť where they moved all the furnishings from Bítov, including the large collection of weapons. The most famous member of the family was Bedřich Vilém, a prominent politician, Czech and Austrian chancellor and advisor to Marie Therese, after 1759 awarded the Order of the Golden Fleece, and author of enlightenment reforms.
In 1906 Bítov changed hands again; it was bought by Jan I Count Zamojski for three million Crowns. The Zamojskis were a Polish aristocratic family based in Poland, Russia, and Austria. Jan chose Bítov upon the recommendation of his relatives the Stadnickys from nearby Vranov. The Zamojskis were famous Polish politicians and military leaders. They spent only two years at Bítov, after which the castle went to František prince Radziwill.
The Radziwill princes originated from Lithuania and they were the only princely family in the history of Bítov. Jiří, as a cardinal and bishop of Vilnius and Cracow was one of the candidates for Pope. In 1908 Bítov was taken over by the young prince František, nephew of count Jan Zamojski; he was a well-known conservative politician and leader of the Polish aristocracy. In 1912 František sold Bítov to an Austrian industrialist, Sudeten German Jiří Karel the elder, Baron Haas of Hasenfels.
The castle under Haas rule
The Haases were a family of wealthy farmers from western Bohemia. August Eusebius inherited a porcelain factor in Slavkov nad Ohří. His son Georg the elder studied chemistry at Vienna polytechnic. He took over father’s porcelain factory and together with his cousin Jan Czjzek they established the Haas and Czjzek Corporation in 1867, which became the biggest producer of porcelain in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The factory specialised mainly in the production of hotel and restaurant tableware, most of which was plain white or modestly decorated. Their luxurious produce was made to represent them at national and world exhibitions or bespoke to order from European celebrities.
In 1899 Georg Haas was ennobled for his business contribution to the empire as “von Hasenfels” and in 1908 he was even promoted to baron, which was supported by the emperor Josef I and cost him 80 thousand Crowns. He bought Bítov for his son, named also Georg, who became the last private owner of the castle (there are still many tales told about him around the castle). The Haas family bought the castle by chance – they saw an advertisement in newspaper that the castle was for sale. Besides the western-Bohemian estates (chateau Mostov), and Bítov, the Haases also owned a famous department store – Haas House on the prestigious Kärntnerstrasse street in Vienna.
Georg Haas married Olga Danenberg, daughter of a coal-coke magnate from Prussian Konigsberg. Her sister married a Belgian aristocrat Evance II, Baron Copee, whose family eventually became the inheritors of the Haas family.
Son Jiří Julius Haas was to move to the castle as its new owner but the world war intervened and Jiří left to fight at the front. He returned in 1921, aged 35 and a bachelor. At that time he already had had many disputes with his mother who criticised his eccentricity, and the profligacy of an Austrian military officer. This is why his mother did not leave him any property and he only received a regular allowance. The local aristocrats held back from baron Jiří junior, for them he was too new to the aristocracy and moreover of Jewish origin. His behaviour could be characterised by the proverb “The more I know about people, the more I like animals”.
The baron was a keen anti-fascist and a fan of Masaryk. There is a story about the relationship between the first Czechoslovak president and the last owner of the castle, Baron Haas. After the war, his Belgian uncle Copée voted for the establishing of the Czechoslovak Republic in the United Nations, upon which Masaryk was very grateful to him. This came in handy to Haas. In 1918, when aristocratic seats were seized, Haas reminded the president of Copée’s support, as a result of which he lost almost nothing. The second time when the baron approached Masaryk was during the construction of Vranov dam, and the town of Bítov was planned to be flooded. The reason was that the local folk had decided to build New Bítov right in the middle of baron’s beautiful game forest. Haas offered different land instead, but Bítov’s citizens refused and Masaryk was of no help either. Despite that the baron kept Masaryk’s bust in his office during the Second World War. At this difficult time the baron was reportedly under the protection of his mother’s connections. His mother Olga was a typical German noblewoman, who loved hunting, and most of the hunting trophies to be seen on the second floor of the palace were shot by her. At the castle she lived in the rooms of the palace while Jiří lived in the southern wing. There are still some of the furniture pieces that she had in her bedroom and wardrobe.
