On a visit to Kuks, you should not miss a tour circuit though the surrounding forests.
The well-marked hiking trail should convince even the most reluctant visitors. Whoever hasn’t seen Braun’s Nativity can not say that they have truly visited Kuks.
Thanks to the grand plans of Count Špork, forests, meadows, a river, but especially sandstone rocks in the area of the spa complex were gradually transformed into a captivating theatrical stage set. Even though only a fragment of the original design is preserved to this day, it is still the biggest open-air gallery of Baroque sculptures.
The sculpture complex in the New Forest (Nový les) near the village of Žirec ignited conflict, like much else that the count undertook. In 1725 a joint plan by the lord of Kuks and the Jesuits from nearby Žirec to establish a Stations of the Cross leading from the Jesuit residence to the New Forest was rejected in Vienna. Špork decided to attack the lax Jesuits with a sculpture that would show the Žirec fathers just how lukewarm they were in their devotion, and demonstrate that it was actually Špork who celebrated the Lord in an exemplary way. Thus a spectacular theatre of biblical scenes was born, complete with episodes from the lives of hermits who were living, in contrast to the Jesuits, in solitude and self-denial.
Photos: Statue of a hermit in the New Forest near Kuks (© Stanislav Jelen (Wikimedia)), Relief in the New Forest near Kuks (NPÚ (National Heritage Institute), © Zuzana Pykalová)
Count Špork entrusted the work on the decoration to his “court” sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun, creator of the famous Virtues and Vices allegory in Kuks. Especially standing face to face with the hermits Juan Garin and Onufrius, we understand why the sculptor was called the Michelangelo of East Bohemia. A cycle of saints is complemented by sculptures of Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist. Braun’s Nativity acquired it name because of the central double relief, representing the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Three Kings. The motif of Christ appears above Jacob’s Well, where Christ sat down with the woman from Samaria during his wanderings through the Holy Land. A number of other works have unfortunately been destroyed.
Forest Kingdom Dam
The glory of Count Špork’s Baroque spa was wipe out in 1740 by flood waters. The destructive power of the river Labe was quelled only by the nearby Forest Kingdom Dam. The poetic name relates to the architectural design of the structure. The dam, built of the same sandstone from which Matthias Bernard Braun sculpted his statues, is dominated by two historicizing gates with towers reminiscent of a medieval fairy tale castle. A visit to the Forest Kingdom thus is an ideal and logical conclusion to a visit to Kuks.