Many tales from the Baroque era begin with a miracle.
The story of Kuks apparently began with a swindle. In the late 17th century, the owner of the estate, the eccentric Count František Antonín Špork, invited a commission of illustrious experts to the springs bubbling up in a picturesque valley, whose waters they proclaimed to be curative. Modern chemical analyses, however, have shown the water to have no special properties.
While the beneficial effects of the water was a hoax, it led to the creation of one of the most fascinating gems of Baroque art in the world. At a feverish pace, an extensive and meticulously planned spa complex was built not only on both sides of the Labe (Elbe) river valley but also in the adjacent forests. Count Špork hired the very best architects and sculptors. The fame of the spa spread quickly, and, just as its founder had wished, it became a popular centre of social life. Just as at today’s spas, the founder Kuks put an emphasis not only on curative treatments, but to a large extent also on social activities for the guests. In the times of its greatest glory, Kuks was a true sensation for all the senses.
"In Kuks it was possible to see various things that one could not see elsewhere, diverse artistic works created by the most prominent artists, various wondrous devices and equipment about which rumour disseminated news that could hardly be believed. The very personality and hectic life of Count Špork, who wanted to have in Kuks a little Versailles, has already attracted many, especially high-born gentry, who could indulge in merrymaking here in the extensive and well-cultivated forests. … In addition to hunting and fine art, the musical arts also have been embraced. Music and the dancing associated with it have amused guests, theatrical and operatic songs have exalted their minds, the literary arts, found in the numerous books that were on hand for guests, forced them to think about the serious things of human life"
In the words of the Dvůr Králové chronicler Halík
Photos: Hospital Kuks, Terrace of the hospital in Kuks, Original spa garden (© Ladislav Renner)
Water from the springs flowed along a monumental cascading staircase adorned with statues of Tritons to a fountain with a statue of Polyphemus, from which music emanated, thanks to an ingenious mechanism hidden in the back of a river god. Along the banks of the Labe a racecourse was built, equipped with a number of carved stone dwarves. The spa had a permanent theatre stage, where leading acting troupes regularly played during the season. The guests’ stomachs were taken care of at the inn U zlatého slunce (At the Golden Sun). The surrounding forests served not only for amusing hunts under the patronage of St. Hubert, but also for contemplation and meditation. The local sandstone rocks were transformed by the hands of the sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun into a unique open-air sculpture gallery, which is dominated by figures of the hermits Onufrius and Garin. At the same time, a visitor to the deep Kuks forests could come across some live hermits, which Count Špork supported on his estate.
Historical Kuks (© archiv Revitalizace KUKS o. p. s.)
The owner of Kuks was not only a great patron of the arts, but also a man given to philanthropy. Across from the spa complex, on the right bank of the river Labe, he had a hospital for war veterans built. The front of the hospital building is dominated by the Church of the Holy Trinity, designed by the important Italian architect Giovanni Battista Alliprandi. The crypt of the church became the ancestral tomb of the Špork family, and the Kuks founder is also buried there. The unequalled artistic highlight, which in itself would be enough to ensure the fame of this place, is a series of allegorical statues of the twelve Virtues and Vices, installed on the terrace of the hospital. This masterpiece by Matthias Bernard Braun was meant to remind Špork’s guests of the eternal conflict between good and sin, thus bringing a spiritually moralizing dimension to the otherwise carefree spa life.