The baron led a truly bohemian life, had about 80 girlfriends among the local people, and never married. Animals and women, these two passions resulted partly from the fact that the local aristocrats from old families did not want to have anything to do with him as he was a “new baron” and nouveau riche. He treated his girlfriends as a true cavalier. He kept a so-called Maitressen Konto – a list of mistresses and poorer girls that he would often visit. They are photographed with him riding in the forests and hunting. He left substantial amounts to them in his last will and some of the old ladies of Bítov regularly received small sums along with their pensions well until the 1990’s. He was very nice to the local folk, sometimes making fun of them but repaying it by invitations to feasts and valuable gifts. He was renowned for his generosity, especially in the local pubs where he often paid for everyone.
The Baron’s Zoo
Baron Jiří Haas jr. was a great lover of animals, a forerunner of contemporary nature conservationists. He hated killing and compared to his mother he was also against hunting. He was a sportsman, a keen horse rider, and an amateur zoologist. His nature was pedantic, eccentric, boisterous, and inconsistent, though generous and tender-hearted. He turned the castle into one of the biggest private zoological gardens in the country. On Saturdays and Sundays his zoo was always open to the public - for free or just for petty cash for the guide. In the large so-called Burggarten castle garden he built a large number of pens and aviaries, the remnants of which are still visible. He turned the theatre, built by the Dauns, into a huge dog kennel. The castle kitchen was cooking for the dogs and other animals. Terrariums and aquariums were installed in the castle interiors. Over the years he kept various species of animals, including an ant-eater and his famous lioness Mietzi-Mausi (1930-1945). He bought her as a cub from the Kludski circus and because he was a fan of Disney’s Mickey Mouse cartoons he named her Mietzi-Mausi. She was allowed to sit at the lunch table together with all the other diners. The lioness became the baron’s favourite companion and he even wished for her to be buried with him in the family tomb at the castle. The lioness died shortly after baron’s death in May 1945 but his wish was not fulfilled. The first version says that she was shot by a Russian soldiers for her skin; another theory says that the locals poisoned her with arsenic during the revolutionary turmoil.
The baron also had a passion for horses and kept them at the castle stables as well as at Vraneč farm above the castle. The contemporaries vividly remember the furious pony Mikolas, who used to run wild in the castle courtyard and cause all sorts of mischief. The pony was bought along with the lioness from the Kludski circus, the staff would give him leftover beer and he ran furiously, scaring everyone around. It was a young and restless pony and his life was wild and short. One day he injured himself by chance and had to be put down. His silhouette can be seen at the castle zoo collections – the baron had him stuffed and placed him on show. Some people say that he still haunts the castle. The curiosities of the collection include also the famous collection of stuffed and dressed cats and squirrels. The animals are arranged to mimic human situations and illustrate the period fashion of “animal travesty” (1920’s). The scenes include The Cunning Little Vixen of Leoš Janáček or Picture from the Insects’ Life of Karel Čapek. By the way, Karel Čapek visited Bítov in the summer of 1934. He arrived with landowner Pokorný in a shiny fast Praga car. Baron Haas presented him with a small writing set in dark marble. However, Čapek did not keep this set; giving it to a nine-year-old boy – the son of the headmaster at the nearby school in Lubnice with whom he made friends during his stay. He gave it to the boy on his departure – rushing to catch a train in Jemnice.
The Baron’s beloved dogs
The baron truly loved all the members of his dog pack. The castle gate was guarded by six Great Danes. The dogs lived in the large kennels in the southern wing of the castle and also had their own kitchen situated on the ground floor of the northern wing where the Dauns used to have their noble kitchen. The kennels contained up to 200 dogs of various breed,s including Saint Bernard’s (Barry) and Great Danes (Trevizo), boxers (Tryglav), Irish setters, dachshunds, and many more. The register of the dogs and all the costs related to their stay at the castle were meticulously kept in the accountancy books. A rarity is the stable pinscher breed, which is known from Hašek’s Švejk, and is now completely extinct. Naturally there were lots of mongrels. Pups were never sold; the baron would only give them to trustworthy people. There was a considerable team of trained professionals taking care of the dogs. They even had written daily schedules, which said that on Saturday the straw in all the pens was to be replaced and dogs were to be bathed using black soap. Some of the dogs even had their personal towels.
