Kladruby nad Labem
The Landscape for Breeding and Training of Ceremonial Carriage Horses at Kladruby nad Labem is a site designed exclusively for the breeding and training of Kladruber horses, which were used in ceremonies by the Habsburg imperial court.
It is one of the most significant horse-breeding institutions in Europe and continues to function to this day. The extensive terrain consists of three farms and a landscape park.
Map of Kladruby nad LabemLoad map
Visit July 2020
I’ve never liked horses. I’ve never had the common young girls crush on those stereotypically ‘noble’ animals. As an adult, on a group tour to Turkmenistan, I remember an obligatory stop at a breeding farm of Akhal-Teke horses which bored me within minutes. So the appearance of the horse farm of Kladruby nad Labem on the World Heritage List last year did not give me great joy. But well, you gotta go to every single one WHS and the subject in this case at least is quite original in the WH context.
I did look forward to the day trip as a whole though, starting the small expedition by public transport to the Czech countryside fresh of the plane. Having learned from previous reviewers, I visited on a Friday to make the best of the railway connections. On weekdays there are 2 trains per hour between Prague Central and Recany nad Labem, the closest station to Kladruby.
It was a gorgeous sunny day, which proved to be a blessing for the final 3km roadside walk. There are white-blue-white markers painted on trees to show the way, but it is easy anyway: just go straight ahead from the station. The first 1.5km of the walk is extremely boring, only when you cross the Elbe river (Labe in Czech) the landscape becomes more interesting. There are pastures bordered with white fences in which the horses run their laps every now and then - but I saw only few of them outside.
When I arrived at the ticket office and asked for a tour of the stables, they turned out to be sold out for the rest of the day! They only had tickets left for the tour of the castle at 3 o'clock - that meant waiting an hour for an undoubtedly boring tour. The gods of European castles and palaces may have had their revenge on me for my disparaging comments….
I bought the ticket anyway (90 Czech crowns / EUR 3.40) to get a taste of the atmosphere of the farm. At least I got a nice looking entrance ticket with a close up of a horse head in return. Access to the general areas is free and the WHS covers a large cultural landscape so it is not hard to get your ‘tick’, but the more interesting parts of this WHS are only unlocked by guides.
So I hung around for an hour - luckily there were benches in the shade available, as well as an ice cream cart. A side entrance to the stables was open and I could peek in there to see some of the horses. The Kladruby horses are sturdy animals: they are either pure black or white (light gray). About 250 are kept and trained here. They were especially bred to pull carriages, in contrast to the more famous Lipica where the Habsburgers bred their riding horses.
I can be short about my tour of the castle. About 20 fellow visitors showed up: all Czechs and the tour was also in Czech only. I received an explanation booklet in English. The (small) castle, more similar to a hunting lodge, has been heavily restored in recent years and looks newish. The only room of interest I found the one where copies of the studbooks of the Kladruby horses are displayed.
Horse breeding on the World Heritage List? I am not into horses and equestrian sports, and when I see the Fiakers at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, I doubt that the horses have much fun drawing the tourists through the city. It would be healthier for both if people would walk. So I was not very excited when Kladruby nad Labem was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2019. But in October 2021 I set out to complete the Czech Republic again and combined this with a revisit to Prague.
I arrived in Kladruby around noon on a weekday. A castle tour had just started, but I decided to wait another two hours for the guided tour to the stables. After all, it's about horses and I have already seen enough interiors of castles.
To fill the time, I hiked the circular trail as suggested by the lady at the information centre. She also gave me this map. The hike is about five kilometres long and leads along pastures, meadows, and irrigation canals and through the avenues that were built for training of the carriage horses. A dozen information boards explain the cultural landscape. Here I could also admire the grazing horses at leisure (upper photo). I was surprised that not all the horses were white, especially the foals were grey and almost black. Later I learned that the pure white colour only develops when the horses are grown up.
