27-year-old Bohemian prince raises $300,000 in NFTs to protect and share castles and historical artifacts

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CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos and William Rudolf Lobkowicz within the Household Chapel of the Lobkowicz Palace depicting an early 18th-century altarpiece portray of St. Wenceslas, patron saint of the Czech nation.

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PRAGUE — It’s previous midnight on a Friday on the Lobkowicz Palace within the Prague Fort advanced. A 27-year-old Czech prince, William Rudolf Lobkowicz, is crawling on the laborious stone flooring, taking care to not set off the alarms behind the guardrails that partition the citadel’s daytime guests from the Sixteenth-century portraits hanging on the stone partitions.

He is looking for an outlet so he can plug a 30-foot extension twine into the wall. The twine powers digicam gear for use in a dwell broadcast occurring round 1 a.m. which can characteristic the story of his household on a CNBC primetime present in New York. Lobkowicz shall be behind the digicam for the shot, however that does not matter to him. He merely desires to share one of many world’s best personal collections of masterworks with the general public.

A younger prince in an historical citadel stashed with priceless artwork seems like the start of a fairytale, however his life is much from a Disney adaptation.

The palace feels extra like a crypt. On the top of Bohemian summer time, the humidity clings to our pores and skin, and it’s pitch black past the glow of the stark fluorescent lighting that runs alongside the excessive stone ceilings. Every time Lobkowicz involves a door, he reaches right down to a cumbersome keyring that appears prefer it belongs to a monk in a monastery and fumbles for the proper key to let him by means of — and there are dozens of doorways on every flooring. Every door leads us deeper into the darkish stone labyrinth, deeper into the previous.

William Rudolf Lobkowicz strolling by means of the Prague Fort advanced.

Home of Lobkowicz

He and his household don’t dwell on this or any of their different ancestral castles or palaces. As a substitute, they dwell in private flats a ten-minute drive away. To remain previous 10 P.M. on a Friday night time, Lobkowicz has to get particular permission from the navy guards who patrol the grounds.

William, his two sisters, and fogeys have devoted their life’s work to sustaining what’s left of their ancestral heritage: Three castles, one palace, 20,000 moveable artifacts, a library of roughly 65,000 uncommon books, 5,000 musical artifacts and compositions — together with an early copy of Beethoven’s fifth symphony — and 30,000 containers and folios, a few of which have by no means been opened. All of it was stolen, twice. First by the Nazis, then by the Communists.

“You already know, most individuals see the attractive artworks and castles and assume that this all comes extremely simple,” Lobkowicz says from the Habsburg Room, a portrait gallery on the second flooring of the palace. “However in actuality, behind the scenes, we’re working tirelessly day and night time to protect and defend these items. No one’s going to care about these items as a lot as we do.”

William Rudolf Lobkowicz analyzing previous household images within the Lobkowicz Archives.

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His voice is drained at this late hour, however his youthful enthusiasm nonetheless shines by means of.

To guard his household’s previous, Lobcowicz has embraced the long run. The world of cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens is intangible and summary, a set of mathematical formulation working on computer systems unfold everywhere in the world. The younger prince has turned to those digital instruments to safeguard and restore the artifacts that maintain a lot nostalgic worth for the household — and, he hopes, for a number of the remainder of the world, as properly.

It isn’t nearly promoting NFTs to help cultural monuments, however it’s additionally taking a look at how can we protect a report of our historical past?” explains William. “Blockchain expertise offers an immutable report of our cultural heritage, which you’ll protect on chain, and that is one thing that is by no means been carried out earlier than.”

CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos excursions Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Fort with William Rudolf Lobkowicz.

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An immutable report

The palace is housed inside the Hrad, the identify given by locals to Prague Fort, which looms over the town. The sprawling advanced was as soon as the seat of Bohemian kings. Now, it is residence to Czech presidents — and The Lobkowicz Collections, a physique of labor relationship again greater than 2,000 years.

The collections, which have been painstakingly re-assembled over 25 years by means of a course of generally known as restitution, characteristic world-famous work by Bellotto, Bruegel, Canaletto, Cranach, Rubens, and Veronese, in addition to ceramics spanning 5 centuries, 1,200 items of arms and armor, and string and wind devices, together with trumpets gilded in gold and adorned with rubies. The gathering additionally consists of early manuscripts and scores, together with a number of Beethoven symphonies and his Opus 18 String Quartets, some marked with the composer’s unique corrections.

The Lobkowiczes take none of this with no consideration. Their castles and artifacts have been stolen twice by two completely different authoritarian regimes.

Lobkowicz Palace (a part of the Prague Fort advanced).

