Saturday, August 29, 2015

Luxarazzi 101: Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape

This one, I really want to visit sometime (preferably soon). The Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape is located in the Czech Republic's Southern Moravia not too far from the borders to both Slovakia and Austria. The massively large landscape park was created and once owned by the Princely Family of Liechtenstein and centres around the two castles (and towns) of Lednice and Valtice, or Eisgrub and Feldsberg in German. Fun fact: The Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape is over 283 square kilometres large and thus almost twice as big as the Principality of Liechtenstein. (You might recall that the family for many years did not have close ties to the country that bore their name as it was legal technicality for them to be awarded certain benefits within the Holy Roman Empire.)

The Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape
The Princely Family used to own large estates all throughout the Habsburg empire. Lednice and Valtice, however, weren't just another two country estates, they were the family's main residences. After first settling in the area in 1249, the family used to following 700 or so years landscaping and building it into a unique cultural landscape, maybe even the world's biggest park often nicknamed "The Garden of Europe".

In 1249, King Wenzeslaus of Bohemia  gave Lednice as a fiefdom to Heinrich of Liechtenstein. Through clever marriage politics and being awarded with other fiefs, the family enhanced their properties in the area. Many, many years later, in 1608, the family made nearby Valtice their primary home with Lednice becoming the summer residence. (We'll have a closer look at both of these castles in future editions of Luxarazzi 101. For now, let's have a closer look at what they created around Valtice and Lednice.)

Photo: Czech Tourism
The realisation of what today is known as the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape began in the 17th century with the creation of avenues connecting Valtice with other parts of the estate. More avenues and paths were created during the 18th century, providing vistas and rides in accordance with the ideas of Renaissance style. The early years of the 19th century saw the the transformation of the park into the English concept of a designed park under Prince Johann I. The design of the park was strongly influenced by the work of Lancelot Brown at Stowe and elsewhere in England. 

Enormous landscaping projects were undertaken under the supervision of Johann's estate manager. To avoid the yearly flooding of the park by the Thaya river, a large lake - up to two and a half metre deep with islands and such was - created. The soil was used to raise the level of the Lednice Park by another one and a half metres. Smaller parks in English landscape design, the so-called Englische Anlagen, were created around the three large ponds. 

Photo: Czech Tourism
A number of romantic elements were also introduced into the landscape, the work of the architects joseph Hardtmuth, Josef Kornhausel, and Franz Engel. All over the park, smaller buildings and status are scattered. There are chapels, hunting lodges, temples, a minarett, a colonnade and more. The park features both native and exotic plants. Both Prince Johann I and his brother Prince Alois I had seeds from foreign places, both Europe as well as North America, brought to the area where they were grown in a arboretum. Some 32,000 new plants were thus introduced to the area. Their successors Alois II and Johann II continued with the plant breeding. By 1903, Lednice housed the biggest orchid and cycads in all of Europe.

The Liechtenstein family remained the owners of Lednice and Valtice until the end of World War II, when the estates were confiscated by the Czechoslovak state based on the Beneš decrees and all Liechtensteiners - not just the Princely Family - being considered German. After the fall of the Iron Curtain,the family made renewed legal attempts at restitution, which have all been turned down by the current owner of the property, the Czech state. Only in 2009, the Czech Republic and the Principality took up diplomatic relations again after more than 60 years due to expropriation of all Liechtenstein nationals after World War II. Already in 1996, the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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