The Landscape Guide

Wallenstein's garden in Prague 

Out of the middle of the war-time, when the heart of the country was beating most wildly and restlessly, we hear a voice which is never tired of calling people to the peaceful art of garden-making, from the greatest sites to the smallest. Count Wallenstein never lost sight of home-life, although he himself stood over a dizzy abyss. When he took for his residence Gitschin in Bohemia, it was a wretched patch of 198 shingle-roofed houses. With unwearying trouble, warnings, threats, and most of all with money support, he brought the townsmen to the point of building better houses, and introduced orderliness and sobriety. He built a great castle for himself, and untiringly superintended its building. 

The garden, which lay behind the castle, appears to have been like the one he planned afterwards at Prague. In June 1630, shortly after his fall (in consequence of the assembly of princes at Ratisbon and just before he took up his residence at Gitschin), he writes as follows: “ If I am correct, there is no fountain in the garden plan exactly in front of the loggia. Tell the architect that there must be a large fountain put right in the middle of the square before the loggia; all the water must run into it and then out, dividing into two streams right and left, making the other fountains in the courts run in the same way. Send me the design of the garden, with not less than one of each set of fountains marked with numbers, and write what is needed for each of them.”

Gitschin had an imposing park suitable for a country house, whose area amounted to 12,000 metres; and a wide avenue of limes with four rows of trees led to the town. The prince ordered guards to be set there “ so that the limes should not be spoiled by the numbers of people who come from the town.” In the park he grew uncommon trees and shrubs. The water in the garden, six fountains and a pond for swans, was conducted by eight artificial canals; there was a pheasantry and a garden for animals. We can get no clearer picture of his garden at the town house in Prague, “the Duke’s house,” with which he was concerned during the last years before he was murdered. He had about twenty town houses and other buildings taken down so as to obtain a good site here. As at Gitschin, the garden front of this large, irregularly built house had a loggia in the pure Italian style (Fig. 389). 

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On one side was the prince’s bathroom, treated in the grotto style. A winding stairway led from here to his private workroom. In front of the loggia was a wide square of garden with a beautiful fountain in the centre, and round this four beds making a parterre.

The unfavourable nature of the place does not allow the garden to stretch out as far as it should in length, and thus neither the noble loggia nor the garden can make a really finished picture. To get a view of the long axis, it is necessary to go to the aviary at the side of the hall, and here also the parterres are connected with fountains, and the garden is bounded along its whole breadth by a large water-mirror; in the centre is an island, with very probably a fountain group to make a point de vue

In the arcade-like alcoves, statues used to stand, for the letters speak of their being set up there. Among others there was a bronze Hercules standing even as late as:1793. The aviary is a great wired building, the walls adorned with all sorts of shells and stalactites, and this is still there. In the aviary there were, in the Italian style, hedges, bushes, and trees, and the birds nested in them, as at the Palazzo Doria at Genoa. Italian influence is supreme in all these minor details, and at this period is very conspicuous. Baccio di Bianco, the gardener who afterwards migrated to Spain, was active here for a time. But the whole picture of the Kleinseite district at Prague must have produced an Italian effect in its buildings. The great pile of the seventeenth century, the Belvedere, was on the high part, the palaces of Lubkowitz and Fürstenburg on the slopes, with their terrace gardens: of these one can still see certain traces in isolated remains of steps, grottoes and pavilions, in what seem to be their former places, and lastly on the level ground the house of Wallenstein.

A man similar in many respects to Wallenstein, one whom the long war had moulded as a hero, and yet one who had added to the life of adventure a keen delight in the works of peace, such as building and gardening, was Maurice of Nassau. He certainly out-lived the war, and his building activities in Germany belong to the period that followed it; still he had shown beforehand how well he knew how to combine the arts of peace and war. Fabulous stories are told of his buildings in Brazil, where he was sent in the service of the Dutch State. In the short space of seven years he had built no fewer than three great places in what is now Pernambuco, of which two, Freiburg and Boa Vista (Bellevue), were palaces; and these were castles with trenches round them and flanked with towers, according to superficial, untrustworthy accounts. There were bridges that led into fine pleasure-gardens, where probably French influence will have predominated, as also in the buildings, though the tall vegetation of the South must always have given a peculiar effect.

After Maurice came home to Europe in 1644 his work went to pieces. But he created a new field of activity, when in 1647 he entered the service of the “ Great Elector.” His lord wanted, like himself, to make the country more beautiful. With this intention he furthered the plans of a stadtholder, who, though in his service and domain, began to build in the spirit of an independent prince. Just as Wallenstein converted Gitschin, so did Maurice convert Cleves from a wretched place into a flourishing residential town, and that in a very short time. He put avenues everywhere, and when he found a view but not enough height, he piled up artificial mounds, and built a series of country houses. These, according to the accounts we have, showed a purely Italian influence, especially the ornamental part of the so-called new animal-garden, which was built in terraces, one above the other, adorned with fountains. The lowest of these splashed its water up to a height of twenty-four feet from the beak of a black eagle which stood in the middle of a basin, of which the back wall was covered with rock-work and masks. The end at the lowest level was defined by two carved heraldic lions, a present from the Council of Amsterdam, and a fountain, in the shape of a star, sprinkled water above. On the third ascending terrace was the figure of a boy blowing in a shell and sitting on a dolphin. Finally the whole place was crowned by a Minerva in white marble, also a present from Holland: she stood in an amphitheatre adorned with vases, urns, and basins. 

Maurice was a travelled man, and acquainted with the gardens of the South; so although his eyes were often directed towards Holland, which was near at hand, a place like this did not originate in Holland; and he was always able to tell his chief, afresh and justifiably, that his guests from Holland were full of admiration and astonishment for his work.

But a flourishing creation like this, coming immediately in the war and out of it, was a strange exception, for only slowly and little by little did people begin to recover tracts of land that had been entirely laid waste, and to build and plant anew. Therefore the Thirty Years’ War completely put an end to the renaissance of garden art in Germany. The German princes once more had power and sufficient substance. Ornament and luxury in their homes became an increasing need. And a new star which gave an irresistible direction to culture of every kind, but especially influenced garden art, had arisen: this was Louis XIV.