A ghost at what was a rural castle near a vineyard never revealed her secrets
Parts of what is now Prague used to be villages separated by dusty and seldom used roads. Even today, the name Záběhlice is something one sees on the bus or tram route but not a place someone goes to unless there is a reason, and there seldom is one.
Záběhlický zámek dates back to the 14th century, when it was a small castle built along the Botič, one of the streams that feed into the Vltava river. The surrounding area was farms, vineyards and forests.
At night, a guard would patrol the grounds, often accompanied by a gamekeeper and a watchdog as it was lonely work. The castle would usually be completely dark as midnight was approaching as all civilized people were asleep by that time.
One moonlit night, the two wandering guards could see a light through the chapel window, and a woman standing there dressed in white. A White Lady (Bílá paní) is a type of ghost found in castles in Central Europe. They are usually harmless but suffered some tragedy in their lives, which keeps them bound to haunting.
The Záběhlice watchdog was trained to bark when strangers were around, but it didn’t. Instead it let out a high-pitched whine, as if it had stepped on a sharp stone.
The guard went to the chapel, while the gamekeeper stayed outside with the petrified dog, who just continued to whine and shake. As the guard approached the chapel door he heard what sounded like a shattering glass. When he opened the chapel door, the room was dark and nobody was inside, and there was no broken glass.
This was only the first of several sightings. Patrols were stepped up to cover the castle inside and out at all hours. Two guards found the White Lady of Záběhlice sitting in a room with her head in her hands, reading a book by candlelight. The guards went to get help, but by the time they returned the room was dark and cold, with no trace of the White Lady, book or burnt candle wax.
She slowly grew bolder, and would come to knock on the doors or windows of the watchtower. But as always, she vanished before anyone could ask her who she was or why she haunted the halls of the lonely and isolated castle by a swampy forest.
The castle owners grew tired of the haunting. They had tower bells brought over from the nearby Church of the Nativity on Hamerský pond to hold a sort of noisy exorcism in the hopes the holy bells would scare her away.
It worked, and the White Lady of Záběhlice has not been seen since. Who she was, and why she constantly tried to draw attention only to vanish when she got some, remains a mystery.
Záběhlice is first mentioned in the charter of the Vyšehrad church in 1088 AD. By the 12th century there was a round Romanesque church, the basis of the Church of the Nativity, and by the 14th century what was to become Záběhlický zámek, or Záběhlice Chateau, was built.
The typical small-town Baroque-style Church of the Nativity still stands at Hamerský pond. Aside from the church, there is a modern recreation center with tennis and volleyball courts, and a former ice house that has been converted into a Moravian-style wine cellar. It’s a pleasant and somewhat secret place to visit, if a bit hard to get to.
About a kilometer or so along the Botič stream, you can find Záběhlický zámek and its adjacent garden. Both are currently inaccessible to the public as the chateau has been turned into offices with a private park. A small area where people can sit is next the to Botič, just outside the chateau’s walls. A bike path runs alongside the wall, and people occasionally fish there.
The area across the street in front of the chateau is filled with auto repair shops and the like.
The history of the chateau is vague, with many gaps. Both the chateau and the village passed from one administration to another rapidly, sort of as a prize nobody really wanted. At different times, various parts of Prague and even far-flung towns such as Litomyšl claimed rights to the village, and often it was split between different claimants as nobody saw it as being worth fighting over.
A fortress belonging to the Bishop of Litomyšl stood on the site of the current chateau in the late 1300s. That was torn down at some point and another one was built there at the end of the 14th century. The list of successive owners of that structure is long, and some owners seem never to have even visited.
The castle was rebuilt into a chateau in the 17th century, perhaps when it was owned by the Duke Julius Heinrich von Sachsen-Lauenburg (Julius Jindřich Sasko-Lauenburský), or one of the later owners.
In 1885 or ’86 the chateau burned down, but it was restored by Ludwig Freiherr Korb von Weidenheim (Ludvík Korb z Weidenheimu). The restoration was carried out by architects Cornelius Hauschka and Eduard Rechziegel, who gave the chateau its current neo-Baroque appearance.
The chateau again fell into disrepair and was abandoned until agriculturalist Václav Černý bought in 1907 and repaired it. In World War I, it was used by officials in the Austro-Hungarian military.
During the communist era, the wall of the castle garden was demolished and the garden was freely accessible to the public up until the late 1990s. The building was returned by the government to the family of the last owners. They ended public access and renovated the chateau into an office building.
Historically, Záběhlice was an agricultural village, noted in the 15th century for its wine. The area was not legally part of modern Prague until 1922, when the city absorbed many of the surrounding villages. By World War II, the neighborhood was mostly housing for lower-income workers. It has retained that character, despite some new housing developments aimed at the higher income bracket.