Prague Castle, dating from the 9th century, is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle was a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 m2. It is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Czech Republic.

Ancient history

The history of the castle stretches back to the year 870 with the construction of its first walled building, the Church of the Virgin Mary. The Basilica of Saint George and the Basilica of St. Vitus were founded under the reign of Vratislav and his son St. Wenceslas in the first half of the 10th century.

The first convent in Bohemia was founded in the castle, next to the church of St. George. A Romanesque palace was erected here during the 12th century. In the 14th century, under the reign of Charles IV the royal palace was rebuilt in Gothic style and the castle fortifications were strengthened. In place of rotunda and basilica of St. Vitus began building of a vast Gothic church, that have been completed almost six centuries later.

During the Hussite Wars and the following decades, the castle was not inhabited. In 1485, King Ladislaus II Jagello began to rebuild the castle. The massive Vladislav Hall (built by Benedikt Rejt) was added to the Royal Palace. New defence towers were also built on the north side of the castle.

A large fire in 1541 destroyed large parts of the castle. Under the Habsburgs, some new buildings in Renaissance style were added. Ferdinand I built the Belvedere as a summer palace for his wife Anne. Rudolph II used Prague Castle as his main residence. He founded the northern wing of the palace, with the Spanish Hall, where his precious art collections were exhibited.

The Second Prague defenestration in 1618 began the Bohemian Revolt. During the subsequent wars, the Castle was damaged and dilapidated. Many works from the collection of Rudolph II were looted by Swedes in 1648, in the Battle of Prague (1648) which was the final act of the Thirty Years' War.

Modern history

The last major rebuilding of the castle was carried out by Empress Maria Theresa in the second half of the 18th century. Following his abdication in 1848, and the succession of his nephew, Franz Joseph, to the throne, the former emperor, Ferdinand I, made Prague Castle his home.

In 1918, the castle became the seat of the president of the new Czechoslovak Republic T.G. Masaryk. The New Royal Palace and the gardens were renovated by Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik. In this period the St Vitus Cathedral was finished. Renovations continued in 1936 under Plečnik's successor Pavel Janák.

On March 15, 1939, shortly after the Nazi regime strong-armed former Czech President Emil Hacha (who suffered a heart attack during the negotiations) to hand his nation over to the Germans, Adolf Hitler spent a night in the Prague Castle. During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II, Prague Castle became the headquarters of Reinhard Heydrich, the 'Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia'. He was said to have placed the Bohemian crown on his head; old legends say an usurper who places the crown on his head is doomed to die within a year. Less than a year after assuming power, on May 27, 1942, Heydrich was attacked by British-trained Slovak and Czech soldiers while on his way to the Castle, and died of his wounds a week later.

Post-World War II

After the liberation of Czechoslovakia, the Castle housed the offices of the communist Czechoslovak government. During the Velvet Revolution, Alexander Dubček, the leader of Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring, appeared on a balcony overlooking Wenceslas Square to hear throngs of protesters below shouting 'Dubček to the Castle!' As they pushed for him to take his seat as president of the country at Prague Castle, he embraced the crowd as a symbol of democratic freedom.

After Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the castle became the seat of the Head of State of the new Czech Republic. Similar to what Masaryk did with Plečnik, president Václav Havel commissioned Bořek Šípek to be the architect of post-communism Prague Castle's necessary improvements, in particular of the facelift of the castle's gallery of paintings.

Architectural styles of Prague Castle

The castle buildings represent virtually every architectural style of the last millennium. Prague Castle includes Gothic St Vitus Cathedral, Romanesque Basilica of St. George, a monastery and several palaces, gardens and defense towers. Most of the castle areas are open to tourists. Nowadays, the castle houses several museums, including the National Gallery collection of Bohemian baroque and mannerism art, exhibition dedicated to Czech history, Toy Museum and the picture gallery of Prague Castle, based on the collection of Rudolph II. The Summer Shakespeare Festival regularly takes place in the courtyard of Burgrave Palace.

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Founded: 870 AD
Category: Castles and fortifications in Czech Republic

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4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Samer Madarani (7 months ago)
Beautiful and must visit! We saw it from a distance at first but needed to get closer. The architecture was incredible and we happened to walk in around 3 pm when they were changing the guards! Cool stuff and I would recommend!
Kelvin Eagleton (7 months ago)
Prague castle and the entire castle complex is spectacular. There is so much to see and exhibits are very good. The castle has many other interesting buildings, exhibits, views in the complex. You can spend many hours here is you have time and it won't be wasted.
Ryan Martin (7 months ago)
Spent most of the day here and it was brilliant! Definitely the highlight of our few days in Prague. We walked up from the old town centre but as far as I'm aware there is a tram that takes you up if you're not that able bodied.
shanid haneef (7 months ago)
Beautiful must visit place in Prague. Trans are available to the uphills of castle. You could buy a ticket from the information centre located on the right side when you arrive. Don’t forget to get a discount if you are a student. They have different circuits make a choice yourself. Don’t miss the castle, cathedral and the old town. Audio tour was also available. At the end you could enjoy the view of the Prague city from the top. Which would also get you the view of the Charles bridge. You could get yourself something to drink or eat by the end of your self tour. Don’t carry anything heavy as a normal self enjoying tour would take a minimum of 1 hour. Highly recommend
Joe Hutson (8 months ago)
By far the most magnificent and amazing attraction is Prague. The whole complex can easily take 4+ hours to complete if you go through everything. In my opinion, climbing to the top of the cathedral is completely worth it, as you get the best views of the city from anywhere. The museums all around the castle are very informational and interesting. There is so much to explore in the castle. The walk up from Old Town is 100% worth it.
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Hochosterwitz Castle

Hochosterwitz Castle is considered to be one of Austria's most impressive medieval castles. The rock castle is one of the state's landmarks and a major tourist attraction.

The site was first mentioned in an 860 deed issued by King Louis the German of East Francia, donating several of his properties in the former Principality of Carantania to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In the 11th century Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg ceded the castle to the Dukes of Carinthia from the noble House of Sponheim in return for their support during the Investiture Controversy. The Sponheim dukes bestowed the fiefdom upon the family of Osterwitz, who held the hereditary office of the cup-bearer in 1209.

In the 15th century, the last Carinthian cup-bearer, Georg of Osterwitz was captured in a Turkish invasion and died in 1476 in prison without leaving descendants. So after four centuries, on 30 May 1478, the possession of the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg.

Over the next 30 years, the castle was badly damaged by numerous Turkish campaigns. On 5 October 1509, Emperor Maximilian I handed the castle as a pledge to Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Bishop Lang undertook a substantial renovation project for the damaged castle.

About 1541, German king Ferdinand I of Habsburg bestowed Hochosterwitz upon the Carinthian governor Christof Khevenhüller. In 1571, Baron George Khevenhüller acquired the citadel by purchase. He fortified to deal with the threat of Turkish invasions of the region, building an armory and 14 gates between 1570 and 1586. Such massive fortification is considered unique in citadel construction.

Since the 16th century, no major changes have been made to Hochosterwitz. It has also remained in the possession of the Khevenhüller family as requested by the original builder, George Khevenhüller. A marble plaque dating from 1576 in the castle yard documents this request.

A specific feature is the access way to the castle passing through a total of 14 gates, which are particularly prominent owing to the castle's situation in the landscape. Tourists are allowed to walk the 620-metre long pathway through the gates up to the castle; each gate has a diagram of the defense mechanism used to seal that particular gate. The castle rooms hold a collection of prehistoric artifacts, paintings, weapons, and armor, including one set of armor 2.4 metres tall, once worn by Burghauptmann Schenk.