Medieval melodrama

The Prague Post

History is on the march this month throughout the Czech Republic

Central Europe has seen its fair share of history: famous kings and queens, decisive battles, influential artists and musicians. And people in the Czech Republic love to re-create historic events in a variety of festivals held across the country every summer. Pick your favorite century, and chances are you can take an enjoyable day trip there this month.

“The themes of these festivals are quite different,” says Markéta Chaloupková, spokeswoman for CzechTourism. “A visit of the most important person in Czech history, Charles IV; a return to the times of the Renaissance in Telc; or the memory of an important person, like Queen Eliška in Hradec Králové, or Napoleon.”

It’s been a couple hundred years since Napoleon stopped by for a visit, but the residents of Slavkov u Brna still recreate the famous 1805 Battle of Austerlitz during Napoleonic Days (Aug. 11 and 12).

“The main reason [for the festival] is the commemoration of Napoleon’s birthday,” says Jakub Samek, general secretary of Project Austerlitz. “The first Napoleonic Days were organized back in 1930, and there is a strong Napoleonic tradition in the region; its history is an important part of the culture.”

The size of the event suggests as much.

“Visitors will see about 200 re-enactors in Napoleonic uniforms drilling, maneuvering, marching, fighting or parading in the very attractive and historical locations of Austerlitz,” Samek says.

Along with sparring soldiers, there will be costumed guides offering tours of the town’s castle and a fair in the courtyard. Napoleon himself is expected to make an appearance. And, if that’s not enough, an international wine contest, Grand Prix Austerlitz, with a wine exposition and tasting is also on the schedule.

Slavkov Castle is a lovely Baroque chateau, mainly built by Italians. Chaloupková says this “monumental residence” has been growing in popularity with visitors every year. It houses a collection of paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries as well as a historical museum. The permanent exhibit is, not surprisingly, on the Battle of Austerlitz.

“Slavkov u Brna celebrates its 770th anniversary this year, and Napoleonic Days will be one of the important contributions to this anniversary,” Samek says. “It’s a beautiful small Moravian town with a very nice center and a castle with a charming atmosphere.”

Remembering royalty

Going back a little further to the high Middle Ages will take you to the south Bohemian town of Telc, which re-creates the visit of Emperor Sigmund of Luxembourg (Aug. 17 and 18). The festivities will begin Friday with a historical fair featuring mummers, magicians and a music show. That evening, the royal guest will appear with his knightly entourage, bearing torches and drums. A Hussite army parade will be Saturday’s highlight, with a fencing show and games for young and old alike.

Telc’s historical center is a UNESCO-listed World Cultural Heritage site. Surrounded by rivers and ponds, it’s located in a lovely part of south Bohemia. The castle dates to the 14th century and the historic center is lined with a string of picturesque facades featuring a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Charles IV will be honored this year on Emperor’s Day (Aug. 25) in Kadan, a town in northwest Bohemia, near the German border. Kadan traces its most prosperous days to the reign of Charles IV, and the fact he visited the town twice leads its good citizens to honor the former Emperor each year.

Jugglers, music, street theater and craftsmen take over Kadaň’s historic center, while medieval taverns take care of more pressing needs. Pomp and circumstance overrule the commoners in the evening, with the arrival of Charles IV and his minions. A royal audience is held in his honor along with knightly tournaments and courtly dances. Executions are also promised, so be sure to watch your step.

Kadan ends the day with a fireworks display, so plan on staying till the end of this one.

Fit for a queen

Townsfolk in Hradec Králové will be going back to the 14th century for the Queen Eliška Festival (Aug. 31 and Sept. 1). Queen Eliška Rejeka, married to both Wenceslas II and Rudolph I, retired to Hradec Králové after her second husband’s death.

Educational programs on the medieval lifestyle are emphasized at this festival, but you’ll still have some fun watching the horseback jousting tournaments, period parades and a fair. Games, jugglers, music and dance should engage all the senses, along with some down-home medieval cooking. You can also enjoy street theater, knights showing off their sword-fighting skills and a market with period crafts. Plus, there will be special medieval competitions for the kids.

Hradec Králové is one of the larger Czech cities, with a population of approximately 95,000. It dates to the mid-1200s, and still offers a medieval flavor amid 20th-century growth.

“The very heart of the center combines Gothic style with Renaissance as well as Baroque with modern architecture,” Chaloupková says. “It’s great scenery for a historic festival celebrating a Czech queen.”

Besides the festival, plan on visiting the town’s White Tower, with the second-biggest bell in Bohemia. The city also has an aquarium, botanical garden, modern art gallery and observatory and planetarium.

“Most Czech towns have a long and rich history that deserves to be remembered,” Chaloupková says. “Their inhabitants are interested in their local history, and these festivals are entertaining for the whole family. Everybody who loves historical parades, music, medieval fairs or Bohemian cuisine is welcome.”