Prague Castle is a complex of palaces and churches, as well as one of the symbols of the Kingdom of Bohemia, which tells about the most important historical events of the country. The main fortress was erected on the Opyš cliff, stretching from Petršinsky Hill to the Deer Moat. Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad) is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the Guinness Book of Records as the largest castle and the largest presidential residence in the world.
History of Prague Castle
The history of Pražský Hrad dates back to the 9th century when the first Christian church was built on the bank of the Vltava by order of Duke Bořivoj (the first Duke of Bohemia). Around this time, Vyšehrad was built on the other side of the Vltava, and later Staré Město, Nové Město, Malá Strana and Hradčany appeared. Today they are four separate districts of Prague.
In 920, on the eastern side of the duke’s court, St. George’s Basilica was laid down. At that time, Vratislaus I was the ruler of Bohemia. And in 929, his son Wenceslaus I built St. Vitus Cathedral, which is located just to the west. For centuries, these churches were completed and reconstructed, and today they are the main attractions of Prague Castle.
Centuries passed, the rulers, culture and, accordingly, architecture, changed. New palaces, squares, and gardens began to appear in Pražský Hrad. The Romanesque style was replaced by the Gothic, then the Baroque, and then the Renaissance styles.
Today Prague Castle occupies the territory of 70 thousand sqm. Hundreds of thousands of tourists come here every year; indeed, there are many places to see in Pražský Hrad.
The complex can be entered through three entrances, but Matthias Gate is the main one, which is located on the side of Hradčany Square. The golden arch and baroque sculptures are installed near the entrance, where the guards in parade uniforms meet the tourists. The arch is crowned with the symbols of the Czech Republic and Austrian Empire; the gate is guarded by the stone sculptures. The first courtyard of the castle limits the entrance.
At the top of the gate, you can see the inscription “1614”. This date is considered the date of the main entrance construction completion. There is an assumption that the gates were erected under Rudolph II (the 80s of the 16th century). But since the project was completed under Matthias II, it is the date of his reign that marked the inscription.
The Second Courtyard of Pražský Hrad: the Landmarks
Passing Matthias Gate, the view of a small courtyard arises before your eyes. In the center, there is a fountain, built in 1686 by the sculptor Jerome Kohl. But since the installation of the fountain composition was carried out under the rule of Leopold I, the fountain is called Leopoldova, and the “L” monogram is indicated on the cup. Besides the fountain, you can see here three lions holding a sphere. The composition also includes images of ancient heroes: Mercury, Vulcan, Neptune, and Hercules that support the cup with tritons.
Near the fountain, there is a well built in the 18th century. Its depth is 14 meters, and the well is decorated with the Renaissance laced lattice. Until the beginning of the 20th century, people used the well actively, but today it serves just as a decoration element.
Behind the well, there is a north entrance to Prague Castle. From this point over the Powder Bridge, you can get to the Royal Garden. A gate is guarded by the guardsmen.
Holy Cross Chapel
There is Holy Cross Chapel in the small courtyard. This object appeared as a result of the Maria Theresa’s request to the architect Nicolò Pacassi “to give some pomposity to the royal residences in Bohemia”. Anselmo Lurago worked on the chapel construction from 1756 to 1764. Today the chapel serves as an exhibition hall where you can see the Svetovid treasures.
Pražský Hrad: the Main Courtyard
St. George (Svatý Jiří) Monument
In the center of the courtyard, there is the St. George Monument. This composition was created in 1373 but it was damaged in a fire, after what the statue had undergone a reconstruction. An issue to restore this architectural object arose again but it was decided to transfer the monument to the Old Royal Palace. The original sculpture of St. George was replaced with a bronze copy.
St. Vitus Cathedral
The principal point of interest of the main (third) courtyard, and, indeed, the city of Prague, is St. Vitus Cathedral. Once you come through the arch, you see a stunning façade of the building.
This Cathedral was being built for 600 years! The first stone was laid down under King Karl IV in the middle of the 14th century, and the construction was finished in 1929. It’s hard to imagine how many architects were involved in the process of the cathedral building.
