Švihov Castle – Popelka’s Palace

A Cinderella Story 

General view of Švihov castle.

Do you know the classic Czech film “Tři oříšky pro Popelku”? Perhaps you know it by its English title “Three Wishes for Cinderella”.

This 1973 film that was created jointly by the film industries of the former Czechoslovakia and former East Germany is easily one of the most successful of Czech films as far as export is concerned and is considered a Christmas classic film on television in several European countries as well as at home in the Czech Republic.

Two castles figured prominently as sets in the film: Moritzburg castle in Germany and the subject of this article, Švihov castle in the Czech Republic.

Stronghold in the South 

A section of the castle’s outer moat that remains intact today.

Located south of the city of Plzeň, in the south-west corner of the country, Švihov castle is a Late Gothic style water fortress.

Originally owned by the powerful noble house of Rýzmberk, the castle’s present appearance dates to a rebuilding that took place in the late 15th and early 16th centuries following the Hussite Wars.

That reconstruction was overseen by prominent architect of the time, Benedikt Rejt. Following the reconstruction, the castle was the most important and well fortified of its type in Bohemia. Consisting of inner and outer sections as well as two moats, it would have taken a very determined and well equiped adversary to stand a chance of successfully laying seige to it.

The castle changed hands in 1548. However, due to poor management, the House of Říčany who had purchased it were forced to sell it just fifty years later. The castle’s last noble owners, the venerable and prominent Czernin family, held the castle from 1598 until it was seized by the state following the Second World War.

Decline and Resurgence 

The castle’s entry tower seen from across the courtyard.

The fortress showed its strength during the Thirty Years’ War when it was unsuccessfully besieged by the Swedish army twice.

Following the war, the castle’s demolition was ordered by Emperor Ferdinand III of Habsburg. While the demolition was started and cost the castle a significant part of its outer section as well as its moats, the Czernin family were able to obstruct and prevent the complete destruction of it.

While the Czernins were able to save some of the castle, they were not able to preserve the strategic and defensive importance of it. Švihov retained some economic importance, though entered a period of decline in the 17th century that would last into the early 20th century. In official records, it was classified as a ruin by the 1920s.

Švihov survived the Second World War and a renewed interest was taken in it after it was taken under state ownership following the war. As early as 1947, plans were already being put in place for the restoration of the castle.

By the mid 20th century, the castle had been opened to public visits.

A Look Inside 

The castle chapel.

The castle interiors are mostly of Late Gothic or Rennaissance style.

Key points on a tour of the castle interiors include ceremonial rooms, armory, banquet hall, dance hall, chapel, administrative rooms, cellars, the guardroom and the kitchen among other rooms.

Along the course of a tour, you will see a selection of valuable paintings that date to the 16th century as well as some rare and valuable tapestries.

Another aspect of the castle interiors is a tour specific to the architecture and and structural elements of the entrance tower. It’s a unique opportunity to get a look at such aspects of castle construction.

Let’s Meet Popelka! 

Preserved costumes from “Tři oříšky pro Popelku” on display at the castle.

Not everything at Švihov is dedicated to the castle’s ancient history, there is also a display of costumes and props that focus on its place in popular contemporary Czech culture as a set for the “Tři oříšky pro Popelku” film mentioned at the start of this article.

The costumes used in the film are particularly celebrated and this exhibition will give you a chance to get a close look at some of them. The costumes in the film were designed by Theodor Pištěk, who went on to win Academy Awards in 1984 and 1989 for Best Costume Design in the Miloš Forman films “Amadeus” and “Valmont” respectively. Pištěk also designed the uniforms worn by the Prague Castle Guard.

If you’ve never seen “Tři oříšky pro Popelku” in its original Czech version or one of its translated versions, I heartily recommend that you do so. If you grew up with the animated version made by Disney, Popelka will be both familiar to you and a breath of fresh air at the same time.

The Czech variation on the classic fairy tale draws somewhat on the Grimm Brothers’ version and is credited to Božena Němcová (1820-1862).

While the titular character of the Disney film is the stereotypical damsel in distress, biding her time passively in miserable circumstances while waiting to be saved by the dashing prince, Popelka is a good bit more determined, proactive and self-reliant in playing a part in extricating herself from servitude to her stepmother and stepsister.

In the 2014 to 2016 timeframe, the film got a full digital restoration and improved subtitling.

Paying a Visit and Learning More 

View of the castle including a remnant of the outer wall.

Švihov offers a few different guided tour options. These tours are in the Czech language, though it is possible to borrow guide booklets in other languages to help you follow along if you are not a Czech speaker.

The castle is relatively easy to get to by road or rail if you are travelling from Plzeň. By road, it’s south of Plzeň on the E53 motorway.

There is also some rail service between Plzeň and Švihov. However, it is a bit of a walk from the town train station to the castle. Additionally, it is best if you make yourself familiar with rail options back to Plzeň before you travel as the Švihov train station is small and there likely won’t be anyone around to ask for information if you don’t speak Czech.

This link will take you to the official website of the castle:
Link to official Švihov castle website

This link will take you to an article about “Tři oříšky pro Popelku” and the film’s enduring popularity at home and abroad:
Article about “Tři oříšky pro Popelku” film