Prague castle is the central place of Czech identity and Prague's history: the former royal seat, the place of coronations; seat of Premyslid princes, Bohemian kings, Austro-Hungarian Emperors, nazis & communists, and today, the seat of the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus.
The area was once Slavic settlements, fortified by Premyslids in the 9th century, who built stone churches, and added palaces and walls during Romanesque times. It became even bigger during the Charles IV reign in the 14th century, was rebuilt during the 16th (Renaissance) and 17-18th centuries (Baroque) to end with mainly neo-classical facades during the reign of the empress Maria Theresa.
The St. Vitus Cathedral, at the center of Prague Castle, is a jewel of the Prague skyline and the most dominant building of the Castle area. The site of the cathedral is thought to have been the site of slavic rites. A rotunda was built at around 930 AD, a basilica completed around 1090. In 1344 the Gothic Cathedral began development during the reign of Charles IV -- however it was only completed in 1929!
Today the castle area houses the offices of the President of the Czech Republic. A great deal of it is open to the public: venues for concerts, exhibtions, open palaces and gardens. It is guarded by the rather formal Castle Guard. During daytime you find half the tourists passing here -- come early or late (the area is open to the public till nighttime) for a different impression. Don't miss the views to the rest of Prague, the amazing St. Vitus cathedral, the changing of the guard at noon, and the gardens.
This view of the city is not to be missed. Enjoy the rather hidden cafe below ground in an old monestary, under the viewing platform. This is the central square of Hradcany, the castle neighbourhood, one of the four parts of the oldest Prague.
Here is a statue of the Czech political fatherfigure, President T.G. Masarýk (1850-1937) and behind him the Schwarzenberg palace with a new neo-baroque part and the far more impressive renaissance building decorated with sgrafitti (16th c). Opposite of the castle is the Tuscany palace.
To the right of the castle-gate you find the massive rococco-facade of the Archbishop's palace. Behind that, the Sternberg palace, housing important parts of the National Gallery. Note the changing of the guards at noon every day by the first courtyard - the best view is from the square - with parade and brass-music.
First in sight here you find the walls of and the entrances to the Royal Garden, parts of the parks of the castle administration. The Royal garden was laid out during Ferdinand I, 1534. It now compromises beautiful historical buildings, an English landscape styled garden, with parts in renaissance giardinettos (squares) and brilliant views of the main castle area. At the low end of the park you find one of the most beautiful renaissance buildings of central Europe, the Summer Palace (or Queen Anne's palace) (1538-60). In front of that the famous bronze singing fountain (1560's). Next to the castle mould, hunting grounds, the Ball Game Hall (1560's), another beautiful renaissance construction. Hidden in one slope you can also find a modern greenhouse.
The bridge crosses the once royal hunting grounds with the stream Brusnice deep under the bridge. The bridge leads to a gate of the castle and the second courtyard. When crossing the bridge note the perfect views of defencewalls and the advanced construction of the cathedrals flying buttresses and beautiful roofing.
Behind your view in this image you find the old Royal Ridingschool and staples. The facade is baroque (late 17th c) and today it houses parts of the exhibitions of the castle. Often modern art.
These newlyweds stand in the Matthias gate, a beautiful baroque structure from 1614. It is the passage between the 1st and 2nd courtyards. There are two inside staircases, visiting heads of state are received here. You will meet the castle guard here and elsewhere in the area. It is the visitor who should move for them and do keep a distance to the ones standing guard. One group has duty 24hours at a time, of which each should stand guard at the gates (without moving) or patrol 3 times 1 hour.
The castle guard has a long history, but their present status under the minisrty of defence was established in 1990. Their flashy uniforms were designed at the wish of then president Havel by Theodor Pistek. In the summer they are light blue and in the winter, dark.
Among the palaces in these wings you find the beautiful Rococco Spanish Hall; remains of one the earlist churches in Prague (880's), and beautiful modernistic details by doors, stairs and roofings in the courtyards and gardens by the Slovak, Josef Pisek, employed by T.G. Masarýk during the 1st republic.
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, has long attracted artists and wandering spirits, although it was originally inhabited by prehistoric fish. Their inland sea filled the basin contained by the Tatras and Carpathian mountains, but when it eventually dried up they were forced to yield the terrain to dinosaurs, wooly mammoths and Neanderthals. In human times the Celtic tribes came to reside here, leaving remains dating back to the 4th Century B.C. Their tribal name, Boii, gives the root of the word "Bohemia". The three separate territories of Bohemia, Silesia and Moravia now make up the modern Czech Republic, which split from Slovakia in the 1993 "Velvet Divorce." Thanks to its enigmatic founder, the city of Prague derives a magnetic appeal for visionaries, scientists and astronomers. The historical figure credited with the launch of Prague is Princess Libuse, a visionary prophet and warrior who once stood atop the hill at Vysehrad and made the prophecy as follows, "I see a vast city, whose glory will touch the stars!" This indeed came to pass after she took Otokar Premysl to be her husband and King, launching the Premyslid dynasty, and leaving it to rule for the first four hundred years of Czech history. When the last Premyslid king, Wenceslas III, died without producing a male heir, the fourteen year-old John of Luxembourg came to take the throne of the Czech lands. Hot-headed John died in battle, but his diplomatic son Charles IV inherited the throne and, through keen multi-lingual savvy, managed to both keep it and earn the title "Father of the Czech Nation." Charles IV was the first of the Holy Roman Emperors here; he ruled during the height of Prague's elegance and splendour. This is the man to know if you want to understand Prague's layout. He sponsored the construction of such landmarks as the Charles Bridge, the Hunger Wall and St. Vitus' Cathedral, as well as personally designing the neighborhood called New Town (Nove Mesto) which has for its center Karlovo Namesti or Charles Square. The city displays every branch of architecture across the last thousand years, including Cubism, a style which you will be hard-pressed to find applied to buildings anywhere else in the world. Beyond the stunning visual makeup of the city, there is a wealth of nightlife and entertainment, beginning with the legendary concert halls including the Rudolfinum, National Theater, Estates Theater and the Municipal House. After investigating the Castle and Bridge, which are the most heavily-trafficked tourist areas, take a look around Zizkov and Letna, two of the cooler neighborhoods for bars and restaurants. However quiet it may seem after ten PM, Prague is alive and throbbing in an endless array of basement bars, pubs, clubs, discos and pool halls waiting to be discovered by the intrepid subterranean adventurer. To get an idea of what lies in store, check out the panoramas for Chateau and Palac Akropolis and when you're out and about, make sure you look for the stairs down to the cellar. Apart from shopping, eating, drinking and wearing out your digital camera, delve into the rich green carpet of Prague's parks, many of which lie only walking-minutes from the city center.Text by Steve Smith.