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Od kláštera Osek na Selesiovu výšinu, k Lomu, Libkovicům, Hrdlovce a zpět/From The Osek Cloister to Lom and back
By Samotar, 27 September 2015
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Gardens of the Osek Monastery/Zahrady oseckého kláštera
Early on a Saturday morning, after the Meeting at The Osek Monastery, I wander the gardens of the 12th-century monastery complex in Osek u Duchcova, in the north of Bohemia. As I step outside, the humid morning air parts to embrace me with its chill. The greenery drips with a drenching dew, and this gathered moisture is also reflected above in the overcast sky. The leather of my shoes darkens with the accumulated wetness as my feet shuffle through the unkempt grass.
The bounty of autumn is everywhere in the orchard, apple trees are heavy with uncollected fruit, and I taste several of them and find that there are not less than three varieties of apples growing here, tasting sometimes of honey, sometimes of wine, or even hinting of rose. But they are late apples, perhaps left too long on the tree, too dense and hard to eat.
Further testifying to the fertility of this place and its abundance, a small flock of sheep grazes in a nearby field, but a wire fence keeps me from going any closer. They look up at me as I pass, but they don’t stop chewing, their breakfast being far more important to them than any passing stranger.
The gardens of the estate seem vast, but are hemmed in by walls that create an enclosure for the yards, the orchards, the pools, the workshops and the storage sheds. Some of these walls are made of raw stone knitted together in a chaotic matrix, characteristic of that certain period of wall building. Others are put together from orderly brick logically arranged in rectilinear expanses. The length of a stuccoed wall next to a highway (I know the road is there because I can hear the passing sound of the occasional solitary vehicle) is divided by a portal gate that leads out.
In the wan misty light of early morning, the sun appears as a fine white disc, still hanging low in the sky. In the enclosed space are arranged, not only the convent and church and its formal courtyards, but also several ruins, and I find stone stairways disappearing into the grass, seldom-used walkways, and other baroque pieces rendered poignant by their now run-down elegance. I discover a small chapel and step inside. It’s a bit grimy, but generally in good condition. A statue of a bare-chested man, a martyr probably, stretches out his hand, offering me a skull.
I had arrived in Osek the previous afternoon with friends to take part in the final evening of the project. After we are assigned rooms to spend the night, I wander the corridors of the monastery for a time, inspecting the many paintings hanging on the walls, consisting of religious scenes, mainly, and portraits of church patriarchs. I admire the play of late afternoon light as it pours in from tremendous windows in broad diagonal shafts, asserting their hold on space as if they were solid bodies. The streaming light is modulated by baroque balustrades, reflecting glass, and other furnishings, which throw their own images on the surrounding walls, their forms visibly resonating by means of a regiment of distorted shadows. I listen, too, to the sounds made by my own movements in the building.
That evening, the project organizers had arranged an organ recital in the main church of the complex, the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Klášterní kostel Nanebevzetí Panny Marie). Built in the romanesque style in the 12th century, like so many old buildings in the Czech Republic, it was redone in the baroque style in the 18th. The vast interior of the church boasts two organs, a large one over the narthex, and a small one in one of the transepts. The recital was performed on the smaller organ, as partially documented in this recording.
Altered Landscape, Lives and Memory: A walk from Osek to the sites of the vanished villages of Libkovice and Hrdlovka
Walking could turn out to be the best way to understand a place. Even the natural sciences and the humanities aim to explore the countryside, but they use different methods. For example, the foundations of a spatial archeology were laid right here, because of the extraordinary happenstance of removing the entire surface of the soil in such a broad scale, thereby discovering ancient settlements. You need not be a scientist to understand what is going on here: “How many times they have changed the course of the river Bílina?”
Together with the archaeologist Petr Meduna, art historian Radoslava Schmelzová and biologist Jiří Sádlo we will visit several locations around the village of Libkovice (Liquitz), today merely a small fragment of a brutally exploited urbanized territory. Libkovice was the last coherent urban settlement destroyed because of a planned expansion of a coal mine in 1992. However, the mining there has never begun--and maybe never will. What remains is a devastated landscape, people's lives and historical memory. A short recapitulation after twenty years: How is this different from the fate of Lidice? The landscape of the lignite basin of northwestern Bohemia still belongs among the most devastated regions in Europe. Regardless who is in power, it seems.
The Landscape of Eternal Unrest
Today Libkovice is part of Mariánské Radčice. The cadaster of Libkovice has been systematically studied by archaeologists since the 1970s. Along with records of earlier findings, the archaeological record provides a detailed picture of the development of human settlements since the Neolithic Age, through its entire history. Libkovice itself was founded in the early Middle Ages (the oldest documents are from the 9th-10th centuries.) Since 1240, it has belonged to the Osek Monastery.
Our walk through this “sad country” (as it was once called by the famous photographer Josef Sudek), starts in the architecturally unique Osek Monastery complex, founded by a local noble family named Hrabišic at the end of the 12th century. The Cistercians moved here from the (now defunct) monastery Mašťov in Doupovské mountains. The development of the monastery in the 14th century drew income from the vast estates and from the silver and tin mines of the Ore Mountains .
The monastery was rebuilt in the spectacular way of the high Baroque (1712-1718) by an architect of Italian origin named Octavio Broggio (1670-1742), who was active in the Litomeřice region. The monastery barely escaped the secularization of Joseph II, and in the 19th century, with the process of industrialization and coal mining, it became, temporarily, the site of mayor’s office for the town of Osek.
We will visit the monument to the victims of the Nelson mine disaster, which will recall a post-industrial “ghost story”. We will climb the quartzite rock outcropping called teh Salesius heights, named after the Osek abbot Salesius Krügner, who was a lover of nature in the Ore Mountains.
Biologist Jiří Sádlo will ask questions about how the local landscape is being restored: Can we call it still nature or not? How does it fit in with the ancient landscape of the Ore mountains? We will pass through the village of Lom, today a small town with mining colonies and a unique atmosphere.
Panoramic vistas over the lignite mines can be interpreted as a parable about anthropocentrism, egocentrism, and the dark sides of humanity.
Meeting point: Information Centre of the Osek monastery at 10am.
Duration: all-day walk (max. 15 km).
Recommended equipment: wear sturdy shoes, bring snacks (there will not be a chance to buy food until the final stop in Mariánské Radčice).
For more information please contact Dagmar Šubrtová: email@example.com