Castle Blatna

The Hildprandt family got the castle back from the Czech authorities after the collapse of the communist regime. One of the oldest and best preserved water castles in the country was in a relatively well-preserved state although some of its parts required urgent attention.

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Stephanos Germenis-Hildprandt, the owner of Castle Blatna
Artiom Ganin of @Castles_and_Palaces has sat down with Stephanos Germenis-Hildprandt, the owner of Castle Blatna in South Bohemia, the Czech Republic. The centuries old noble European family of Hildprandt, which stems from Tyrol got the castle back from the authorities after the fall of the communist regime when the restitution law was adopted. Under communists one part of the castle was used as a museum and it was in a good shape. The other part required urgent restoration as it was poorly maintained. The works were completed only in 2020. Stephanos says owning and running Castle Blatna - one of oldest and best preserved Czech water castles - is a huge responsibility and a matter of pride for him. He speaks of himself as of an interim caretaker whose task is to pass the property - which is a great mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Gothic styles - to the next generation in a well-preserved state. And he is happy that more technological and financial tools to achieve this goal are available nowadays.

RESTITUTION AND THE RETURN OF THE CASTLE TO THE FAMILY

Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Some 30 years ago, in 1990, Baroness Cornelia returned to Blatna with her daughter Jana and Jana's husband. How did it happen – you applied for the confiscated property to be returned or the new democratic Czech authorities got in touch with the family and just offered the castle to you?
Stephanos Germenis-Hildprandt (SGH): The process of restituting the property back to the Hildprandt family was undertaken by Baroness Cornelia along with her two daughters, Josefina and Jana. As the family lived abroad at the time (in Germany and in Greece), it was a combination of the two scenarios. We were informed about the process of restitution and then followed the relevant legal and administrative procedures in order to have the property returned. This was achieved relatively smoothly, for which we are grateful to the Ministry of Culture and the National Heritage Institute. Our cooperation with these two authorities has been close and very amicable ever since.
CnP: Vaclav Havel played a role in the process, didn't he? Did he visit the castle as a guest afterwards?
SGH: Vaclav Havel was a leading personality behind the political changes in November 1989. After the Velvet Revolution he became the last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic. In the early 1990s the Czech government undertook the process of restitution which allowed for the returning of property to their original owners. Vaclav Havel never visited Castle Blatna.
CnP: You have Tyrolean roots and stem from the Upper-Austrian township of Ottenhausen. The first family members received their title of nobility from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the 16th century. Please tell me about the past and the present of your family.
SGH: The family's origins indeed stem from Tyrol in Austria, with additional roots from throughout Central Europe: Northern Italy, Switzerland, Bohemia, Germany to name a few. Some of the noble and otherwise notable family names that we are directly related to include Haugwitz, Thun, Grégr, Veverka, and others. Following its restitution, Castle Blatna was managed by Cornelia's second daughter Jana and Jana's husband Spyridon (my parents), a Greek architect. Following the passing of both Cornelia and Spyridon in 2014, ownership and management of the castle passed on to me, Stephanos. I was born and brought up in Greece and the UK, and have a background in finance. Since taking over management, the aim has been to further develop the castle estate in a sustainable and modern way, as well as project its cultural significance both locally and internationally.
CnP: What was the state of the castle when the family got it back?
SGH: As parts of the castle were used as a museum during the Communist period, these were relatively well maintained and did not require any immediate repair works. However, almost half of the castle had either not been actively used or simply not maintained, and was therefore in desperate need of restoration. The family has been working hard to do so ever since. Restoration of the last part of the facade, facing the courtyard, was finally completed in 2020.
The remains of a lady were indeed found within the tower walls during an archaeological research
CnP: How did it feel to be finally back home?
SGH: Relief, vindication, humility, excitement, joy. But mostly, a deep sense of responsibility in once again taking up the role of caretakers of a place that is meant to be a centre for culture and heritage, as well as a point of reference in general for the local community and beyond.
CnP: Now, what is in the name? Why is the castle called Blatna?
SGH: The name derives from the word "blata" that means mud or swamp, as the original structure was built within an area of swamp.

CnP: What was in the castle during WWII?
SGH: The Hildprandt family resided in the castle throughout the war-time years, while providing employment to and supporting the local community.
CnP: What was the biggest challenge during the restoration works?
SGH: The biggest challenge from a restoration and repair work perspective has been and continues to be modernising the castle's sewerage and utilities network. As it was built - for defensive purposes obviously - on a piece of rock surrounded by water, it was since the beginning meant to be cut off from the outside world. Unsurprisingly this is a common issue with old buildings such as this. Our aim has been to bring to the castle modern infrastructure and facilities, always with care and respect towards its architecture and DNA, and in order to better serve and protect its historical identity in the future.

CnP: Did the authorities help you in a way?
SGH: Yes, we receive support and guidance from the Ministry of Culture, for which we are very grateful.