It was hard for the baron to separate from his beloved canine friends after their death and he had some of them stuffed. This is how the collection of 51 stuffed dogs was established – it is the largest collection of its kind in the world. Each of the dogs is stuffed in the position that it most enjoyed when alive. Other dogs were buried in several pet cemeteries that he set up at the castle. The larger one was situated in front of the main entrance gate in the castle ditch, while the smaller one was in the lower castle garden. The graves were marked by wooden crosses with metal plates bearing the dog’s name, and decorated with white pebbles and ornamental box hedges.
The castle after 1945
The baron survived the war times at the castle among his animals. On May 11, 1945, he was visited by a partisan troop accompanied by local representatives of the Communist Party telling him that he was to be moved to Austria along with other Germans. As a German he was supposed to walk all the way to Vienna. The old cavalier – aged 69 by then – could not imagine leaving his zoo, the castle, and his homeland. He dressed in a ceremonial imperial uniform and loaded a revolver. His loyal housekeeper tried to persuade him until late into the night, but the baron eventually locked himself in and fired two shots. The event was proclaimed an undoubted suicide. However, there are still some unclear points about his death. One of them is that the baron, who was right-handed, had two shots in the left temple. Another version says that he was murdered by a hit-man in order to leave the castle open for plundering. The truth will probably never come out. Anyway, the days and months that followed passed in a revolutionary air of anarchy and destruction – valuable pieces of the castle inventory were destroyed, stolen, or sold for pennies. The remaining animals from the zoo were starving, some of them were taken by the local farmers and others set free into the forests.
In fact there was no actual expropriation of Bítov after 1945 (due to the owner’s death). The state took over the castle anyway and opened it to the public in 1949. Compensation to the Copée family, the closest relatives, came in 1962-1963 when the Belgian Baron Evance III Copée, cousin of the baron of Bítov, received 1 million Czech Crowns exactly according to his last will.
In 1998 his grand nephew (Baron Evance IV Copée) had a memorial plaque set in the castle chapel to commemorate Baron Jiří and his family after more than 50 years. The white marble plaque marks the burial place of the last aristocratic owner of Bítov – Baron Jiří Julius Haas.
HISTORY OF PORCELAY HAAS AND CZJZEK
The origin of the porcelain factory in Horní Slavkov dates back to 1792. It was established after the idea of the master of the imperial silver and tin mines Johann Georg Paulus. After several unsuccessful years of porcelain production he and his two partners sold the company to the widow of the director of a porcelain factory in Gera – Luisa Sophie Greiner née Wolfart. Her business was not particularly successful either; change came with the arrival of her son-in-law Johann Georg Lippert, a surgeon from Slavkov, who took mine master Wenzel Haas as his partner. Upon a decree issued by count Kolowrat they received the right to produce porcelain. At that time they were employing 21 people. The factory was growing fast, establishing a warehouse in Vienna, participating in numerous exhibitions, and winning respectable trophies. After the death of Wenzel Haas his son Eusebius August Haas took over his father’s part. In 1836 the value of the factory was estimated at 200,000 florins, and there were 250 employees. After the death of G. Lippert his share was inherited by daughter Emilie and son-in-law Johann Baptist Czjzek from Vienna. After the death of A. Haas his son Georg Haas stepped in with B. Czjzek as partner. They bought the Portheiman porcelain factory in Chodov, employing 1,000 people in total. In 1908, on the day of the 60th jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph I. they were both ennobled to become Georg Baron Haas von Haasenfeld and J. B. Czjzek Adler von Smidaich. G. Haas already owned a small chateau in Mostov and bought also Bítov. The company, as the very first in our country, established a fund for the disabled, widows, orphans, and a pension fund. Georg Haas died in 1914 and his share went to his wife Olga. In 1923 the share of B. Czjzek went to his son Felix, who lived in Vienna. Between 1924 and 1929 the production reached 200 tons of porcelain per month. In 1930 the Haas and Czjzek joint-stock company was established with capital of 15 million crowns. However, between 1931 and 1935 the company lost many trading