Prague Castle, Prague
The Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad) is the former seat of the king, and the current residence and office of the Czech president.
The Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad) is the former seat of the king, and the current residence and office of the Czech president. The imposing castle is Prague's biggest tourist attraction, so expect huge crowds and possibly long lines, especially during high tourist season. With crown jewels, relics of Bohemian kings, Christian relics and historical treasures, the castle is one of the most important sites in the city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Take a tour of this sprawling complex to discover the seat of Czech power and its important role in the history of the country.
The complex has several buildings and sights, which can take up atleast half a day to cover. Major attractions include the Old Royal Palace, St Vitus Cathedral, St George's Basilica, Golden Lane, 'Story of Prague Castle' exhibition, South Tower, Picture Gallery, Royal Gardens, and Powder Tower. Visitors can buy tickets according to the buildings they would like to explore. Circuit A tickets cover the St Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, ‘The Story of Prague Castle’ exhibition, St George's Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower, Powder Tower, and Rosenberg Palace. Circuit B tickets allow entry to St Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George's Basilica, and Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower. Circuit C tickets are for The Treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral exhibition and the Prague Castle Picture Gallery. Separate tickets are available for each of ‘The Story of Prague Castle’ exhibition, ‘The Treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral’ exhibition, Prague Castle Picture Gallery, the Exhibition of the Castle Guard at the Powder Tower, and Great South Tower with View Gallery.
- The Old Royal Palace is sparsely furnished, with few of the original tapestries and paintings inside. The Gothic Vladislav Hall was the site of royal coronations, festivities and banquets, and is still used for state ceremonies. Three external walls of the hall date back to the reign of Charles IV, and the eastern wall was rebuilt during the Jagiellon reconstruction. The vault with intertwined ribs is remarkable for not having internal supports, with the ribs descending onto pillars in the walls. The 5 bays of the vault correspond to the steep tent roofs which burned in the 1541 fire, while the vault survived. A Renaissance doorway with the Bohemian Kingdom's coat-of-arms leads to the tribune in the All Saints Church. The Royal Palace also has the Charles Hall, room of Old Municipal Files, Diet, Riders' Staircase for horses, Green Room which was used as a court, and Observation Terrace which offers great views over the city. At noon, there is a Changing of the Guard ceremony with fanfare at a flag ceremony in the first courtyard. Hourly changing of the guards takes place at the castle gates from 7 am to 8 pm in summer, and till 6 pm the rest of the year from November to March.
The St Vitus Cathedral located in the center of the castle complex is the most important cathedral in all of Czech Republic. The oldest parts of the cathedral are from the 14th century, but the cathedral was not completed in the Medieval period. The highest tower was completed in Renaissance and Baroque styles much later, as is clearly obvious. The Western portal and both Western towers were completed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Cathedral was the place of royal coronations, and also the site of the remains of several notable members of royalty. Highlights of the cathedral include the stained glass Rose Window and external gargoyles in the west portal, the original medieval Golden Portal in the south, the Flying Buttresses in the east, the stained glass window by Alfons Mucha, the pure silver tomb of St John of Nepomuk, the Royal Crypt underneath the cathedral (with the graves of Charles IV, his four wives, Wenceslas IV, Ladislas the Posthumous, George of Podebrady, Rudolf II, and Marie Amalie of Austria, the daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria) and the stunning St. Wenceslas Chapel with the relics of the saint, and walls decorated with gold and more than 1300 gems.
The Chapel of St Wenceslas, Bohemia's prime patron saint, was commissioned by Charles IV and built on a quadratic plan by architect Peter Parler in 1366. In 1367, the lower sections of the walls that run below the cornice were decorated with the Passion Cycle and adorned with polished gemstones set into gilded stucco in 1372. Though part of the original plan, the Legend of St Wenceslas paintings were executed later in 1506-1509 under Vladislaus II Jagiello, King of Bohemia and Hungary, as a celebration of his reign. Prominent artists acquainted with the Nuremberg and Augsburg schools including the Master of the Litomerice Altarpiece collaborated on the St Wenceslas Cycle. In 1612 - 1614 it was painted over by Daniel Alexius, followed by several restorations in the 20th - 21st centuries. The Czech Coronation Jewels are kept behind the door with the seven locks (seven important people including the Czech President and the Czech Prime Minister keep the keys) in the St. Wenceslas Chapel.
- The Basilica of St George was founded by Prince Vratislav I at the beginning of the 10th century, and became a burial ground of the Premyslid princes. In 973, the first convent of Benedictine nuns in Bohemia was founded here. After the fire during the siege of the castle in 1142, the basilica and convent were rebuilt in the Romanesque style. A row of art workshops producing illuminated manuscripts, musical compositions and art works came up next to it. In the second half of the 14th century, the basilica and convent were reconstructed under Peter Parler. In 1718 - 1722 the Baroque chapel of St John of Nepomuk was added to the south. The convent had lost its importance during the Hussite wars, and was abolished in 1782 during the Josef II reforms. The basilica was restored at the turn of the 19th century under Mach to its characteristic medieval look.
- The South Tower was founded around 1396, with construction interrupted in 1419 by the Hussite revolution. It had to be reconstructed in 1560 - 1562 after damaged in the fire of 1541, and architects Wohlmut and Tirol added a renaissance gallery and helmet to the Gothic fragment of the Tower. In 1770 the helmet was modified into Baroque by Pacassi. The neo-Gothic annex was modified towards the end of the 19th century by Josef Mocker. The biggest bell in the Czech Republic, the 15-ton Zikmund, hangs in the tower. The unusual clock on the tower has 2 dials - the upper shows hours, and the lower shows the quarter-hours and minutes. You can climb the 287 steps to the 56 metre high Lookout Gallery for panoramic views over the city.
- The Golden Lane has a row of modest dwellings which were inhabited by the castle servants, goldsmiths (from whom it gets its name), royal guards and the castle marksmen. From 1916 – 1917, house No. 22 was home to writer Franz Kafka. The tiny houses were occupied until World War II, and have been preserved to this day. The appearance of a 16th century dwelling is displayed in house No. 20. The staircase in house No. 12 leads to the terrace in front of the Daliborka Tower, which was built by Prince Vladislav in 1496 as part of the Jagiello fortification system and had a prison on the ground floor. Its first prisoner was a knight named Dalibor who, according to legend, played his violin very sadly at the wall serenading the castle residents. Today the tower holds a small display of prison and torture equipment used during that time.
- The permanent exhibition ‘The Story of Prague Castle’ tells the story of more than thousand years' history of Prague Castle and the people connected with it - from the rulers and presidents to the aristocrats, courtiers, famous artists, builders, architects, scholars, tradesmen and servants.
- Housed in the original castle stables, the Picture Gallery contains Renaissance and Baroque art, including parts of the original collection of Rudolph II.