Prague Castle

The Prague Castle (Prazsky Hrad) is a collection of buildings that came together to be the seat of royalty.

   It was built on a hill overlooking the Vltava river valley, where an earlier pagan ritual grounds used to be.   From it’s humble beginnings in the 9th century, it has grown to be the largest royal palace complex in Europe with about 2000 rooms.  It houses a permanent picture gallery, timed exhibitions, several churches, the office of the president of the Czech Republic, is the site of the ritual “changing of the guards”, state visits and more.  The royal chambers are accessible only to special visitors, one day a year for everyone (with long lines) and visitors that pay a very large (CZK 3000 and up) fee for the privilege.  These room contain period furnishings and are considered special due to some prominent guests that have visited or even stayed here as state visitors to our country.

The most visited sites are the St. Vitus Cathedral (the most important church in Prague), St. George Basilica (the oldest remaining church here - a Romanesque masterpiece), the Royal Palace (the former seat of the kings), the Golden Lane (some of the smallest houses in Prague) and the Lobkowicz Palace (the home of the Princely Art Collection).

The somewhat confusing and always changing entrance fees range from CZK 250 per person to CZK 500.  Best to check at the time of your visit. 

 

History

 The history of the castle stretches back to the 9th century (870). The first walled building was the church of Our Lady. The Basilica of Saint George and the Basilica of St. Vitus were founded in the first half of the 10th century. The first convent in Bohemia was founded in the castle, next to the church of St. George. A Romanesque palace was erected here during the 12th century. In the 14th century, under the reign of Charles IV the royal palace was rebuilt in Gothic style and the castle fortifications were strengthened. In place of rotunda and basilica of St. Vitus began building of a vast Gothic church, that have been completed almost six centuries later. During the Hussite Wars and the following decades the Castle was not inhabited. In 1485 King Ladislaus II Jagello begins to rebuild the castle. The massive Vladislav Hall (built by Benedikt Rejt) was added to the Royal Palace. Then were also built new defence towers on the northern side of the castle. A big fire of 1541 destroyed large parts of the castle. Under Habsburgs some new buildings in renaissance style appeared here. Ferdinand I built Belvedere, summer palace for his wife Anne. Rudolph II used Prague Castle as his main residence. He founded the northern wing of the palace, with the Spanish Hall, where his precious artistic collections were exhibited. Second Prague defenestration in 1618 began the Bohemian Revolt. During the subsequent wars the Castle was damaged and dilapidated. Many works from the collection of Rudolph II were looted by Swedes in 1648, in the course of the Thirty Years' War. The last major rebuilding of the castle was carried out by Queen Maria Theresa in the second half of the 18th century. Ferdinand V after abdication in 1848 chose Prague Castle as his home.

In 1918 the castle became the seat of the president of the new Czechoslovak Republic. The New Royal Palace and the gardens were renovated by Slovenian architect Jo¾e Pleènik. Renovations continued in 1936 under Pleènik's successor Pavel Janák.

During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II, Prague Castle became the headquarters of Reinhard Heydrich, the "Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia". It is said that he placed the Bohemian crown on his head, believing himself to be a great king.  Old legends say that a person who is not the rightful king or queen, who places the crown on his head, is doomed to die within a year. Less than a year after assuming power, Heydrich was assassinated.

After the liberation of Czechoslovakia, it housed the offices of the communist Czechoslovak government. During the Velvet Revolution, Alexander Dubèek, the leader of Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring, appeared on a balcony overlooking Wenceslas Square to hear throngs of protesters below shouting "Dubèek to the castle!" As they pushed for him to take his seat as president of the country at Prague Castle, he embraced the crowd as a symbol of democratic freedom.

After Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the castle became the seat of the Head of State of the new Czech Republic. Similar to what Masaryk did with Pleènik, president Václav Havel commissioned Boøek ©ípek to be the architect of post-communism Prague Castle's necessary improvements in particular of the facelift of the Castle's Gallery of paintings.

The castle houses many buildings.  It is said that it is the largest royal palace in Europe with over 2000 rooms. 


St. Vitus Cathedral

 St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and the most important temple in Prague. Apart from religious services the coronations of Czech kings and queens also took place in here. The cathedral is a place of interment of remains of provincial patron saints, sovereigns, noblemen and archbishops.

