There are seven gardens surrounding the Prague Castle. The Royal Garden is historically the most valuable of them. Originally a Renaissance garden, with some beautiful pieces of architecture inspired by Italian influences, it used to be a place, where the king and his family relaxed, played games and raised exotic plants. There is an exceptional Renaissance building the Royal Summer Residence, the Royal Ball Game Hall and some valuable Renaissance and Baroque sculptures and fountains.
Renaissance way of life
The Renaissance era brought a new life-style and new ways of spending time. The sovereigns and the aristocrats wanted to enjoy their free time in a pleasant environment, the gardens were carefully arranged. It had to be symmetric and harmonic, and also various fountains and waterworks were built around. It was fashionable to grow exotic plants or animals among nobility at the time.
This way of life was brought to Prague by Emperor Ferdinand I. He chose the area for the garden, where vineyards used to be at the time, bought the place and started to build the Royal Garden in 1534. It was inspired by Italian gardens, and built by Italians as well, the leading architect was Giovanni Spatia.
Royal Summer Residence
The most important building in the Royal Garden, the Royal Summer Residence, was built between 1538 1563 for Queen Anna Jagiello. Projected by Paolo della Stella and later by Bonifac Wohlmut, it is exceptional because of the progressive attitude of the architects: they didnīt fully follow the rules of Renaissance architecture and in a way they anticipated future development, furthermore the building has a Gothic roof, which makes it a unique building as well. In front of the building there is the beautiful Singing Fountain from 1568.
Ferdinand I. was interested in exotic plants, so there were soon Mediterranean plants such as orange trees, lemon trees and fig trees growing in the garden. In 1570 a special building was built for it. There are only walls preserved of this building nowadays, but figs grow at the place again after years.
In 1554, the Royal Garden in Prague was the first place in Europe, where the tulips were growing. It was bought in Turkey, and it became so admired, that it spread to the whole Europe from Prague, and started to be grown in Holland.
Ferdinand I. also founded the Lion Courtyard in the Royal Garden. It used to be a place for keeping exotic animals. The buildings around the Lion Courtyard were built by Ulrico Aostallis in 1583. Nowadays, there is a restaurant with a special view on the St. Vitus Cathedral.
Royal Ball Game Hall
The successors of Ferdinand I. continued with cultivating the garden. Maxmilian II. had the Royal Ball Game Hall built there by Bonifac Wohlmut between 1567 and 1569. It was used for sport activities of the Emperorīs courtiers, as well as the shooting-range or skittle alley nearby. Various competitions and games were organized here. There is a valuable Baroque Hercules fountain from 1670 by the Royal Ball Game Hall.
Maxmilian II. had also new precious plants grown here, so there were such specialities like narcissi or bluebells at the time.
Rudolph II. and the Royal Garden
The successive Emperor Rudolph II. founded a pheasantry in the Royal Garden in 1604. He made an astronomical observatory in the Royal Summer Residence, used by Tycho de Brahe and Johannes Kepler. He had also his favourite lion Mohamed, a present from the Turkish sultan, kept in the Lion Court. When the lion died in 1611, the Emperor was very sad and died soon afterwards, in the observatory that he had founded.
The Royal Garden was seriously damaged during the Thirty Yearsī War. It was restored in the second half of 17 th century by Leopold I., still in the Renaissance style.
Changes in Baroque era
The Royal Garden was changed in 1740s: it was projected in Baroque style, decorated with statues by M. B. Braun, and there was a new glasshouse built by K. I. Dienzenhofer. The valuable sculpture The Night by M. B. Braun is situated in front of the Royal Ball Game Hall. There used to be a similar sculpture The Day, but it was destroyed by Prussians in 1757.
The final big change of the Royal Garden came in the 19 th century. It became an English park, the ornamental flower beds were partly replaced by grass-plots. It is how the garden looks nowadays, with some traces of the Renaissance and Baroque era.
Next to the Royal Ball Game Hall, there is the Presidential Residence, built thanks to president E. Benes in 1937-38. All the Czechoslovakian presidents used to live there since 1938 till 1989.
Royal Garden at the present time
The Royal Garden used to be closed to the public for centuries. It used to be a garden intended exclusively for the sovereign and his court, and even during the Communism era it was impossible to visit it. At the present time, it is accessible to the public, it is only closed during the wintertime.