Home of Lobkowicz

In CNBC’s first dialog with William — a virtually two-hour Zoom name from New York to Prague — he shared a translated quote from Jan Viktor Mládek, a member of Czechoslovakia’s post-communist authorities and a former Worldwide Financial Fund official: “When a nation’s tradition survives, so too does the nation.”

William has turned over that line in his head fairly just a few instances within the final couple years since making this mission his life’s work. To him, the power of a rustic rests on preserving the cultural roots which outline it.

After the autumn of the Soviet Union in 1991, the democratically elected president of the newly shaped Czechoslovakia handed restitution legal guidelines enabling Czechs to say again property stolen underneath Communist rule. William Sr., then 29 years previous, heeded the decision and uprooted his life as an actual property dealer in Boston to return to Prague.

William Lobkowicz Sr. analyzing injury to the inside courtyard façade of Nelahozeves Fort.

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There is not any definitive “methods to” handbook on restoring stolen gadgets to their rightful proprietor. It is a convoluted train that includes submitting 1000’s of separate claims and might take a long time. A few of the claims fail, or are by no means resolved.

“Once we first got here again to the Czech Republic and restitution started, it was the Wild West, and you actually did not have any marketing strategy in any way,” explains the youthful William of his father’s quest.

William Sr. traversed the nation in a small Škoda Favorit, carrying with him the meticulous lists stored by the Communists once they confiscated the household’s artifacts.

Alexandra Lobkowicz with a colleague observing the renovation of the Balcony Room of the Lobkowicz Palace, c. 2005.

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“Our objects have been taken to over 100 places, so we crisscrossed Czechoslovakia to recuperate tens of 1000’s of movable objects,” he mentioned. “We in all probability lined lots of of 1000’s of miles.”

As soon as the property was reclaimed, the household had to determine methods to pay to revive it. William’s grandfather, Martin, cashed in his pension and gave it to William Sr., telling him to “attempt to not lose all of it” — and that was it by way of upfront capital commitments.

Masking the prices of restoration is the household’s enterprise, and makes up a full-time job for every member of the Lobkowicz family, full with weekly enterprise conferences on Tuesdays. (Sunday is reserved for private updates at household dinner.)

However preserving the enterprise afloat has been a hustle, requiring more and more inventive monetary acrobatics.

The Lobkowicz household, 2019.

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Collections belonging to the Lobkowiczes have been declared Czech cultural monuments, to allow them to’t promote any items to assist pay to revive the remainder. In the meantime, conventional philanthropy channels are working dry as museum patronage continues to fall.

To make a nasty scenario worse, the state has strict guidelines governing restoration protocols which may gradual the renovation course of and make it costlier. There’s additionally fierce competitors for a restricted variety of grants earmarked to fund cultural heritage tasks. Fort possession is not a lot of a novelty in Europe, and particularly not within the Czech Republic, which ranks amongst one of many continent’s prime locations for probably the most castles per sq. mile. The truth is, some state governments and cities are auctioning off castles underneath their custodianship, as a result of they do not have the money to take care of them.

To maintain all the pieces afloat, the Lobcowiczes have generated revenue from issues like citadel excursions, the reward store, and internet hosting occasions resembling weddings and company retreats. It additionally means interesting to donors, making use of for grants from the federal government, and securing loans — usually at sky-high rates of interest.

“My father needed to take out loans with 20% revolving curiosity, constantly asking the banks for extensions,” the youthful William mentioned of the early days, when his father first started restoring the household’s castles and artifacts.

Alexandra Lobkowicz organizing c. Seventeenth-century searching rifles from the Lobkowicz Collections onto new shelving within the Lobkowicz depository.

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Luckily, William Sr. had a devoted associate within the quest.

A yr into his new life in Prague, the elder William’s girlfriend (now spouse of 30 years), Sandra Florescu, flew over to assist him. Coming to Prague meant leaving her position as a sixth grade trainer in Boston’s Again Bay, however she by no means stopped being an educator.

She has launched and run a number of academic packages in reference to the collections, together with the junior curator program, which is now being modeled by colleges world wide.

It helps that she frolicked on the Sorbonne in Paris, learning advantageous arts.

The couple appeared destined for one another, with intertwining household histories that return centuries.

Within the early 1600s, their ancestors, who have been diplomats and advisors to their respective kings in Bohemia and Romania, met in Prague to strategize about methods to defeat the Turks who have been threatening the Habsburg Empire. Quick ahead to the early Twenties, when Sandra’s grandfather, Radu Florescu — who had two diplomatic postings in Prague — probably crossed paths with the elder William’s grandfather, Max, additionally a diplomat. They have been reunited in London throughout World Battle II, each serving their respective international locations’ struggle in opposition to the Nazis.

