Count Sporck's Kuks
2 km, 60 min.
Take a stroll around the complex of this former Baroque spa of Kuks and see how it looked at its peak. The route is passable whatever the weather, starting and ending at the car park by the entrance to Kuks.
1. Count Sporck's Kuks
Please come and take a stroll around the complex of this former Baroque spa, which once boasted a richly stocked game preserve. See how it looked at its peak, when it surpassed Carlsbad and was one of Europe's centres of culture. Enjoy too the uniqueness of this place. Let it both inspire you and encourage you to take at least one kuks home.
When Count Franz Anton von Sporck found in 1692 that the River Elbe valley could perfectly tally with his notions of building a spa, he could not have guessed what personages he would be able to invite to Kuks. Be it Alliprandi, Braun, Brandl, Rentz, Hanke, Rademin, Denzio or others, each of them lent kudos to this newly discovered place, one which has benefitted from such patronage to this day.
What does kuks mean?
The medieval German word kuckus (kuks in Czech) refers to a share in profit from the mining of gold or silver. Indeed, one of the former surface mines was located where the car park extends today. In addition to mines, Kuks as well as the River Elbe's bank featured a site where Czech garnet was sourced.
2. More spectacular than Carlsbad
Charmed by the elevated social life at the court of Louis XIV, in Versailles, and learning there was an abundant source of water of threefold volume in an uninhabited valley of the River Elbe, with alleged healing powers, the Count contracted doctors from Prague to examine its composition. After receiving their findings, Sporck did not hesitate and began to fulfil his plan, creating a spa that at the time even went on to surpass the fame of Carlsbad.
Baroque spa & baroque landscape
The hospital on the opposite bank forms just a fraction of the impressive complex. Spa houses arose within 20 years, along with a chateau, race grounds, theatre, the House of Philosophers with a library and much more. Count Sporck's interest also extended to the surrounding landscape, hence causing the creation of rectangular clearings in the nearby woods so as to organise hunts, or the wild Baroque romance of Braun's Nativity Scene.
Comfort for guests
The former inn, the Golden Sun from 1699, is the oldest building that has survived. Its environs became the site for a wooden theatre that Sporck had built (where now the Art Nouveau building of a former school stands). It was the third oldest theatre in the Czech lands and hosted major travelling theatre ensembles from across Europe. In front of the building an astronomical clock was erected in 1708. Called the Christian Clock, it was made by Christoph Lorentz Pfeuffer and adorned with various figures of the Old and New Testaments.
3. Sporck's chateau
If you look at the building standing on the hill before you when searching for the chateau, please note that it is actually a hospital - originally a retirement home for war veterans. Compared to this, the chateau was not actually that impressive. Incidentally, it stood on the open space in front of you. Long side wings extended on both sides and formed a colonnade, whilst storeyed arcades adjoined a long line of buildings for spa guests. The spa was on the ground floor of the chateau, a place where water still flows out from the spring of Kuks. Right above the fountain called Fons vivus, which means "the source of life", a Chapel to the Virgin Mary was consecrated in 1696, but this no longer exists.
Spa on the ground floor...
The chateau's ground floor contained the spa with 12 bathrooms. As Sporck was highly moral in outlook, the male and female areas were separated from each other. With both hot and cold water flowing from the brass taps, guests could mix the temperature to their liking, any excess water then running down over the shells lining the sides of the cascade staircase, beneath the chateau, right into the River Elbe.
... the seat on the floor above
After completing their spa treatments, the guests met in the ceremonial hall above the baths, where balls and entertainment took place. One floor above were positioned the chambers of the Count. Each time an evening drew to a close, he invited the guests on to the balcony and showed them the eternal light shining from a tomb on the opposite bank, just to remind everyone of the transience of life.
4. Wine and the vineyard
In On the underground spring, the Latin dissertation of 1726, Georg Heinrich Weiss states that spa guests were allowed to drink "beers, well brewed and purified, which were sold here, as well as Hungarian and Czech wines of great repute, clear and pure, which they drank between lunch and dinner, as they are diuretic and cleanse the internal parts." It was not Kuks where the vines grew, but a hill in Heřmanice, a nearby village, that is still called The Vineyard.
What is Brynč?
Grapes were planted in the valley of Kuks in 2005, with the tasting of the very first harvest taking place in 2008. The vineyard contains shrubs of traditional Burgundy varieties planted on marl soil - Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir - but also Savagnin Blanc, a largely forgotten variety of our forebears with the beautiful name Brynč. Shrubs are cultivated in the old-fashioned way, known as head-training, which is more laborious and the harvest is smaller, but the grapes are left to mature to a greater extent.
