Braun's Nativity Scene
7km, 2-3 ohurs
From Kuks to Bethlehem and back, courtesy of Braun's Nativity Scene. Carved into the rocks, it’s considered the height of Czech Baroque and features a gallery of sculptures by Matthias Braun. It’s a 7 km walk so sturdy shoes are recommended.
Don’t fancy a walk?
Braun's Nativity Scene can be reached by car as well. A car park is just near the entrance, affording an effortless 30-minute stroll along the sculptures.
1. Braun’s Nativity Scene
If you haven’t seen Braun's Nativity Scene, you’re missing out. Well worth the trip, it’s been a popular destination for spa guests for over 300 years. Count Sporck had the so-called New Forest transformed into a park with fountains, hermitages, chapels and paintings. Matthias Braun carved a number of monumental sculptures here in the sandstone rocks and boulders amidst the trees, creating a unique open-air gallery.
2. Hermitages and quarries in Kuks
Count Sporck ordered that several hermitages be built around Kuks, hiring hermits to offer spa guests and hunters refreshments and relaxation on their way to the Nativity Scene. The hermitage of St Francis once stood on the opposite river bank. Nothing but a relief remains today that Matthias Braun carved into the rock. (It can be seen on the way from the Nativity Scene) At nearby St Clement Quarry, stone was extracted for both Kuks and Josefov Fortress. Today, the place serves as an open-air gallery of sculptures.
3. Chapel of the Holy Trinity
The chapel now stands midpoint en route to the Nativity Scene. Matthias Braun's workshop created it for Count Sporck in 1720, located at the entrance to a bridge over the River Elbe. By that time the spa had already reached its peak so the Count set about richly transforming the surrounding landscape. A number of chapels, avenues, hermitages, gazebos and fountains were put in place for the benefit of spa guests, culminating a few years later in the Count requesting Braun to create the Nativity Scene (1725-1734).
4. A stylised Baroque landscape
The development of the spa by Sporck went hand in hand with enriching the surroundings of Kuks. A stylised Baroque landscape was created - a sophisticated system of avenues, clearings in forests, solitary trees, hermitages, crosses and statues of saints. Many features have since disappeared or been removed. For instance, a railway cuts across a former route once containing Stations of the Cross from Žireč, while now modern sculptures guide visitors away from the path between Kuks and the Nativity Scene.
5. New Forest Crossroad
Count Sporck bought the forest in 1717 from the town of Dvůr Králové nad Labem. It’s called "New Forest" because it was the last piece of land to join the Count's estate. The bark of surrounding trees allowed the Count to have various biblical scenes engraved. Unfortunately, these really annoyed Jesuits from nearby Žireč. Such disputes with the Jesuits eventually led to an inquisition taking place, and Count Sporck was arrested whilst Kuks became occupied by soldiers.
6. Avenue of Seven Fountains
Near the road, in the forest vegetation, stands a circular stone bowl. It was once the bottom of a fountain with a large jet that stood in a garden next to the Hermitage of St Anthony. Water was fed to this place from sources near the Nativity Scene by a pipe.
Down towards the river was where an avenue of seven fountains decorated the road. Completed in 1732, in its entirety it represented a key feature along the visitor route from the Kuks valley to the statues of the Nativity Scene.
7. Hermitage of St Anthony
On a small hillock stood the Hermitage of St Anthony, but it has not been preserved. However, its appearance is known from old paintings. It was a small structure with two gardens – an ornamental and a kitchen one. The gardens contained large fountains and water was brought to this place by pipes from the nearby Nativity Scene. The site looked over the valley of the River Elbe, the Krkonoše Mountains, and, of course, Kuks. Inside the hermitage was a wooden statue of St. Anthony serving as a "letterbox" for spa guests to post derogatory pamphlets directed against the Jesuits, with Count Sporck being the only person to possess keys to it.
8. Hermitage of St Paul & Jacob's Well
Right behind you, directly opposite the rock with Braun's Nativity Scene, once stood a wooden octagonal structure – the Hermitage of St Paul. Today, only the stone seat by Braun remains with an open book in front of the entrance. It was inhabited by a hermit hired by Count Sporck to switch on the fountains and offer refreshments to spa guests. Turning left onto a dead-end path takes you to Jacob's Well, with Christ quenching his thirst and talking to the Samaritan woman. The massive spring bubbling in the forest was not only the source of the well, but also an 8-metre-spouting water jet and a series of seven fountains along the path as far as the River Elbe.
9. Braun's Nativity Scene
The monumental relief behind you lent the place its name. In the middle, Matthias Braun rendered the Nativity Scene with figures of Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. From the left, are the three kings coming to join them with a large entourage, whilst shepherds kneel in front of the Holy Family. The entrance to the cave was covered by a firmament with the Angel Gloria at the top. The setting was complete with other free-standing figures, a large fountain, and other structures. Although only preserved in fragments, the work is considered the height of European Baroque art.
The Baroque statues were once coloured. The deep folds of Braun's sculptures still contain remnants of the paint.
