KROMERIZ, Czech Republic – A visit to the Flower Garden in the eastern Czech city of Kromeriz is like traveling 300 years back in time.
With its original geometrical layout and high topiary walls, it's a rare example of an early baroque garden style. And it's now reclaiming the unique features it had when it was completed in 1675, including fountains, sculptures inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, a Dutch bulb garden, citrus trees, fishponds and a rabbit hill.
The Flower Garden was created near an archbishop's chateau, but it proved so difficult and expensive to maintain that it was neglected. Ironically, that neglect allowed it to survive for centuries mostly unchanged, though some features disappeared or suffered damage over time.
Restoration efforts began in the 1950s, and the Flower Garden was added to UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1998 together with the chateau and another garden on its grounds. The European Union is now funding restoration of about a third of the Flower Garden, using copper engravings from 1691 as a guide for what it once looked like.
"Here, time has stopped, somehow," said Lenka Kresadlova from the National Heritage Institute. "As it served as a kitchen garden, most of its artistic features, including the topiary, were preserved. It was a fortunate coincidence that allowed this garden to be preserved in its original authentic shape, when all other gardens created in the era ceased to exist. That's why we are so unique."
Kresadlova said the project's goal is "to give the visitors a chance to relive the atmosphere. We might not be faithful to every single detail but the whole atmosphere and the spirit of the place should return to the early baroque time."
Here are some of the restored features from the Flower Garden that offer visitors a glimpse of a 17th-century world.
Growing bulbs — called "Dutch" flowers — was a prestigious activity among the upper class in the 16th and 17th centuries. These spring-blooming flower beds have been restored with 20,000 bulbs of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and Kaiser's crown (or crown imperials). The Dutch Garden also includes a fountain with the original statue of a water god, and is considered one of the Flower Garden's most authentic spots.
Originally, this area had three rows of citrus trees. It formed a very prestigious part of the garden because only the richest people could afford citrus trees in Central Europe due to the severe weather. In winter, the area was covered with a wooden shelter and heated, but the structure was difficult to maintain and did not survive. In the 18th century, it was replaced by an orangery, but that, too, did not survive. It's also not known what the wooden structure looked like, so the citrus trees that are there today were planted in wooden barrels and will be placed in glasshouses in winter.
Two square pools with fountains in the middle survived as ruins. They reclaimed their original look, including stone balustrades. Despite being called trout ponds, they never housed trout, just carp, and the new ponds will get some fish.
Rabbits lived in a series of burrows in an artificial hill with a statue of Diana, goddess of the hunt, placed on the top. The hill disappeared over time but has been rebuilt. The statue survived.
A large baroque enclosure for birds with 10 huge windows, located in the middle of a pool on an island, survived to the 20th century in poor condition and was not much improved by a partial reconstruction in the 1960s. The aviary and pool have now been completely renovated.
Kromeriz was once a summer seat of bishops and archbishops from the nearby city of Olomouc. The Flower Garden was commissioned by Bishop Charles II Lichtenstein-Castelcorn, designed by architect Filiberto Lucchese and completed after Lucchese's death by Giovanni Pietro Tencalla in 1675. It's a rare example of an early baroque style that combined an Italian Renaissance garden with a newer French baroque approach typical of the period of Louis XIV, the Sun King.
The space is divided by a network of paths with a central rotunda, with labyrinths, fountains and a colonnade with 44 sculptures inspired by Greek and Roman mythology.
If You Go...
FLOWER GARDEN: http://www.zamek-kromeriz.cz/gardens/floral-garden/. Located in Kromeriz, Czech Republic, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) east of Brno, the second-largest Czech city, which has an international airport. Open daily. Adults, 40 Czech koruna ($1.90; 1.4 euro). Discounts for seniors, family, children and students. The archbishop's chateau and chateau garden are also UNESCO World Heritage sites and worth a visit.