Prague Castle

Czech Open Information Project


PRAGUE CASTLE



Along the eastern edge of a long spur reaching from the northern shoulder of the Petrin Hill to the Opys slope there has evolved through a span of one thousand years the monumental complex of sacred and ceremonial as well as residential buildings, together with their fortifications, which constitutes Prague Castle. In the course of this period the outline of the castle, as seen from the Old Town, went through several transformations before achieving that harmonious balance between, on the one hand, the horizontal lines of the civic buildings, the extensive rooms and wings of the former Czech chancelleries, the Vladislav Hall, the capitular church of All Saints and the former Rozmberk and Lobkovic palaces, and on the other the vertical thrust of the main tower of St. Vitus Cathedral. The early history of Prague Castle reaches back into the middle of the 9th c. when it became the seat of the reigning dynasty of the Premyslids. Around the year 875 Prince Borivoj founded a rectangular church of the Virgin on the site of the present wing separating the first and second courtyards. His son Vratislav began the construction, some time before 921 , of the church of St. George, forerunner to the Ottonian basilica which is still to be seen, and around 930 Prince Vaclav raised the two- storied rotunda of St. Vitus which had four hemispherical apses. The castle underwent extensive transformations under the rule of Prince Vratislav II, who was raised to royal dignity in 1085, and of Sobeslav I in the 12th century. Beside powerful stone fortifications with towers, such as the surviving Black Tower, and many turrets, the castle area saw the rise of numerous buildings, both sacred and secular, such as the stone palace of the princes, the bishop's palace with its St. Maurice chapel and the reconstructed basilica of St. George. During the rule of Premysl Otakar II the royal palace was enlarged and the fortified area increased. Abandoned after a fire and left to its fate by John of Luxemburg, the castle underwent a grandiose reconstruction at the hands of Charles IV. In 1344, jointly with his father, he laid the foundation stone of a new cathedral, calling on the services of the French architect Matthew of Arras, who was succeeded after his death by the young Peter Parler in 1356. Among other foundations in the castle area of this period are the private imperial church of All Saints and an enhanced royal palace. After Charles IV's death Vaclav IV moved away from the castle and took up residence in the Old Town, nevertheless work on the cathedral proceeded. During the Hussite wars the castle suflered some damage, but its glory was renewed under Vladislav Jagellon, who began the splendid Vladislav Hall (architect Benedict Ried) before 1493, the earliest structure in Bohemia to include Renaissance features. The Renaissance culture of the Habsburg court, which occupied the Czech throne from 1526, is reflected in the castle grounds primarily in the Belvedere of Paolo della Stella and the Tennis Court of Bonifác Wohlmut. The terrible fire of 1541 caused serious damage to the majority of the castle buildings but it flourished anew under the emperors Rudolph II and Matthew. It was the latter who, in 1614, erected the monumental gateway linking the first and second courtyards, while Rudolph's contribution was to enrich the state apartments of his Prague residence with the works of the foremost European artists, many of whom were engaged by the Prague Court, such as Bartholomew Spranger, Hans von Aachen, Adriaen de Vries and others. Many of these works disappeared from the castle interiors during and after the Thirty Years' War, when the seat of former Czech kings fell into decay since none of the Habsburg monarchs lived there except for a short period in 1848 when it was occupied by Ferdinand the Good after his abdication. Little work was carried out at the castle during the baroque period apart from the Riding School built by Jean B. Mathey in 1694-1698. From 1753 to 1775 the castle buildings were restyled, by decision of Maria Theresa, by the court architect of Vienna, Nicola Paccassi, in the late baroque and early classicist manner. The function of the castle was further downgraded by the decision of the emperor Joseph II that it should house the administrative offices of the army. In the second half of the 19th c. work was taken up again towards completion of the cathedral. Not until after 1918, when it became the residence of the Presidents of the Czechoslovak Republic, did the ancient seat of Bohemian kings flourish anew. For this purpose renovation of both the interior and the exterior of the castle complex was undertaken by Josef Plečnik and Otto Rottmayer. Today all the buildings constituting Prague Castle are administered by the Chancery of the President of the Czech Republic.