It is not easy to get to Kunín Chateau, located in the Moravia-Silesia region of north Moravia, without a car. From Prague, it is possible to take the train to the central Moravian city of Olomouc, travel two bus stops to the bus station and go by bus to Nový Jičín, a town renowned for its hat-making, situated only 15 minutes away from the village of Kunín with its 1,800 inhabitants. While the location may be remote, it is well worth the trip to see this charming gem with such historical significance.
To say that the history of the chateau is intriguing is quite an understatement. This Baroque chateau was transformed from a fortress into a country residence from 1726 to 1734 when it belonged to Princess Marie Eleonora of Lichtenstein and her husband Count Friedrich August of Harrach.
The chateau flourished under the guidance of Countess Marie Walburg of Waldburg-Zeil, who lived from 1762 to 1828. She even founded a renowned educational center on the premises. Her husband, Klement Alois, tried flying in a hot-air balloon during 1786 but wound up causing a fire that damaged buildings near the chateau.
Though she was responsible for making the chateau exceptional, Countess Marie’s personal life was a disaster. Three of her children died when she was very young, her marriage fell to pieces and her last son, Karel, was taken away by his father to Swabia, where he died from a horse accident at the age of 18.
In 1870 the chateau became the property of the Furstenberg family, who used it as a summer seat. It was sold again, this time in 1895, to Knight Victor von Bauer and his wife Marietta Chlumecká-Bauer. Because their son, Helmut Victor, joined the Nazi Luftwaffe during World War II, the chateau was confiscated, according to the Beneš’ decrees, after the war, and ownership was transferred to the state.
A tragic chapter in the chateau’s history was yet to come. At the end of World War II, the chateau was in decrepit condition, and it only deteriorated more during the 1950s. It did not help that, right after World War II, Soviet soldiers rode horses up the Baroque main staircase built in 1730 and thrust their bayonets into paintings. They threw furniture out the windows and burned it. The soldiers also used precious library books as toilet paper. Later, the ceiling collapsed in the room where the damaged goods had been gathered.
During the Communist regime, the chateau served as a residential building on a farm and a storage facility for medicines, among other uses. It became the property of Kunín village in 1999, and reconstruction took place from 2000 to 2003. The original furniture and objects were returned to the chateau, although Kunín did not get back its library books until 2006, 56 years after they had been taken away.
The Painting Gallery is impressive with its 31 portraits painted in 1775. Take, for example, the portrait of Marie Eleonora of Lichtenstein in a white-and-gold dress. Notice the delicate white lace on a sleeve. The painting above the piano depicts Earl František Xavier of Harrach and Rohrau; he had served as a general in the Habsburg army during Empress Maria Theresa’s reign. Another space features a grandfather clock, a red Oriental tapestry and a bed with an exquisitely carved frame.
On the first floor the space dedicated to the chateau school that Countess Marie Walburg had run from 1792 to 1814 is remarkable. Students of all social classes, aged from five to 15, had attended school here, studying subjects such as physics, natural sciences, geography, history, music, German and French. Germans and Czechs had studied together as had Catholics and Jews. A uniform of a female student, comprised of a dress with a pleated, green skirt with gold decoration and a blue top, is on display.
The school day lasted from 5 am to 7 pm on Mondays through Saturdays, with only a two-hour break from class time and studying. Renowned Czech historian František Palacký attended this school from 1807 to 1809 and later recalled his time here fondly.
The Billiards Room is, of course, dominated by a pool table, but it also has two intriguing tapestries spread over it. The furnishings in the space are modern, hailing from the 1920s and 1930s. A blue tapestry shows off dragons or sea creatures. A pleasing landscape painting hangs on one wall, and a desk with intarsia also makes up the space.
A gold-framed portrait of Dr. Victor von Bauer depicts the former chateau owner as very serious, posing with his hands on the arm of the chair, a curtain in the background along with a chateau and trees. He died from cancer at Kunín Chateau in 1939. Another portrait showed his second son, Helmut Victor, who sported a small moustache and had served with the Nazis during World War II.
On the pool table two replica portraits of Dr. Bauer are displayed – one by Oscar Kokoschka and another by Egon Schiele. The original by Kokoschka is located at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna while the original by Schiele can be seen in New York City.
The Great Hall is dominated by huge portraits, including one rendition of Cardinal Saint Karel Boromejský, canonized in 1610. While the space was used for dances and social events centuries ago, it is now popular for wedding ceremonies. The Big Dining Room boasts exquisite white porcelain with floral designs. The two portraits on the wall show Count František Harrach and Countess Marie Walburg, who had dedicated so much of her time to improving the chateau.
The chapel had been shut down when the church was built during 1810-1812. Books from the 15th and 16th centuries are now on display here. The volumes are written mostly in Latin and German. A grey Empire style wall painting shows grey crosses, all hand-painted.
The Pompeii Room is another big treat. Inspired by the motif of an ancient villa, it is also decorated in Empire style with exquisite wall paintings of brown curtains and jugs with pottery on shelves adorned with light blue ribbons. While the wall painting is the most impressive aspect of the space, the objects in it do not disappoint. A golden clock with an angel seated on a black orb stands out. A portrait of Countess Marie adorns the space that she had used as a tea room. The Yellow Room is just that – a space where the walls have been painted a sunny, vibrant yellow.
The attic shows off the only Baroque chimney system in Central Europe, designed in 1734 with three chimneys visible. Because storks have settled on the chimneys since 2001, this species has become a symbol for the chateau.
While exploring the sights of north Moravia, be sure to make a stop at this architectural jewel. The colorful lives of the chateau’s former inhabitants come alive thanks to the exhibits and the guides‘ presentations. Kunín is not just another picturesque chateau. Its past – both the thriving days and the tragic times – give it a unique character, allowing the visitors to feel the history during the tour. The objects throughout are remarkable, the tales from days long gone astounding.