outlets due to the economic crisis and was close to bankruptcy. A mild improvement came before World War II. In 1937 the factory was struck by a fire. In 1941 the joint-stock company was taken over by a limited partnership corporation of G. Haas with two thirds of the share and Roman Czjzek with one third. The corporation employed 390 people. In 1942 Olga Haasová died and her son Georg Haas jr. committed suicide at Bítov in May 1945. On October 24, 1945, the company was nationalized in accordance with the Beneš Decrees. On July 1, 1988 the corporation in Horní Slavkov became part of the state enterprise Karlovarský porcelán. Currently the factory exports its produce to 20 countries of the world, mostly to the East
The Daun counts established a large forest park above the castle. There were numerous follies and views towards the castle and the confluence of the Dyje and Želetavka rivers. There was also a hunting trail leading all the way to the village of Chvaletice and on the other side it reached up to Dešov. The trail copied an ancient merchants’ route leading to Jihlava and Prague. The star-shaped layout of the forest park reaches from the old castle farmstead Vranč in the east to the Love Lake in the direction of Zblovice from where the hunting trail continues. The Dauns took great care of the plantings in the forest park, introducing various exotic shrubs and trees and created sophisticated compositions with the follies. Some of the follies deserve to be mentioned – for example the castle spring – the Burgquelle with the Lourdes Madonna on a trail close to the castle. The Love Lake with a romantic gazebo in the centre was a favourite destination of aristocratic walks. The lake was accessed via one of the oldest stone bridges in our country – the Straw Bridge. This bridge is of Romanesque origin and under the Dauns it was rebuilt with gothic-like broken arches inserted in between the Romanesque ones. The name of the bridge is derived from a legend that during wars it was covered with a straw roof that could be set on fire to prevent the advance of the enemy towards the castle. The bridge is currently the property of the Forests of the Czech Republic and was reconstructed in 2010. The Red Chapel on a trail to new Bítov stands in the former game park and is built of red brick in the New Gothic style. The interior is decorated with a beautiful relief depicting the Coronation of the Virgin Mary. Some follies did not survive, e.g. the Classical Rotunda folly, which stood as a landmark over the hillock in front of the castle and offered views of the castles of Cornštejn and Bítov. Harvest festivals were traditionally held at the plateau in front of the folly with the meeting of farmers from Bítov and surrounding villages, they would bring casks of beer from the castle brewery and wine from Skalice near Znojmo. A stone hunting folly used to stand in the Obora game reserve – nowadays there is just a torso of the New Gothic structure, originating probably in the second third of the 19th century, the period of Count Jindřich Daun. The folly was called Heinrichsruhe, which means Jindřich´s Rest.
Below the castle Cornštejn, which was established by Rajmund of Lichtenburg in the early 14th century, used to stand a pilgrimage church of the Holy Trinity. It was of medieval origin, later modified and rebuilt. Nowadays, unfortunately, it is lost beneath the waters of the Vranov reservoir. The foundations can be seen when the water level is very low.
The Ancestors´Memorial stands on the highest point of the forest park above the castle, commemorating times when the Dauns extended the tomb at the castle chapel and moved the relics of the previous castle owners to this place.
The castle gardens
There are two castle gardens. The large “Burggarten” is situated in the lower part of the castle where the original wooden castle used to stand. Under the Lichtenburgs - after the moving of the castle core to the east there used to be a farm supplying the castle with fresh meat and eggs. It was later rebuilt as an ornamental castle garden. The last owner Baron Jiří Haas turned this area into a private zoo with numerous aviaries and pens. Between 1998 and 2010 the zoo was revived and run by a private company, but from 2011 the zoo has been closed and animals were moved near the car park above the castle.
Barbican castle garden
This garden is situated behind the palace building in the upper part of the castle and is accessed via the bridge and one of the rectangular towers. Under the Dauns the garden was groomed in romantic style with rare exotic plantings. Only some yews and gingko trees have remained to this day. The garden is open only during various cultural and social events.