Sandra and William, too, have been serendipitously linked as refugees and younger adults residing in Beacon Hill in Boston.

Sandra first noticed her now husband from the window of her house, years earlier than they really met in individual. William Sr. was booming out the lyrics to “Chanson d’Amour” that was enjoying on his Walkman, making ready for live shows he carried out within the space with the hopes of turning into knowledgeable opera singer someday.

Alexandra and William Lobkowicz with child William Rudolf opening their first exhibition in 1995.

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Safeguarding these recollections and people of their ancestors — in addition to the cultural legacy they collectively fought to revive — is the place their son’s blockchain ambitions come into sight.

“We have handled dropping our collections twice and regaining them twice because of authoritarian regimes, however the way in which we bought them again was really by means of the receipts they stored,” defined the youthful William.

Each regimes tracked the method and the provenance historical past of those items, so William Sr. was in a position to hint possession and establish the place that they had been over time. Cryptocurrency blockchains — an immutable ledger tracing the provenance of digital artifacts — are an up to date model of these meticulous lists stored by authoritarian regimes.

Solely this time, the ability to trace these artifacts is within the fingers of the rightful homeowners.

Nazi officers observing plans throughout their occupation of Roudnice Fort in 1939. The citadel was was an SS coaching camp.

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The insurgent princes

“What I am doing proper now, I do not assume is any completely different from any of my predecessors. Every prince did one thing fully completely different based mostly upon the instances they lived in,” William mentioned.

The Lobkowicz princes have a historical past of being rebels, every breaking custom in their very own means.

Take the seventh prince, Franz Joseph Maximilian (1772-1816), who made an enormous wager on Ludwig van Beethoven again when the composer was nonetheless a relative unknown. Beethoven famously integrated an extra French horn into his orchestra for the Eroica symphony at a time when folks thought that form of sound was blasphemous.

Joseph gave the renegade composer an annual stipend, in addition to musicians and live performance areas, practically bankrupting the Home of Lobkowicz within the course of. Whereas the prince was his patron, Beethoven was free to compose music that revolutionized the symphonic world. In return, Beethoven would dedicate a few of his best works to the Prince, together with his third (Eroica), fifth, and sixth (Pastoral) Symphonies.

Renovated Beethoven Room on the Lobkowicz Palace.

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Then there was William’s nice grandfather, Maximilian Lobkowicz (1888-1967), who realized that the world of his princely predecessors was turning into out of date. The top of World Battle I introduced the autumn of the Austo-Hungarian Empire and the rise of unbiased nation states, together with a democratic Republic of Czechoslovakia.  

Max, then a younger lawyer and Czech patriot, embraced and supported the democratic beliefs of this new republic. When hereditary titles have been abolished with the formation of the brand new state, he gladly forfeited his aristocratic label. It was a break from custom so profound that his personal father, Ferdinand Zdenko (1858-1938), refused to talk to Max for a decade.

Along with his Bohemian princely pedigree on his father’s aspect, William’s maternal line traces again to a main minister in Bucharest and an historical and noble Romanian boyar household. He additionally has blood ties to the real-world noble upon whom Bram Stoker based mostly his legendary Rely Dracula — the world’s most well-known fictional vampire.

CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos excursions Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Fort with William Rudolf Lobkowicz.

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William Rudolf Lobkowicz welcoming visitors at Non-Fungible Fort 2021.

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Now he is making use of that humble renegade spirit to study all the pieces he can concerning the expertise he believes may also help protect the household legacy.

Each summer time, the world’s prime blockchain builders and cryptographers descend on Paris to hack, code, and speak store. The flagship occasion is a conference called EthCC (brief for Ethereum Neighborhood Convention), however the principle attraction has given rise to dozens of ancillary gatherings specializing in subjects working the gamut from web3 and ethereum’s rival blockchains — to the metaverse.

The variety of programming and folks is why Lobkowicz headed to Paris once more this yr. He would not go to talk on panels or attend blowout events at venues like the long-lasting Moulin Rouge. As a substitute, he prefers to fly underneath the radar, sitting on the periphery of an viewers however all the time listening intently.

For him, unlocking the potential of blockchain expertise comes right down to talking with builders on the bottom to create technical options to the very real-world issues he faces each day.

“Crypto is a software to proceed engaged on the issues we’re doing. It is like a membership card to an entire world of historical past and tradition,” he mentioned.

NFT Intestine Shot on show (subsequent to the unique portray) on the Lobkowicz Palace, the sale of which financed the restoration of a number of portraits of officers within the Lobkowicz Collections.

