Archduke Franz Ferdinand d’Este, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is famous for being dead – it was his assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 that sparked WWI. But the archduke was an enigmatic figure who avoided the intrigues of the Vienna court and for the last 20 years of his life hid away in what became his ideal country retreat. Konopiště, lying amid extensive grounds 2km west of the town of Benešov, is a testament to the archduke’s twin obsessions – hunting and St George.
Having renovated the massive Gothic and Renaissance building in the 1890s and installed all the latest technology – including electricity, central heating, flush toilets, showers and a luxurious lift – Franz Ferdinand decorated his home with his hunting trophies. His game books record that he shot about 300,000 creatures in his lifetime, from foxes and deer to elephants and tigers. About 100,000 animal trophies adorn the walls, each marked with the date and place it met its end – the crowded Trophy Corridor, with a forest of mounted animal heads, and the antler-clad Chamois Room, with its ‘chandelier’ fashioned from a stuffed condor, are truly bizarre sights.
There are four guided tours (in English) available. Tour 3 is the most interesting, visiting the private apartments used by the archduke and his family, which have remained unchanged since the state took possession of the chateau in 1921. Tour 1 visits the apartments in the south wing; Tour 2 takes in the Great Armoury, one of the largest and most impressive collections in Europe; and Tour 4 visits the archduke's hunting trophies.
The archduke’s collection of art and artefacts relating to St George is no less impressive, amounting to 3750 items, many of which are on show in the St George Museum beneath the terrace at the front of the castle.