PRAGUE — Prague Castle & Surrounds

The Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad a Hradčany) is the most significant Czech monument and one of the most important cultural institutions in the Czech Republic. The Castle was founded in the 9th century by Prince Boŕivoj. Its superb position high on a hill above the river Vltava gives it a commanding position. The Castle is the largest medieval castle complex in Europe and the buildings that make up the complex are enclosed within the Castle walls. The buildings found here are a palace, three churches and a monastery as well as other smaller buildings and gardens. The Castle has undergone many renovations and today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since 1918 it has been the seat of the president of the Republic. The Changing of the Guard takes place every day at each hour. If you are there at noon the ceremony will include a fanfare and the flag ceremony in the First Courtyard.
For information about the Castle visit the website at:
http://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle/prague-castle-tourist-information/visit-of-prague-castle.shtml

The sights found here are:
Picture Gallery of Prague Castle
St Vitus’s Cathedral
Powder Tower
Royal Palace
St George’s Basilica
St George’s Convent
Golden Lane
Lobkowicz Palace
Dalibor Tower
South Gardens
Belvedere
Royal Garden
Riding School
Archbishop’s Palace
Sternberg Palace
Martinic Palace
Schwarzenberg Palace
New World
Capuchin Monastery
The Loreto
Čern ín Palace
Pohořelec
Strahov Monastery

Picture Gallery of Prague Castle
The Prague Castle Picture Gallery (Obrazáran Pražského Hradu) is found in the northern wing of the New Palace in what was once the stables of Emperor Rudolph 11 and held his Spanish horses. It is now a gallery that contains collections of paintings from the 16th to the 18th centuries as well as sculptures. Some of the highlights in the collection include paintings by Titian, Rubens, Veronese, Czech Baroque artists Jan Kupecky and Petr Brandl. You can also see the remains of the Castle’s first church which was founded by Boŕivoj I in the 9th century and discovered during the reconstruction.
For information about the Picture Gallery visit the website at: http://www.obrazarna-hradu.cz/en/about-picture-gallery.php

St Vitus’s Cathedral

St Vitus’s Cathedral
St Vitus’s Cathedral (Chrám sv Víat) is part of the Prague Castle complex and is the biggest and the most important church in the Czech Republic. The Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague and the place where saints, kings, princes and emperors of Bohemia are buried including the tomb of ‘Good King Wenceslas’. The coronations of the kings of Bohemia were held there until 1836. This beautiful Gothic cathedral has a long and complicated history. Work began on the cathedral in 1344 and continued on until the 20th century. The exterior contains lots of gargoyles, flying buttresses and soaring spires and you should take a walk around its perimeter to see these features as well as to get an idea of its size before entering. The interior is magnificent from the delicate vaulting of the ceilings to the stunning rose window depicting scenes of the creation. The interior is a mixture of old and new with a lot of the stained glass including the rose window originating in more modern times. If you enter the church through the western portal a lot of the more modern elements of the church can be seen. Also near here is the very ornate St Wenceslas Chapel which is considered the ancient core of the cathedral. Note the walls covered in semi-precious stones. Near this chapel there are some stairs that lead down to the underground royal crypt containing the royal remains of Charles IV who died in 1378 and Rudolph II in his original tin coffin. Towards the east end of the cathedral you will find the ornate sarcophagus made from solid silver of St John of Nepomuk. Information about opening times for the cathedral can be found on the Prague Castle website.

