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Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Basic Info

Name: Prague Castle or Hradcany Castle.
Location: Prague
Country: Czech Republic

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At the end of the 9th century a castle site originated which was to become the center of the power and ideology of the country in the following centuries. Throughout the whole Middle Ages the seat of the monarchal power, the spiritual center of the country and the scene of the negotiations of the estates fathers were the symbol and expression of the unity of the Czech state. Prague castle was enlarged and renewed on a grand scale by the Premyslids in the 13th century and in the following two centuries by Charles IV and King Vladislav Jagiello. In the late 16th century the Emperor Rudolph II also realized his aims here. Prague Castle underwent its last wide-scale architectural transformation in the 18th century.

The biggest residential area in the country can boast with numerous works of architecture and art. In spite of all the political turns, accompanied in the past also by military events, having. moreover, preserved its polish and glitter continuously throughout a whole millennium up to the present.

The following information was researched by our volunteer team member Carolyn D. Ahrns from Las Vegas, NV. Thank you very much!

Prague Castle was built around 850 AD by the Premyslid family. Its history has been long and rich, from its very origin to present day it has been the seat of administration of the country. “This tradition of eleven centuries standing probably has no parallel in Europe”. They moved to this strategic location, a rocky ridge above the Moldava River, and the future city of Prague grew on the mountain below the castle. The first Princes, the Premyslid family, were the founders of the Royal Dynasty.

The original Castle was built of timber and was fortified with a soil rampart. The castle grounds were as large then as they are today and consisted of many small timber houses. This was found quite by accident, Third Square, the oldest part of the castle was being rebuilt in 1920, when the walls of older buildings were uncovered. Archaeological excavation uncovered many important finds concerning Prague Castles' history. This area originally was kept partially open to the public, but today the excavation area has been walled, and it is probably the most extensive researched archaeological site in central Europe.

The first stone buildings were built much later. The oldest church, the Basilica of St. George, is one of the few Roman churches that still has remains of the previous stone building inside. The church has contained the relics of the Premyslid Princes and family members, along with relics of St. Ludmilla, the first saint and national patron, since it was built.

According to the historical records of Prague, in 1037, “After the funeral of his father Bretislav was led by hand to the Prince's throne by his uncle Jaromir. The custom during the election of the prince was the tossing of coins over the grills of the upper hall. Once the Prince was seated on the throne, there was a big lull, in the silence Jaromir holding his nephew's right hand said unto the people: 'Behold your Prince!'.” (Comas, The Bohemian Chronicle) In 1060, Prince Spythnev II noticed on St. Wenceslas Day that St. Vitas church was not large enough to accommodate all the people who attended Holy Mass. St. Vitas had been built by St. Wenceslas himself in the shape of a Roman church, and St. Wenceslas was buried in the middle of the church. Standing nearby was a second church which was built over the grave of St. Adalbert. Prince Spytihnew II decided to tear down both churches and build one large church for both patron saints. The foundations for the new church were laid, walls were erected, but the building of the church was stopped after the Prince's death.

At the end of the 10th century the Benedictine Convent was founded at the Basilica of St. George. The female members of the Royal family were raised and educated in this convent, many became Abbess who held the right to crown the Bohemian Kings. During the middle ages many books of literary and artistic value were written in the convent's famous Scriptorium.

By the 11th century Prague Castle was a massive fort with a perfected defense system, with churches, a Bishop's palace, and two monasteries.

During the first half of the 12th century the Castle was rebuilt into a real Medieval Castle with stone palaces, churches and houses. The Romanesque fortified stone wall with towers protected the castle for several centuries.

In 1255, “The Prince (later King Premysl Otakar II) and another rider were crossing the bridge leaving the castle when a sudden wind storm blew the accompanying rider off the bridge, killing the rider's horse. The timber Belfry of the church of the Holy Virgin was blown down and a lot of damage was done to the town and vllages” (Cosmas, The Bohemian Chronicle, Second Continuation). During the second half of the 13th century “King Otakar II fortified the castle taking particular care in building very strong walls, towers and ditches. He placed and covered walls so the passage from one tower to another along the whole periphery of the castle was roofed. He also fortified the lesser town of Prague by walls and ditches and adjoined it to the castle. In Prague Castle he had ten burgraves, very bold and famous men.” (Chronicle of Francis of Prague)

In 1333, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV stated, “We found this kingdom so devastated that we did not have a single castle that would not be pledged with all Royal Estate, so that we had no where to dwell but in the burghers' houses like other burghers. Prague Castle was so devastated, demolished and broken that since the time of King Otakar II it has fallen to the ground. On that site we had a big and beautiful palace built at great cost as can be perceived today by passers by.” Charles IV, Autobiography (Vita Caroli)

During the 14th century, under Emperor Charles, Prague Castle under went it's maximum development. Mathieu d'Arras, a French architect, and Peter Parler, a German builder, started reconstruction in a mature Gothic style. The golden castle roofs date form this period, and were built as a symbol of wealth, power and fame of the Czech Kingdom.

