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


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 Citadel 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 fort’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 wire into the wall. The wire powers digicam tools for use in a dwell broadcast occurring round 1 a.m. which is able to characteristic the story of his household on a CNBC primetime present in New York. Lobkowicz can be behind the digicam for the shot, however that does not matter to him. He merely desires to share one of many world’s biggest non-public collections of masterworks with the general public.

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

The palace feels extra like a crypt. On the peak of Bohemian summer season, 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 suitable key to let him by — 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 the Prague Citadel advanced.

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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 residences 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 packing 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 gorgeous artworks and castles and assume that this all comes extremely straightforward,” 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 this stuff. No person’s going to care about this stuff as a lot as we do.”

William Rudolf Lobkowicz inspecting outdated household pictures within the Lobkowicz Archives.

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

To guard his household’s previous, Lobcowicz has embraced the longer term. The world of cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens is intangible and summary, a set of mathematical formulation operating 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 among the remainder of the world, as properly.

It is not nearly promoting NFTs to assist cultural monuments, however it’s additionally taking a look at how will we protect a document of our historical past?” explains William. “Blockchain expertise gives an immutable document of our cultural heritage, which you’ll be able to 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 Citadel with William Rudolf Lobkowicz.

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An immutable document

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

The collections, which have been painstakingly re-assembled over 25 years by a course of often 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 contains 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 without any consideration. Their castles and artifacts have been stolen twice by two completely different authoritarian regimes.

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

Home of Lobkowicz

In CNBC’s first dialog with William — an almost 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 a couple of occasions within the final couple years since making this mission his life’s work. To him, the energy 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 fashioned Czechoslovakia handed restitution legal guidelines enabling Czechs to assert again property stolen below Communist rule. William Sr., then 29 years outdated, heeded the decision and uprooted his life as an actual property dealer in Boston to return to Prague.

William Lobkowicz Sr. inspecting injury to the inside courtyard façade of Nelahozeves Citadel.

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There is not any definitive “the way to” guide on restoring stolen objects to their rightful proprietor. It is a convoluted train that entails submitting hundreds of separate claims and may take a long time. A number 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 respect,” 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 after 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 hundreds of movable objects,” he stated. “We in all probability coated tons of of hundreds of miles.”

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

Overlaying 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 conserving 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 operating dry as museum patronage continues to fall.

To make a foul scenario worse, the state has strict guidelines governing restoration protocols which may sluggish the renovation course of and make it costlier. There’s additionally fierce competitors for a restricted variety of grants earmarked to fund cultural heritage initiatives. Citadel 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 high locations for probably the most castles per sq. mile. Actually, some state governments and cities are auctioning off castles below their custodianship, as a result of they do not have the money to keep up them.

To maintain every little thing afloat, the Lobcowiczes have generated revenue from issues like fort excursions, the present store, and internet hosting occasions corresponding to 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 stated of the early days, when his father first started restoring the household’s castles and artifacts.

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

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Fortuitously, William Sr. had a devoted companion 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 instructor in Boston’s Again Bay, however she by no means stopped being an educator.

She has launched and run a number of instructional packages in reference to the collections, together with the junior curator program, which is now being modeled by faculties around the globe.

It helps that she frolicked on the Sorbonne in Paris, finding out effective 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 the way 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 — possible crossed paths with the elder William’s grandfather, Max, additionally a diplomat. They have been reunited in London throughout World Conflict II, each serving their respective international locations’ struggle towards 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 particular person. William Sr. was booming out the lyrics to “Chanson d’Amour” that was taking part in on his Walkman, getting ready for concert events he carried out within the space with the hopes of changing 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 become visible.

“We have handled shedding our collections twice and regaining them twice on account of authoritarian regimes, however the best way we received them again was truly by 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 determine the place they’d 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 facility to trace these artifacts is within the fingers of the rightful homeowners.

Nazi officers observing plans throughout their occupation of Roudnice Citadel in 1939. The fort was become 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 occasions they lived in,” William stated.

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

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

Joseph gave the renegade composer an annual stipend, in addition to musicians and live performance areas, almost 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 biggest 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 changing into out of date. The tip of World Conflict 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 facet, William’s maternal line traces again to a major minister in Bucharest and an historic and noble Romanian boyar household. He additionally has blood ties to the real-world noble upon whom Bram Stoker based mostly his legendary Depend Dracula — the world’s most well-known fictional vampire.