Traveller's Tip

When you are looking at the exterior of the cathedral take note of the mosaic above the entrance known as the Golden Portal which is found on the south side. The mosaic is made from 1 million glass and stone chunks and dates from the mid-14th century. It depicts the Last Judgment and shows Christ adored by Charles IV and his consort, Elizabeth of Pomerania, as well as several saints. The risen dead and attendant angels are on the left and on the right the flames of Hell lick around the figure of Satan.
Powder Tower

Powder Tower
A tower was built in the Castle complex in 1496 as a place for cannons used to defend the Castle but it was destroyed by fire. In 1541 it was rebuilt as the home and workshop of gunsmith and bell founder Tomáš Jaroš. During the reign of Rudolph 11 the Powder Tower (Prašná Věž) became a laboratory for alchemists. Despite accidents the tower was used as a gunpowder store in the mid-17th to the mid-18th centuries. In 1754 it was converted into accommodation for the sacristans of St Vitus’s Cathedral. In the 1960s it became a museum showing its history.
For information about the Powder Tower visit the website at: http://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle/photogallery/prague-castle/17.shtml

Royal Palace

Royal Palace
The Old Royal Palace (Královský Palác) was the seat of Bohemian princes from the 11th century. The building consists of three levels added over time and built with different architectural styles. The first level which is now the cellar of the building is where Sobéslav I built a Romanesque palace around 1135. Přemysl Otakar 11 and Charles IV added their own palaces above this and the top floor is where you will find the magnificent Gothic Vladislav Hall. This hall used to be the largest secular hall of medieval Prague and from the 16th century it was used for coronation festivities, knights’ tournaments, balls and markets. Knights on horseback could enter the hall by climbing Rider’s Staircase. The hall is now used for the elections of the president of the Czech Republic and for state events. There is a beautiful view of Prague from the observational gallery on the southern part of the Vladislav Hall. From the corner of the Vladislav Hall there is the entrance to the Ludwig Wing which contains the offices of the Czech Chancellery. During World War II the Czech Crown Jewels were hidden in the Old Royal Palace so they would be protected from air raids.

Traveller's Tip

In 1618 two Catholic Governors and their secretary were thrown out of the window in the Ludwig Wing after protestors had stormed the castle to protest against the succession to the throne of the Archduke Ferdinand. They survived thanks to a dung heap but this event started the Thirty Years’ War. The survival of the Catholic Governors was thought to be due to the intervention of angels. This event is known as the Defenestration of 1618.
St George’s Basilica

St George’s Basilica
St George’s Basilica (Bazilika sv Jiři) is the oldest church building within the Prague Castle complex and is also the best-preserved Romanesque church in Prague. The Basilica was founded by Prince Vratislav in 920 and was enlarged in 973 with the building of St. George’s Benedictine Convent. The most notable feature of this basilica is probably the two white towers that were added in the 12th century. The narrow northern tower is called Eve and the larger southern one is called Adam. It has been rebuilt over time and the brick-red Baroque facade you see today dates from the 17th century and is typical of that time. Inside the basilica there are several tombs including that of St Ludmila which is found in the Gothic chapel of the same name as well as the tombs of Prince Vratislav and Boleslav II.


Traveller's Tip

Note the wooden crucifix on the wall of the basilica. Legend says that in the 13th century the Christ figure on the crucifix started bleeding, when the daughter of Otakar 11 prayed nearby for her father. It was supposedly a sign that her father had already died in battle and the country was to endure a long unhappy period.
St George’s Convent

St George’s Convent
The first convent in Bohemia was founded here in 973 by Prince Boleslav II and his sister was the first abbess. It was rebuilt over the centuries but was converted into barracks in 1782. Following a reconstruction in the 1960s and 70s it now houses a collection of Bohemian Baroque art for the National Gallery.
For information about the art collection visit the following website at: http://www.ngprague.cz/en/3/sekce/st-george-s-convent/

Golden Lane

Golden Lane
The Golden Lane (Zlatá UličkA) is a short narrow street found in the Prague Castle complex. It was named after the goldsmiths who lived here in the 17th century. One side of the lane has tiny brightly coloured houses built into the arches of the Castle walls. Originally the houses were built in the late 1500s for Rudolph 11’s 24 Castle guards. In the 18th and 19th centuries they were occupied by squatters and no 22 was the home of the writer France Kafka. Most of the shops are now souvenir shops.

