PRAGUE CASTLE AND HRADCANY
Prague Castle is the most popular sight visited in Prague. It is the largest ancient castle in the world (570 m long, on average 128 m wide, area 7.28 hectares).
Constructed in the 9th century by Prince Bořivoj, the castle transformed itself from a wooden fortress surrounded by earthen bulwarks to the imposing form it has today. Rulers made their own additions so there is a mixture of styles. Prague castle has had four major reconstructions, but it keeps its classical facelift it took on in the 18 century during the reign of Maria Theresa.
The castle has three courtyards and it has always been the seat of Czech rulers as well as the official residence. Allow at least half a day (it does not include time for museum visits) if you want to examine it in depth.
The Chapel of the Holy Cross was designed in the second half of the 18 century and remodeled in the mid-19 century. It was once a treasury of St Vitus Cathedral. There are cult objects, such as relics, busts, crucifixes, shrines, vestments, monstrances, bibles, plaques, paintings, jewels, gold- and silver-plated weapons.
Created in 1965 the gallery houses paintings from the 16th – 18th centuries. The highlights include Titian's The Toilet of a Young Lady, Rubens' The Assembly of the Olympic Gods and Guido Reni's The Centaur Nessus Abducting Deianeira. There are also sculptures, paintings by Czech Baroque artists and many of Rudolph's II (Emperor, 1575 – 1611) best paintings.
Imperial Stables (Císařská konírna)
There are temporary art exhibits.
are amongst buildings that have been converted for state purposes. They are open to the public only once a year in early May).
The cathedral's foundation stone was laid in 1344 by Emperor Charles IV. The first architect was Matthias of Arras, after his death Petr Parler took over and completed much of the structure in late-Gothic style. Over the following centuries renaissance and baroque details were added and the job was completed in 1929. The most beautiful of numerous side chapels, Parler's Chapel of St Wenceslas, houses the crown jewels and the tomb of “Good King” Wenceslas.
There are many superb exaples of 20th century Czech stained glass and marvellous pieces of art, for example a wooden relief by Caspar Bechterle that shows the escape of Frederik of the Palatinate from Prague in 1621, and wooden Crucifixion by František Bílek
The Royal Crypt contains the remains of Charles IV, Wenceslas IV, George of Poděbrady and Rudolf II.
There are excellent views from the Great Tower on a clear day.
Dating from 1135 it is one of the oldest parts of the castle. It was the seat of Bohemian princes but from the 13th to the 16th century it was the king's palace. Vladislav Hall (Vladislavský sál), in the centre of the palace, was used for banquets, councils, coronations and in bad weather, jousting. The other parts are the Rider's staircase (Jezdecké schody), a place where all the Czech presidents have been sworn, Ludvík Wing famous for the defenestration of 1618, New Land Rolls Room, the old map repository for land titles and All Saints' Chapel.
Mihulka Powder Tower (Prašná věž)
This tower was built at the end of the 15th century originally as a part of the castle's defences, later it was a workshop of a cannon and bell-maker. During Rudolf II's reign (1576 – 1612) the tower became a laboratory for alchemists and then it was used as a gunpowder store until 1754. Today it is a museum of alchemy, bell- and cannon-forging and Renaissance life in Prague Castle.
Convent of St George (Klášter Sv. Jiří)
Established in 973 by Boleslav II it was Bohemia's first convent. In 1782 it was converted into barracks, in 1962 – 74 reconstructed and today as a branch of the National Gallery it houses an excellent collection of Czech Renaissance and baroque art.
Founded by Prince Vratislav I in the 10th century it is the best preserved Romanesque church in Prague, the fasade is baroque from the 17th century though. There are tombs of Přemysl royalty. The acoustics make it a good venue for classical concerts.
Royal Garden (Královská zahrada)
This garden was created in 1535 for Ferdinand I. It is a highly recommended place for a stroll especially in spring. The Lions Court is where the Emperor Rudolf II had his zoo. There is also the bronze Singing Fountain and the azalea and tulip garden where tulips were first aclimatised to Europe before being taken to Holland.