BLATNA IS ROMANESQUE, GOTHIC, RENAISSANCE, BAROQUE AND WHAT NOT

CnP: The castle is a great mix of all styles - Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque… Then after 1845 it acquired the present-day Neo-Gothic looks. Are there any traces of the past epochs?
SGH: The oldest period of the castle's history dates back to the middle of the 13th century when the Romanesque chapel was built, the foundations of which are still visible in the castle courtyard. The gothic tower is the dominant feature of the castle to this date and its Green Chamber which used to serve as a work room of Jaroslav Lev of Rožmitál is truly unique. The walls of the room are decorated with a series of magnificent original frescoes. Between 1523 and 1530, the renowned German architect Benedikt Ried of Piesting redesigned Blatna into an early Renaissance-style palace with distinct triangular orioles.The Romantic-style Neo-Gothic renovations in 1855 through 1856 gave the castle complex its current look.
CnP: What do you normally show to visitors on a guided tour around the castle?
SGH: The castle interior, which includes the family's original furniture, as well as exhibits that are relevant to the region's history as a whole. Guided tours also include rooms and areas where the continent's history was made, such as the 16th century Loggia from where Franz Ferdinand d'Este would shoot fallow deer in the park.
CnP: What's your most favorite part of the castle and why?
SGH: The 16th century Loggia, because of its views to the park, especially at sunset.

CnP: What's your strongest emotion linked with the castle?
SGH: Probably a sense of responsibility. Responsibility to safekeep the castle and pass it on the next generation in a better condition than that in which I received it.
CnP: Upon your return the family first resided in the castle but later moved to a smaller house in the park – why?
SGH: The Park Residence was at the time unfit for living as it was in a terrible state. But once restored, the family moved there as living in the castle proved to be very impractical and quite uncomfortable.
CnP: There are so many deer in the park and most visitors are so happy to interact with them? Do you breed deer?
SGH: My forefathers introduced the herd of fallow deer, as well as fenced the park. They have been self-sustainable and flourishing ever since. We do not, however, breed them commercially.
CnP: Tell me about the park with its atmospheric pond, it look so mysterious especially when it is foggy and in winter!
SGH: The English park covers an area of approximately 42 hectares, and was created by Franz Hildprandt in the 19th century. It not only includes a herd of fallow deer but also a muster of peacocks, both of which are very popular attractions among the many thousands of visitors that the park receives every year.
CnP: Such a scenic castle should definitely have a ghost or two! Do you have them?
SGH: Since the Middle Ages the story about the Grey Lady has been told. As mentioned above, the castle was built within an area of swamp which was also the reason why building the tower was not easy as the building material would not stick together. Legend has it that, following many unsuccessful attempts to build the structure, the builders were advised by a witch to wall an innocent young lady into the structure. They did so and the tower was then built within a year. Since then, the legend continues, a lady clad in grey roams the castle and seeing her bodes ill. You may or may not believe this legend, however, the remains of a lady were indeed found within the tower walls during an archaeological research in the 1970s.
CnP: I've read that there's a legend saying the Knights Templars founded the castle and hid their treasures somewhere inside the walls – what do you think of it?
SGH: Unfortunately that is nothing but a rumour :)

CnP: During the Napoleonic Wars the park project gave work to the residents of Blatna. How do you interact with locals now – do you employ people from the neighborhood?
SGH: The castle estate employs up to some 60-70 people during peak summer months. The overwhelming majority of our employees are local. The materials, goods and services that we procure are mostly local. Everyone, whether local or not, can enjoy a stroll in the park, have a cup of coffee at our café, join a tour through our interiors, and have a cultural experience through our events. The castle was meant to be a financial and cultural centre for the community when it was built. There is no reason why this cannot continue to be so now and into the future.
CnP: Tell me a little known fact from the rich history of the castle – it saw so many turbulent periods in the past!
SGH: At the end of WWII, General Patton of the US Army along with his retinue visited the castle whilst in the region and were guests of the family, albeit briefly.
We are not owners of such properties, but rather interim caretakers until the next generation takes over
CnP: What are your plans for the future? Are you planning to set up a hotel at the castle?
SGH: Once the castle's utilities infrastructure project is complete, the next step is to be able to offer accommodation within the castle itself. At the same time, we aim to continue hosting more and larger cultural events, as well continue improving the visitor experience overall.
CnP: The castle can be a venue for various events like weddings, photo shoots, family outings etc – is it difficult to run it?
SGH: These can be cumbersome and complicated operations indeed, but luckily our team is both enthusiastic and extremely capable in managing these flawlessly.
CnP: What would you tell those who wish to buy a dilapidated castle to restore it either for themselves or to transform it into a hotel?
SGH: These buildings often carry the history and heritage of many centuries within their walls, and therefore merit our respect. We are not owners of such properties, but rather interim caretakers until the next generation takes over. We have more technological and financial tools available to us today to purchase, restore and develop a historic house or castle than ever before. Never before was the objective to balance history, culture and heritage, with sustainability, successful entrepreneurship and eco-friendliness this possible.

SGH: Be openminded, do not be restricted by dogma, but also know what you are getting yourself into. Make sure you enjoy what you do but at the same time remain ever respectful of what this old set of walls represents in terms of culture and heritage.
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Stephanos Germenis-Hildprandt, the owner of Castle Blatna in the Czech Republic!

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Photo credits: Castle Blatna, @jakubloula

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