Prague Castle: An Ancient Landmark of Czech History

In this installment of ‘Larger Than Life: Architecture Through the Ages,’ we learn that Prague Castle reflects the soul of the Czech people.
Prague Castle: An Ancient Landmark of Czech History
Prague Castle (background) stands on a hill overlooking the Vltava River, offering breathtaking views of the city. Also known as “Prazsky hrad,” the castle complex spans a vast area, covering over 753,000 square feet. Its distinctive spires and towers make it instantly recognizable in the city’s skyline. (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
11/12/2023
Updated:
12/4/2023
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With a rich history spanning more than 1,000 years, Prague Castle, located in the heart of Prague, is the largest ancient castle in the world and an integral part of the city’s cultural landscape. Once the seat of Bohemian kings, the Prague Castle complex—which includes St. Vitus Cathedral and the Basilica of St. George—has had various styles added to it throughout the centuries.

Prince Borivoj, the first Christian prince of Bohemia, established the castle around the year 880. The castle’s strategic location allowed the first Bohemian rulers to safeguard their kingdom. During the ninth century, the grounds underwent a significant transformation with the addition of the Church of the Virgin Mary, which would later be rebuilt after a fire in the 11th century. An earlier rotunda named after St. Vitus was built in 925.

During the 14th century, Emperor Charles IV of the Holy Roman Empire transformed the castle into a splendid Gothic residence, adding St. Vitus Cathedral and rebuilding the Old Royal Palace. Under the Habsburg dynasty, the castle became a center of political power and underwent extensive renovations and additions in the Renaissance style best exemplified by Queen Anna’s Summer Palace.

After a major fire in 1534, Prague Castle was reconstructed, with the addition of the Schwarzenberg Palace, built between 1545 and 1567, and the Royal Garden, which was established in 1534. It showcased the grandeur and opulence of the Renaissance style, with sculpture and other features of the Baroque era.  The castle’s addition of St. George Basilica in the styles of Romanesque and Gothic give it a unique character and made it a testament to the passage of time.

In 1918, Prague Castle became the seat of the president of the Czech Republic and a symbol of the country’s independence. Since then, the castle has undergone several restorations to preserve its historical significance.