Lobkowicz Palace

Lobkowicz Palace
Lobkowicz Palace (Lobkovický Palác) forms part of the Prague Castle complex but is privately owned by the Lobkowicz family and you will need a separate ticket to visit it. The palace has been fully restored to its original state after being renovated several times over the years and is now a family museum, displaying exhibits drawn from the extensive Lobkowicz Collections. On display are musical instruments, rare music manuscripts from Mozart and Beethoven, a gun collection, 12th to 20th century works of art including paintings by Canaletto, Brueghel the Elder, Velazquez and others. This is the place where the surviving Catholic ministers thrown out of the window of the Old Royal Palace took refuge in. There are several rooms in the palace worthy of note and these are the palace chapel, the magnificent reception rooms and the 17th century banqueting hall with its wonderful frescoes.
For information about the palace visit the website at: http://www.lobkowiczevents.cz/

Traveller's Tip

Make sure you see the copies of the Czech Coronation Jewels that are on display here. The real ones are kept in St Vitus’s Cathedral and are rarely on display to the public.
  • If you are travelling with children you may be interested in the toy museum that is opposite the palace. It has lots of toys ranging from Ancient Greek to the present.

    Dalibor Tower
    The 15th century rounded Dalibor Tower (Daliborka) that you can see near Prague Castle was part of the fortifications built by King Vladislav Jagiello. It used to be a prison until 1781 and it got its name from the legendary Knight Dalibor of Kozojedy, who was imprisoned there at the end of the 15th century while awaiting execution. Legend has it that he learnt to play the violin during his time in the prison and people came to listen and gave him food and drink as prisoners were often left to starve. This story was used by Smetana in his opera Dalibor. In the tower there is a basement with four cells and a cross vault. A dungeon is located underneath which is accessible through a hole in the floor. The prisoners used to be lowered there by a pulley which can still be seen.

    South Gardens
    The South Gardens (Jižní Zahrady) are found in a long narrow strip of land below Prague Castle and they overlook the Little Quarter. They are only open in the summer months. These gardens consist of several gardens including Paradise Gardens which are the oldest and were laid out in 1562. These gardens contain an early 17th century round pavilion with a lovely wooden ceiling. The Rampart Gardens are the site of the infamous Defenestration of 1618 where two governors were thrown out of a window and landed in a dung heap that is now part of this garden. Below this level are a series of once private gardens which were extensively restored between 1973 and 1997. Street signs describe them as ‘Gardens beneath Prague Castle’ and there is an entrance fee. They have vineyards, small parterres, fruit trees and herb gardens.

    Belvedere

    Belvedere
    The beautiful Italian Renaissance Belvedere (Belvedér) is found in the Royal Gardens of the Prague Castle complex. It was built as a summerhouse for Queen Anne as a gift from her loving husband Ferdinand I of Hapsburg but before the couple could enjoy it the queen died in childbirth. It is beautifully decorated with Ionic columns and arcades with ornate reliefs. An interesting feature worth noting is the keel-shaped roof. Work began on the Belvedere in 1541 and finished in 1564. In a small garden at the front of the building is the Singing Fountain which dates from 1568 and is called that because of the noise the water makes as it hits the bronze bowl. The maker of the fountain was the bell founder who lived in the Powder Tower, Tomáš Jaroš. A lot of the works of art and statuary originally found in the Belvedere were stolen by the occupying Swedish army in 1648 including the 16th century bronze Mercury and Psyche which is now found in the Louvre in Paris. These days the Belvedere is used as an Art Gallery.

    Royal Garden

    Royal Garden
    The Royal Garden (Královská Zahrada) was created in 1535 by Ferdinand 1 for his wife Queen Anne. The gardens have been altered over time but some of the original features include the Belvedere (described above) as well as the The Ball Game Court on the edge of the valley. This is an elegant building with sgraffito decoration. The garden is full of exotic plants from all over the world and is a lovely place to stroll in but be aware it is only open in the warmer months.