The tours take about an hour and are only in Czech, but you get information sheets in English. However, the guide spoke English very well and was happy to answer all my questions. There were only five of us on the tour and there was enough time to have a good look at the stables and everything else. There is even an indoor riding hall. Obviously, there is a class society among horses as well. The simplest stables are for the broodmares and their foals. The stallions, which are trained for ceremonial purposes, have their own individual boxes. And the horses used for equestrian competitions have somewhat larger boxes. But the first-class stables are those for the breeding stallions that represent the five lines of the Kladruby horses (lower photo). The lines have such impressive names as Generale or Generalissimus.
The complex of stables, castle and church looks very authentic, as if nothing had changed since the 19th century. But it was in 2007, after Kladruby was put on the Czech tentative List, when restoration work began and the classicist style of the stud farm was recreated. The tour ends at the central gate of the stables. From there you have direct views along the two avenues to the Josefov and Frantiskov stables, where the mares and young foals are kept. These are also roughly the directions to Prague and Vienna, the destinations for the trained Kladruber horses in the heyday of the stud farm. We know how keen the experts of ICOMOS are on this viewing axis topic. So this may also have contributed to the positive evaluation of Kladruby nad Labem.
I am still not into horses, but I enjoyed my visit more than I expected. In about three hours I learned more about horses and horse breeding than I ever wanted to know. And that's what makes WHS hunting so exciting: discovering places you would never visit otherwise. Kladruby nad Labem is certainly not on my list of top WHS, but it is unique and you have to acknowledge that Czechia has been able to fill a gap on the list.
I know people who are into horses. Frankly, I am not one of those, that is unless served as a plate of pìcula 'd caval in Piacenza; simply delicious. Still, watching the horses playing on the paddocks around Kladruby was a nice experience. The whole area around the estate has been devoted and transformed to breeding horses and I simply could not stop taking pictures from all angles of the horses.
Historically, the estate was owned by a nobleman before being taken over by the Habsburg king when the noble ran into money problems (see Clyde for details). The Habsburgs bred two sorts of horses in Kladruby. White ones for earthly processions. Black ones for the church. To this day the estate is operated and has kept its original shape. Personally, I started to wonder about the practice of boxing horses, i.e. keeping them in rather small cages. Apparently, there are equestrians who feel it's a good option. To me, naively it felt wrong.
While I would rate my visit and the experience rather high, there are a few concerns I have with the OUV of the inscription.
- You take away the horses and this goes really quickly down 1 star. As such, it's on the border (or past the border) of being an intangible cultural heritage.
- This is a royal estate raising horses for royal and church rituals. It's not really representative of the general business of breeding work horses or war horses in the past.
- Last but not least, horse breeding is a tradition I did not associate with Bohemia prior visiting. Don't get me wrong, I do world heritage sites to learn about history and culture, so this is appreciated. Still you wonder, why the horse breeding tradition of Spain/Andalucía or Hungary (which has a tentative site themselves) should be less relevant than Kladruby. Even more so when you consider that these are also Habsburg traditions. I think a comparative study would have been good prior to inscription.
The closest train station is Řečany nad Labem (Řečany on the Elbe). The regional train runs between Kolin and Pardubitz and connects to trains from Prague to Brno/Ostrava. Coming from Prague, it's hardly possible to miss the connection as the intercity train and the regional train share tracks and the intercity takes precedence. Intuitively, there should be a connection to Kutna Hora, but I couldn't make it work.
From the train station in Řečany nad Labem, it's a 45min walk along the road to get to the estate. You will cross the Labem/Elbe along the way which I enjoyed living downstream in Hamburg. You will also be crossed by some crazy fast Czech drivers which is not much of a pleasure. The bus connection mentioned by Ian and Matejicek could be alternative.
Tours for the estate can be reserved in advance, but I don't think you need to. Generally, these are held in Czech, so they give you a English leaflet and keep talking Czech. Personally, I found the tour lasting too long for the content shown (same as Zoe). Essentially they are showing you the stables with the horses and the central square of the estate. The best part to me where the horses running on the fields and those are for free.
There are two other stables you can visit. Being on foot and with a rucksack I did not try to.