Vintage in Kuks
The highlight of the visitor season, the September wine festival in Kuks features wine running down the cascading stairs, instead of healing water; this happened at festive occasions in Count Sporck’s time, too. Visitors today can attend cultural events as well as enjoy wine and culinary delights.
5. Baroque theatre
Making sure to avoid boredom for even a moment, Count Sporck made available a theatre to his guests, in addition to spa treatments, walks, bird catching and hunting with hounds. The Comoedien-Haus of Kuks hosted, from 1702, theatre ensembles from all over Europe, as well as puppet shows and ballet performances. This third oldest Baroque theatre in the Czech Lands even witnessed a 1724 production by Venetia's Peruzzi-Denzio opera company, the singers taking part being chosen by Antonio Vivaldi by himself.
The original theatre stood next to the Golden Sun Inn. The brick building to the left behind you is the new Comoedien-Haus, which annually at the end of summer comes alive thanks to Theatrum Kuks, a festival of Baroque theatre, opera and music.
The half-timbered building, No. 53, standing opposite the Comoedien-Haus across the street dates from 1694 and was earlier connected to the colonnade. Indoors, there was a manor kitchen where meals were prepared for guests of the chateau, which, in addition to the noblemen fare, must certainly have included the special coffee to ease noblemen ailments.
6. Factory above the spring
One of the abundant springs flows under the factory building, which is located in front of you. There, above the eastern end of the spa, Count Sporck had for guests a large wooden pavilion built above this spring, the same source supplying a hundred years later the ribbon factory.
The original spa house above one of the Kuks' springs was converted in 1856 into a ribbon factory and machine spinning mill for the Jeschke Company. As the business thrived, the company ranked for some time amongst the largest manufacturers of ribbons and bows in the Czech Kingdom. They employed 30 employees, up until 1951, when production was moved to the town of Dobruška. The building now houses a family museum of vintage cars.
Opposite the factory buildings, there is a single-storey residence in the Art Nouveau style. Carl Jeschke, the owner of the ribbon factory, erected it in close proximity to his native home, a small full-timbered building that has not been preserved. After having served as a municipal office in the post-World War II period, now the residence hosts a tourist information centre.
7. Riverfront colonnade
The houses on the waterfront are the last survivors of the Baroque spa. Between them and the staircase, there was once the Ballplatz where spa guests danced. Accommodation of more prominent personages was allowed by Count Sporck up the hill at the chateau.
The public house to the right has stood here since 1720. It was popular with spa guests as well as residents of Kuks Hospital.
Above the massive staircase lined by cascades, there stood the chateau with the spa and a blossoming French garden featuring fountains of Diana and Actaeon. In fact, two statues of tritons still pour water over the mussels along the staircase railing, this running from the Kuks spring which can be seen above the staircase.
The Patron and his sculptor
It was a happy and fruitful meeting of a demanding authoritarian - who requested unusual commissions - with Matthias Bernhard Braun, a talented and ambitious man. Lasting about 20 years, it has left behind a number of excellent works. Be it the sculptural decoration of Kuks' spa, allegories of the Virtues and Vices in front of the hospital, or Braun's Nativity Scene nearby, all these items form the pinnacle of Baroque sculpture in the Czech lands.
8. The bank of life, the bank of death
Even early contemporary engravings make it obvious, as if from a bird's eye view, that the builders were creating an interconnected complex, its symmetry and order determined by the struggle of opposites along the main axis, the River Elbe; the bank of life opposing the bank of death. You are standing in the middle of the dividing line, which consisted of a number of attractions for guests. On the right is the rather mundane bank with the chateau, spa and theatre, while to the left there is a spiritual world of the church, hospital, cemetery and the tomb of the Sporck family.
Entertainment between life and death
The bridge with statues of harlequins led guests to a race track with 40 statuettes of dwarfs by Braun. They say each of them wore the face of an enemy of Sporck. It was here where horse riders competed to test their skills. The place also featured an outdoor maze, a gazebo with a pool table and a dovecote. On its own, in the meadow behind you, there stood the House of Philosophers - a library with 40,000 rare and often non-Catholic books. At the top of it, six hermitages existed in the near and far surroundings.
If Braun's sculptures added to Kuks’ style and soul, then Alliprandi's architecture forms its body. Giovanni Battista Alliprandi, one of the best architects of the time, came up with the concept of the axially symmetrical complex of Kuks, full of relationships and contradictions.
