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† Zvěřinec v Královské zahradě
  Prague menagerie in the Royal Garden  


• Ottokar II of Bohemia (reigned 1253 - 1278), Wenceslas II of Bohemia (reigned 1278 - 1305) - The first written reports about breeding of exotic animals in the Czech Lands
A breeding of lions was the common denominator of many Czech kings - the first written evidence of lions breeding in the Czech lands is from 1280. Back then a Venetian contractor was dunning Wenceslas II of Bohemia for payment the debt for a couple of lions, which ordered the Queen Mother Kunigunda of Slavonia (widow of Ottokar II of Bohemia). However lions were kept by the Czech rulers surely sooner. They are an official symbol of Czech kings since the 13th century.
First animals, about which evidence exist, were at Prague castle during the reign of Wenceslas II of Bohemia - probably, however, they descended already from the era of reign of Ottokar II of Bohemia

• 1305 - 1378 (Wenceslas III of Bohemia, Henry IV of Carinthia, Rudolf I of Habsburg, John the Blind, Charles IV)
It is not clear what was then - during the reign of Wenceslas III and of other rulers. If they kept some animals, it was probably just the popular lions. Before the birth of Charles IV the Prague Castle burned down and was uninhabitable. I.e. that the other known collection of animals at the Prague Castle - a collection of Charles IV (1316 - 1378), had to be established just by this ruler. Charles IV kept mainly lions (also introduced a special function Custos leonum - "lionmaster"), but he had also other cats, perhaps birds and big snakes (probably Pythons).

• Wencelsals IV (reigned 1378 - 1419) - King's Court - the first real menagerie
After Charles IV, his son Wenceslas IV succeeds to the throne. He apparently took over the his father's menagerie, but subsequently moved also with the animals to the newly built King's Court, where more increased his menagerie. (see. Královský dvůr)

• 1419 - 1526 (Sigismund of Luxemburg, Albert the Magnanimous, Ladislaus the Posthumous, George of Poděbrady, Matthias Corvinus, Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary, Louis II of Hungary)
The menagerie at the King's Court persisted apparently as long as it was the royal residence. Messages emerge only sporadically - more or less in connection with some accident - the last is from 1477. The Prague Castle was more than 100 years out of event. It became to be the seat of Czech kings again in 1484, when Vladislaus II returned there. No reports about any menagerie of his era and the era of Louis II are not available.

• Ferdinand I (reigned 1526 - 1564) - Establishment og the Royal Garden
The famous Royal Garden was founded by Ferdinand I in 1534, when he bought three vineyards immediately adjacent to the current royal garden - by that, he significantly expanded the present garden and the already existing menagerie (it is not clear whether was established by Ferdinand I during the first 8 years of his reign, or whether it has existed after his predecessors - i.e. Ladislaus II or Louis II).

• Maximilian II (reigned 1564 - 1576) - the first pavilion of beasts of prey "Wooden court"
Son of Ferdinand I, Maximilian II, was a great lover of animals and so it is no wonder that continued in the breeding. According to the extant letter, he asked the Duke of Parma to send a few pairs of wild horses (apparently tarpans) and other animals for his menagerie. Just he gave to build in 1560 a large two-story building full of pens with paddocks - so called Wooden Court. Maximilian II kept, in addition to various predators, also numbers of birds, large reptiles and "various exotic animals."

• Rudolf II (reigned 1579 - 1611) - the golden era of Prague menagerie
Rudolf II was known not only as a somewhat eccentric monarch, but also as a great collector and admirer of everything possible and impossible - so that also of animals. In 1583 he gave to rebuilt by architect Ulrico Aostallis the original wooden pavilion to set of low buildings - the famous Lion Court (later renamed to Bear Court) - heated pens of animal with enclosures and beside them a high wall with a gallery for spectators, where they came up the spiral staircase. Rudolf extended the Royal Gardens, established a pheasantry and ponds for breeding of fish and water birds, deer enclosures in today's Deer Moat ... Brick and wooden pens stretched along the northern slope of Deer Moat up to the King's summer residence.
1601, in the pheasantry near Lion court, he built also "aviary for Amerindian bird" - heated little-house with two small rooms. It was designed by Orazio "Guido" Fontana and decorated with frescos by Bartoloměj Beránek called Jelínek (who was on duty of Petr Vok of Rožmberk).

Also Deer parks Hvězda and Ovenec (today's Stromovka) were under the Prague Castle. In the time of Rudolf's II reign, they changed from hunting game fields more to parks - among other with animals. Thus the menagerie was arranged even in three places. In Ovenec were red and roe deer, elk, perhaps also reindeer, wild boars, horses, wisents, buffalo, aurochs (!), foxes and probably many other animals. In the Hvězda there were reportedly even also antelopes or gazelles and in 1592 also 12 lions with Indian keeper.