10. St Hubert's Vision
Count Sporck was an avid hunter. He founded the hunter's Order of St Hubert (its honoured members even including Emperor Carl VI.), and helped popularise the French horn and hunting with hounds in Bohemia. In 1722, he commissioned Matthias Braun to carve the story of St Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, directly into solid rock. It was the first major work that Braun created here. Two years after completing the relief of Hubert, the sculpture of Mary Magdalene was made (1728). Opposite used to stand the pilgrimage chapel of the Elevation of St Cross.
11. Onufrius & St John the Baptist
The hermit Onufrius (the closer figure) sees a man after 60 years of solitude in the desert. Matthias Braun perfectly captured the fright, discomfort and tension in the muscles. The direction the hermit looks in is that followed by spa guests arriving from Kuks. Perhaps only severe damage is the reason why Onufrius is more valued than the nearby St John the Baptist with a Lamb, which is one of the greatest examples of Braun's craftsmanship,rivalling works by Michelangelo. It was one of the first local works completed, mentioned as long ago as 1726 by the committee handling Count Sporck's border dispute with the Jesuits.
12. Jan Garinus
The statue of Juan Garinus was the subject of Count Sporck's border dispute with the Jesuits. In fact, the work stood on the Jesuits' land. According to legend, Garinus raped and murdered the daughter of a Barcelonian councillor. His penalty was to crawl on the ground like a beast before being forgiven. Matthias Braun captured the moment when the hermit was spied by hounds belonging to the father of the murdered girl. Anatomically, Garinus is probably the finest statue in this country. Above the statue is the Sporck coat of arms, and the cave contains a seat bearing a print of the Count's hand. Braun's Nativity Scene was affected by quarrying for the development of Josefov Fortress.
13. Christian Soldier
Count Sporck encounraged the disputes with his neighbours, the Jesuits from nearby Žireč, not missing any opportunity to have a go at them. This site once contained a statue of a great Christian soldier (now in Kuks). It threatened Žireč with its sword and was highly visible from the windows of the Jesuits residence. There used to be a painting of hell on the rock to the right of you, the devils looking like the Jesuits. It was only under the threat of an inquisitorial investigation that the Count hastily called in Petr Brandl to paint the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt over the image.
14. Parking spaces near Braun's Nativity Scene
If you haven’t seen Braun's Nativity Scene, you haven’t visited Kuks. For over 300 years the place has been attracting guests from the nearby spa in Kuks. Count Sporck transformed the New Forest into a park filled with fountains, hermitages, chapels and paintings. It was here that Matthias Braun created a number of monumental sculptures, carving them into the sandstone rocks and boulders amongst the trees, effectively turning the area into a unique open-air gallery. A sightseeing trail leads as far as Kuks from this site.
15. Viewpoint of Sporck's estate
This site allows you to view almost the entire former estate of Choustníkovo Hradiště. Directly in front of you lies the complex of the old Baroque spa in Kuks. Meanwhile, Braun's Nativity Scene in the New Forest offered guests a haven of peace and quiet. However, Kuks also became popular for its noisy hunts and baying hounds. Hunting used to take place on the opposite side of the estate, in the deep woods behind Kuks around Hubert's valley, called also Bokouš.
16. Hermitage of St Francis
The rock block below the path contains a carved relief of the Stigmatisation of St Francis. The holy man depicted is looking up to the crucified Jesus Christ. This is probably the first work of Matthias Braun carved into bare rock. In 1701, a hermitage was erected above the relief and named after St Francis, inhabited by a hermit hired by Count Sporck to provide spa guests the opportunity to relax halfway between Kuks to Braun's Nativity Scene.
17. Madonna and Baby
In addition to patrons like Count Sporck, traces have also been left in this region by ordinary locals and nameless sculptors. Such sites crop up where special events took place. The statue of Madonna and Baby has stood here since 1884. It was erected by a peasant woman named Khunová from nearby Zaloňov on the edge of her field in gratitude for her father surviving a lightning strike at the site.
18. Railway station
Trains have been stopping in Kuks since 1858. Even at that time the railway assisted in turning Kuks into a popular destination. The South-North German Junction Railway (Süd-Norddeutsche Verbindungsbahn) brought the train from Pardubice via Kuks as far as Liberec - then the second largest Czech city, giving the industrial north of Bohemia a railway connection to both Vienna and Prague. The entire 250 km route was built by a private company.
19. Hospital garden
A regular ground plan, gravel paths, carefully cut box hedges, giant obelisks and numerous statues. Are you in at chateau on the River Loire? Oh no, you've entered the hospital herb garden!
They used the area to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs for the hospital and the Pomegranate Apothecary
The Great Christian Soldier and other statues on the grounds were moved to the park from a nativity scene by Braun to keep them safe.
Tento web vznikl v rámci projektu Kuks–Braunův kraj. Projekt je spolufinancován Evropskou unií z Evropského fondu pro regionální rozvoj v rámci Regionálního operačního programu NUTS II Severovýchod.