Why Bezděz Castle? Because it is not so famous as Karlstein, Konopiště, or Křivoklát, and it is closed from the first of November. We didn’t want to find a crowd of tourists there. We’d like to feel this place without witnesses in November.
Bezděz castle is located on a hill with a small village at the foot. Citizens of that village are normal enough people, so they want to make some money doing nothing. With that goal in mind they installed on every corner of their village the signs “Stopping and parking is forbidden” and a big billboard at the entrance informing every tourist that there is not one free parking place in Bezděz Hrad, but only paid ones. OK, no problem. We are ready to help the local people to live better.
We entered the village and found the pay-parking place. It had no barriers, guards, or cars. It was a simple side road with a sign saying “Please, call Zdeňka at this number xxxxxx to park here.” We must call Zdeňka to raise her from her couch to come here to take her money. Ha-ha. We did not call that respected lady. We just parked our car and went to explore the castle. If Zdeňka wants her money she will wait for our return.
When you leave a car near the foot of the hill you will find a steep three-kilometer path up the hill. It will take about forty minutes to reach the castle. Along the way, you will not find any open café, toilet, or hotels. All is closed.
We passed the first gates, then the second ones, moving along the so-called “cross way” with plenty of small chapels. At last, the third gates. I can’t imagine how carriages can drive along this stony road? On the other hand, the noble ladies of the 13th century could not climb the hill on foot.
As I said, the Bezděz castle is closed from November 1st till April 1st so we took some photos and started to realize the second part of our plan. Since we knew from the Internet that the best views of the Bezděz castle open from the neighboring hill, we went down from castle’s hill to find the second one. On the way down, I saw the very nice and natural ceramic statue of a doe on the hillside. “What a nice idea to set the statues of animals in the forest. The Czechs are very creative people,” I thought. Then the “statue” turned her head and galloped up the hill.
It was a real wild doe. Later I found out that there is National Park here with many animals. Moreover, some local plants included in the Red Book.
I must say that all the valleys and hills here are covered with wonderful forest. When we went down from the castle’s hill we did not see the neighboring hill; we just knew it was somewhere here. Bravely, we headed into the forest. Long ago, my father taught me to make some signs in the unknown forest: unusually folded sticks, strangely stacked stones, something hanging on a tree—anything that would help to find the way back.
After several steps in such a thick forest I understood it’s time to use that advice. After all, no one knew we had gone to the forest, and I had serious doubts that Zdeňka would come looking for us after several hours of waiting near our car.
We calculated the direction to the second hill, and Irina bravely went ahead. I followed her, leaving behind me the strange constructions of sticks, stones, and foliage.
“Dear, look up. There are some ruins on the top of this hill.”
“Probably, these are the remnants of some fortress which defended the Bezděz located on the first hill.”
In half an hour, after the conquest of a very steep slope, we realized that we had found the same Bezděz castle, but had come from another side of the hill. We had no compass, astrolabe, or GPS. We had only Irina with her unmistakable sense of direction.
“Dear, now we must turn around, go down the hill, and climb to another hill, which must be somewhere here,” was her next plan.
Another half an hour passed and we found the second hill, climbed it, and enjoyed the beautiful view of the Bezděz castle, neighboring valleys, and the artificial Mácha’s Lake made by Emperor Charles IV, King of Bohemia, in 1367.
The way back was easy. I had built so many strange constructions that the forest began to resemble an exhibition of modern art. It was impossible not to return to the village for our car and to meet an infuriated Zdeňka waiting for her money. But Zdeňka had not come. We jumped into our white Reno Clio and left.
You don’t know where Bohemia is?
That was the name of Czechia in the Middle Ages. Today, the biggest part of Czech Republic is called by its historical name, Bohemia.
If you will look on the map of Bohemia you see it shares a border with Germany on the west, Poland on the north, Austria on the south, and Moravia and Silesia on the east. The last two regions are part of the Czech Republic today.
To be correct, its name is Hrad Bezděz, and in the Middle Ages, it was a big fortified city containing the residence of Bohemian kings.
Near the year 1264, the king of Bohemia, Přemysl Otakar II started to build a Gothic castle on the top of the hill. This place could have become the capital of Bohemia instead of Prague; however, the king died in battle on the Moravian fields in 1278, and did not see the completion of his new palace. After his death, Bezděz Castle turned into a prison for his wife, Queen Kunhuta (Kunigunda) and the king’s small son, Vaclav II.
After several years, both prisoners escaped from the castle with the help of servants; however, the boy returned and took back the crown of his father. Vaclav II did not start a war. Instead, he bought Bezděz and lived in it until his death. Then, his son lived here and later King Charles IV who ordered an enormous pond dug near the castle. Today it is Mácha’s Lake.
Probably, Bezděz Castle is the only Czech castle of the 13th century that preserved its original look: a Gothic chapel on the top of the hill, the part of the palace with the main hall, and two towers thirty and forty meters high. From them, in good weather, you can see one-fourth of modern Czechia, including Mácha’s Lake.
The fortress is full of mysteries and legends. Some of them are very old, other were invented by guides. According to the legends, evil spirits like Bohemia very much and prefer to live here. Devil’s Tower has stood near the third gates about 700 years, guarding the entrance to Bezděz Castle. One legend says evil spirits sleep inside. Sometimes, devils awake and start to entice travelers into the traps, dropping coins on the stone road. You should not leave these coins in your pockets. Bring them into the church’s cashbox, otherwise devils will take you to hell.
Bezděz Castle has had many owners during its long history. At first, it was the king’s property, then King Vaclav IV gave the castle to his cousin Prokop Margrave of Moravia for help in the fight against the unruly nobles. In times of the Hussite Wars the castle was partially destroyed and stayed in ruins until the 17th century, when its next owner, Albrecht of Wallenstein, put a lot of effort and money into reconstruction. Later, he resolved to open the Augustine monastery there.
However, this plan was not realized, because Wallenstein was killed in 1634. After thirty years, in 1637, Bezděz Castle became a monastery, but Benedictine. From the Spanish monastery Montserrat, monks brought here the solemnly-consecrated-in-Rome copy of Black Madonna.
Bezděz became the place of pilgrimage. About 40,000 believers were visiting the monastery every year. The copy of Madonna from Montserrat was only one of many unique and precious items collected by monks. In 1778, the Prussian army robbed the monastery, and a few years later the abode was closed as were all the monasteries in Bohemia by order of King Joseph II. The monks left Bezděz, this time forever.
For a long time this Bohemian castle was abandoned or used by hermits or bandits, which could have been the source of many legends about devilry supposedly living in the castle.
However, Bezděz Castle has not disappeared from the map of Bohemia. In 1932, one of the descendents of the former owners together with the Club of Czech Tourists bought it for the symbolic sum of 2,000 crowns.
Today, the castle is a state property. There is only one employee. He is a resident of the village located at the foot of the hill. It is hard for him to manage the castle in high tourist season from April till October, so the state employs several guides.