Case study: The Life and Near Death of Jezeří Chateau Under the Czechoslovak Communist Regime
From its first mention in the mid-14th century to the end of the Second World War, Jezeří Chateau somehow survived the vagaries of a precarious existence in one of the most war-torn corners of Europe only to face its greatest existential crisis soon after the close of the greatest conflict the continent had known. Once the Communist Party came to power in 1948, the ownership of the chateau immediately came into question and following its expropriation by the state it quickly fell into disrepair. By itself, this neglect would have been enough to spell the eventual end of the historic monument, but the danger was heightened further by the huge expansion of coal mining operations in the North Bohemian brown coal basis that eventually encroached upon the slopes of the Ore Mountain foothills upon which the chateau rests. Plans were hatched to clear the chateau from the mountain slopes altogether and it was only thanks the exhaustive efforts of a small coterie of scientists and concerned individuals that rescued the building from seemingly inevitable destruction and helped to ensure that the open cast mining operations were kept at a far enough distance to prevent destabilisation of the surrounding hillside. It is mainly thanks to the tireless endeavours of the geologist Dr Jan Marek that the danger posed to the chateau came to light and which eventually formed the backbone of opposition to the detrimental effects of coal mining. It is also thanks to Dr Marek that we have a detailed description of how close Jezeří Chateau came to annihilation and the detailed scientific research that was undertaken in the face of much opposition to expose the imminent threat to the building and its surrounds. Much of this article is taken directly from Dr Marek’s writings on the subject.
The Communist Putsch and the start of the chateau's downfall
After the end of the Second World War, the chateau and its lands were, over time, returned to the ownership of the aristocratic Lobkowicz family, which had been in possession of Jezeří for the previous three centuries. They had been confiscated from the family by the Nazis following their occupation of the Czech Sudetenland in 1938, when the owner Maxmilián Ervín of Lobkowicz, who was member of the Czechoslovak diplomatic corps, went into exile in London to become one of the lead members of the Czechoslavak anti-fascist movement. Lobkowicz, however, remained faithful to Czechoslovak democracy after the Communist putsch of February 1948 and decided to remain in exile, whereupon the chateau was expropriated by the state.
Soon after the Communists’ February “victory” – on 20 April 1948 – the Provincial National Committee introduced national administration at Jezeří. On 21 August 1949, the chateau was taken over by the National Culture Commission. The state of the chateau was declared to be rather bad, but nevertheless the chateau was first rented out to the Ministry of Technology. On 22 September 1950, however, the government decided to make it available to the Ministry of National Defence; it was specifically allocated to the management of the Chomutov garrison.
The “takeover” of the chateau took place on 28 August without notifying the National Culture Commission and the State Monument Administration in a way that completely contradicted the principles of those institutions. The 100-member garrison simply occupied the chateau, threw what remained of the inventory into the chapel, and whitewashed the whole chateau in their own style, both in reality and figuratively. The Czechoslovak People’s Army tried to adapt the chateau grounds completely to its own needs. The interiors were destroyed, many rooms in the chateau were intentionally modified and the remaining furniture either stolen or destroyed. 
In 1955, the chateau was taken over by the Ministry of Interior. In line with a decision dated 9 January 1958, administration was delegated to the Ministry of Education and Culture, Monument Care Department. On 29 August 1958, the chateau was transferred to the State Monument Administration, and then in 1959 it was transferred to the Regional National Committee in Ústí nad Labem. At that time there was no security provided at Jezeří and the chateau was left exposed to vandals from 1960. From 1961 to 1972, the chateau was administered by the District National Committee in Most when the first project for reconstructing the building was drawn up. Its author was the Institute for Landscape Creation and Protection of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, which had responsibility for supporting Jezeří in its research programme. A further anticipated use of the chateau was to build an extensive recreational area of supra-regional importance, but it remained an idea only.
