Largest ancient castle in the world – 570 meters long and 128 wide on average that covers 7,28 hectares – presents complex and the mixture of styles. The Castle sitting on the hill above Vltava river, seat of Czech rulers, dukes, kings, Emperors, presidents and also bishops during history, is now the seat of Czech president and one of the most visited Prague monuments.
The predecessor of today's Castle - was built in the 9th century on the “holy” place on the hill overlooking Vltava and plains around. Over the course of centuries, new and new buildings were added to the core of the Castle and the complex underwent four major reconstructions, during which the Castle merely changed its facelift.
Last major reconstruction took place just after the World War I, when Czechoslovakia gained its independence. Slovenian architects Josip Plečnik, invited by first Czechoslovak Tomáš Garigue Masaryk, mastered this reconstruction in 1920s.
(link: see more on the history of Prague Castle)
Prague Castle has three courtyards and several streets and squares inside.
By entering to the Castle through the main gate from the Hradčanské náměstí from the west you can meet the castle guards. Some tourist are trying to make them smile or move, but the guards looks over the Castle and stay as stone. Wait for the changing the guards which is the great show. At the main gate the guards are changed each hour. The greatest show is at noon, with an exchange of banners, while a six-piece brass band plays a fanfare from the windows of Plečnik hall.
By passing through the Matthias Gate you get to the second courtyard with baroque fountain. On the square there is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, that was once a treasury of the St Vitus Cathedral. Opposite the Chapel, there are two galleries, Imperial Stables and the Prague Castle Gallery. There is an alternative entrance to the Castle through the Powder Bridge built in the mid 16th century. The Stag Moat below the bridge was used for raising game animals.
Passing through the passage between send and third courtyard takes you in front of the main entrance to the St Vitus Cathedral. The largest cathedral in the Czech Republic was built on the site after the rotunda built by king Wenceslas in the early 10th century. The founding stone of today's Cathedral was laid by Emperor Charles IV. in 1344; but the building was finished almost 600 years later, in 1929. The cathedral was built in Gothic style, but over the centuries Renaissance and baroque details were added. On the portal, you can admire carvings of biblical scenes.
Of of the Cathedral's side chapels, the Chapel of St Wenceslas shields small doors locked with seven locks. The keys held by the seven most important Czech personalities, the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Prague Archbishop, the Chairman of the House of Deputies, the Chairman of the Senate, the Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus Cathedral and the Lord Mayor of Prague, who must all convene to facilitate opening the impenetrable door and coffer. If they pass through it, the way leads to Coronation Chamber where Czech crown jewels from 1346 are kept. The jewels are rarely shown to the public (the last time this happened was in 1998 to mark the 80th anniversary of the establishment of an independent Czechoslovak Republic) , its replicas are displayed in Lobkowicz Palace on the Castle, the replica of the crown is also on the Castle Karštejn south-west from Prague.
The set of Crown Jewels consists of the Charles IV St. Wenceslas Crown including a casket and cushion, the Royal Sceptre Sceptre and its casket, the Royal Apple and its casket, the Coronation Cloak and other pieces of attire: a belt, a maniple (an ornamental band worn on the left arm by the celebrant of the Eucharist), a stole and ermine collar. In the Middle Ages the items also included a ring, golden bracelets and a crystal vessel for holy oil.
In the Cathedral, there is also Royal Crypt with remains of the Charles IV. and other Czech rulers.
On the Third Courtyard, you can also see a 16 meters high granite monolite, dedicated to the victims of the World War I, or visit one of the oldest parts of the Prague Castle – The Old Royal Palace that dates back to early 12th century with Vladislav Hall, one of the best examples of late Gothic architecture. The presidents of the Czech republic have been sworn in the hall.
Behind the Cathedral, there is the St George square with the Convent of St George and the Basilica of the St George with Baroque façade from 17th century but Romanesque interiors from 10th century. Inside you can see partially preserved frescos.