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To this point, the prince has tried out a pair alternative ways to include blockchain expertise into his work with The Lobkowicz Collections. Most profitable thus far has been promoting NFTs to help particular conservation wants.

The household takes a portray that wants restoration and mints a picture of the portray as an NFT. The provenance of the donation and donor can also be included on chain. From there, they set the value of the NFT at the price of the restoration of the bodily work tied to the token. The one that buys the NFT then receives a second NFT on the finish of the restoration course of as a token of their patronage.

“We try to convey folks on the journey of philanthropy and be fully clear with them about the place their cash goes,” defined William.

To date, the Home of Lobkowicz has efficiently financed greater than 50 artwork restoration tasks by means of this proof-of-patronage philanthropic mannequin — together with a Seventeenth century portray, “A Wild Boar in a Panorama,” which was featured in Wes Anderson’s movie “The Grand Budapest Resort.”

Work from the Lobkowicz Collections awaiting their restoration in an atelier, financed by the sale of NFTs throughout Non-Fungible Fort 2021.

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Collectively, the household has raised $300,000 by means of the sale of NFTs.

When requested whether or not he was nervous about the truth that the value of NFTs has fallen off a cliff in the previous few months, Lobkowicz mentioned that the growth and bust cycle of the market would not actually have an effect on their enterprise mannequin. If a restoration prices $4,000, that’s precisely what they cost for the piece — and it both sells or it would not.

He additionally sees NFTs as a solution to unlock new methods of reaching a extra various viewers and making a neighborhood of patrons and supporters who’re all for interacting with their collections in a extra progressive means.

“It is vital for folks to know that this is not about simply JPEGs hooked up to a digital receipt — we’re speaking about completely different purposes that may change the way in which we construct communities of people that care about tradition and see the potential of utilizing web3 expertise to protect it,” defined Lobkowicz.

Non-Fungible Fort 2021 Exhibition on the Lobkowicz Palace.

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POAPs — or Proof of Attendance Protocol — are a subset of NFTs that function a type of attendance sheet for occasions, or particular experiences. The prince plans to check out POAPs throughout the subsequent installment of Non–Fungible Fort, an annual exhibition and convention (working Nov. 4–5 in Prague) that bridges the largest names in conventional artwork to the world of web3 and crypto.

“We’ll create POAPs for experiences that you’ve got there, whether or not you are getting bread and salt (a conventional Czech invitation ritual) as you enter the beginning home of the world-renowned Czech nationwide composer Antonín Dvořák — otherwise you’re listening to a string quartet,” he mentioned.

POAPs might additionally in the end be used to improve ticketing and membership packages for museums.

Additionally on Lobkowicz’s to-do checklist for the subsequent few months? Moving into quadratic funding, which is a solution to crowd-raise a central crypto treasury that’s then used to fund public items tasks within the ethereum ecosystem — all with the assistance of an algorithm designed to optimize spending choices.

William Rudolf Lobkowicz explains to CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos the renovation strategy of the Chinese language Belvedere room inside Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Fort.

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Most just lately, he is been testing out purposes within the metaverse.

Lobkowicz labored with Somnium — a digital actuality world constructed on the ethereum blockchain — to place one of many rooms within the palace in Prague into the metaverse.

The household bought an NFT comparable to the three-month restoration of this room, generally known as the Chinese language Belvedere, for $79,000 to Oxb1, a well-known crypto influencer.

A glance contained in the Chinese language Belvedere room within the metaverse.

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A glance contained in the Chinese language Belvedere room within the metaverse.

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It is a take a look at case that would show helpful because the household strikes to revive different properties in pressing want of restore.

Take Roudnice Fort, a 40 minute drive north of Prague. To revive the 200-room palace to its former grandeur would immediately require tens of tens of millions of {dollars}.

It already prices a small fortune to warmth the citadel within the winter simply sufficient to maintain the pipes from freezing and bursting open. In the summertime, leaks are commonplace, just like the one which cropped up on a Saturday morning throughout my keep in Prague. That may translate into main injury, mould, and even collapsing ceilings.

The continuing upkeep and renovations have additionally been difficult by modifications made throughout the 41-year Soviet occupation, together with retrofitting a live performance corridor with a basketball courtroom.

Roudnice Fort, the previous ducal seat and residence of the Lobkowicz household.

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One other execution, although nonetheless in its infancy, is popping Renaissance portraits of robes worn by women of the courtroom into gaming skins – a market value $40 billion globally.

William can also be desirous about digitizing the household’s stockpile of historic weapons to promote as NFTs (full with the story of their provenance) for use in a gaming setting.

