What to see in Prague castle

When visiting Prague, the castle is an absolute cornerstone. You are going to see it when you cross the Charles Bridge, the city’s most famous and oldest. I also recommend that you do not confine yourself to this part and devout some time (one morning or afternoon) to visit its interior.

Castle

The castle is a super important symbol, not only of Prague, but of the whole Czech Republic. It’s the seat of political and religious power, having been the residence of the royal Bohemian family and the Bishop of Prague, and also of the presidency of the republic since 1918. It’s the world’s largest complex of castles, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, occupying an area of 70.000 m2. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In my opinion these are 2 really strong justifications to consider a visit (or a comeback) to Prague in the near future.

What is its history

The castle of Prague was founded approximately in the year of 880 by Prince Bořivoj, the 1st Duke of Bohemia. This prince was the 1st royal figure of the Přemyslid Dynasty, who ruled Bohemia throughout 400 years, until 1306.

Bořivoj had the ambition to establish himself in a place whose location offered more benefits, on the top of a hill, by the river Vltava. And thus the huge complex we see today was started.

The 1st construction of all was a wooden fortress and, later on, stone buildings were built. The Church of St. Mary, which no longer exists (just some ruins of it) and the St George’s Basilica were the first ones.

Over the years, on the initiative of successive monarchs, several churches and other buildings were constructed. In the 14th century, on the initiative of Emperor Charles IV, the semblance of the castle underwent some changes. The name of Prague’s most famous and oldest bridge derives from this Emperor. During his era, the construction of St. Vitus Cathedral began and some changes were made to the fortifications of the castle and to the palace. The royal family started to live in the castle itself.

Many changes have already happened so far, given the specific context of different kings and emperors, the styles that were the major trend of their eras, the fire that took place in 1541, or due to different belligerent conflicts. The vast array of events which took place over the centuries produces a complex with buildings that have totally different styles.

What to see in the castle

Inside the castle there are several palaces, church buildings, offices which represent several architectural styles, built throughout several centuries. Up next I will talk a bit about those places which may be regarded as “mandatory”.

The Old Royal Palace

The underground area is the oldest of the whole complex. The Palace was the residence of princes and kings of Bohemian until the 16th century, having been built on the top of the ruins of a Romanesque palace, an edification on the initiative of Prince Soběslav.

There are several points of interest, but perhaps one should emphasize the Vladislav Hall. It’s an enormous room built between 1492 and 1502 by Vladislav, who gave it his own name. This space has windows 5 meters high, a wooden floor of the 18th century and tin chandleries (only 3 of 5 are made of tin).

Vladislav Hall has already been used to hold several events, such as banquets, commendations, assemblies or tournaments. Currently this room is used for ceremonies of state and presidential elections.

Equally noteworthy in the old Royal Palace is the Church of All Saints. It was built by Petr Parler on the spot where once a Romanesque church was, also devoted to all Saints. This Church was decorated in a similar way to the Saint Chapelle of Paris, until it was partially destroyed by the fire of 1541.

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most important church in Prague and the Czech Republic. It was founded in 1344 and it took 600 years to be built in its entirety. Saints, princes and kings were buried here.

Inside we can find the arm of St. Vitus and the crown jewels. If you are interested, take a look at the cathedral’s treasure, it’s the country largest and also one of the most important in Europe. But the hallmark is the gorgeous Chapel devoted to St. Wenceslaus, the country’s patron saint. It was created in the 14th century by Charles IV and it’s a well-known space for its décor.

From the top of the Cathedral south tower, with almost 100 meters in height, you will be able to have a breath-taking panoramic view of Prague. Climbing its 287 stairs it’s well worth it!

The construction of this tower began in the 14th century and was finished 3 centuries later. We can find in it several bells, one is the biggest in the Czech Republic. It’s known as Zikmund and weighs 15 tonnes.

The legend says that, when the Emperor Charles IV died, the city’s bells started to toll on their own. Another legend says that if the heart of Zikmund breaks something really bad will affect the nation. It already happened once, in 2002, and floods happened throughout the country a couple of weeks later…

Detail of the exterior of the Cathedral of S. Vito
Detail of the exterior of the Cathedral of S. Vito
Cathedral of S. Vito
Cathedral of S. Vito

St. George’s Basilica

St. George’s Basilica is Prague’s 2nd oldest church, having been founded in 920. One can easily identify it much due to its 2 bell towers with 41 meters of height, made of white stone.

It started as a convent of Benedictine nuns, but the damage caused by a fire prompted changes to the building. When visiting it we can see really old walls and a rich collection of Gothic and Baroque art.

If you have time, watch a music concert in this Basilica. The acoustic is just astonishing!

Golden Lane

The Golden Lane is a tiny street with several coloured small houses, which are quite beautiful indeed. It was one of the things that I enjoyed the most in the entire complex.

They were built at the end of the 16th century to serve as housing for the snipers who safeguarded the castle. There was a total of 24 houses and, since there was a lack of space, they had to be built really small. The Emperor forbade windows facing the Deer Moat and the houses couldn’t be sold or rent.

Throughout the years, some houses were destroyed and the snipers were no longer needed. The street was then occupied by people with other jobs. The renowned writer Franz Kafka lived at number 22 and a fortune teller named Madame de Thebes occupied the 14th, having predicted the fall of Nazism, something that led to her arrest (and murder).

The name of the street derives from the time when houses were inhabited by goldsmiths.

Mihulka Tower

The Mihulka Tower is the largest of the cannon towers. It was built in the 15th century and was part of the castle’s new fortifications.

It already has served as an alchemy lab, gunpowder warehouse, dungeon and, as we speak, its interior hosts a permanent exhibition about the Castle Guard. The tower has had several names, with Mihulka appearing only in the 19th century, due to the presence of gunpowder inside of it.

Rosenberg Palace

The Rosenberg Palace started, in the 16th century, as a Renaissance building which was the property of the homonymous family. Later, it was rebuilt in the Baroque style and used as an Institute of women who were part of noble families. 30 noble girls were educated there who, for several reasons, ended up penniless.

The Palace has been occupied since 1919 by government offices.

When visiting the Rosenberg Palace, check the chapel, the main room and an exhibition where you can get to know the Institute a little bit better.

 

To know more about so many centuries of history of the complex, I recommend visiting the permanent exhibitions on the castle’s history and the European art gallery (painting) between 15th and 18th centuries.

If you visit the city in the summer, as I did, you can also see the gardens and an enormous ravine named Stag Moat.

On a perfect day, start by crossing the magnificent Charles Bridge and climb your way up to the Castle. Take your time to see the surroundings and step inside. Save some hours to see everything calmly.