Kinský Palace may have some dark secrets buried in its foundation
Making a large building or a bridge requires a lot of complex math and engineering. But back in the Middle Ages and even after, these skills were pretty rudimentary. While the owners would often seek the help of Heaven by paying for elaborate masses and blessings, the more practical architects would make a deal with the Devil to guarantee the quality of the engineering.
There are several structures in Prague where the Devil was the chief subcontractor. Charles Bridge, not surprisingly, is among them. Another is the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Charlemagne in Karlov. Kinský Palace in Old Town Square also saw the builders making a shady deal, and that building is haunted to this day. We will present these stories in a three-part series – this is the second installment. If you missed the first story about Charles Bridge, you can read it here.
The oversized palace has a price
Kinský Palace at Old Town Square was a large and ornate building for its time, and it remains so to this day. The building juts out into the square, quite out of line with nearby buildings, which all line up to create a covered arcade.
One might well question how the owner was able to ignore the zoning laws and build so far onto the popular square. The answer is that construction was partly done in secret, and by the time anyone noticed it was too late to do anything about it. Count Jan Arnošt Golz counted on the authorities buckling under and not insisting on the palace being torn down and rebuilt on a proper-size lot. His gamble paid off, as any tourist can still see.
But legend has it that creating the palace was not as easy as planned. It took a whole decade, from 1755 to 1765, and there were quite a few construction mishaps on the large and complex project.
At the beginning, builders put up a large fence so nobody could see what they were doing. The story they told was that they wanted to keep the Rococo design by famed architect Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer a secret until the palace was finished.
Eventually it became clear to everyone that the building was stretching all the way up to the edge of wall.
There are two stories about the construction.
The first is that the count bribed three city officials to get a permit to build into the public space of the square. When the mayor and others at City Hall finally figured out that the palace behind the covered scaffolding was going to be so large, they summoned the count. He showed his triple-signed and stamped permit, and said everything was in order.
The three officials who signed the permit were questioned. They eventually confessed to accepting bribes to bend the zoning laws and were sentenced to be executed. Count Jan Arnošt Golz, who offered the bribes, was not punished.
The time between the sentencing and execution was just as long as it would take to build a gallows on Old Town Square.
The teenage daughter of one of the three officials went from office to office, trying to find someone who could intervene. She ran out of city officials to ask and then went to the half-built palace, hoping someone there could help. Instead, she tripped in the site over debris, fell into a pit and died.
Workers buried her in the basement right as her father was executed, and kept the incident quiet. After she was secretly buried, all the construction problems stopped. The workers then remembered the old custom of offering a soul to the Devil to ensure a stable building.
Nobody actually made a deal, but the Devil seems to have been willing to overlook that technicality and took the soul from the body that was buried on unconsecrated ground.
She haunts the palace to this day, appearing all in white with pale skin, and asking anyone who will listen if they can help her father. She can get quite insistent, so it is best to avoid her.
The second legend is more widespread but rather generic.
The construction delays were driving the building far over the original budget. One of the workers suggested that they go “old school” and make a sacrifice to the Devil, something that had long fallen out of fashion by the time the place was being built in the late 1750s. But some of the older workers thought it was a good idea.
They felt an animal was too small for such a grand palace. They found a toddler and put it in the foundation. Where it came from is a mystery, but there were many poor people and the streets were filled with urchins. One would never be missed, and even if the parents wanted to complain to the authorities very little would have been done to find a poor child beyond the most cursory search.
The spirit of the toddler can sometimes be heard crying on Dec. 28, the Day of the Innocents.
Kinský Palace, or Palác Kinských in Czech, is now owned by the state and has been one of the venues of the National Gallery since 1949. It was originally owned by the Golz family, and sometimes is called Golz-Kinský Palace (Palác Golz-Kinských) to distinguish it from other buildings owned by the Kinský family.
It was built for the Golz family between 1755 and 1765, but they didn’t own it long. The family sold it in 1768 to the Kinský family when Count Golz died.
The story of the three corrupt councilors being hanged for allowing the building to be built is often printed as fact, without the ghostly elements though.
The ornate Rococo palace was designed by Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, son of the German architect Christoph Dientzenhofer. The statues on the roof are by Ignaz Franz Platzer. Construction was supervised by architect Anselmo Lurago.
The younger Dientzenhofer also designed the St. Nicholas Church in Malá Strana and Vila Amerika, both of which have legends about them as well.
There were several renovations and expansions over the years. A new Empire-style staircase by Heinrich Koch was added in 1830.
The building has a few claims to fame. Austrian-Bohemian pacifist and writer Bertha von Suttner, née Countess Kinský, was born there in 1843. In 1905 she was the first woman to be solely awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the second female Nobel laureate after Marie Curie.
Hermann Kafka, Franz Kafka’s father, had a haberdashery store at the palace on the ground floor. Franz Kafka attended a German secondary school located in the palace from 1893 until 1901.
The palace balcony was used by Klement Gottwald on Feb. 21, 1948, to address an audience at the start of the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d’état. The famous photograph of the event has been doctored to remove Vladimír Clementis, a communist party member who fell out of favor and was executed for treason in 1952. His ashes were dumped on a road. Clementis lent Gottwald his fur hat, which can still be seen in the doctored photo. A microphone was moved in the photo to cover the spot where Clementis had been standing.
Milan Kundera describes the incident in his novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.