That might additionally assist with the $400,000 price ticket to revive and catalogue their stock – which is without doubt one of the most vital personal arms collections in Europe.

CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos and Ileana Lobkowicz leaving the Arms Room of the Lobkowicz Palace, that includes Seventeenth–18th century navy and searching rifles and a three-quarter go well with of armor.

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A princess saving historical past by means of tales

It’s a week later, on one other Friday night at virtually midnight in Prague, besides this time, I’m on the other aspect of the Atlantic Ocean, and I’m talking with a special Lobkowicz — William’s youthful sister, Ileana. (Their youngest sister, Sophia, is a rising junior at Trinity Faculty in Connecticut, however stays intently linked to her household’s work.)

The 25-year-old princess embraces all the ethereal qualities one may affiliate with aristocracy, effortlessly entering into her birthright and assuming the old-world obligations which accompany it.

Ileana and her mom, Sandra, giving a historic tour of the Lobkowicz Collections, highlighting the heroine tales that formed its historical past.

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Ileana Lobkowicz within the Baroque Music Room on the Lobkowicz Palace.

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At work, Ileana has made it her private mission not solely to share her household’s story, however to convey ahead the narratives of her feminine ancestors who have been quietly saving the day whereas letting the limelight fall on their male family members.

Take Princess Polyxena Lobkowicz (1566-1642), a politically lively and prolific determine throughout Bohemia. Through the Defenestration of Prague — an incident which triggered the Thirty Years’ Battle, one of many bloodiest conflicts in European historical past that killed one-third of Europe’s inhabitants — an offended mob of members of the Protestant estates didn’t dare cross Polyxena’s path. The princess wielded no weapon, but her presence proved a robust power.

Or Gillian Somerville (1890-1982), the spouse of Maximilian, the noble who gladly dropped his title in tandem with the beginning of democracy in Bohemia. In 1939, she overheard German officers on a prepare to London speaking concerning the upcoming invasion of Czechoslovakia. She rapidly wired Max to warn him, and he managed to flee to England, leaving Czechoslovakia two days earlier than the Nazis invaded. 

A letter from an Italian composer and violinist Francesco Geminiani addressed to Ferdinand Phillipp, sixth Prince Lobkowicz, dated 1748.

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Lastly, in a narrative that appears ripe for Hollywood, The Lobkowicz Collections can also be residence to an trade of letters written between Princess de Lamballe — the lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette, whose sister was married to the sixth Prince Lobkowicz — her cousin Karl Emanuel Hessen Rheinfels Rotenburg, and his spouse, Leopoldine Liechtenstein.

The trade, which hasn’t been seen earlier than, offers first–hand accounts of what it was like throughout Marie Antoinette’s last days throughout her jail keep within the Bastille, simply earlier than her beheading.

“I see my position and affect in our household’s work as being the voice by means of which tales — from the previous, current, and future — might be shared, preserved, and celebrated. I really feel it’s the finest and solely means I can honor my ancestors — and for that matter, my descendants too,” Ileana says. “We will not be caught previously, however we will not neglect it both.”

To that finish, she and William have launched a particular collection of NFTs which capitalize upon supply materials that wasn’t given its simply due in its day.

Take “Forgotten Menuet” — an NFT of an animated piece of music composed by Anna Maria Wilhelmina Althann (1703-1754), unheard for over 250 years.

“Along with bringing to life the music itself, it additionally pays homage to the unrecognized ancestor, as a result of on the time, she did not obtain any acknowledgement for her musical expertise,” Ileana tells me as we stand adjoining the glass-encased show containing Anna Maria’s handwritten lute music.

That NFT has since been placed on exhibit in a digital museum within the metaverse.

Menuet, an early 18th-century lute tablature composed by Anna Maria Wilhelmina Althann, spouse of the 4th Prince Lobkowicz, displayed on the Lobkowicz Palace.

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“It is loopy to consider conceptually, as a result of this can be a piece of music that hasn’t been performed in 250 years, and in addition would have solely been carried out in very small personal areas. Now it has the flexibility to be all world wide for anybody to take pleasure in,” mentioned William.

One other NFT from this collection animates X-ray and infrared photos in an effort to see by means of to the invisible layers of a canvas which were painted over. A 3rd incorporates a digital rendering of the degrading sgraffito from the Sixteenth-century façade of Nelahozeves Fort.

“We should take our historical past with us into the long run by making it related immediately,” Ileana explains.

William Rudolf Lobkowicz and CNBC’s MacKenzie Sigalos within the Baroque Live performance Corridor of the Lobkowicz Palace that includes Seventeenth-century frescoes.

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