Monday, February 15, 2016

on tepidariums, prison towers, and catacombs

View of Zdikov from our room
For my birthday, I wanted to splurge a bit for my weekend getaway with my wife. Of course, splurging in the Czech Republic doesn’t mean much – 70 bucks gets you a full service castle retreat, complete with swimming pool and sauna. Since we were planning on skiing that day, the sauna would have been a great addition, a nice place to cozy up for some time and sweat out all the aches and pains built up for a day on the slopes. Given the weather though, there were no aches and pains since there was no snow on the slopes. But saunas are always nice anyway, so why the heck not? 

Upon finding a tepidarium there, I immediately went for the tepidarium. I, like probably most people reading here, didn't know what the heck a tepidarium was, hence my marvel and eagerness to check it out. A tepidarium was an old Roman hobby, a place in the bathhouse that was heated up by its proximity to the boilers for the main baths. Men would go down and have some bonding time, scraping each others dirt off their backs with sharp rocks and talk about man stuff like who got murdered near the Forum and what barbarians are going to attempt an invasion this time. You know, man stuff. The tepidarium at the schlosshotel, located in what once was the carriage house, is a two seated place full of Roman mosaic tile. You get to sit and sweat for an hour, where you're pretty happy to finally leave that weird form of relaxation torture therapy and go grab a could drink.
The sitting room in Zdikov
The Schlosshotel Zdikov Zamek is located about a 10-minute drive from Kasperske Hory, where there’s a nice collection of bunny hills for beginners to ski and learn on. It’s also just on the edge of the foothills of the Alps, next to the scenic Sumava Forest National Park - great hiking for anyone so inclined during the summer. Zdikov itself, the village where the schlosshotel was located, seemed to have existed solely for the purpose of supporting the castle and hasn’t grown much since the castle’s construction in 1395 – though there is now a bowling alley, according to the large sign across the street. The Schlosshotel, originally a castle of a local lord, was converted into a school after the revolution and remained so until the fall of the Communist regime, when it was privatized in the 90s and converted into a hotel, which is now a member of the Schlosshotels & Herrenhauser group. Not only does it have fully modernized and well-sized rooms, but also a medieval sitting room and an excellent restaurant decorated with hunting trophies and a crackling fire.

Our trek would continue the following day. Prague’s beauty has many rivals throughout the Czech countryside, and anyone who would praise Bavaria for their villages would do well to rent a car and take some trips throughout the Czech countryside, which is littered with beautiful villages and towns, one after the other, until the traveler is quite confused on how so many amazing little places can exist.
the Black Tower and Jesuit church of Klatovy
The next town we hit was Klatovy. Klatovy was founded in 1260 by the Iron and Golden King, Ottokar II of Bohemia. The younger son of the Bohemian King, Ottokar was quite into drinking and hunting and was living quite the lavish and comfortable life that only a nobleman could live in those days. However, he had to unhand the wenches and put down his drinking vessels when his older brother unfortunately died, making him the unhappy heir. He was suddenly thrust into responsibility, trying to repair the kingdom from past Mongol raids, when the noblemen convinced him to lead a rebellion against his father, the King. This led him to being imprisoned and excommunicated, a double whammy of medieval whooping. After some meditation while in prison, he decided to make up with his father, who later restored his rights of inheritance.

As King, Ottakar II was the second most powerful Czech to rule within the Holy Roman Empire, with lands stretching all the way to Trieste on the Adriatic coast. As he couldn’t quite win the election to the highest seat - as Charles IV did - he slipped historically and couldn’t quite hold it up to the other, much more well-known name. He did at least get enough fame to make it to a place in Purgatory in Dante’s Divine Comedy, so that’s something.
The old Klatovy wall and a bastion
Klatovy has a fairly large, preserved old town, with pieces of the town wall still extant. As it was placed to defend a primary trade route in the region, it quickly became a center of wealth and power and was one of the richest towns in Bohemia by the 16th century. However, like most things in Europe that was big back then, it came to an end with the 30 Years War, which was a kind of medieval World War II, changing the face of Europe and the style of diplomacy and warfare forever. Around the town square, there are numerous cafes, the Black Tower – a prison tower built in 1555 – and a huge Jesuit church with catacombs underneath. Naturally, we decided to tour the catacombs. 

Besides getting to see some 30 well-preserved bodies that once walked around some 400 years ago, you also get a great deal of reading about the history of the Jesuits and general history about the area. Even more interesting was the details on the construction of the catacombs and how the ventilation was created to keep the atmosphere and temperature at a good level for the proper and natural mummification of the bodies whose dark grinning leathery faces lie staring at you. To think of the technology they had back then, what marvels people developed before the advent of electricity. Now all of our building structures tend to be monolithic wastes of resources, sucking in millions of dollars on air-conditioning systems that were designed to be mostly free to maintain hundreds of years ago. Electricity has made us lazy indeed.

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