From 1964, artistic-historic and structural research was undertaken under the oversight of Václav Mencl. The subsequent reconstruction by the Usti-based District Construction Enterprise, however, only led to the further devastation of the building. At the same time as the demolition of the unmaintained chaplain’s dwelling and kitchen annexes, the north-east wing of the chateau and the underlined buttress were seriously damaged, known these days as the oriel. This situation was continued like this for some time without any measure of security, and it is testimony to its solid and true construction that no other parts of the building fell apart. In 1967, the then administrator permitted further gross interference by the District Construction Enterprise from Ústí nad Labem by ripping up around 150 m² of parquet flooring, which was subsequently used at the chateau in Ploskovice. The District National Committee in Most reconstructed the gatehouse as a temporary dwelling for a guard, and in 1972 the chateau was transferred to the administration of the Regional Centre of State Monument Care and Nature Protection in Ústí nad Labem. Further reconstruction was therefore postponed indefinitely. The chateau administration at that time prohibited even normal maintenance from being carried out and justified neglecting the state of the chateau on the grounds of the ambiguous situation regarding the mining activities of the North Bohemian Lignite Mines.
The all-consuming desire for coal eats away at the chateau’s foundations
In the years 1973-76, engineering-geological mapping was undertaken in the foregrounds of the adjacent Czechoslovak Army opencast mine, from whose conclusions there stemmed a desperate need for more detailed research of the coal basin limits in the 1980s. This mainly mapping confirmed fears that the extent of the crystalline massif of the Ore Mountains could significantly influence coal mining activities and vice-versa. The state of the crystalline massif, its disrupted tectonic plates, efflorescent processes and landslide activity in the very places where the coal basin limits abutted the Jezeří chateau grounds needed to be urgently verified. The responsibility for the research was given to Construction Geology Prague under the research management of RNDr. Jan Marek.
In 1975, Dr Marek informed the Regional Office of State Cultural Heritage and Nature Conservation of the risk to Jezeří Chateau and the surrounding mountainsides. He set up a permanent field office in an abandoned tower of the chateau with the Regional Office’s approval.
The site became popularised after he submitted his final report on the engineering and geological mapping and especially after his articles were published. Czechoslovak Television interviewed him on its economics programme “Is It Worth It?” in the chateau courtyard. Jezeří started to host journalists, political officials, leading scientists, entire busloads from the Regional Mining Authority in Most, Báňské projekty [English: Mining Projects] in Teplice, the Regional Office of State Cultural Heritage and Nature Conservation in Ústí nad Labem, the Central Geological Institute, various institutes of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, and universities in Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Bratislava and Košice. Josef Velek visited – the only journalist in those days with an openly pro-environmental focus. Velek began to write a book about the Jezeří problem, but never completed it: he died while diving in the Red Sea soon afterwards. Wagging tongues inferred that somebody had pushed him.
The growing popularity of the Jezeří area was in sharp contrast to the frightening state of neglect of the chateau itself. To make the responsible political and administrative authorities and, more importantly, mining institutions aware of the real value of the building, Dr Marek compiled an overview of its historic and structural development, assessing its importance, and published it in the professional journal of the North Bohemian Mines called “Hnědé uhlí” (English: “Brown Coal”). 
A new geological survey is commissioned
The practical result was that both the State Cultural Heritage Conservation and the general management of North Bohemian Mines commissioned Stavební geologie [English: Structural Geology] to perform a new, detailed, purpose-driven engineering and geological survey of the Jezeří area. It was obvious beforehand that the survey was primarily meant to either confirm or refute his conclusions and interpretations made as part of the previous geological mapping exercise. Dr Marek subsequently spent the whole of 1977 making a detailed survey of the cellars and other underground spaces of the Jezeří Chateau grounds, and commissioned geophysical measurements in several points along the chateau buildings and the surrounding slopes where he had predicted the existence of tectonic fault zones. Only after that did he design subsequent, technically demanding works. He had his entire design reviewed by the most distinguished professionals, his old university professors, Quido Záruba and Vojtěch Mencl, the founders of the scientific discipline of engineering geology.
