Row erupts over American ownership of mythical Czech mountain

The Bohemian hill may be the place where Czech identity was born, but its ownership is now the subject of bitter arguments.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 26.11.2021 14:26:00 (updated on 26.11.2021) Reading time: 2 minutes

Říp mountain is an iconic part of Czech culture. It’s thought the solitary hill rising 459 meters above sea level out of surrounding flatlands is the very spot where Čech, the legendary father of the nation, settled to establish the Czech lands. Today it is home to one of the oldest structures in the Czech Republic: the Romanesque Rotunda of Saint George, believed to have been built in the early 12th century, sits atop the lonely mountain.

Surprisingly though, given its vital place in Czech history, Říp has never belonged to the Czech state. Instead, it has long been owned by the Lobkowicz family, a Czech noble house dating back to the 14th century. Calls are now growing for the mountain to be donated by the family to the Czech state, with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš entering the debate in a recent interview with Mladá Fronta Dnes.

“I will write a letter to the Lobkowicz family and ask them to consider the matter. Because Říp is a symbol of the Czech Republic. This was apparently discussed in the past, but somehow it didn’t work out,” said Babiš. The Prime Minister said he hopes the Lobkowicz family are patriots, saying they “could donate Říp to the state. Or the state could buy the mountain, we could also announce a collection for this.”

The long-dormant issue of Říp’s ownership has re-entered public debate after Freedom and Direct Democracy MEP Ivan David complained about its ownership by the Lobkowicz family on his Facebook page, noting that the current legal owner of the mountain does not even live in the Czech Republic.

“The Czech national mountain belongs to the Americans,” he exclaimed. “Margaret Brooks Lobkowicz, who lives in Dover, Massachusetts, in the United States, owns Říp mountain.”

The Lobkowicz family broke its silence on the ownership of Říp in response to the controversy, in incendiary style. Jiří Lobkowicz, a member of the family living in the Czech Republic, asked on Twitter: “Who else can guarantee continuity?”

“The Czech Lobkowicz family has had its roots for almost 800 years around Říp mountain, a sacred symbol of the Czech nation, and our mission is to protect it from a pseudo-Czech usurper with presidential ambitions such as AB (Andrej Babiš).”

Yet the issue has again opened up the thorny topic of the Lobkowicz family's continued ownership of national monuments which some argue should belong to the state.

In 2016, the Czech Minister for Regional Development proposed making the entire Prague Castle complex state-owned; a scheme which would have involved taking over the Lobkowicz Palace, which houses one of the largest private art collections in Central Europe.

The Lobkowicz family acquired Říp in the 16th century. It has been passed down through the generations ever since, though the succession has been interrupted three times. The mountain was first confiscated in 1618 in the run-up to the Thirty Years’ War; then in 1939 by the Nazi occupiers of Czechoslovakia; and finally in 1948 by the Communist regime. The family fled the Czech lands during the Communist era, but returned after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 to their restituted property.

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