In 1344, “The Archbishop of Prague, King Charles IV, and his two sons, Charles and John, ceremoniously laid the first stone of the new Prague church beginning the way of the Gothic Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wencelsas and St. Adalbert.” (Benes Krabice of Weitmile, Chronicle of Prague Church)

For more than 600 years, the roofs of the Castle have been overlooked by the towers of the Gothic Cathedral. The Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Prague, was where the Coronations of the Kings of Bohemia were held until 1836. It is also where Saints, Kings, Princes and Emperors of Bohemia are buried. St. Wenceslas Chapel in the cathedral was built directly above the Saint's tomb by Peter Parler. “Charles IV donated many relics to the church all decorated with gold, silver and precious stones. No other King had enriched and honored the church so grandly and magnificently” (from the Chronicle of Frances of Prague, 2nd half of the 14th century)

The chapel paintings express the medieval devotion to St. Wenceslas. The walls of St. Weneceslas Chapel are covered with more than 1,300 precious stones.

Charles IV left the insignia of the Crown of Bohemia under the symbolic protection of St. Wenceslas. He commissioned the crown as a symbol of the hereditariness and holiness of the states' highest office. The sarcophagus lids bear effigies of the Princes and Kings of the Premyslid Dynasty.

The Alley of Gold is a row of small houses glued literally to the walls of the Castle. This is where the Castle's fusiliers lived, and later goldsmiths, from whom the alleyway got it's name. King Vladislav had over 200 Alchemists working here at one time. In more recent times Czech writers, including Franz Kafka, and poets moved into the houses finding inspiration in the alleyway. Today Gold Alley hosts craft and souvenir shops.

Beautiful gardens surround the Castle. One of the prettiest is where you will find the singing fountain which is in the middle of the Royal Garden next to the Royal Gazebo. The Gazebo is a beautiful example of Italian Renaissance. The Royal Garden was designed in c.1500 as an Italian garden, over time plants and trees exotic to the area were planted. Cedar and Fig trees thrive and also tulips have grown here since 1554, when the Turkish Ambassador brought them to the Castle. Red, white and yellow tulips bloomed in the Castle's Royale Garden for the first time anywhere in Europe, long before spreading across the European continent, in particular Holland.

Only after the Hussite wars did new construction begin on the Castle; King Vladislav built the Festive Hall in a beautiful Gothic sytle. Now called Vladislav Hall, it is one to the most visited rooms in the old Castle.

In 1509 “At the cost of King Vladislav a big bell was cast for St. Wenceslas' in Prague Castle, weighing 200 hundredweights, on Wednesday before St. Lawrence (August 8th) in the New Town of Prague… And then it was brought to Prague Castle at great cost; because of its great size they broke several cart wheels and subsequently they brought it on a low cart with rollers, and before that arrived to the Castle with it they had to spend five nights in the street. And in the Castle, near the big tower, they had to break a piece of wall between the gates, because they could not pass through the gate for its size”. (From ancient Bohemian annals)

In 1526, the Hapsburgs began to make changes to a Renaissance style, building the Summer House in the Royal Garden and the Ballgame Hall, which are two of the prettiest Renaissance buildings in the Castle.

In 1541, “That famous Castle of St. Wenceslas was burnt down to the ground except for the Black Tower which is above the lower gate and in which debtors are usually imprisoned for their debts. The second tower, as is called Daliborka, in which more serious convicts are kept, also remained…The excellent chapel of All Saints in front of the Palace, once exquisitely erected at great cost under Emperor Charles and costly decorated with stone carvings and other stonemasons work and beautified with excellent glasses, burnt in and out ignominiously so that affored a horrible and sorry sight to every good man”. (Vaclav Hajek of Libocany, On evil event…)

After the fire a major Renaissance renovation took place. Emperor Ruldoph II c. 1600 turned the Castle into a center for art and science and a gallery for his rich collections.

1603, “Inside the Castle there is a stable, one of the best equipped in Europe, as it has always some three hundred horses originating from all possible countries, which are most beautiful in the world. Then there is a bestiary with lions, leopards and civet-cats and a raven as white as snow, as well as a ballgame hall in the French manner. The great hall used to be the throne hall of Bohemian Kings. From its windows it is possible to overlook the whole city with the bridge. About nine or ten o'clock numerous gentlemen promenade in that hall and there are also innumerable merchants”. (Pierre Bergeron, Report from a Journey)

1612, “…the above named Abbess had shown and proved before the Commissioners that the previous Abbesses of the same convent had premitted some persons, for a certain sum of money, to build tiny houses on that site which is called Goldsmiths Lane…However, some houses were built without permission directly in front of the windows of the convent and the smoke of their chimneys annoys the whole convent. Moreover, food is cooked and beer and wine are sold in several places which gives rise to much disorder and clamour and other improperieties”. (Memorial of St. George's Convent)