Built in the 14th century, St. Vitus Cathedral (“Katedrala svateho Vita”) is one of the most important religious buildings within the castle complex. The structure is a Gothic masterpiece that took over 500 years to build. The church features key elements of Gothic architecture, such as pointed arches, flying buttresses, and an impressive tower offering panoramic views of Prague. The Czech’s most important patron saint, St. Wenceslas, is buried there. (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
Built in the 14th century, St. Vitus Cathedral (“Katedrala svateho Vita”) is one of the most important religious buildings within the castle complex. The structure is a Gothic masterpiece that took over 500 years to build. The church features key elements of Gothic architecture, such as pointed arches, flying buttresses, and an impressive tower offering panoramic views of Prague. The Czech’s most important patron saint, St. Wenceslas, is buried there. (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
The breathtaking Neo-Gothic interior of St. Vitus Cathedral is composed of the main nave and narrow side aisles, lined with chapels and stained-glass windows. Slender columns and pointed arches support the magnificent stone ribbed vault. At the end of the bright and airy nave, the altar features one of the most beautiful stained-glass windows in the world. (SveltanaSF/Shutterstock)
The breathtaking Neo-Gothic interior of St. Vitus Cathedral is composed of the main nave and narrow side aisles, lined with chapels and stained-glass windows. Slender columns and pointed arches support the magnificent stone ribbed vault. At the end of the bright and airy nave, the altar features one of the most beautiful stained-glass windows in the world. (SveltanaSF/Shutterstock)
St. Wenceslas Chapel is the central point of St. Vitus Cathedral for its architectural grandeur. The chapel holds the tomb of St. Wenceslas, the Czech patron saint. Decorative features include the stone floor and wall paintings which survived from the 14th century. (Yulia_B/Shutterstock)
St. Wenceslas Chapel is the central point of St. Vitus Cathedral for its architectural grandeur. The chapel holds the tomb of St. Wenceslas, the Czech patron saint. Decorative features include the stone floor and wall paintings which survived from the 14th century. (Yulia_B/Shutterstock)
The Basilica of St. George is the second most important church of Prague Castle, and the oldest surviving building in the complex. Established in A.D. 920 and expanded in 973 by Prince Vratislav I, St. George’s Basilica (“Bazilika Sv. Jiri”) features a Romanesque style with Baroque elements. Both Romanesque steeples (the church towers and spires) date back to the 19th-century renovation of the church, and the western side features a chapel consecrated to St. Ludmila from the 13th century. The striking Baroque façade dates back to the 17th century. Originally used as a convent for Benedictine nuns, St. George’s Basilica now hosts short-term art exhibitions. (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
The Basilica of St. George is the second most important church of Prague Castle, and the oldest surviving building in the complex. Established in A.D. 920 and expanded in 973 by Prince Vratislav I, St. George’s Basilica (“Bazilika Sv. Jiri”) features a Romanesque style with Baroque elements. Both Romanesque steeples (the church towers and spires) date back to the 19th-century renovation of the church, and the western side features a chapel consecrated to St. Ludmila from the 13th century. The striking Baroque façade dates back to the 17th century. Originally used as a convent for Benedictine nuns, St. George’s Basilica now hosts short-term art exhibitions. (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
Located within the old royal palace is Vladislav Hall (“Vladislavsky sal”), which was the residence of Bohemian kings until the 16th century. A mixture of the Gothic and Renaissance styles, Vladislav Hall is one of the largest secular Gothic halls in Europe. With built-in Romanesque stonework from the 12th century, the hall showcases architectural features such as the intricate late Gothic rib vault. Used for coronations and banquets during the reign of kings, Vladislav Hall continues to be used for state events to this day. (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
Located within the old royal palace is Vladislav Hall (“Vladislavsky sal”), which was the residence of Bohemian kings until the 16th century. A mixture of the Gothic and Renaissance styles, Vladislav Hall is one of the largest secular Gothic halls in Europe. With built-in Romanesque stonework from the 12th century, the hall showcases architectural features such as the intricate late Gothic rib vault. Used for coronations and banquets during the reign of kings, Vladislav Hall continues to be used for state events to this day. (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
A marvel of Renaissance architecture is Queen Anna’s Summer Palace, also known as the Belvedere. Located within the Royal Gardens of the complex, the Summer Palace is the most accurate example of Renaissance architecture outside of Italy. Commissioned by Ferdinand I for his wife Anna in the 16th century, the palace was built in the style of Italian Renaissance architecture by Giovanni Spatio and G. Maria del Pambio, and inspired by a project by the Italian Paolo della Stella. The ground floor, which served as a residence, is surrounded by an arcade gallery, supported by 36 elegant pillars with carved stone reliefs and ornamental and figurative friezes. The first floor features an elegant flat copper roof and hosts a dance hall and gallery. (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
A marvel of Renaissance architecture is Queen Anna’s Summer Palace, also known as the Belvedere. Located within the Royal Gardens of the complex, the Summer Palace is the most accurate example of Renaissance architecture outside of Italy. Commissioned by Ferdinand I for his wife Anna in the 16th century, the palace was built in the style of Italian Renaissance architecture by Giovanni Spatio and G. Maria del Pambio, and inspired by a project by the Italian Paolo della Stella. The ground floor, which served as a residence, is surrounded by an arcade gallery, supported by 36 elegant pillars with carved stone reliefs and ornamental and figurative friezes. The first floor features an elegant flat copper roof and hosts a dance hall and gallery. (Mistervlad/Shutterstock)
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Ariane Triebswetter is an international freelance journalist, with a background in modern literature and classical music.