It may come as a surprise to many that the beginning of World War I has roots in Czech Republic, and only about 40 kilometers from Prague. Franz Ferdinand, the archduke and heir presumptive of Austria Hungary, turned a quiet, remote hunting lodge into his family’s full-time residence; he and his wife, (along with their three children) lived at Konopiště until that fateful day in 1914 that ignited World War I.
Franz Ferdinand’s family, the Habsburg dynasty, reigned over Austria-Hungary, and with the prestige came rules regarding marriage. His family disapproved of his love match with Sophie Chotek, a Czech aristocrat, as she did not have the right bloodline to be accepted by the Austro-Hungarian empire. Before their marriage, Ferdinand signed an agreement that in exchange for marrying for love, his children would abdicate their claim to the throne. When the couple visited Vienna for royal gatherings, Sophie, as a lower-ranked wife, was forced to sit at the end of the table, away from her husband, or walk further behind him in parades. It was humiliating to both of them, so instead of moving permanently to Vienna so they could be treated poorly by the aristocracy, the couple chose to lead a quiet life in the Czech countryside. At Konopiště, no one could tell them they weren’t a legitimate couple, and it was here they raised their three children.
Franz Ferdinand was the typical eccentric royal with too much time and money and not enough responsibilities to keep him busy. He became obsessed with hunting and more than 300,000 hunting trophies are attributed to him, all of which have the date, location, and species engraved on a plaque. His meticulous record-keeping allows historians to know exactly how many animals he killed each day and he traveled the world to hunt more exotic beasts, often under an assumed name so he wouldn’t draw attention to himself. He often sold the meat to local restaurants and butchers. Entire rooms of Konopiště are filled with antlers, furs, and taxidermied game and they stand as a testament to the bizarre influence that idleness can have on the mind.
Konopiště is nestled in a beautiful section of the Czech countryside, but close enough to Prague to make a day trip out of your visit. Trains from Prague’s Hlavní Nádraží to Benešov u Prahy depart about once an hour and you can buy tickets here. Once you arrive at the Benešov u Prahy station, you can enjoy a 30 minute stroll through Franz Ferdinand’s hunting grounds and parks via Konopištská Street up to the castle. You can also catch the 438 and 455 buses from “Benešov,Žel.st.,” the stop next to the train station, and ride two or three stops to “Benešov, Konopiště.”
The castle collections are only accessible with a guided tour (in Czech or English) and online reservations are recommended. They offer four tours, each of a different wing of the castle. In the courtyard are a restaurant and confectionery, as well as ice cream stands. The gardens and hunting grounds surrounding the castle are a popular picnic area for local families, and an exhibition of bears and some birds of prey can be found around the castle. Nearby, Restaurace Stará Myslivna (“Old Lodge”) serves traditional cuisine and is next to a hunting reserve, where you can feed the goats and deer.
Konopiště remains an important artifact of World War I, World War II, and the Habsburg dynasty. Plan your visit soon!
Caroline is an American by birth, and a Praguer by choice. During her studies at Anglo-American University, she’s worked with several local and international businesses developing marketing plans and an online presence to suit their professional needs. Her plans include continuing her education with a focus on content creation and economics.