Golden Line (Zlatá ulička) is what one could not miss when visiting Prague Castle. In small colourful cottages for the sharpshooters of the castle guard built just next to the Cathedral in the 16th century. The houses were later used by goldsmiths, hence the street name. In early 20the century artists lived here (Franz Kafka stayed in No 22 from 1916 to 1917, or Nobel-laureate poet Josef Seifert. Most of the houses now are souvenir shops.
There are several ways how to approach the Castle. You can climb up on the Old or New Castle Staircases from the Lesser Quarter (Malostranská metro station), or take the Kings Road (Royal Way) from the Charles bridge through Mostecká and up the Nerudova street. Or if you are tired, take tram No 22 or 23 from Malostranská and get off at Prašný Most (Powder Bridge) or at Pohořelec, if you wish to enter the Castle by the main entrance.
Below the Castle, between Hradčany and the river Prague's Lesser Quarter is wedged.
The area west from Prague Castle is called Hradčany with centre called Hradčanské náměstí (Hradčany square). The area was once a independent city, granted its own rights in 14th century. At the end of 16th century, it became one of the Prague's quarters. It covers relatively small area from the gate of Prague Castle to Strahov Monastery and Pohořelec.
The oldest written sources show that Castle was founded around the year 880 by Prince Borivoj of the house of Premyslides. The early medieval castle was fortified with a moat and a rampart of clay and stones. The first walled building was the church of Our Lady.
The Castle quickly became the most important place where the power concentrated in the heart of Bohemia. The importance of Prague Castle rose further when the highest representative of church, the Prague bishop, moved his seat here. Spiritual life moved to Prague Castle, after convent for Benedictines, the first convent in Bohemia, was built here. The basilica of St. Vitus, built on the site of the original rotunda, was the main castle church since the 11th century, where the relics of the patron saints of the land were kept.
The Castle has enjoyed time full prosperity during the reign of Emperor Charles IV. in the middle of the 14th century. The royal palace was magnificently rebuilt and the fortifications strengthened. Charles IV. ordered to built the Gothic church of St. Vitus on the model of French cathedrals. However, the Cathedral was not fully finished until 1929.
The Hussite wars and the following decades in 15th century, when the Prague Castle was not inhabited, caused the dilapidation of its buildings and fortifications.
At the end of 15th century, the new dynasty of Jagellons made the Castle his seat again. New fortifications were built and, together with them, defence towers on the northern side (the Powder Tower, the New White Tower and Daliborka). The royal palace was also rebuilt in the Renaissance style, splendid Vladislav Hall was the biggest secular vaulted hall in the Europe of that day.
The Habsburgs, dynasty ruling Czech lands from 1526 until 1918 continued in rebuilding the Prague Castle into a renaissance seat. Castle many places for entertainment, for example royal gardens, a summer palace, a ball games hall, a shooting range and a lion's court.
During the reign of Holy Emperor Rudolf II. the Castle gained its power again. The Emperor was a art lover and he gathered rich collections. However most of them were displaced from Prague by descendants or stolen by Swedes who made an attack on Prague in the middle of the 17th century.
The Castle became also a centre of science and occult learnings such as astrology and alchemy during his reign. After Rudolf's death the glory of the Prague Castle declined. Rulers stayed in the Castle only temporarily, the seat of the Court was in Vienna.
The Castle became the seat of the Czechoslovak presidents after the new republic gained independence on Austro-Hungarian monarchy. And after the new Czech republic was set up after, Czech president Václav Havel stayed here. Today's president is Václav Klaus (from 2003).
Since 1989 many previously closed areas have been thrown open to the public, for instance the Royal Garden with its Ball Game Hall, the southern gardens, the Imperial Stables, the Theresian Wing of the Old Royal Palace.
Accommodation of Prague castle area
See other Prague Districts:
Prague Castle | Wenceslas Square | Old Town Square | Charles Bridge | Charles square | Lesser town | Petrin | Jewish town | Zizkov | Vinohrady
| Smichov | Vysehrad | Dejvice | Holesovice | Vrsovice | Karlin | Jizni Mesto | Prague Airport | Strasnice | Letna | Vysocany | New Town | Hradcany |
Troja | Stromovka | Pruhonice