    Traveller's Tip

    If you visit the Royal Garden in the spring you will be rewarded with the sight of thousands of tulips. This was the first place in Europe where tulips were grown.

    Riding School
    The Riding School (Jízdáran) is the large building lining the street U Prašného mostu by Prague Castle. It was built in the 17th century to replace another riding school that was considered not good enough. It is now used as an exhibition space for painting and sculpture. Included in this area are some gardens with lovely views of the castle. Information about the exhibitions can be found on the Prague Castle website.

    Archbishop’s Palace

    Archbishop’s Palace
    The Archbishop’s Palace (Arcibiskupský Palác) found on Hradčanské náměsti was originally a Renaissance home but was reconstructed from 1562 to 1564 as a palace for the first Catholic Archbishop since the Hussite Wars. It replaced the original Bishop Palace found in the Little Quarter that was burned down. This new palace was in the Baroque style which was replaced by the Rococo style in the 18 th century. The Archbishop’s Palace has been and still is the seat of Prague’s Archbishop. Inside the palace are a collection of nine French tapestries and a portrait gallery of Prague’s Archbishops. It is not open to the public.

    Sternberg Palace

    Sternberg Palace
    The Sternberg Palace (Šternberský Palác) was the headquarters of the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts founded in 1796 by Franz Josef Sternberg. This society was made up of noblemen who would lend their finest paintings and sculpture to the society. Since 1949 the Sternberg Palace, a beautiful Baroque style building has been used to show the National Gallery’s collection of European art from the Classical era to the end of the Baroque era with the emphasis on the 14th to the 18th centuries. Some of the highlights included in the collection are The Martyrdom of St Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens; Head of Christ by El Greco; Scholar in his Study by Rembrandt and The Feast of the Rosary by Albrecht Dürer.
    For information about the gallery visit the following website at: http://www.ngprague.cz/en/2/sekce/sternberg-palace/

    Martinic Palace
    Martinic Palace (Martinický Palác) is a beautiful Renaissance palace built in the 16 th century. The facade of this building which was uncovered during a renovation in the 1970s is ornate cream and brown sgraffito. The owner of this building was Jaroslav Bořita of Martinic who was one of the imperial governors thrown out of the window of the Royal Palace in the infamous Defenestration of 1618 incident. The palace was built as a half-size replica of the Royal Palace at the Prague Castle complex. Over the years there have been renovations and the palace has passed through several owners and in recent years it has been open to the public.
    For information about the palace visit the website at: http://www.martinickypalac.cz/index.php?lg=en

    Traveller's Tip

    According to legend the palace contains the ghost of a black dog that appears between 11pm and midnight and accompanies walkers as far as The Loreto and then disappears.
    Schwarzenberg Palace

    Schwarzenberg Palace
    Schwarzenberg Palace (Schwarzenberský Palác) is a grand Renaissance palace with an unusual facade that looks like projecting pyramid-shaped stonework from a distance but is really an illusion created by black and white sgraffito patterns. It was built in the 16 th century for the Lobkowicz family but over the years passed through several hands until it was acquired in 1719 by the Schwarzenbergs who were a leading family in the Hapsburg Empire. A lot of the interior is original including the ceilings which were decorated with paintings on canvas stretched over a wooden construction. The palace now belongs to the National Gallery in Prague and houses about 160 sculptures and 280 pieces of late Renaissance and Baroque paintings from Bohemia from the late 16th to the end of the 18th centuries.
    For information about the palace visit the following website at: http://www.ngprague.cz/en/160/sekce/schwarzenberg-palace/

    New World
    New World (Nový Svět) is a narrow street full of character with small houses built in the mid-14th century to provide accommodation for castle workers or those who wanted to be close to Prague Castle. Fire damaged the area twice and most of the small houses were rebuilt in the 17th century. People used to put house signs above the door to identify their houses which can still be seen today. New World is connected with two famous people who lived there. Tycho de Brahe who was Rudolf II’s astronomer lived at no 1 and Czech violinist František Ondříček was born at no. 25. Some of the interesting house signs found here include a Golden Pear, a Grape, a Foot, a Bush and an Acorn.

