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Prague Castle

“ On the whole, the Castle, as it appeared from far away, was as K. expected it. It was not an old manor or a new and sumptuous palace, but a wide structure made of few two-storey buildings and many tiny houses attached one to the other. He who didn’t know it was a Castle might think it was a small town.”
F.Kafka, The Castle

Kafka’s words summarize well what each one of us might think when we look at the Castle, because it looks more like a fortified town. In fact that’s how it was created centuries ago, when there was not even Prague, as a residence for the princes Premyslides who ruled for the first four centuries of Czech history. Bořivoj who also founded the second Christian church of Bohemia in the name of the Virgin Mary founded the Castle between 882 and 884; you can still see relics of this church in the passage between the Garden on the rampart and the Second Courtyard. About 40 years later Prince Wenceslav built a romanic rotunda, dedicated to Saint Vitus, where now stands the Cathedral.

At the beginning the Castle was built in Romanic style but it was sieged and burnt many times during the wars of the Premyslides rule, so the style soon evolved forward Charles IV made great reconstructions from 1344.In the same year with his father John of Luxembourg founded the Cathedral, which nowadays overlooks the profile of the Castle. Wladislaw Jegellone ruled in the second half of 1400 and at the beginning of his reign lived in the Royal Court that existed where today we can admire the Municipal House in Republic Square. Due to security problems in 1483 he moved to the safer Castle and started great restoring in Late Gothic style, among which the most remarkable is the Wladislaw Hall in the Royal Palace.

When the Habsburg arrived in Bohemia in 1526 brought with them the Renaissance and Baroque style, so the Castle became more a residence than a middle age fortress. Many Italian artists contributed to export to Prague these new styles as for example the Summer Royal Palace by Paolo Della Stella also know as Belvedere, which is considered the nicest Renaissance palace north of the Alps. Only Rudolf II lived in Prague so at the beginning of 1600 the city had its second Golden Era; the first was during the reign of Charles IV.

The Habsburg lived in Vienna so Prague became one of the many towns of this wide empire. The Castle was abandoned and started to fall apart so in the second half of 1700 Marie Therese sent from Vienna the Court architect, Niccolò Pacassi to restore it. The Neo-classic restoring by Pacassi still characterize the contemporary profile of the Castle.

Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918 and the Castle became the residence of the president. The first president, T.G.Masaryk invited from Slovenia an eclectic architect, J. Plečnik to transform the Castle for this new purpose. Also today the Castle is the residence of the president and for this reason you can’t visit every building.

Visiting the Castle

You should consider at least 3-4 hours for the visit of the whole area. Inside the Castle you will find different ticket offices where you can buy the tickets to visit the monuments. The ticket is valid 2 days but you can’t visit twice the same monument.

Opening time and prices

Tourist season: 9.00-17.00
Winter: 9.00-16.00

Ticket Adult Children or Student
Royal Palace, Golden Lane + Saint George Basilica 250 Kc 125 Kc
Full ticket including Exhibition “ History of the Castle” 350 Kc 175 Kc
Further information: Hrad

Golden Lane will be closed during 2010. With the same ticket you can visit the Noblewomen Palais (Rožmberský) where you can see a fully furnitured apartment with several rooms.

How to get there

The best way is by tram 22 and you have different options: Take the tram outside Malostranská metro station (Green line, A). The first stop is Belveder right in front of the summer Royal Palace. You can stop here and visit the Royal Gardens first (opened from April to October 10.00-18.00) In front of the Belvedere there is the singing fountain, second half of 1500. To listen to the sound of water you must sit on the base of the fountain. A little further on the left there is the renaissance building of the ball game restored in the ‘50s, during the communist era. If you look closer to the allegories in the upper part of the building you will find a very familiar symbol between Faith and Justice. After the visit turn left out of the gardens and cross the bridge on the Deer’s Moat: you are now in the second Courtyard. If you want to skip the Gardens take the next tram stop, Pražský Hrad, cross the street and walk to the Second Courtyard. In case you want to visit also the Castle district, Hradčany, continue 2 more tram stops to Pohořelec. If you want to walk to the Castle take the Nerudova street in Malá Strana and you will end up just in front of the main entrance.. You could also walk up from the staircase starting from the park outside Malostranská metro but you will have to take the tour backwards