The difficulty of finding a company to accept the commission
A team of designers at Báňské projekty Teplice – the last ones who still knew how to design underground mining works in the North Bohemian Basin – were charged with drawing up the technical designs for the mining works. At the foot of the hill under the chateau, Dr Marek proposed a vertical shaft and two horizontal galleries under one another, dug towards the mountains; the bottom gallery was to be dug from the bottom of the shaft. Their purpose was to detect and cross the predicted tectonic fault zones. However, the mining engineers gave up on the job after a year designing it. There was no-one at hand who was willing to carry out the designed work.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party decided that the costs of the work were to be paid by the North Bohemian Mines (Doly V.I. Lenina [English: V.I. Lenin Mines], later renamed Mostecká uhelná společnost [English: Most Coal Company]). So Dr Marek borrowed the Stavební geologie director’s managerial Tatra 613 with a driver, put two mine development officers with signed and stamped authorisations in their pockets in the car, and started to tour Czechoslovakia looking for someone willing to undertake the work. 
In the meantime, Jáchymov-based Výstavba dolů uranového průmyslu (VDUP – a uranium mining company) began digging a hydraulic tunnel in the mountainside above Jezeří to divert the Šramnický brook, and then another tunnel at Albrechtice to divert the Černický brook to the reservoir at Loupnice. Dr Marek and his team monitored the digging of both tunnels for over a year. They closely documented of the geological phenomena detected in depth within the crystalline complex to have enough background information for comparison for the planned survey under Jezeří. However, they were only able to do that at night, when the digging underground was halted for the day. 
Thanks to co-operation with VDUP Jáchymov, they succeeded in convincing the company’s diggers to perform at least part of the planned mining work under Jezeří after the digging was completed. Most importantly, they managed to do the principal work: the horizontal gallery dug from the mountain base into the crystalline complex right under the chateau, 430 m long. They were documenting the gallery throughout the digging process; again, mostly at night. Deep core holes were bored in front of the gallery portal; an underground hole was bored inside the gallery, and an inclined core hole was bored under the chateau foundations. They documented all the rock formations around the chateau. They measured all the fissures, analysed the geodynamic phenomena and other facts. They found and documented the remains of medieval chambers for iron ore extraction and processing in old “salamander furnaces” discovered around the chateau. Dr Marek published the findings in the professional journal “Rudy” (“Ores”), which later resulted in their protection as national technical heritage sites.
Confirmation and praise for the geological findings
The research around Jezeří took more than four years and was completed in 1981. It fully confirmed the findings and conclusions of the previous engineering geological mapping which the North Bohemian Mines management had not accepted in 1976. It confirmed the existence of massive tectonic fault zones at the mountain base and inside the massif, various anomalies in the positioning of the basin sediments along the seam edge and the groundwater conditions, and most importantly, it confirmed the unstable position of the promontory on which the chateau rests.
Dr Marek was writing the final report on the Jezeří survey in bed at the Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine (IKEM) in Prague, where he had been taken after he collapsed as a result of extreme physical strain, long-term mental exertion, dangerous work in the underground and staying in the unheated tower at Jezeří.
Once he was better, he defended his set of findings and generalised experience as his Candidate of Sciences dissertation thesis at the Charles University Faculty of Science. The thesis was reviewed by three top experts at three universities whose expertise it involved: the geotechnician Prof. Mencl of Brno Technical University, engineering geologist and hydrogeologist Prof. Homola of Ostrava Mining University, and geomorphologist Prof. Král of the Charles University Faculty of Science. They assessed it as the best in years and the most momentous in the Czechoslovak Federation, with a direct impact on the entire country’s economic situation. It seemed that the battle was over and there could be some resting on laurels at last. The reality soon proved otherwise.
Additional mathematical modelling reinforces the potential danger of continued mining
The results of Dr Marek’s research were to be confirmed by a mathematical calculation of the stability of the slope. This was an extremely tall slope, however, its integrity had been disrupted by tectonic zones, and its base was meant to be lightened through coal mining. There was no one around who wanted to take on that task without sufficient previous experience and examples from foreign literature. Eventually, the calculation was taken up by the country’s most experienced experts, geotechnician Vojtěch Mencl and mathematician Ladislav Mejzlík, both emeritus professors at Brno Technical University. They used the finite element method, novel in the Czech Republic at that time, using computer equipment. In addition, a physical model was constructed at the BTU Construction Faculty Geotechnics Department made of equivalent materials (Jezeří Chateau being represented by two sugar cubes). While the professors were doing their calculations, others worked with the physical model located inside transparent plexiglass walls. They used a toy spade to rake away fine sand, which represented the basin sediments, imitating the mining activity in the opencast mine. The condition of the adjacent crystalline complex was monitored by means of a network of surveyed points; movement was expected, and Dr Marek was cautiously watching along with renowned experts from the Academy of Sciences. After all the sediments were removed, nothing shifted until late at night; the sugar cubes remained in place. The next morning, they found the massif had collapsed complete with the sugar cubes.
