The first church on the site of current Dominican Church was built in 1237 by the newly arrived Dominicans on a parcel of land allotted in 1225-1226 by the duke Leopold VI. The church was enlarged between 1240–1270 and a new choir was added in 1273. A series of fires caused the construction of a new Gothic church between 1283 and 1302. The nave was extended between 1458 and 1474. This church consisted of a nave with five cross vaults, and two aisles.
This church was heavily damaged during the first siege of Vienna by the Turkish army in 1529. The choir was demolished and the nave was partly taken down. The building became more and more dilapidated later.
The new-found self-awareness of the Counter-Reformation didn’t allow any more such a sorry state for a church. In 1631 the Dominicans started to build a new oblong church with a dome, following the plan of Jacopo Tencala, architect of Prince Maximilian of Liechtenstein. The master builders were Jacopo Spacio, Cipriano Biasino and Antonio Canevale. They introduced to Vienna the Baroque style of Italy. The first stone was laid by emperor Ferdinand II on 29 May 1631. The structural work was finished in 1634. The church was consecrated on 1 October 1634. The finishing touch was finally given in 1674. The church was elevated to the status of basilica minor in 1927.
The impressive facade was built in the Roman-Lombardic style with dominant columns, supporting the cornice. Its architecture goes back to early Baroque churches in Rome, that in turn, rely on the facade of the Dominican church Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Above the portal one can see the statues of St. Catherine of Siena and Agnes of Montepulciano, kneeling at the feet of Our Lady, patron saint of this church.
The ornate interior is imposing by its architecture and the exquisite stucco in the decorations. Semi-circular windows allow a soft light on the frescoes of the barrel-vaulted ceiling. These are the work of Matthias Rauchmiller (1675), showing in their color and composition the influence of Peter Paul Rubens. They depict in 46 scenes the life of Our Lady.
The apse is dominated by the imposing red-marbled wooden retable in Baroque style from 1839-1840 by Carl Roesner. The gilded pulpit dates from 1700 and was made by Matthias Steinl.References:
Perched atop its cliff where the Ploučnice meets the Elbe, Děčín Castle is one of the oldest and largest landmarks in northern Bohemia. In the past several hundred years it has served as a point of control for the Bohemian princes, a military fortress, and noble estate.
The forerunner of the Děčín Castle was a wooden fortress built towards the end of the 10th century by the Bohemian princes. The first written record of the province dates from 993 A.D. and of the fortress itself from 1128. In the thirteenth century it was rebuilt in stone as a royal castle that, under unknown circumstances, fell into the hands of the powerful Wartenberg dynasty around 1305.
Numerous later renovations has erased all but fragments of the original medieval semblance of the castle. A significant change to the castle came in the second half of the 16th century when it was held by the Saxon Knights of Bünau, who gradually rebuilt the lower castle into a Renaissance palace with a grand ceremonial hall. The current semblance of the castle is the work of the Thun-Hohensteins, who held the Děčín lands from 1628 to 1932. The Thuns originally came from southern Tyrol and gradually worked their way to the upper echelons of Hapsburg society where they regularly filled important political and church appointments.
The Thuns reworked the castle twice. The first reconstruction, in the Baroque style, was undertaken by Maximilian von Thun, Imperial envoy and diplomat, and was meant to enhance the ceremonial aspects of the property. A central element of the project was a grand access road, the Long Drive, ending in the upper gate of the completely rebuilt entry wing. Along the drive stretched an ornamental garden (today known as the Rose Garden) and a riding yard. Maximilian’s brother Johann Ernst von Thun was responsible for the erection of the Church of the Ascension of the Holy Cross in the town below.
The second and final reconstruction of the castle was undertaken in 1786–1803. The Gothic and Renaissance palaces were torn down, all structures were leveled to the same height and gave them a unified facade. On the riverfront the castle's new dominant feature arose, a slender clock tower. Thus the castle took on the Baroque-Classical style we see today.
In the course of the 19th century, the castle became an important cultural and political center. In the 20th century the castle was used as a military garrison for German and Soviet troops after being handed to the Czechoslovak state in 1932. In 1991 the castle reverted to the ownership of the city of Děčín and the gradual renovation of the devastated structure began.
The eastern wing serves as a branch of the Děčín Regional Museum. The northern wing is occupied by the State District Archives. The staterooms of the western wing welcome individual and group tours, weddings, concerts, exhibits, and other cultural events. The castle courtyard comes to life throughout the year with events ranging from the Historic May Fair to the Wine Festival in September.