First Courtyard

Also known as the Court of Honor. At the entrance you can see the guards: until 1989 they had a green uniform and now they wear a very elegant one designed by the costume designer of the movie Amadeus, who is a friend of former president Havel. In front of you there is Mattia’s Arch built in 1614 in Baroque style. On the left and right of the arch there are two flag pennons originally designed by Plečnik, but now they are more recent copies. Under the Arch on the left and right there are two staircases leading to the Halls of the Castle and the most important is the Spanish Hall from the first years of XVII century, still in use for the receptions.

Second Courtyard

The second Courtyard is also the emptiest, decorated only with a baroque fountain from 1686. Under the façade of the palace you just crossed and the one you are going to cross to get to the Third Courtyard there are still relics of the inner and external ramparts of the Castle. From this Courtyard you can get to the Royal gardens.

Third courtyard

As soon as you cross the passage from the Second Courtyard you will have in front of you the Saint Vitus Cathedral. Photographers will be the first to notice that there is not enough place in front of the façade, so I offer you a rise to meditate… Cathedrals are usually in the main squares of cities while in Prague it is inside the Castle: the Center of Spiritual power is inside what has always been the center of Earthly Power. The Cathedral was founded in 1344 and the construction continued until the end of the century. During the following centuries the construction didn’t continue, except for some minor repairs, so the whole nave was not built because there was not so much interest ( after the Hussites war of 1400 the country had become Protestant) and the Habsburg had moved to Vienna. It was only in 1859 that the construction started again using the project made in the Middle Age by Peter Parler. The façade in front of you is Neo-Gothic finished in 1929 to commemorate 1000 years of the death of Prince Wenceslav. If you look carefully near the rose- window on the left and right there are four busts of people wearing modern dresses from 1900; they are the architects and historians of the new part. Paradoxically the Neo-classic buildings near the Cathedral are older than the Cathedral itself.
Don’t worry about the long line for the Cathedral. It is soon over. When it starts at the far end in the street aside it means 45-50 minutes but just when it is all the way long the lane.

In the Third Courtyard there is also the Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

The first level of the Palace you encounter is the Late Gothic with the Wladislaw Hall built during the reign of Wladislaw Jegellone; below you will find the Gothic Palace built by Charles IV where there are some models of the Castle showing the evolutions of the area during the centuries. Unfortunately the lowest level is closed and used only for temporary exhibition. It’s the Romanic Palace built in the XII century. Outside the Royal Palace you can see the Saint George Basilica from the X century and the only basilica preserved in Prague. The façade is Baroque from the XVII century. If you go inside you will notice how much care Czechs have with the lightning of the monuments. Go a little further and turn left; you are in one of the main spot of the Castle, the famous Golden Lane; this tiny cobbled street was supposed to be the residence of the Alchemists but it is only a legend. The name of the street is due to the goldsmith shops that existed here. Kafka used to live for a while at the n.22; it was his sister’s house and he came here because at that time it was a quiet place… You can get out of the Castle through the last house of the street and go down to Malá strana.

If you have extra time there are many more places to see inside the Castle:

In the Second Yard there is the Castle Gallery and in the Third there is one of the many places of the National Gallery, just on the left of the Saint George Basilica;
On the left side of the Cathedral, in Vikářská Street you will find the entrance of the Powder Tower with an interesting exhibition about rudolfine Prague.
Near the Black Tower there is the Lobkoviz Palace with interesting historic exhibitions and just in front you can give a look at the Toys Museum.
Passing through the Black Tower we end our tour of the Castle and we can walk down the stairs and reach the Metro station Malostranska.

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