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Brezice Castle (Brezice, Slovenia)

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Castle housing a regional museum in south of Slovenia.

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      11.05.2012 07:17
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      The Posavje Regional Museum in Brezice's sturdy Renaissance castle

      Brezice's castle, handsome as it is, is upstaged, because of its position, by the (very) close by Bizeljsko Castle. As you come from the train or bus stations in Brezice the castle is at the opposite end of the slightly curved main street and you can't see it until you're almost there. You can see it if you are coming from Catez in the other direction but you only get occasional glimpses of the towers through the trees because this castle does not stand on higher ground as most defensive castles do (this is known as a flatlands defensive fortress). The castle is home to the regional museum collection which charts the history of the area, focussing on archaeology, ethnology and the local industries and traditions of the area. One room is devoted to the paintings of Fran Stiplovsek, a local artist but whose work is known throughout Slovenia. The highlight of Brezice Castle is the Knights' Hall with its frescoes and painted ceiling. It is currently being restored but visitors can still view the room from a gallery at one end. When the room is fully restored, it will be available for use for weddings again. (When castles are being renovated in Slovenia the first job is usually the roof, after which the great hall is restored as the money that weddings bring in can be used to fund further renovations,) A castle in Brezice was first mentioned in 1241 but the one that you see today is the result of extensive rebuilding after enemy raids and fire. The castle is a classic Renaissance fortification with four round towers at the corners, but the interior, including the colonnaded courtyard is pure Baroque. The castle came into the hands of the Habsburgs in 1491 and remained so for a couple of centuries, before falling into the hands of the Croatian House of Frankopan in the middle of the seventeenth century. In 1694 the Attems family (a name that crops up time and again in relation to a wide area of central Europe) took over the castle and it was at this time that the trompe-l'oeil frescoes were painted. During World War 1 the castle was damaged by an earthquake. It was being used at the time as a military hospital. After the Second World War the castle was nationalised. First the castle was converted into apartments for 26 families but in 1949 it was placed in the hands of the Posavski Museum. The castle is open daily but the hours are limited. We visited on a Friday, arriving in Brezice around 11.00am and, learning that the castle was only open until 2.00pm that day, we quickly checked in at our accommodation and raced towards the castle. You enter through the old portal and as you do so you can see where the moat would once have been. It's not immediately obvious where the ticket office is, a feature that is common to most Slovenian castles, in our experience. We went through a glass door and climbed to the first floor, admiring a wonderful painted staircase as we did; a man cut along the colonnade and asked, as he passed us, what we wanted. I explained we wanted to visit the museum, an answer that seemed to please him, through he darted off and didn't advise us where to start. We went back to the courtyard and chose another staircase, this time finding the office where we would buy our tickets. Only on weekends in the height of summer, or on public holidays, will you find Slovenian museums anything approaching busy, though you might encounter the odd school trip or, in the north of the country, a busload of unruly Austrian pensioners; more often than not, you will have the place to yourself. Sometimes that might even mean being entrusted with the key and opening and locking the various galleries as you go. At Brezice the museum attendant kindly raced ahead and opened the doors for us. He pointed out that there were printed information sheets just inside the doorway of each new exhibition space; they were available in different languages and the ones in English were surprisingly free of hilarious typos and odd manglings of the English language. The exhibition starts with an exhibition of artefacts unearthed in archaeological excavations in the area, including the contents of some graves along with the items with which the bodies had been buried, which denoted the importance of the dead person. As valuable as these items are, there was nothing that really caught my attention or set this exhibition apart from most others either in Slovenia or across central and Western Europe. The exhibition also looks at rural life in the region, focussing on wine production in particular. As well as displays of old agricultural and viticultural equipment, there were examples of locally made ceramics and traditional costumes. The wine growing section of the exhibition was my favourite part of the historical displays; this was really well put together, explaining some of the traditions particular to this region, many of which are still followed today. Anton Martin Slomsek was a priest who became Archbishop of Maribor (where we live); he was later canonised by Pope John Paul II in a ceremony held just at the end of our street. I was astonished to learn in Brezice museum that, as a curate in Bizeljsko in the 1820s, Slomsek advocated the introduction of the systematic planting of vines. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed what was translated as the 'Noblemen's Eminence Room'. The display contains some ceramics and furniture dating from the 17th and 18th centuries but the real jewel is the collection of portraits of noblemen and women. The quality of the painting is perhaps slightly substandard (there are some very odd ideas of perspective) but the works are fascinating for what they tell us about not only the fashions of the day, but the values of those who commissioned the works and sat for their portraits, so we often see women wearing their finest pieces of jewellery for their sitting, or perhaps a valuable item belonging to the family being 'casually' placed on a table in the foreground. The Knights Hall is wonderful. Currently undergoing renovation, we were only able to view it from a first floor gallery at one end of the hall but we could still appreciate the colourful images. The frescoes depict scenes from Ovid's Metamorphoses and landscapes featuring characters from mythology. The magnificent painted staircase tells the story of the labours of Hercules. The last part of the museum is the Fran Stiplovsek gallery. Stiplovsek was not only a well known and respected painter, he was also the first curator of the Posavski Museum. He was born on the Croatian Island of Krk and studied in Trieste, Vienna and Zagreb and came to the Posavje region when, due to illness, he was forced to abandon his art studies, and took up a teaching post at a school in Krsko, a few kilometres north of Brezice. In this collection there are some portraits and still life paintings, but the best of the collection are the landscape paintings. There are scenes from the local area as well as some from other parts of the country including the capital, Ljubljana, and Lake Bled, which most tourists are sure to recognise. Brezice's isn't the most exciting castle I've visited in Slovenia and the content of its museum is rather conservative and predictable. Usually regional museums contain collections that have been acquired from private collectors and as a result tend to have at least one display that's out of the ordinary. Sadly Brezice does not enjoy that kind of quirky collection. On the other hand, the exhibition is presented well and the exhibits have been cleverly put into context and this is certainly the best place I've been to that explains the traditions of Slovenia's wine making culture. The highlight is the Knight's Hall and Brezice's is widely regarded as the best example of this kind of Baroque decoration in a castle in Slovenia; the entrance fee is worth it for the Knight's Hall alone. A guided tour may be useful but isn't essential. The free literature is sufficient and clear. Much of the exhibition can be enjoyed without notes. The exhibitions space is all on the first floor and wheelchair access is not possible. Admission for adults is just Euro2.50, and for children Euro1.00. I'd call that a bargain.

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