As interesting as a horse farm can be, if this appeals to you, there probably aren’t many better places to visit, it is well maintained and thoroughly explained (in Czech unless otherwise arranged).
For me the appeal was rather slim, I was merely doing my duty and visiting on an unseasonably warm lovely Saturday afternoon in October 2019. The details have been covered in the other reviews, but I will say the landscape around the farms were pleasant to stroll through, seeing mares and foals gambolling away in the distance.
My visit was fine, but this is about as far removed from my interest as it is likely to get.
The highlight was the welcome and help given by the staff, mostly only Czech speaking, though one lovely guide spoke excellent English. She finished a tour on the dot to drive me to the station in a rush to get my train (more on that below).
(Site 2: Experience 5)
Visiting by public transport:
The nearest train station is at Řečany nad Labem which is about 3km south of the main stables. On weekdays there are connecting busses, however, the station one stop east is Přelouč could provide a better connection, so check the full itinerary at idos.cz to find out where is best to get off there train. These give you a chance to rejoice in getting acquainted with the Czech language’s unique and devious letter: Ř
If you arrive at the weekend though, there are no busses, nor much chance of a taxi (I was advised they would have to be booked to come in from Kolin, if you are heading in from Prague or Kutna Hora, it may be worth just getting a taxi from there, if your budget allows).
Řečany nad Labem station is rather small, it had a ticket office, a toilet and a bench all with comically minimal opening times (07:50–08:10, 09:40–10:10, 11:40–14:10, 14:40–18:05), and not much else. So don’t be relying on it for anything substantial, and there isn’t a chance to leave any bags, or buy food/ drink.
As it was I had an enjoyable walk out to the stables (roughly 40 minutes each way), and from the moment you cross the Labe/Elbe river you are in the core zone and you can start to see the long avenues of trees. Though you will have to walk the long way around the main buildings as there is no access from the south (the direction you are approaching from).
The train connections at weekends are pretty sparse, as such a slightly delayed arrival left me with 2 hours to kill in Pardubice. Fortunately this is enough time to walk into the rather charming central square and visit the impressive castle. Whilst probably not of World Heritage quality these two are rather lovely and I’m happy to have finally visited.
Pardubice train station is also a rather lovely sleek mid century modernist ensemble selling some of the lovely local gingerbread.
If you are coming in from the west (e.g. Prague) you will probably have to change at Kolin, which many may already be familiar with as it is the point to change to get to Kutna Hora, a few kilometres to the south.
I visited this recently inscribed WHS in Summer 2019. Once a settlement for “timber logging” (in Czech klady rubaji), Kladruby provided ideal conditions for horse breeding, thanks to the cut-down floodplain forest.
At the time of Charles IV, the village of loggers, horse breeders and traders, administered by monasteries, flourished and a rectory and church were founded. The loggers gradually became squires, and their coat of arms from the early 15th century in fact shows a horseshoe. Yet this growth didn't last for long, as both the rectory and the church were destroyed during the Hussite Wars. By 1500, after a period of frequent changes of owners, Kladruby was bough by William of Pernstein and consequently attached to the large Pernstein dominion of Pardubice. The Pernstein family maintained the local tradition of horse breeding and founded a horse sanctuary, as documented in 1522, where horses were bred half-wild. The history of old Spanish and old Italian horse breeds in Kladruby which survived till present times began in 1552, when Jaroslav of Pernstein, following the fashionable trends of his times, brought the first horses of Spanish blood to the sanctuary. The year 1579 is an important milestone as by the degree of Emperor Rudolf II, a royal stud was established in the sanctuary.
Around 250 White Kladrubers, as they are called, are bred at Czechia's only national stud farm in Kladruby nad Labem. Black Kladrubers are bred in a secondary farm nearby in Slatinany. Written records of Kladruby date back to the 12th century, when the village belonged to the Litomysl monastery and later to the Sedlec monastery on the outskirts of Kutna Hora. In the early years, horses were bred in an enclosure rather than in stables. After Henry of Pernstein was forced to sell the estates to pay his debts, these became property of the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian II. In 1579, Emperor Rudolf II elevated the original horse enclosure to an imperial court stud farm.
