History of the location

The history of the Průhonice castle extends back into the Middle Ages with the oldest walls being those of the still-standing Romanesque chapel of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary that was consecrated in 1187 by the Prague Archbishop Jindřich Břetislav of the Přemysl family. Gothic frescos from the 1330s, found in the chapel’s interior, were restored in the 1990s.
Ownership of the Průhonice estate changed hands quite frequently with it having 40 owners since the first written reports in the 12th century until now. Among these were members of the Přemysl family, Prague nobility, the Dubeč family from Dubeč, Zápský knights (the tombstones of which can be found on the outer walls of the chapel), Jesuits of St. Clement, the Dohalská family from Dohalic and the Nostitz-Rieneck family.
The origination of the fortress in the 12th century is also attributed to the first historically known owner Zdislav of Průhonice. The wooden Romanesque fortress stood very close to the chapel. The new owners in the 14th century constructed a fortress a bit farther away from the chapel on a rocky promontory above the Botič stream corridor to the northwestern edge of the bank. The Lady of Říčany most likely had Průhonice’s wooden fortress rebuilt in the Middle Ages as a Gothic stone castle, which the squire of Dubeč later owned. In the 16th century the Zápský family rebuilt the castle into a closed Renaissance castle. From the 17th century, there was also a brewery. There were many changes in ownership and many of the owners had to repeatedly repair the castle that was often damaged during the battles in the 17th century. The Desfours family owned the castle during most of the 18th century, establishing a rich orchard and ornamental garden as well as building an orangery.
In 1800 Count Jan Nepomuk Nostitz-Rieneck bought the Průhonice estate and reconstructed the castle in Classicist style. Count Arnošt Emanuel Silva-Tarouca (1860-1936) married Marie Antonie, the granddaughter of Jan Nepomuk Nostitz-Rieneck and the only heir of Albert Nostitz-Rieneck in 1885, thus bringing Silva-Tarouca to Průhonice. The castle at the time had four wings with a central courtyard. The reconstruction in the Classicist style did not give the castle the sharply defined silhouette that Arnošt Emanuel had in mind. He, therefore, decided to turn the old castle into the park’s architecturally dominant feature.
 “I wanted to build a castle that would reflect the character of the surrounding landscape. This did not mean to build something in a new style…but that the building in its newer form could have been anywhere in Czechia four hundred years ago… that the building fits well into the Czech surroundings and even goes well with the nearby beautiful old Prague.”
                                                                                   From a lecture on the Průhonice Park given by Arnošt Emanuel given at the general meeting of the Dendrological Society in Prague on 27th February 1926.
With this task in mind, Count Silva-Tarouca entrusted a young architect, Jiří Stibral, with the reconstruction design, choosing him because of his successful watercolors exhibit in the spring of 1886. These watercolors depicted in detail the old architectural sites, especially buildings from the Italian Renaissance and for Count Silva Tarouca confirmed Stibral’s sensitive understanding of architecture. From 1889-1892 Count Silva Tarouca remodeled the modest castle in the “Czech New Renaissance” style. After reconstruction the castle became the residency of Count Arnošt Silva-Tarouca and his family.
Architect Stibral took the following radical steps:
  • Tore down the southern wing so that the castle would have only 3 wings, therefore opening the castle to an amazing view of the park. Using Czech Renaissance architectural elements he redid the façade and raised the height of certain parts of the castle. He built the main tower and covered the old bastion with a tent roof, markedly altering the castle’s horizontal silhouette and giving the castle an older look.
  • Stylistically returned the chapel of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary to its form from the Middle Ages.
  • Reconstructed the Baroque brewery into a low wing of the castle with a winter garden and Neo-renessaince façade.
  • Built an archway entrance to the main courtyard and gatekeeper’s house into the ashlar wall.
  • Created a representative Knights’ Hall in the East wing.
  • Redid the cellars into wine cellars.
Hanuš Schwaiger painted all of the frescos (e.g., the fresco of St. George in the castle’s inner courtyard), and Celestýn Klouček created all of the sculptures. The reconstruction process is described in detail in a separate publication and on a CD entitled “Průhonice Castle and Park – a work of nature and the human soul” that was published as supplemental material to the permanent exhibit of the same name installed in the Count Arnošt Emanuel Silva-Tarouca Memorial Hall. The publication, available in the Institute of Botany, includes many historical documents, drawings and period photographs. The entire castle complex was closed off from the town with a fence wall and a period gateway (the entrance is a Renaissance portal with the inner facade, seen from the courtyard, having the motif of a folklore log construction with gables and a balcony) and a gatekeeper’s house.
At the same time the castle was being redone, the park (established in 1885) was being developed in the fading essence of romanticism that of course required much more time and received a lot of the owner’s attention and financial support. Silva-Tarouca gradually bought the surrounding lands to create a more than 200-ha complex. The Count made use of the broken terrain of the Botič valley and even the original tree stands with their domestic species, adding many exotic species to these. He regulated the flow of the Botič stream and built fishponds. He added vistas, viewpoints and even meadows. On the rocky parts above the Botič stream he created an extensive Alpinum (alpine rock garden).
“My idea was to create a park suitable for the character of the surrounding landscape; nature was the only guide in my work, during which I always made the most of the existing characteristics of the terrain. I tried to achieve a diverse picture that would fall into the framework of the Central Bohemian landscape.”
                                                                                               From a lecture on the Průhonice Park given by Arnošt Emanuel given at the general meeting of the Dendrological Society in Prague on 27th February 1926.
An important colleague who helped introduce the exotic species was the famous European dendrologist Camillo Schneider. Count Arnošt Emanuel Silva-Tarouca wrote extensive papers about the park, supplementing them with a wide range of pictorial material. These papers were published in a special 6-part series “Parks of Austro-Hungary in words and pictures” published by the Dendrological Society to gain support for dendrology and landscape design in Austro-Hungary from 1909 to 1914. The original text and its Czech translation “Průhonice Park” was published by the Institute of Botany of the Czech Republic, Průhonice on the occasion of the expert seminar “Historical gardens and parks 2005”, held in June 2005 to commemorate the anniversary of Count A. E. Silva Tarouca’s arrival in Průhonice. The publication can be purchased from the Institute of Botany.
Since 1962 the Institute of Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences, pub. res. inst. has been housed in the castle in Průhonice. The public has access to the Count Arnošt Emanuel Silva-Tarouca Memorial Hall with its permanent exhibit about the park’s founders, the specialized botanical library and the Visitor’s Center, especially when there are lectures and seminars. The Průhonice Park is open to the public all year during opening hours.