Castle TourTracing the Aristocrats
[27km/651m; MTB, Trek]
The tour of castles leads us back to the 16th century, when aristocratic families fiercely competed for the power over the Krkonose Mountains and its foothills. At this time the local renaissance castles were built.
In the middle of the 16th century the King appointed the young Christoph von Gendorf from Carinthia/Austria as an adviser for mining and coinage. He quickly noticed the wealth of mining resources in the Krkonose Mountains and in 1533 acquired the manor of Vrchlabi and later on the manors of Trutnov and Zacler in the eastern Krkonose Mountains. In Vrchlabi the established Czechia’s largest ironworks. One of his most successful products were scythes, that were sold even beyond the country’s borders. He turned the village of Vrchlabi into a town and in 1546 built one of the first renaissance castles in Czechia.
Still it wasn’t easy for him being a foreigner in Czechia. The Wallenstein family, his neighbours to the south and west (with the manors Hostinne and Stepanice), felt threatened by his activities and his expansion. Wherever possible, they tried to cause him harm: they poached, stole his cattle stealing, looted his mines, they even built dams on the Elbe river to deprive him of the water he needed for the rafting of timber. Sometimes there were even armed interventions. All that’s left of the Stepanice castle are some foundation walls in the woods. In the second half of the 16th century the land was divided between Horni Branna, where Zdenek von Wallenstein built his castle, and Jillemnice where Krinecti von Ronov built his.
The Krkonose Mountains had seen many rulers until the Emperor confiscated all the land when the Thirty Years‘ War started. After that the Emperor’s General Albrecht von Wallenstein took over the land. The appendant ironworks, once built by von Gedorf, now had to manufacture arms and especially in Vrchlabi he produced cannonballs and muskets to use in his wars. At this time the Krkonose Mountains had an exceptional position in war-stricken Europe and were referred to as the “terra felix”, the fortunate land where peace prevailed. After Wallenstein’s assassination his assets were spread among the Emperors followers and the era of the potent Czech dynasties came to an end.
Today, the castles of Vrchlabi and Horni Branna are the domiciles of the city councils. A tiled stove in renaissance style is being preserved in the Vrchlabi castle. The castle of Horni Branna houses a Comenius-Museum and in the castle of Jilemnice you can visit the museum of local ski sport.