Kladruby horses were originally bred in many different colours but today only two varieties survived. White Kladrubers were used predominantly for the ceremonial needs of the royal court, while the Black Kladrubers were primarily bred for church dignitaries. The Kladruby Stud Farm actually consists of three facilities. The largest one, in Kladruby nad Labem, where breeding stallions, broodmares with their foals and young horses in training are stabled. The second are the Josefov stables, about half a kilometre away, where mares without foals or which are in their early stages of gestation. The Frantiskov stables are the third facility, where foals are reared in Selmice, which is connected to the main stud farm building by a 3.5 km long avenue of lime trees. The stud farm in Kladruby includes some 1200 hectares of land, including fields, meadows, pastures, an English park and forest (if you would like to have a better overview of this rather flat area, you can pay extra to climb the wooden 'watchtower' after your guided tour of the stables.
During my visit, I opted for the stables tour which roughly takes around 45 minutes. Tours are held on the hour and are sold at the information centre. I joined a tour in Czech but a numbered information leaflet with a translation in English is given prior to the tour so you can follow quite well. Currently, this is the only way to explore the stud farm interior and I found it very interesting and organised quite well.
First we visited horses stabled in box enclosures which are used for stabling young stallions which are still being trained. At the age of three, they are brought here from Frantiskov and for 11 months they receive training here which mainly consists of getting the horses used to saddles and bridles. The first harnessing of a young horse is always paired with an older horse which acts as its teacher. Finally performance tests take place and the horses must prove themselves in harness and riding under saddle. The horses stabled in box enclosures have differing degrees of whiteness in their coats. This is due to the fact that like the Lipazzaner, White Kladrubers gradually become whiter with age. The gestation period for mares is 11 months and 90% of births happen at night. Foals from White Kladrubers are surprisingly born dark brown to black and then gradually turn white as they grow older, turning completely white at the age of 8-10 years.
The tour continues with visits to the competition horses' stables, the stanchion housing where broodmares are stabled and which are looked after by pupils of Kladruby's Seconday School of Horse Breeding and Riding as part of their practical studies, the breeding stallion stables with hand-painted signs bearing the horses' line and an indoor riding hall. White Kladrubers consist of the Generale, Generalissimo, Favory, Sacramoso and Rudolfo lines. The well-known Napoleone line died out. The indoor riding hall surface is made from glass sand and geotextiles.
Being around an hour by car from Prague, a visit to Kladruby is a very worthwhile half day trip and can easily be combined with a visit to Kutna Hora. Having already visited other national stud farms around the world, I was quite impressed with the overall condition of the one in Kladruby and how horse breeding is still very much alive in this area of Czechia. I really enjoyed my visit and I'm glad it has been inscribed as I would have never visited such a place otherwise.
Though I like nature, horses or animal farms have never been a target of my interest. The reason I visited Kladruby nad Labem this weekend was the nomination of “the Landscape for breeding and training of ceremonial carriage horses at Kladruby nad Labem” as WHS this year. The stud farm is considered as one of the oldest in the world (it celebrates 440 years in 2019!) with uniquely preserved function and structure.
The public transport to Kladruby nad Labem is rather infrequent, there is direct bus connection with nearby town Přelouč only during weekdays. So, I travelled from Prague by train to village Řečany nad Labem (quite nice place with interesting Romanesque church), which is on the main train route from Prague in direction East. Fast trains do not stop here and one has to change in Kolín for local trains. From Řečany there is marked blue trail from the railway station to Kladruby along local road - it is ca 3-4 km long and it takes around 3/4 hour of fast walking. As the nominated area is quite large, you enter the core zone soon just after crossing the bridge over river Labe (Elbe).