Ball-Game House (Míčovna)
It is the most beautiful building of the Royal Garden where the Habsburgs played an early version of badminton. When the game went out of fashion it was converted into stables and today it is open only for exhibitions.
Summer Palace - Belvedere (Letohrádek Kralony Anny)
It is the most authentic Italian Renaissance building outside Italy. It was built from 1538 to 1564 for Ferdinad's beloved wife Anna. It houses temporary modern art exhibitions.
Riding School (Jízdárna)
It was built at the end of the 17th century and since the end of the 1940s it has served as a gallery for temporary modern art exhibitions.
Named after the goldsmiths who lived here in the 17th century, Golden Lane is popular with its tiny colourful houses built right into the arches of the Castle walls. In the 18th and 19th centuries they were occupied by squatters, later it was the home of the writer France Kafka (house 22) and the Nobel-laureate poet Jaroslaf Seifert. Most of them are souvenir shops today.
White Tower (Bílá věž)
It is the place where Irish alchemist Edward Kelley was imprisoned by Rudolf II.
Daliborka Tower (Daliborka)
This tower was built in the 15th century. It is named after Dalibor of Kozojedy who was imprisoned here in 1498 for supporting a peasant rebellion, and later executed. According to a legend he learnt to play the violin and his playing could be heard throughout the castle. The story was used by Bedřich Smetana in his opera Dalibor.
Lobkowicz Palace (Lobkovický palác)
Built in the 1570s it is a branch of the National Museum with a collection on Czech history until 1848 including replicas of the Czech crown jewels and the sword of executioner Jan Mydlář.
Toy Museum (Muzeum hraček)
This private museum is said to be the second largest museum of its kind in the world.
Schwarzenberg Palace (Švancenberský palác)
Built originally for the Lobkowicz family it passed through several hands before the Schwarzenbergs acquired it in 1719. There has been a Museum of Military history since 1945.
Archbishp's Palace (Arcibiskupský palác)
Bought by Ferdinand I in 1562 for the first Catholic Archbishop it is the seat of archbishops ever since. In the period of after the 1621 it was a powerful symbol of Catholic domination of the city as well as the Czech lands. It is only open to the public one day before Good Friday.
Sternberg Palace (Šternberský palác)
Named after Franc Josef Sternberg, who founded the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts in Bohemia in 1796, it houses the National Gallery's valuable collection of 14th– to 18th- century European art, such as works by Goya and Rembrandt.
Černín palace (Černínský palác)
This palace was built in 1668 for the Imperial Ambassador to Venice. It was badly damaged in 1757 when Prussian bombarded Prague and almost 100 years later sold to the state. Since 1918, it has been home to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1948 the foreign minister, demokrat and anti-communist, Jan Masaryk fell to his death from one of the bathroom windows. It is still unclear whether it was a suicide or a murder planned by the communist secret service.
The Loreta (Loreta)
This extraordinary baroque pilgrimage church was built in 1626 with funds donated by Countess Lobkowitz. Its grandiose design and miraculous stories about this place were part of Ferdinand II's campaign to recatholicize the Czechs. Worth seeing is especially the treasury on the 1st floor.
Capuchin Monastery (Kapucínský klášter)
Founded in 1600 it was the first monastery of its kind in Bohemia. It is connected to the neighbouring Loreta and it is famous for its miraculous statue of the Madonna and Child. Each year at Christmas there is a delightful Baroque nativity scene of life-sized figures.
Strahov Monastery (Strahovský klášter)
Founded in 1140 by Vladislav II the Strahov Monastery was completed in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was functioned until the communist government closed it. Now it is a working monastery and a museum. Inside is the Church of St Roch, the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and the Strahov Picture Gallery. The biggest attraction is the Strahov Library – the largest monastic library in the country.