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March 20, 2019

Czech Republic: Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape


The parish church of the Valtice palace

The doubly landlocked Principality of Liechtenstein on the eastern border of Switzerland takes its name from the Liechtenstein family, who in turn took their name from a castle in lower Austria. In 1249 the family acquired a substantial landholding in southern Moravia. This large estate in the south of what is now the Czech Republic became the official residence of the Liechtenstein dynasty.

Between the 17th and 20th centuries, the dukes of Liechtenstein transformed their Moravian domain into a large park-like area. The dukes wedded Baroque architecture with the classical and neo-Gothic style of the castles of Lednice and Valtice and connected it all with an expansive English garden. All told the dynasty’s combined estate here covers 77 square miles. It stands as one of the largest landscaped areas in Europe.

In September of 1938 the family’s time in Czechoslovakia came to an end. Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy signed the Munich Agreement allowing the “cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory” of Czechoslovakia. Though the Liechtenstein family was German-speaking, they identified as Czech and vigorously opposed the Nazi’s annexation of the German-speaking Sudetenland. Consequentially when Germany took procession of the Sudetenland the Nazis confiscated the estate. On losing Lednice-Valtice the Liechtenstein court officially moved to Vaduz, the capitol of the modern Principality of Liechtenstein.

Inside the Valtice Palace

After World War II ended the communists seized power in Czechoslovakia in a coup d’état. The family’s estate was now the property of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. There was little hope that control of Lednice-Valtice would be returned to the dynasty.

Communism rule ended in Czechoslovakia with the Velvet Revolution in 1989. With democracy restored, the Liechtenstein family attempted to regain ownership of the Lednice-Valtice estate. After the Velvet Divorce, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the family petitioned the German courts and the International Court of Justice for the return of their Moravian estate and their other Czech lands. All told they requested the return of over 600 square miles of land, roughly ten times the size of the Principality of Liechtenstein.

The family’s lawsuit failed, though the Czech Republic did offer to return to the family its castles and palaces without the accompanying land. Liechtenstein rejected the Czech counter offer, perhaps realizing that there would be substantial cost to maintain the properties without any revenue from the land. In the end the Czech Republic not only refused to return the family’s estate but also did not recognize the Principality of Liechtenstein as an independent state up until 2009.

The Lednice Palace

The Lednice Palace’s greenhouse

Thus today the Liechtenstein family remains today “confined” to their smaller property, the European microstate of Liechtenstein. It has announced publicly that it will take no further legal action to recover the assets lost during World War II.

As long as you are not a member of the Liechtenstein family public ownership Lednice-Valtice has advantages: Many parts of the historic estate are open for tourist visits.

We paused to see Lednice-Valtice on our way from Telč in the Czech Republic to Bratislava Slovakia. On the same day we also made a short stop in Brno to see the Tugenhaut Villa, which left us with a woefully inadequate amount of time to explore the expansive Lednice-Valtice landscape. Part of a day is not close to enough time to explore an estate that on its own would be larger than four European countries.

At least our visit was long enough to make us realize what we were missing. The combination of a vast stretch of parkland studded by interesting buildings is uncommon. Even a short visit makes clear that the dukes of Liechtenstein lived well in a beautiful place.

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We often leave places thinking that we need to return. With that the argument for another visit to see more of Lednice-Valtice is particularly strong. We missed far more than we saw. Besides the pastoral park-like setting encourages a more leisurely visit. It would be a great place to stay for a few nights and see the estate’s attractions by bike.

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Lednice-Valtice sits on the Czech Republic side of the Czech-Austrian border. It is not far from the tripoint between the Czech Republic, Austria, and Slovakia.

In 1996 “Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape” was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. UNESCO cites the artistic and cultural value of the estate as reasons for its preservation.

We arrived in Lednice-Valtice on the afternoon of Wednesday the 3rd of October 2018. The late season timing of our visit meant that we did not have full access to see the inside of some of the buildings. As the calendar turned to October, the estates visiting hours are restricted. This time of year the insides of some buildings could only be seen on weekends. Not that it mattered. There wasn’t enough time for a thorough tour anyway.

Lednice

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