The cathedral is the third church consecrated to the same saint on the identical site. About the year 925 Prince Vaclav I founded a Romanesque rotunda here which after 1060 was converted into a basilica with three naves and two steeples. The importance of the cathedral grew especially after the establishment of the Prague bishopric in 973 and the founding of the body of canons - the St. Vitus chapter, which later became an important cultural and administrative institution.
In 1344 Charles IV began the construction of a Gothic cathedral. Its first builders, Matthias of Arras and later Peter Parler, built the chancel with a ring of chapels, St. Wenceslas Chapel, the Golden Portal and the lower part of the main steeple.
In spite of the endeavours of some sovereigns to secure the continuation of the construction work the cathedral remained uncompleted for whole centuries. The main steeple was crowned with a Renaissance helmet and the music choir was built. The facade of the cathedral was provisionally closed.
It was not until the latter half of the 19th century that the Union for the Completion of the Building of St. Vitus Cathedral began the repair of the original part and the completion of the building of the cathedral in Neo-Gothic style. The cathedral was solemnly consecrated in 1929. Its interior was subjected to adaptations even in later years.
Visitors enter the cathedral through the portal in the western facade, opposite the passage-way between the Second and Third Courtyards of Prague Castle.
Its bronze door is decorated with reliefs with scenes from the history of the cathedral and from the legends about St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert.
The Neo-Gothic part of the cathedral consists of the main nave and the narrow side aisles, lined with chapels, and the northern wing of the transverse nave. The chapels have stained glass windows. The construction of the large southern steeple was started by Peter Parler, but he did not complete it. It gained its originally planned height after being provided with a Renaissance helmet in the 16th century. St. Wenceslas's Chapel partly reaches on to the area of the transverse nave. The different conception of its architecture and its magnificent decoration emphasize its importance as the central point of the cathedral as a whole. The solemn entrance to the cathedral, the Golden Portal, affords access to the chapel from the Third Courtyard.
Situated in the chancel of the cathedral, in front of the high alter, is the royal mausoleum below which, in the crypt, there is the royal tomb. The chancel is surrounded by a ring of Gothic chapels. Czech sovereigns and patron saints are interred in some of them.


St. Wenceslas Chapel

 St. Wenceslas Chapel is a cult center of St. Vitus Cathedral. Its magnificent decoration and the different conception of its architecture emphasize its singularity as the central point of the cathedral with the tomb of the most important provincial patron saint. The facing of the walls, consisting of precious stones, and the wall paintings of the Passion cycle are parts of the original 14th-century decoration of the chapel. The scenes from the life of St. Wenceslas forming another decorative band are attributed to the workshop of the Master of the Litomerice Altar (the cycle is dated in 1509).
The door in the south-western corner of the chapel leads to the Crown Chamber in which the Bohemian Coronation Jewels are kept.







Old Royal Palace

The Palace grew and gradually gained its present appearance from the time of its founding in the late 9th century.
The original wooden building with a stone foundation wall was converted into a stone Romanesque palace by Prince Sobeslav in the early 12th century. Remainders of it have been preserved in the underground to the present. The palace was adjoined on its eastern side by All Saints' Chapel, which was consecrated in 1185.
In the first half of the 14th century the king and emperor Charles IV had a Gothic palace with a vaulted interior for state purposes and a band of arcades on its northern side built on the site of the Romanesque building. During the reign of his son Wenceslas IV two perpendicular wings were added and All Saints' Chapel was reconstructed.
The palace was deserted for entire eighty years of the stormy 15th century. After 1483 the king Vladislav Jagello returned to Prague Castle and commenced the last large-scale reconstruction of the palace. The magnificent solemn Vladislav Hall was added to it and when designing it the architect Benedikt Ried combined the art of the Late Gothic with elements of the newly arriving Renaissance style. The perpendicular palace wing named after Vladislav's son Ludvik is also the work of B. Ried. After the succession of the Habsburgs to the Bohemian throne the interiors of the Old Royal Palace were used for coronation festivities and diets and as conference rooms, offices and depositories. New dwelling quarters were built to the west of the palace, in the southern part of the Castle complex. After the catastrophic fire which occurred in 1541 the Diet and All Saints' Church were rebuilt.
The Theresian Wing originated in the course of the reconstruction of the Castle in the 18th century. During the 20th century it has been subjected to several reconstructions. In 1993 it was adapted for an exhibition of creative art.