The mathematical calculation confirmed that removing the top two-thirds of the sediments at the base of the mountainside might not cause a stability collapse of the entire slope, but the bedrock directly under the chateau would suffer deformities of up to 10 cm. A total collapse in stability would occur if the basin fill extraction continued. (The coal seam is located in the bottom segment of the sedimentary strata series.)
Detailed survey results championed by incipient environmental movement
Immediately after the conclusion of his detailed survey at Jezeří in 1981, Dr Marek held a seminar for the staff of the Regional Office of State Cultural Heritage and Nature Conservation in Ústí nad Labem about its results and predictions for the future progress of the coal mines. The seminar was also attended by the heads of the then newly formed youth conservationist movement “Brontosaurus” from Most and Litvínov, Miroslav Brožík and Petr Pakosta. Dr Marek invited them to make use of the assistance of young environmental activists to help in saving and rehabilitating the devastated chateau, its gardens and the former parks around it. The Brontosaurs pulled their weight effectively with the consent of the Regional Conservation Office, but to the displeasure of the District Committee of the Communist Party in Most. The latter regarded their action as a violation of Party guidelines, which were unequivocally in favour of the coal mining. They received no gratitude either when they cleared out the devastated historical Franciscan hospital in Most, scheduled for demolition, and prepared it for renovation.
The youth group ran the “Quite Small Theatre” in Litvínov, where they invited well-known people in environment-related professions for discussions with locals. In 1982, they invited Dr Marek to lecture on “Shall we prop up the Ore Mountains?” The feedback was considerable. The public of Litvínov, Most and the surrounding villages revived their interest in conserving not only Jezeří but also the surrounding landscape and the remaining settlements. Discussion evenings followed, involving top experts in their fields and they all endorsed the continued existence of the chateau. 
Given the results of the Jezeří and other similar surveys, the problem for the authorities now was how the mine planners and operators would cope with their original plan to fully deplete the seam up to the edge using the large-scale opencast method, albeit at the cost of disproportionate expenses and special precautions, the technical and energy intensity of which would clearly outstrip any profit from the coal mined.
Design ideas verging on fantasies were developed, including stabilization of the Ore Mountain massif using a series of pretensioned anchors up to 80 m long, bored from slope sections cut into terraces. Another was to remove the entire exposed section of the crystalline complex so that the end slope of the opencast coal mine would face mountain slopes dressed at a stable incline of approx. 35°. Obviously, that would have required the complete removal of the forest, the groundcover, the protruding rock formations, and naturally, Jezeří Chateau. The latter version was even elaborated into an implementation design, undersigned by Ing. Kubricht, former chief architect of Most and a designer at Báňské projekty at that time. To that end, the mine management, the Brown Coal Research Institute in Most and Báňské projekty in Teplice filed a joint application with the Ministry of Culture in 1982 calling for cancellation of the heritage conservation status of Jezeří Chateau and the adjacent Ore Mountains hillsides.
Dr Marek learnt about a meeting called by the Ministry of Culture to discuss the matter the night before during a discussion at the “Quite Small Theatre” in Litvínov. Following a discussion weighing up the relative importance of the coal on the one hand and the local landscape, cultural heritage and health of the population on the other, which carried on until midnight, he set off for Prague in his 4WD. On the way, driving through a February night snowstorm, he crashed into a ditch. He left the overturned car through the rear window before the running engine exploded and the car caught fire. He managed to explain the accident to the Louny police, catch the first bus to Prague from Louny, attend the meeting at the Ministry, and take part in the discussion. The miners’ proposal to lift the conservation status of Jezeří and expand the mining district up to the summit portions of the Ore Mountains was not approved.