Soon, it was also clearly evident who is at home in this landscape as indicated by all senses - by smell first of all! All roads and pastures in the area are flanked by white fencing, and one can spot Kladruber breed horses quite frequently. The landscape, though flat, is quite picturesque with vast meadows and solitary trees. The area is divided according to its function related to breeding and training of horses into pastures, water sources, woods, stables for mares and stallion, stable for young horses, area for mares with foals, straight alley roads imitating city boulevards for carriage horse training, etc... The main cluster, comprising mares and stallion stables, director office, castle with church and visitors center is located directly in the village Kladruby nad Labem. All buildings are in the empire style and have unified green-white facade. They form a small square or better said courtyard. Entire area was extensively reconstructed in 2014.
There are 3 main guided tours: (1) Stables, (2) Castle with church, and (3) Carriage House, completed by smaller ones (4) forestry office house and (5) watchtower. The number of visitors was quite high in April, but it was not too crowded. All visors were locals, but it might change soon...
I visited only Castle and Stables. The castle with adjacent church is rather small and not very spectacular, and it is not a focal point of the ensemble, even though it was founded and visited by Emperors of Austrian monarchy. However, it was interesting to learn something about history related to horses for Austrian emperors. The stud farm was founded because of need of horses of old Spanish and Italian horse breeds for the Court of Habsburg in Vienna and Prague. The Stables are the central and major buildings of the ensemble with main axes in directions to Prague and Vienna. The horses of Kladruber breed are simply beautiful and quite robust. They are used, for example, for purposes of Queen of Denmark.
After the tours (each around 1 hour) and lunch, I walk in direction west along ca. 3 km long road (alley) towards another cluster - Františkov, with stables for young horses.The alley is the main axis of the landscape (be aware of a car traffic there), and one can spot number of horse herds all around. The stables of Františkov are built in the same style as the main buildings in Kladruby.
During my day trip I have not seen everything important of Kladruby stud farm. Besides walking, cycling would be suitable to explore the area next time. I must say I was surprised by this cultural landscape. It is in a perfect shape after recent reconstruction. It has exactly the same function for several hundreds of years and it is still vital. Its influence goes beyond Czech lands. It is not the tourist trap but all visitors are cordially welcomed by staff and locals. The horses are the main purpose and reason of the landscape. Even though it is not the world class, I think it deserves the WHS status.
A stud farm, not handsome guys, but instead horses for breeding. I was really looking forward to something else. I think Czechia has the best variety when it comes to sightseeing in such a small area, from churches and nature, old cities, mines, beer, castles. There are tours in Czech on the hour between 10:00 and 16:00. I'm unclear what the other parts on the menu were but I think you can see certain parts of the place unguided with individual entrance tickets. For non-Czech speakers you are given some text in several European languages. They said the English one is the only one updated to the new tour though. I had to get used to "English text" when doing tours in Czechia anyway so this was no surprise. The stud farm is only reached by car and I doubt they get many foreign tourists before this has a WHS title.
The tour goes through a slow pace but I was totally lost trying to use the text. If this was updated to the new tour it didn't match. There was also no indicator where we currently are and the tour guide couldn't speak a single word of English. I tried to find out if we can see the foals and I think the answer was that they are in a separate field with their mothers. So I basically tried to read the entire four page text quickly and tried to match whatever I can with the rooms. The easiest to spot is the large chandelier that was apparently put up in the stables for a royal visit from the UK (who may actually never ended up coming here). This is also the oddest thing you can see. Chandelier in the stables! Everything else are purely professional stables and shows their routine to raising the horses. The studs look great even for a non-professional like me it is easy to see that. You can pet them in a 10 minute "break" session. Overall the tour is 45 minutes which is enough to see everything of importance. That petting break could have been skipped because nobody asked any question and of course if they could answer my questions I would have used the entire ten minutes for catching up whatever she said in the last 10 halls.
It is unfortunate that everything is in Czech. The stud farm has a great history going back hundreds of years but this is all hard to decipher in the plaques. Maybe one is more lucky with a guide that can at least answer some questions. I did learn about how the animals are marked by their lineage which naturally is very important in horse breeding. The stud farm is very popular with Czechs as even the early morning tour was full, with more people queuing for tickets as I left.
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2019 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS advised Referral to expand buffer zone and address mgt issues; Australia provided amendment to inscribe
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