Ancient fortresses fortify interest in Czech Republic


Story & photos by Recto Mercene

THE Czech Republic opened on May 11 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) an exhibition of priceless treasure troves of their once glorious past: a photo and painting display of their castles and manors.

National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose and his wife, with Olsa in the background

There were also 3D models of about three castles in a separate room of the CCP.

CCP President Dr. Raul Sunico was effusive in his praise of Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olsa Jr., for the opportunity to host 80 photographs and paintings at the CCP Main Theater Building.

Sunico told the audience, who consisted of students, as well as invited guests and members of the public: “You may see in these photographs the civilization, history and culture of the Czech Republic, which spanned so many centuries, from as early as the 12th century when kings and royalties were able to build this gigantic castles and, of course, later passed [them] on to nobility and descendants of their royal families.”

Czech National Museum Director General Dr. Michal Lukes, who flew in from the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia, was also present to give his views on these rare and special photographs.

CCP President Dr. Raul Sunico (from left), Olsa and Lukes.

Preserved structures

The Czech Republic today is a nation state in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west, Austria to the south, Slovakia to the east and Poland to the northeast. It covers an area of 78,866 square kilometers (or 30,450 square miles). It has 10.5 million inhabitants, with Prague as its capital and largest city.

It is said Prague was the only major city in Europe spared from the carpet bombings of allied forces in World War II (WWII). It was able to preserve their legacy of monuments and castles because it was located too far away at the heart of Europe to be reached by propeller-driven airplanes from Britain at the time.

“Yes, Prague was lucky during WWII; it was saved. Its castles still exist as impressive tourist attractions”, agreed Lukes, who added these structures were mostly built over many periods, from the Gothic style of the 12th and 13th century, and the Baroque style of the 16th century.

He could not tell exactly how many castles they have when asked, but guessed, “about 400 to 500, [despite our being a] small country.”

Lukes said this exhibition was designed for viewers to see a small scale of the Czech Republic.

Prague boasts of unique and extensive historical locations and since 1992, were declared as protected Unesco World Heritage sites.

Ambassador Olsa said, although France and Italy have their own castles, “the Czech Republic has the biggest network of beautiful [ones] in the world. [About] 100 have been made into museums, while numerous others are in private hands.”

“You can spend weeks traveling to my country visiting castles. I have only seen only about 5 percent to 10 percent of them—I have to see many more.” He guaranteed the Filipinos’ interests would be piqued in going to his country because, “every castle has at least one ghost. If you go to the castle and stay overnight, you will have ladies with no heads, those in white robes and kings on corridors during the night. You would love it.”

“Please come and stay in some castle so you can write a new book entitled, ‘True Ghost Stories from the Czech Republic’,” he added in jest.

Catholic icon

But Sunico pointed out the Philippines’s strongest link with Prague is the Infant Jesus Christ icon, permanently displayed in the cathedral there.

The Infant Jesus of Prague, or Child of Prague, is a 16th-century Roman Catholic wax-coated wooden statue of child Jesus holding a globus cruciger. It is enshrined in the Discalced Carmelite Church of Our Lady Victorious in Malá Strana, Prague. Pious legends state the statue once belonged to Saint Teresa of Avila.

Throughout its history, copies of the Infant of Prague statue have attracted Catholic devotional worship in numerous countries. Outside of the Czech Republic, the statue is particularly popular in the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Poland, and Latin American countries that were previously conquered by the Iberian countries.

Sunico said, in the Philippines, “we also have our own beautiful structures, including ‘White Castle’ (referring to the alcoholic brand), but we have a set of beautiful churches, monuments and natural scenery.”

Impressive as the castles are, “what we [Filipinos] should emulate is the way they preserve all these beautiful structures”, he pointed out.

He said we, too, have gradually become conscious of the importance of structures in the country, of preserving our cultural heritage, not only of the intangible ones but those that are still standing.

“So, hopefully, this is not only an emulation of something beautiful the Czech Republic has done. All of us should imitate the country in preserving [historical heritages], which we should all visit. Definitely, they are worth the trip.”

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