Proposal to demolish Jezeří ignites widespread debate
The miners’ plan to destroy Jezeří Chateau and the adjacent mountainsides provoked a long-lasting and frequently passionate polemic in the daily press and other media as well as at various professional conferences over the period 1981-1987.
Disapproving positions were expressed by leaders in culture, history, nature and heritage conservation, representatives of the local population, youth environmental movements, and journalists alike. Dr Marek initiated the production of a monographic issue of the popular journal “Památky a příroda” [English: Monuments and Nature] dedicated to the Jezeří issues. It was published in 1983, although the editors still refused to include a paper by Dr. Líbal, the country’s leading expert on heritage buildings, who resolutely defended the conservation of Jezeří.
The village of Albrechtice fell prey to the mining preparations below Jezeří in 1985. As was the custom in the area, the houses to be demolished were looted. At that time, Dr Marek’s colleagues and he were arrested at Jezeří and charged at Most police station with looting the chateau. The event was probably stage-managed by mining lobbyists. A lengthy report was made after a long interrogation; no prosecution followed but he was still monitored by the police even at home in Prague.
In the eyes of the mining authorities, Jezeří Chateau was becoming an increasingly hated structure, allegedly an obstacle to further advances in coal mining, although it is situated outside the coal seam. The official caretaker of the building – the Regional Conservation Office in Ústí nad Labem, which had no means even to do basic maintenance – was reluctant to invest its limited resources in a building endangered by demolition, the proposal for which had already been made. It made several efforts to get rid of the dilapidated building, even by assigning it to the mining corporation! It even dismissed the only employee – the chateau custodian. The presence of Dr Marek and his six colleagues in the field office, which they refused to abandon, was therefore the only obstacle to carrying out the demolition plan.
The Jezeří issue reaches a wider international and national audience
In the meantime, the Jezeří issue made it into an international forum. It was talked about at geological, hydrogeological, engineering geological and geotechnical conferences all over the world (Melbourne, Washington, Nuremberg, Granada, Moscow, etc.), but mostly by others. After Dr Marek submitted his final research report, there were suddenly scores of ambitious experts willing to declare the results, conclusions and interpretations as their own, and boast about them abroad. Dr Marek was not even allowed to read out his paper at the World Geology Congress in Moscow in 1984.
During the harsh political period of “Normalization” following the crushing of the Prague Spring, however, positions published in “Rudé právo” – the leading press medium of the all-governing Communist Party – were the most significant ones. Editor Jindra Čekalová played an exceptional role in this. She was not afraid of publishing opinions that clearly went against the existing ideological positions and guidelines of the ruling Party, whether under her own name or signed by apparently non-conforming individuals, irrespective of the disapproval of the then editor-in-chief, a staunch Party cadre, and at the risk of her own existence.
The regime finally begins to change its stance
Party officials agree to limit mining and preserve the chateau
Regional, district and municipal secretaries of the Communist Party made a field trip to the Jezeří area in 1986 with the aim of giving political support and assurance to the uninterrupted operation of the coal mining. Rudé právo editor Čekalová elbowed her way onto the field trip (and could not be refused due to her position), and brought Dr Marek along as her expert advisor (otherwise he could not have attended such a meeting, being branded an opponent to the regime). He provided the board of secretaries with a comprehensive explanation of the issue, took them to the dam of the then emptied Lake Dřínov, guided them around the derelict chateau, and attended the final discussion at the House of Culture in Most. Of the 12 Party bigwigs originally biased in favour of continuing the coal mining, eleven eventually voted for limiting the mining and preserving Jezeří Chateau. Deputy Prime Minister Rudolf Hegenbart, a pro-reform secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and head of the Interdepartmental Committee, visited Jezeří in 1987. He arrived with several ministers and in the company of the General Manager of North Bohemian Mines, dressed in an incomplete miner’s uniform. On the terrace of the chateau, overlooking the coal basin, he listened to the General Manager’s lecture on the mining progress, continuing success and bright prospects for the coal mining. Then he listened to Dr Marek’s lecture. After that, he asked him for his published works to study and kept holding on to his elbow throughout the rest of the guided tour. Before the end of the excursion, he made Dr Marek sit in one of the two chairs available in the chateau courtyard, sitting himself on the other one, while the team of ministers and the General Manager of the mine corporation had to look on standing in a semicircle around them. Everyone present must have been clear about the fact that the decision had been made.