Rudolf II bred many animals in these three places. Not about all we know. We have reports about lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, bears, civets, wolves, foxes, camels, deer, wild boars, antelopes, gazelles, wisents, aurochs, buffalos, "Indian donkey", "Indian calf", horses, ostriches, cassowary, pelicans, flamingos, white gyrfalcons, eagles and other raptors, parrots, hummingbirds, guinea fowls, turkeys, large reptiles ... According to the unconfirmed reports, Rudolf II had even orang-utan and (or) chimpanzee and elephant. 1599, there was reportedly born first lion in Czech lands.
Very known, although not certified, is breeding of Muritian dodo bird at the Prague Castle. His bones were found during the alterations of the Deer Moat (they are in the National Museum now). Another fact, which shows this breeding it is painting of excellent Flemish painter Roelant Savery. Savery was drafted by Rudolf II in 1604 and became his court painter. It is known that Savery often stayed in the Rudolf's menagerie and painted the animals - one of his most famous paintings is just painting of dodo bird (and it is not known where else Savery could see this bird). A similar case concern also to cassowary - Savery reputedly could see it either in the Amsterdam port (when sailors brought it as an attraction), or more likely in the menagerie of Rudolf II. Others cassowary were not known at that time in Europe. Also other paintings of Savery had to originated reprotedly in Prague - pictures of animals, which all the Europe didn't know at the time, and if anyone could have them, so allegedly the only Rudolf II. - "New Guinean rare parrots", red rails (newly also Muritian flying fox was found on the paintings)... Art historians claim that the vast majority of the approximately 250 Savery's paintings of animals are dated to his stay in Prague or was painted later, however, according to sketches made in Prague.

Rudolf's menagerie was soon known throughout Europe as well as his passion for animals. Rulers who came to gain favor with the emperor, took him many gifts - often just animals. For example, Moscow Grand Duke Feodor Ivanovich (son of Ivan the Terrible) gave to Rudolf besides the leopards and other animals also two white gyrfalcons, which was at that time considered as extremely rare birds, and therefore one of the most precious gifts. Notorious is the story of a lion, which the Emperor received as a gift from the Turkish sultan. Lion named Mohamed had an astrological constellation very similar to Rudolf's. Tycho Brahe supposedly read in the stars, that the emperor will have a similar fate as the lion Mohamed, that he'll die at the same time (this is written also in the chronicles of the time), so the lion enjoyed superior care. And indeed, the emperor Rudolf II died a few days (about 3) after the death of the lion.

According to another legend of Rudolf's menagerie (recorded in chronicles in 1600) the poet Friedrich Schiller wrote a poem "Little glove", which was later rewritten by Josef Jungman... The nobility went to see the feeding of lions, among others also some beautiful but proud lady-in-waiting, who always refused suitors and could not choose. Knight Vojislav fell in love to this beautiful Kunigunda's noblewoman, and took part in feeding lions together with her. The glove of lady-in-waiting slippeds or she intentionally thrown it between lions and invited the knight to bring back her the glove. According to the poems the knight made it, brought back the glove, threw it in the face of the lady and left her. In fact, the end of the story was much more romantic according to chronicle... Noblewoman turned pale, fell unconscious and immediately became enthusiastic by the love for the knights ... (the whole text of the poem in Old Czech language here).

Interesting facts are also about keepers of lions... Strong men, who cared for the imperial lions were women... Known were three: Ludmila Nebeská, after her, her daughter Otýlie and the most famous Laurenciana Pylmannová. Care for the lions was very lucrative - the salary was higher than in some offices and services of the Royal Court. Mrs. Laurenciana owned a representative house (at Vlašská Street), which was exempt from all taxes and fees. She getting a new clothes every year and enjoyed extraordinary favor of the Emperor - she was a frequent guest at his magnificent feasts. Laurenciana tamed the lion Mohammed so much that he followed her like a dog, she rode on him throughout the menagerie or let him to jump through a hoops.

Also the regulation of Rudolf II about feeding meat is known - according to that regulation Jews from the Old-Town Ghetto had to give two pounds (about a kilogram) of fresh beef or veal daily to each beast of prey. Also several tragedies caused by predators is recorded in writing - from the attack, despite crippling to killing people.

1611 - 1740 (Matthias of Austria, Ferdinand II, Frederick V, Ferdinand III, Ferdinand IV, Leopold I, Joseph I, Charles VI) - dilapidation and finish of the menagerie
Rudolf II didn't have a successor (only illegitimate children), and after his death (1612), the fame of menagerie slowly faded. Matthias II (younger brother of Rudolf II) moved to Vienna as a Roman emperor and Prague menagerie has not played a significant role for him. Even when it was so-so maintained - perhaps even during reign of Ferdinand II (who created here a small roofed pool with ornamental fish), but during reign of other rulers already have decayed significantly. Also information about the menagerie is not so quantity from this period as in the time of Rudolf II. We know that Leopold I got two Indian tigers from King of Prussia in 1660, that in 1680, only bears and wolves there lived, than also foxes and wild cats, but ten years later, only one bear. In the 1695 it is recorded an interest of the Czech Chamber of buying a tiger, "man-eater" and "sea wolf" from Amsterdam merchant with travelling menagerie, Oestmayer. But the purchase was not realized. Only several eagles, two lynxes, two bear cubs and two rhesus macaques were moved to the menagerie.