    Capuchin Monastery
    The Capuchin Monastery (Kapucínský Klášter) was founded in 1600 and is the oldest building complex of the Order of Capuchins in the Czech Republic. It is connected to the Loreto by an overhead roofed passage. The dominant feature of the complex is the steeple found on the aisle roof. The steeple has a square ground plan and it is divided by a cornice into two parts. Above the cornice there are arched windows covered with sun-blinds. The roof of the tower is pyramidal and crowned with a spire and finial. The highlight of this building is the statue of the Madonna and Child. This statue was given to Emperor Rudolph 11 by the monks to put in his private chapel but somehow it made its way back to the monastery. Three times this happened so eventually she was left at the monastery and given a gold crown and a robe.

    Traveller's Tip

    If you are in Prague at Christmas visit the monastery to see the beautiful life-size nativity scene from 1780. It includes 43 life-size figures which a monk of the Order spent 10 years creating.
    The Loreto

    The Loreto
    The Loreto (Loreta) was built in 1626 at the command of Kateřina of Lobkowicz as part of the Catholic campaign to attract the Czechs back to Catholicism. It was named after the town of Loreto in Italy, where legend says that a cottage in which the Virgin Mary lived was miraculously transferred from Nazareth to Loreto. The Loreto is thought to be an imitation of this cottage, and more than 50 copies have been constructed throughout the Czech Republic. The Loreto’s facade is decorated with 18th century statues of the writers of the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and St Anne who was the mother of the Virgin Mary. Inside the Church of the Nativity are fully clothed skeletons complete with wax masks of St Felicissimus and St Marcia. The Loreto Treasury is worth seeing for the richness of its 16th to 18th century liturgical items. Make sure when you are outside that you look at the impressive Baroque Bell Tower which houses more than 30 bells and if you are there on the hour you can hear the same bells that have been playing here since 1695.
    For information about the Loreto visit the website at: http://www.loreta.cz/en/index.htm

    Černín Palace
    The 150m long Černín Palace (Černínský Palác) was built in 1668 for Count Černín who was the Imperial Ambassador to Venice. The Palace is found near the Loreto. Over the years this palace has been damaged and in 1851 the family sold it to the state for use as barracks. In 1918 the palace was restored to its original state and became the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was from a window in this palace in 1948 that Jan Masaryk, the Foreign Minister and the only non-Communist in the newly formed government fell and died. Noone knew if he jumped or was pushed but he was very popular and his death was and still is widely mourned.

    Pohořelec

    Pohořelec
    The area where Pohořelec is found was first settled in 1375 and is one of the oldest parts of Prague. Pohořelec means ‘place destroyed by fire’ and this area has been destroyed by fire many times. It is now a large square found on a high hill looking over the city and is part of the main access route to Prague Castle. In the centre of the square is a large sculpture of St John Nepomuk. There are picturesque Baroque and Rococo buildings around the square including Kucera Palace at no 114 with its fantastic staircase; the Slik Palace at no 111 and the St Elisabeth Hospital at no 155 which resembles a church.

    Strahov Monastery

    Strahov Monastery
    Strahov Monastery (Strahovský Klášter) was founded in 1140 by Prince Vladislav II. It is a huge white building found on Petrin Hill which was established by the followers of the teachings of St Augustine. Destroyed by fire in 1258, it was rebuilt in the Gothic style and later given Baroque additions. The highlight of Strahov is its famous library which has one of the oldest monastic collections in the the Czech Republic. You will find the library in the theological and philosophical halls. The library is over 800 years old, and holds over 16,000 books.
    For information about this monastery visit the website at: http://www.strahovskyklaster.cz/webmagazine/home.asp?idk=257