(A cute story)……..
1618, “After their departure Slavata and Semcansky first…were called the breakers of general peace and good and rebles against the Kingdon of Bohemia and general by Count of Thurn…And immediately afterwards a voice was heard from among the Estates that the scoundrels should be put into the Black Tower speedily. Others then called that the traitors should go out of the window…And thus, not being permitted any mercy, one after the other…with great shouts of “Oh,Oh,Woe!” and with hands clinging to the window frame, which they had to let loose in the end, having been beaten over them, they were thrown, head first, from that same window facing the rising sun, in mantles, with rapiers and other paraphernalia, as they were caught in their office, to the ditch below the palace, deeper than other ditches, separated from it with walls…Philip the secretary…was thrown out…through that same widow in their wake. When they all lay down there and were observed to be alive, some mercenary, on the order of Ernfrid of Berbisdorf, fired one or two shots from his gun from the palace window, but missed them. And thus it was a wonder that having been thrown head first from such a height, estimated at 27 ells by some, none of them remained on the spot, but all escaped there from”. (Pavel Skala of Zhor, Bohemian History)

1723, “The Chief Master of the Hunt, Count Clary-Adringen, provided for the coronation feast of Charles VI , 564 pheasants, 708 partridges, 60 cranes, 152 snipes, 110 quails, 108 hares, 400 fieldfares, the like number of other birds, 70 wild and 60 domestic ducks, 120 turkeys, 350 capons, 70 hens, 800 chickens, 560 pigeons, 50 geese, 30 calves, 46 lambs, 40 rams, 20 fawns and 20 roebucks”. (Antonin Novotny, Prague of the Dark Age)

In the later half of the 18th century Empress Maria Theresa had the Castle buildings rebuilt in Baroque style, their current appearance.

1873, “After painstaking work and great endeavor the renovation of the St. Vitus' Cathedral has succeeded so far that on August 30, 1873, when the festival celebrating the 900th jubilee of Prague Bishopric began, the Cathedral was opened again by a festive public service…Not long after this the second festival, no less important, took place. On October 1, 1873 the foundation stone for the completion of the Cathedral was laid and consecrated, which ceremony was preformed personally by his Excellency the Cardinal and Archbishop of Prague. The splendor of the festival was contributed to by all three armed corps of the City of Prague, placed partly in the vicinity if the Cathedral, partly in the courtyards of the Imperial Castle. The foundation stone was placed in the pillar of the transept on the southeast side”. (Annual Report of the Association for the Completion of the St. Vitus' Cathedral in Prague Castle)

Prague Castle became the official Presidential seat in 1918. It was not suited for this function, thus modifications began in the gardens, courtyards, and representatives rooms. Currently the Office of the President of the Republic coordinates all restoration work. It's goal is conserving the Castle's artistic and historical heritage while transforming it into a busy complex always open to visitors.

Information obtained from The Castle of Prague, The Pantheon of Czech History, and various other articles.

Visitor Accounts

A castle lover.
My family and I visited this splendorous castle and were amazed at what we saw. The size, the color and the architecture of the building was terrific. I expected it to be more higher than longer, but it was a great experience all the same. I advise people to visit Prague, and not only experience the castle, but all the other medieval structures built there. A must see is the Orloj, the clock which tells not only the time, but also the position of the planets. Prague is a beautiful city, and should be experienced by everyone.
Scott Whipple, 40, from Arizona, USA, wrote:
Prague Castle is a sprawling complex situated atop a large hill on the left bank of the Vltava River, which runs through old town Prague. It is not exactly a “classic” castle, because portions of it were built in different styles, and it spreads out more horizontally than vertically. But inside the castle, there are many sights and attractions. The main feature is St. Vitus cathedral, an interesting 14th century Gothic structure adorned with fascinating gargoyles that can be seen easily from ground level. Inside St. Vitus are some very elaborate tombs, a lot of Czech history. It is possible and worthwhile to climb to the top of the bell tower, which takes you to the highest point inside the castle, from which there are fabulous views of the castle and old town Prague. Elsewhere around the castle are the “Golden Lane,” a series of small, colorful shops that originally served as housing for the palace guards; the throne room for the kings of Bohemia, a great hall that looks like it hasn't changed in 500 years; and a Czech art museum. There's also a toy museum, which really has nothing to do with the castle, but contains some very interesting old and new toys. The changing of the palace guard is an entertaining affair, sort of a poor man's version of London's Buckingham Palace routine. When we visited in April 1999, an adult admission ticket to all the main attractions of the castle cost 120 Kc, about $4 US. Allow a minimum of four hours for a visit. In general, Prague is a wonderful city to visit, with many well-preserved medieval attractions and a slightly exotic Eastern European flavor.

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Last modified:: 2015/08/18 13:06