9. A Lutheran amongst catholics
The beautiful antique engravings of the court engraver, graphic artist and poet Michael Rentz, make it possible for us today at least partly imagine the "Kuks marvel" at the time of its heyday. Sporck valued Rentz's talent so much that he had to face inquisitors' allegations of harbouring a Lutheran at Kuks. The artist printed for the Count in the bookbinding shop, called Bücher-Kammer, on a hand press hundreds of copperplates, among them thousands of Sporck portraits.
The first years spent at Kuks by Rentz were probably spent living and working at the hospital. The timber house in front of you was then inhabited by the Count's valet, Jiří Simon. After the man's death, it was bought by Rentz who lived there for as many as 20 years after the demise of the spa, the protestant's living quarters used, among other things, to hide Sporck's non-Catholic books from missionaries.
Rentz's workshop, Bücher-Kammer
Whilst the little house would be not enough to harbour a giant engraving workshop, the freshly finished hospital was largely empty, firstly taken over by beadsmen under the daughter of Count Sporck in 1744. Therefore, it provided ample space for the famous Rentz workshop - Bücher-Kammer.
Are you familiar with a Rentz engraving?
Oh, yes. You can see one at each stop representing Kuks in 1724. In fact, no one had ever thought to come over the valley and make an illustration rendering both the spa and hospital bank in one picture before Rentz.
10. Craftsmens’ cottages
The Kuks valley began to flourish in 1700 with busy construction activities, the former wilderness suddenly seeing a demand for accommodation, which first pertained to construction workers and craftsmen, and later on spa staff who managed the pleasant stays of guests. The servants on the estate included not just the butler, manager of the rooms, huntsman, groom, valet, chef, band leader and organist, but also a number of people of lower office, such as lackeys, pages, gardeners and other house-keeping personnel.
You are standing near a stone fountain. It is here, in the middle of the full-timbered houses at a crossroads, where one of the many Kuks' springs emerges. The village has preserved several similar wells that can be found in various picturesque corners.
Developing in parallel with the spa, the dwellings of servants still form a well-preserved collection of timber-framed buildings. They were built aside, outside of the spa centre. Most of the structures date from 1703; the entire village now forms part of the Listed Preserve of Kuks - Nativity Scene.
11. Estate manager's residence
At the highest elevation above the spa, and exactly on the imaginary hospital-chateau axis, was the house of the manor’s overseer, the marshall. An officer of the highest rank, his home - featuring four corner turrets – must have provided a perfect overview of everything that was going on. Whilst the Kuks valley remained in his full view, the upper floors enabled visibility of the remainder of the estate.
The Major-domo, Seeman
The work of individual officers was supervised by the Count's major-domo, who arrived every year with his Master. From 1726, this was Tobiáš Josef Antonín Seeman, whose notes in his calendar inform us of the details of Sporck's life. In fact, prior to this he served the Count by entertaining him as the organist and band leader of his master's domestic ensemble, composing for the group melodies - so-called Sporck arias.
The estate of Choustníkovo Hradiště
Despite bearing the name of a nearby village, Kuks was the real centre of this estate after 1696. Count Sporck spent summers here with his guests on a periodical basis, whilst the remainder of the year the nobleman would stay at his chateau in Lysá nad Labem, his Prague palace or by travelling. After Sporck's death, the hospital foundation became the owner of this estate, financing Kuks hospital operations from proceeds raised until 1945.
12. Kuks destroyed and reborn
The spa disappeared from Kuks just as quickly as it emerged, surviving its founder, Count Franz Anton von Sporck, by just two years. In 1740, a whirlwind hit the place along with a big flood, devastating the valley on both sides, destroying the race track and taking the river bridge as well as many statues. That spelt the end of the spa.
The spa ending, the hospital beginning
The period of spa revelry gave way to taking care of the elderly, sick and wounded. While the resort continued to deteriorate, the hospital designed for up to a hundred old men slowly began to fill up and enliven.
During the wars, the facility served as a military hospital, with 6,000 wounded soldiers coming from Silesia in 1757 alone. Two-thirds of them (along with the majority of the village's population) were buried after a plague outbreak in a mass grave near the wayside shrine, by which you stand now. It formerly stood a little further away, in place of today's road from Jaroměř to Trutnov.
The spa buildings were abandoned and went into rack and ruin. This destruction was finished off by a fire, after which the remains of the chateau were demolished in 1901. Today, the hospital and the village are undergoing extensive renovation based on their historical origins. This idea resulted from an initiative by the Hradec Králové Region, the Municipality of Kuks and other partners. The process of recovery is taking place with significant support from EU funds.
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.