The Cathedral is made in the Gothic style. It is adorned with three portals with bronze sculptures, a rose window, two 80-meters stone towers, and a big South Tower with a belfry, the height of which is 96 meters. There are two dial plates on the tower: one shows hours, another one says minutes.
After inspecting the interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, you can go up to the viewing platform and look at the city of Prague from a bird’s-eye view.
The Old Royal Palace
Within the third courtyard, there is the Old Royal Palace that was the main residence of the Bohemian kings and dukes (from the middle of the 12th century to the beginning of the 14th century). The palace is a bright representative of late Gothic architecture.
Here you can observe an exposition “History of Pražský Hrad”, which tells the story about the castle development from the times of the first settlements till the present. During a tour around the exposition, the visitors have a possibility to visit various thematic rooms, such as “The History of Foundation”, “The History of Feast”, etc.
St. George Basilica
The third courtyard ends with the St. George Square where St. George Basilica is located. The church is made in the Romanesque style. This building has a unique story: its construction was initiated in 920, and, moreover, the Basilica is a shrine of many Czech rulers.
The white towers of the Basilica were erected in the 12th century, but their original appearance has preserved until today. The red façade of the church appeared only in the 17th century. Once the maids from the noble houses were the novices here, but today, various concerts and exhibitions are arranged within the walls of the Basilica.
Prague Castle Art Gallery
You can get acquainted with the oldest collection of paintings of the Czech Republic in the Picture Gallery. Here the canvases of Dutch, Italian, German, and Flemish artists of the 17th century are exhibited: Titian, Cranach, Rubens; as well as artists of the Czech school of the 18th and 20th centuries: Jan Kupecký, Mikoláš Aleš, Petr Brandl, Vojtěch Hynais.
King Rudolf II was the initiator of the Picture Gallery in the 16th century. He was known as the connoisseur of art, patron, and protector of the alchemists.
Gardens of Prague Castle
The Royal Garden was founded in the 1534 year by the king of Bohemia Ferdinand I. The garden is the most valuable historical heritage of the landscaping complex of Prague Castle. Initially the park was established in the Italian style, but today it has a look of the 19-century English Garden. The main entrance to the park is located near the Powder Bridge.
Besides the Royal Garden, there are also the South Gardens, known as the Hartig Garden, Paradise Garden, and Garden on the Ramparts. To get here you can from the side of the third courtyard, from the Old Castle Stairs.
The landscaping complex also includes the Garden on the Bastion, Riding School Terrace Garden, Deer Moat, the Masaryk Viewpoint, and etc.
The Prague Castle Guard (Hradni Strazy)
As in Buckingham Palace in London, the changing of the Prague Castle Guard is a very spectacular event. The ceremonial guard changing takes place every day at 12 pm, and the standard one – every hour (in winter from 7 am to 6 pm, in summer – from 7 am to 8 pm). The Castle Guard stands near the central entrance, the entrance to the second courtyard, and the Black Tower.
Information for Tourists
Location of the Prague Castle
Address: Hrad I. nádvoří č. p 1, Hradčany, 119 08 Prague 1.
The complex is open for visitors from 6 am to 10 pm (the main entrance);
St. Vitus Cathedral: from 9 am to 7 pm (Monday-Saturday), from 12 pm to 5 pm (Sunday);
The Story of Prague Castle exposition: from 10 am to 6 pm;
Picture Gallery: from 10 am to 6 pm;
The Gardens: from 10 am to 6 pm (they are open from April to October inclusive).
How to Get:
Metro: go to the Malostranská station and then walk up 400 meters the Old Palace Stairs.
By Tram: no. 22 go to the stop Pražský Hrad and then go down 300 meters along the street to the gate with Castle Guard.
Circuit А (Old Royal Palace, St. George Basilica, St. Vitus Cathedral, Golden Lane, “The Story of Prague Castle” Exposition, Rosenberg Palace)
Circuit B (Old Royal Palace, St. George Basilica, St. Vitus Cathedral, Golden Lane)
Circuit C (Collection “The treasures of St. Vitus Cathedral”, Picture Gallery)
“The Story of Prague Castle” Exposition
“The Treasures of St. Vitus Cathedral”
St. Vitus South Tower + View Gallery
* Children from 6 to 16 years old, full-time students up to 26 years old, pensioners aged 65 and above.
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