The Central Party Committee concurs
There was no doubt that Hegenbart then had to overcome the opposition of the conservative members of the Central Party Committee and negotiate with representatives of the international Comecon, directed from Moscow. After a long delay, however, the government’s decision was published in the spring of 1988: Jezeří Chateau would be preserved and renovated. The coal mine had to ensure the stability of its underlying slope. The Government earmarked special lottery funds for the renovation.
The mine managers and planners were thus forced into a solution they did not welcome: they had to leave intact the portions of the basin strata series below the most critical parts of the main Ore Mountains side, including the coal seam, which could not be extracted through an opencast mine. Those areas were to act as pillars whose purpose was to secure the stability of the tectonically disrupted mountainsides and thus the safety of operations in the open mine pit. The pillar below Jezerka contains approx. 10 million tonnes of coal; the one below Jezeří has 20-30 million tonnes of coal. Naturally, the pillars and their surroundings had to be kept under geomechanical and geodetic monitoring. The village of Albrechtice could not be saved: it had been destroyed shortly before that (quite pointlessly, as it turned out).
The new struggle to maintain the chateau
The victorious celebrations quickly gave way to having to sort out who would undertake the overall renovation of the intricate building. A bid was made by Průmstav Pardubice, a Chomutov operation, a large and well-established company, but its general manager forbade the commission. The first money that arrived in the Jezeří account was used for erecting a metal scaffold around the main building, and a small construction team from the Žalany u Teplic co-operative farm started fixing the roof. When they found out it was beyond their capacity, they passed the task on to the Most state farm.
A small group of persistent campaigners to save Jezeří with a larger circle of supporters established itself as the “Association to Save Jezeří” in 1988. It registered itself with the Ministry of the Interior when a mild political thaw came. Later on, the citizens’ association name was changed to the “Association to Restore Jezeří” in order to better express its current goals and efforts. The purpose was not only to save the historic building but also to restore its surroundings and the remains of the original landscape. A notable paradox then occurred: the Association exponents who were experts on various scientific disciplines and land use, who were previously in opposition to the governing political team, now became an informal advisory board to the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party! The one who took up the task of resolving the long neglected and truly pressing environmental problems: Rudolf Hegenbart.
The collapse of the communist regime: the context to rescue the chateau changes again
Soon afterwards, however, the party and government began to break apart and collapse in November 1989, and that had implications for Jezeří. The former all-powerful position of North Bohemian Mines lost its political support and, soon after that, its economic power. They were forced to reduce the mining activities to a fraction of their previous volume, slowing down the advance of the Czechoslovak Army opencast mine. They had to start acting at least a little more “environmentally”, since that was the universal imperative of the new era.
Now, after the long hard struggle of the previous decade-and-a-half it seemed as if the chateau and its surrounding settlements could at long last begin along the road to recovery, safe in the knowledge that the main threat to their existence had dissipated. Those who thought so were quickly to be disabused of their illusions regarding the new era of democratic politics and the new imperatives that would drive the new capitalist economy.
- Marek, J. 'A brief history of the thirty years' war for coal mining and land conservation' in Říha, M., Stoklasa, J., Lafarová, M., Dejmal, I., Marek, J., Pakosta, P., Beránek, K. Environmental mining limits in the North Bohemian Lignite Region. Společnost pro krajinu, Praha 2005. Translation: Petr Kurfürst.
- History of the Chateau, official Jezeří Chateau website 
|Author: Jan Marek, Andrew Barton. This article was published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. How to cite the article: Jan Marek, Andrew Barton. (15. 08. 2022). Case study: The Life and Near Death of Jezeří Chateau Under the Czechoslovak Communist Regime. VCSEWiki. Retrieved 22:44 15. 08. 2022) from: <https://vcsewiki.czp.cuni.cz/w/index.php?title=Case_study:_The_Life_and_Near_Death_of_Jeze%C5%99%C3%AD_Chateau_Under_the_Czechoslovak_Communist_Regime&oldid=4872>.|
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