When in Prague, the most monumental landmark that every traveller has to visit is the Prague Castle. “Pražský hrad” or just “hrad” to Czechs is considered the Republic’s most valuable cultural institutions. It looms overhead the Vltava’s left bank. Its turrets, serried defenses of spires and palaces take the most part of the city center like a fairytale citadel. Inside its fortifications lies a diverse and captivating assortment of remarkable buildings, galleries and museums that are home to some of the Czech Republic’s ultimate cultural and creative and treasures.
It will be impossible to miss it being the largest castle in the world. This royal residence from the 9th century is actually a complex about the size of seven football fields. To be accurate about it, it has an area of almost 70,000 m², according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It is so vast it consists of more than a few ecclesiastical edifices – churches, palaces, halls, gardens and several other structures and residences. Just to see its three courtyards, guests need at least half a day to go around it in depth.
Some of its fascinating facts about the “hrad” are:
- How its history started: Pražský hrad is believed to have been founded by Prince Bo?ivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty (P?emyslovci) in the 9th century. The Church of the Virgin Mary was the first stone building constructed in the complex, of which only remnants can be seen today. St. George’s Basilica, St Vitus Rotunda and the first Czech convent were added in the 10th century. In the 11th century, the St. Vitus Rotunda was replaced by the St. Vitus Basilica; this is now St. Vitus Cathedral.
- It was a royal residence: By the10th century, the Prague Castle became the seat of Czech monarchs, bishops and then later, the official residence of the presidents for over a thousand years. Today, the Republic’s most important National Cultural Monument is still the seat of the Czech’s head of state and the home for a number of its priceless historical documents, art relics and the Czech Crown Jewels.
- Its style is eclectic just like its royal residents: The architecture of the castle eclectically grew as the succeeding rulers left their own marks in the four major reconstructions and the numerous facelifts it underwent through the years. St Vitus Cathedral is Gothic. The Basilica of St. George is Romanesque as well as a monastery and a number of gardens, palaces, and defense towers.
- More restorations and facelifts: The first one was made under Prince Sob?slav in the 12th century to a classic restoration under Empress Maria Theresa (1740–80). The last significant reconstruction happened in the later part of the 18th century, taking on a style of a chateau.
- The St. Vitus Cathedral: This iconic Cathedral takes the most part of the castle grounds considered to be one of the most stunning in Europe. Other than the priceless wooden depiction of the crucifixion and its Art Nouveau stained-glass windows, it also houses gems such as the tomb of St. John of Nepomuk — a striking two-metric-ton cupola buttressed by a throng of silver angels.
- Finally shared with the public: After 1989, several parts of the Castle were opened to the public for the first time. These include the Royal Garden, the south gardens, the Imperial Stables and the Ballgame Hall. Today, guests may also visit a number of museums, such as the National Gallery collection, the picture gallery of Prague Castle and the Toy Museum. The courtyard of Burgrave Palace is also used as the venue for Summer Shakespeare Festival.
- The” Long and Short” tours: The Prague Castle is so huge it will take at least two days to be able to see its highlights. Visitors can choose to go on a Long Tour that combines the following sights: “… St Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, Story of Prague Castle, Basilica of St George, Powder Tower, Golden Lane and Daliborka, Prague Castle Picture Gallery, Powder Tower and Rosenberg Palace.” The Short Tour combines “… St Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, Basilica of St George, Golden Lane and Daliborka.”
If you are passing by the Czech Republic, it only makes one stop – the Prague Castle – to be able to ”discover the secret of this symbol of the Czech Republic and a place which makes Prague one of the most beautiful cities in the world.”