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

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William Rudolf Lobkowicz welcoming company at Non-Fungible Citadel 2021.

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Now he is making use of that humble renegade spirit to study every little thing he can in regards to the expertise he believes can assist protect the household legacy.

Each summer season, the world’s high blockchain builders and cryptographers descend on Paris to hack, code, and speak store. The flagship occasion is a convention referred to as EthCC (brief for Ethereum Group Convention), however the principle attraction has given rise to dozens of ancillary gatherings specializing in matters operating the gamut from web3 and ethereum’s rival blockchains — to the metaverse.

The range of programming and other people 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 below the radar, sitting on the periphery of an viewers however at all times 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 instrument 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 stated.

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 other ways to include blockchain expertise into his work with The Lobkowicz Collections. Most profitable thus far has been promoting NFTs to assist 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 carry folks on the journey of philanthropy and be fully clear with them about the place their cash goes,” defined William.

Up to now, the Home of Lobkowicz has efficiently financed greater than 50 artwork restoration initiatives by 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 Citadel 2021.

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

When requested whether or not he was apprehensive about the truth that the value of NFTs has fallen off a cliff in the previous couple of months, Lobkowicz stated 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 approach to unlock new methods of reaching a extra numerous viewers and making a neighborhood of patrons and supporters who’re concerned about interacting with their collections in a extra revolutionary method.

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

Non-Fungible Citadel 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 in the course of the subsequent installment of Non–Fungible Citadel, an annual exhibition and convention (operating Nov. 4–5 in Prague) that bridges the largest names in conventional artwork to the world of web3 and crypto.

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

POAPs may additionally finally be used to improve ticketing and membership packages for museums.

Additionally on Lobkowicz’s to-do record for the following few months? Stepping into quadratic funding, which is a approach to crowd-raise a central crypto treasury that’s then used to fund public items initiatives 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 Citadel.

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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 akin to the three-month restoration of this room, often 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 might show helpful because the household strikes to revive different properties in pressing want of restore.

Take Roudnice Citadel, a 40 minute drive north of Prague. To revive the 200-room palace to its former grandeur would as we speak require tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars}.

It already prices a small fortune to warmth the fort 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, mildew, and even collapsing ceilings.

The continued upkeep and renovations have additionally been difficult by adjustments made in the course of the 41-year Soviet occupation, together with retrofitting a live performance corridor with a basketball courtroom.

Roudnice Citadel, 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 girls of the courtroom into gaming skins – a market price $40 billion globally.

William can also be enthusiastic 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 will additionally assist with the $400,000 price ticket to revive and catalogue their stock – which is likely one of the most essential non-public 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 looking rifles and a three-quarter go well with of armor.

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A princess saving historical past by tales

It’s a week later, on one other Friday night at virtually midnight in Prague, besides this time, I’m on the alternative facet of the Atlantic Ocean, and I’m talking with a distinct Lobkowicz — William’s youthful sister, Ileana. (Their youngest sister, Sophia, is a rising junior at Trinity Faculty in Connecticut, however stays carefully related 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 duties 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 carry ahead the narratives of her feminine ancestors who have been quietly saving the day whereas letting the limelight fall on their male kin.

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

Or Gillian Somerville (1890-1982), the spouse of Maximilian, the noble who gladly dropped his title in tandem with the start of democracy in Bohemia. In 1939, she overheard German officers on a practice to London speaking in regards to the upcoming invasion of Czechoslovakia. She shortly 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 house to an alternate 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 alternate, which hasn’t been seen earlier than, gives first–hand accounts of what it was like throughout Marie Antoinette’s remaining days throughout her jail keep within the Bastille, simply earlier than her beheading.

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

To that finish, she and William have launched a particular sequence 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 think about 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 non-public areas. Now it has the power to be all around the globe for anybody to get pleasure from,” stated William.

One other NFT from this sequence animates X-ray and infrared photographs as a way to see by to the invisible layers of a canvas which have been painted over. A 3rd includes a digital rendering of the degrading sgraffito from the Sixteenth-century façade of Nelahozeves Citadel.

“We should take our historical past with us into the longer term by making it related as we speak,” 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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