11 June 2011

Castle Hunting: Bojnice

Bojnice Castle is impressive, of course, because its huge and many-turreted bulk is so captivating from afar. After visiting and doing a little research, I wasn't as impressed. This building is essentially a large, late 19th century mansion built to look like a Loire valley chateau. The second to last owner (before the Czechoslovak communist party appropriated the property in 1945), John Palffy, oversaw a twenty-two year renovation that converted Bojnice from a 16th century, semi-fortified residence into a piece of golden age romanticism. In the process, the castle lost much of what might have been interesting about it.
Originally a defensive structure dating from the early 11th century, Bojnice (pronounced "boy-neets-eh") was originally remodeled in 1528, losing much of the defenses that had previously been in place. The town benefited from a relatively safe location in the northern Hungarian empire, and was controlled by a string of very wealthy families who were based in Vienna and Budapest. Because it was rarely threatened by attacking forces, the castle became much more a country seat than a military outpost. Even before the current structure was completed, the outer walls were adorned with a slew of indefensible windows and balconies.
The result of Palffy's redesign (he was actually the principle architect) is an excessive, castle-themed framework surrounding a brooding collection of bland, Victorian rooms. There are a few highlights inside, but most of the family's extensive collection of art was sold by Palffy's children - the rooms are generally barely furnished, with the remaining knick-knacks fleshed out by reproductions. Passages and rooms open up into more rooms and bigger spaces in a confusing jumble of caverns and dark-wood opulence. It comes down to this: the architecture is generally unimpressive, unless size in itself is impressive.
Still, it's fun to look at Bojnice and imagine that it's real. When we first caught sight of it, driving up the valley from the south, it was magnificent. It was disappointing to find that the history of the place was more mirage than fact, and offputting to see people so impressed by such a grand monument to ego and wealth.
Perhaps I've become jaded, though, and should accept buildings like this for what they are, instead of what they've covered up. It's probably true that Bojnice's previous form was less livable and more uncomfortable than the present one, and it's hard to fault someone for wanting to update their home. The scope of history must become a frustrating part of owning a castle, and Palffy can be excused for looking more to the future than the past. After all, most surviving castles have been changed many times over the years, and the crime in this case seems to be not that it was renovated, but that it happened so recently.

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