The Černín Palace in Prague has a long and unsettling history.
What is now the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the 1660’s up to 1851 belonged to the noble Černín family, which legends depict as being somewhat vain as well as stingy.
The family had Černín Palace built on a hill slightly higher than Prague Castle, due to their love of prestige. It took several generations of the family to complete the construction of the truly massive building, which began with designs by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini in the 1660’s and was finished with a monumental staircase by František M. Kaňka in 1720, with almost every famous artist or sculptor of the time contributing something.
The first ghost tale associated with the palace occurs just as the building was under construction. Count Humprecht Jan Černín was the one who commissioned the largest palace in the city, but he promised to pay each craftsman only when his work was finished.
When he died in 1682, there were no written contracts for any of the construction. The tradesman turned to one of the count’s relatives, who was adept in occult arts and a member of a secret society. The head architect at that time, Francesco Caratti, was taken blindfolded to a meeting of the secret society and the spirit of the count was raised up and asked to sign the required contracts. The spirit seems to have obliged, as the work was able to continue.
But the most famous ghost story, which concerns demons and a duchess, comes later…
A column associated with pagan princess Drahomíra stood on the square in front of the palace until 1788. Evil spirits were reputed to haunt it and at night, strange flames were sometimes seen, and the faint smell of sulphur sometimes hung in the air. It’s a pity that this went unnoticed by one particularly self-centered countess of the Černín family, who seems to have been the local equivalent of Marie Antoinette — the one who told the starving population of Paris to eat cake instead of bread. While the truth behind that quote is in dispute, her wasteful ways are not.
The Prague countess also spared no expense, bathing in milk or wine and dining on rare imported delicacies, while spending endlessly on fine fabrics and jewels.
When the Great Famine of 1770 broke out in Bohemia, she did not mend her ways. Instead she threw a ball and had special shoes made out of bread dough. This was too much even for the evil spirits on this locale. Nine demons came up and verbally taunted the countess, and then danced her into such a frenzy that the bread shoes caught fire. Some say the demons even ripped her to shreds. She was dragged down to hell — in whole or in parts.
One version of the tale says she was taken straight down from the ballroom, another that she was pulled out to the sulphury pagan column where she plunged beneath the earth in a mass of blue flames.
Now she walks the halls of the ministry at midnight, which is of course long after business hours. She is said to mostly stare shamefacedly at her shoes as she wanders the empty offices and meeting rooms. Nobody knows how to release her from her curse, but beware, for if you dance with her you will be dragged down to the underworld as well.
You will also likely face charges for trespassing in the ministry after hours, as this only happens at midnight and the building has very high security. Anyone who has dealt with Czech bureaucracy may well choose going straight down to hell instead as it will be much easier to deal with.
Černín Palace (aka Czernin Palace and Černínský palác) was the idea of Count Humprecht Jan Černín z Chudenic, a nobleman and diplomat who served as an imperial ambassador to Venice and Rome. He acquired the land from the Lobkowicz family and hired Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini in the 1660’s to make some sketches for the largest palace in Prague.
Italian architect Francesco Caratti did the design work and supervised construction until 1677, when he died, and was replaced by Domenico Rossi, followed by Giovanni Battista Aliprandi and finally František M. Kaňka from 1718 to 1720, when it was finished.
Václav Vavřinec Reiner worked on the interior design and frescoes, and Matyáš Bernard Braun did sculptural work.
The baroque palace was built on a hill slightly higher than Prague Castle, due to the Černín family seeking prestige.
Humprecht Jan Černín died in 1682, and his son Count Heřman Jakub Černín took over the project until his death in 1710, when it fell to František Josef Czernin, who died in 1733 in Vienna.
Building the truly massive palace put the family into debt, and by 1778 they were auctioning off their art collection, and much of the family moved to Vienna.
The building was empty for a while and was also for a time used to house the poor, who found themselves surrounded by the lush frescoes and rich Italian design work.
The Černín family sold the palace in poor repair in 1851 to the Imperial Military Administration, and it has been in government hands ever since, undergoing several massive renovations, remodeling and restorations.
It became the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry in 1923 and was greatly modernized in 1928–36, creating its current look, which is a fusion of styles.
There was a famine in 1770–71 in Bohemia due to heavy rains and the failure of the monoculture grain crop. Some half a million people, or 12 percent of the population, perished. There were peasant uprisings as well due to the lack of relief from the government. Potatoes were introduced as a new crop to relieve the famine.
The square in front of Černín Palace is Loretánské náměstí. A column dedicated to Drahomíra, the last pagan princess and mother of St. Wenceslas, stood there until the City Council had it torn down in 1788. A house on the square is still known as Dům U Drahomířina sloupu, meaning House At Drahomíra’s Column. The square has been a burial ground, a marketplace and a pilgrimage site.
The Loreta, a religious complex located on the square, has its own legends. The round outline of the Chapel of St. Matthew, destroyed in 1791, can also be seen there.
An article by Baba Studio with Raymond Johnston. Copyright Baba Studio, all rights reserved. Please contact us if you would like to syndicate or otherwise use this article.