The Vladislav Hall

 From the 16th century the Vladislav Hall served particularly royal state purposes. It was the scene of coronation festivities and banquets, knights' tournaments and markets with artistic and luxurious goods. The Vladislav Hall still partly fulfils the state function: the elections of the president of the Czech Republic and ceremonial gatherings connected with important days in the life of this country take place in it.
Neighbouring on the Vladislav Hall is the Diet, which through the furnishings of its interior affords an idea of the way in which the proceedings of the Diet took place after 1627, and also All Saints' Church. From the south-western corner of the Vladislav Hall a portal leads to the Ludwig Wing with the offices of the Czech Chancellery. In 1618 its second room witnessed the beginning of the uprising to the Czech Estates when two governors and a scribe were thrown into the castle ditch from its window. The uprising of the Czech Estates was the first conflict of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648).
The observation gallery on the southern wall of the Vladislav Hall affords a beautiful view of the Garden on the Ramparts and of Prague.
Nowadays the exit from the Vladislav Hall is formed by the Riders' Staircase, built originally to enable knights to enter the hall on horseback in order to take part in the jousting competitions held in it. The staircase is vaulted with a complicated Late Gothic rib vault.





St. George Basilica

 St. George's Basilica originated as the second church at Prague Castle. Only the foundations of the building, founded about 920 by Prince Vratislav I have been preserved. When the convent for Benedictine nuns was founded in 973 the church was enlarged and reconstructed.

The present Romanesque appearance of the church with main apse and two steeples dated from the time of the reconstruction carried out after the devastating fire which occurred in 1142. In the first half of the 13th century a chapel consecrated to St. Ludmila was added to the church as well as a portico on its western side. The Early Baroque period left its mark in the form of the present striking facade and the reconstruction of the whole convent. In the early 18th century the architect F.M. Kanka added the Baroque Chapel of St. John Nepomuk to the church. After the devastating occupation of the convent by troops in the late 18th century the church was renewed in the years 1887 to 1908 after a design by F. Mach, who tried to restore its Romanesque appearance. In the period of from 1969 to 1975 the convent was also reconstructed and adapted for the installation of the exposition of old Bohemian art of the National Gallery.

The interior of the basilica is Romanesque, austere and monumental. The tombs of members of the Premyslid dynasty of princes are situated in the main nave.
The southern side of the chancel is adjoined by St. Ludmila's Chapel. The convent has a simple and soberly decorated Early Baroque facade. From the eastern branch of the cloister access can be gained to St. Anne's Chapel in the convent.

The most beautiful works of Bohemian Gothic art and art of the Rudolphian and Baroque period are exhibited in the interiors of the convent.
Open daily except Mondays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Golden Lane

The Golden Lane originated after the construction of the northern wall of the Castle. The area of the northern bailey was used for the building of modest dwellings, which are now the last remainder of the small-scale architecture of Prague Castle. They were inhabited by the castle servants, perhaps goldsmiths (the name "Golden Lane" is documented from the 16th century] and the castle marksmen. The tiny houses were occupied until World War II, but already during the period of the First Republic care was taken to ensure that the picturesque character of the lane was not changed in the course of modifications. From 1916 to 1917 house No. 22 was inhabited by the writer Franz Kafka. 

The appearance of a 16th-century dwelling is best demonstrated by house No. 20 with a frame upper floor. The original size is documented by house No. 13, which is the only dwelling here to have adhered to the present to the original regulation according to which the room had to be built in an arch of the wall - its facade does not protrude into the lane at all.

The staircase in house No. 12 affords access to the terrace in front of the tower called Daliborka. This round cannon tower formed a part of the Jagello fortification system and its bottom floor was used as a prison from the beginning. The first and also the best-known prisoner was the knight Dalibor of Kozojedy, who was imprisoned here in 1498. Another well-known prisoner was Baron Frantisek Antonin Spork of East Bohemia, renowned in the 18th century as an admirer and patron of art.
Open daily with ever changing entrance fees. 




 Lobkowicz Palace

The palace is on Jirska street, which runs from the square U sv. Jiri (St. George square) in the direction of the eastern gate of Prague Castle. Standing on the southern side in its lower part is Lobkowicz Palace.
Dwelling houses stood here already in the 13th century. Later two large Gothic houses belonging to Czech noblemen were built on this site. The construction of a palace building was started here before the mid- 16th century by Wolf Krajir of Krajek and continued after him by the lords of Pernstejn, one of the largest Bohemian noble families of the 16th century.
The Renaissance palace had four wings surrounding a courtyard and it was outstanding for its rich architectural decoration. During the period of from 1651 to 1668 Carlo Lurago adapted it in Early Baroque style for Eusebius of Lobkowicz, then the Bohemian governor. Two rooms and the chapel on the first floor have been preserved in their original form.

The Palace houses a permanent exposition created from a private collection of the Lobkowicz family called - The Princely Collections. On display are pictures by Velázquez Brueghel, Canaletto and others, works of art from the 12th to the 20th century, musical instruments and original manuscripts and period prints of significant musical works (Händel, Haydn, Beethoven), and a unique collection of arms.

Open daily from 10:30 to 18:00.


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