In 1740, the Prague Menagerie finally ceases - the last animals (including bears) are transferred somewhere to Děčínn. Another its "affiliates" - Deer Parks Hvězda and Ovenec has not served as a menagerie at that time for many years. Larger menagerie in Ovenec disappeared after death of Rudolf II (1612). The Hvězda has been plagued by numerous battles and wars since its inception. It was also the scene of the Battle of White Mountain (1620), what meant probably also the finish of the local menagerie (if was not abolished also already after death of Rudolf II).

The Prague menagerie in the Royal Garden is often referred to as the first real zoo, although officially it is the Vienna Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn). The Prague menagerie was at least 218 years older and greatly differed from other aristocratic menageries. While monarchs throughout Europe built a menagerie as a demonstration of wealth and power, Rudolf II had the menagerie for his collector's passion and fondness for animals. Ordinary aristocratic menagerie was built very ostentatious way - with the primary aim to amaze other rulers. The animals were de facto only accessory ostentatious buildings. In the case of Rudolf II, it was the on the contrary - animals were primal, the pomp of the breeding facilities was not so much that important. Also composition of animals species corresponds with that... All rulers kept common animals - species that simply look good and especially well represented power of ruler. While Rudolf kept any animals, the more rare the better. The less known the better. It was not significant whether the animal looks attractive. Also in case of many species of Prague menagerie, it was European first-breeding. Often it concerned for animals, which were not anywhere else in Europe.

Aristocratic menageries were closed to the public. The exception was not even Rudolf. But Rudolf occasionally (though rarely) made accessible his menagerie to common people for a short time - he organized de facto sort of Renaissance "open days". The deer parks (especially Ovenec) allegedly used to be open even for a longer period.

The greatest difference between Rudolf's and other menageries was in the professionalism... As already noted, the animals were for all rulers mainly essential accessories of menagerie. However, Rudolf II was known to his nearly fanatical obsession with research and exploration of all kinds. He employed not only famous alchemists, astrologers etc., but also hired experts for everything related to the menagerie - from architects (for the building) across the explorers up to the keepers. Among other things, for this reason he called the aforementioned painter Savery, who had not only paint the animals, but also to observed them. It is known that Rudolf II bought a four-volume book about animals (the first part about four-legged animals, the second about creeping animals, third about birds and fourth about the fish) from Savery predecessor Joris Hoefnagel for an exorbitant sum of money. He used it as the catalogue of "God's work" - Atlas of animals. Incidentally, the son of Joris Hoefnagel, Jacob, also painted eight years for Rudolf II and in 1602, painted the dodo bird (and many other species of animals and plants). It is also known that Rudolf II dispatched Savery for the "expedition" to the Alps, where he was called to map (to draw) the local nature.

Prague menagerie never live to see such admirable breathtaking form after Rudolf's death, it ceased to exist just 12 years before the establishment of the first official zoo. Yet it was a very important point in the history of animal breeding in Europe (and by extension the world). Compared to all the then menageries, even including the most famous (Tower, Versailles etc.) was the Prague menagerie a real zoo!!! Definitely the greatest, best, species richest and most important zoo of the "pre-zoological era"!!! In this context, the situation about publication this menagerie is somewhat sad fact... in old books there the Rudolf's menagerie could not be missing, but then less or more it disappeared from a books. If it is mentioned in current books, then it is usually only a brief notes (some art historian books are exception). For example, in the largest online encyclopedia - Wikipedia (in the most comprehensive English version or in other languages​​) - under the term "menagerie" or under the term "zoo", there are mentioned a relatively insignificant menageries of rulers, but about the Menagerie of Rudolf II no any word!! The absence of Rudolf's menagerie in current publications (unlike many old) is apparently caused by the isolation of the Republic (and so by the lack of information) over a long period of communism, nevertheless it should not be missing in any of them... On the contrary, it should be what is not possible to forget in any case - anything like that and in such scale was not in the world until turn of 18th and 19 th century!!!


Author: Roman Hynek (2011)

WZD - Worldwide Zoo Database
2009 - 2016
Zdroje a autoři: WZD, oficiální stránky ZOO, oficiální tiskové a jiné materiály ZOO (není-li uvedeno jinak); Datum poslední aktualizace: 20. 12. 2017
Sources and authors: WZD, official websites of ZOO, official printed and other matters of ZOO (if it is not stated otherwise); Date of last actualization:20. 12. 2017
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