6 (Prague) Prague Castle & St. Vitus Cathedral
A castle in Prague was built by Prince Borivoj toward the end of the ninth century, comprising a simple rampart of clay and stones, surrounded by a moat. Over the years a series of additions would make Prague Castle the largest medieval fortified complex in Europe. The castle became the seat of government for the kingdom of Bohemia, and subsequently that of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.
As well as the cathedral of St. Vitus and a convent, the castle grounds include the remains of the Romanesque royal palace from the twelfth century, rebuilt in the Gothic style two centuries later at the instigation of Charles IV. After the disruptions of the fifteenth-century Hussite Wars, a major rebuilding program was begun by Ladislaus II in 1485. The incorporation of Bohemia within the Hapsburg Empire saw further changes, especially during the reign of Rudolph II, who made the castle his primary residence during the latter part of the sixteenth century. Rebuilding took on a Renaissance character, with several new additions such as the Royal Gardens, the Spanish Hall, a shooting range, and a ball court. The depredations of the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) led to a decline in Prague's fortunes, and although there was some rebuilding during the eighteenth century, Prague became just a provincial city competing against the imperial splendor of Vienna.
During the twentieth century, the castle in Prague achieved a new prominence as a physical expression of Czech nationalism, especially after the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918. Since the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Prague Castle has undergone a program of renovation, and is now being opened up to the public. There are several museums within the castle complex, including Rudolf II's collection of Czech and European art.
(1001 Historic Sites To See Before You Die)
Soaring cathedral inside Prague Castle
As the site of the coronation and interment of Bohemia's monarchs, the cathedral of St. Vitus is not only the largest church in Prague, but also the most important. The origins of the cathedral go back to 925 when Duke Wenceslas I (Vaclav) built a church to house a holy relic--the Arm of St. Vitus--given him by the Holy Roman Emperor.
Although there was an expansion of the church in 1060, it was not until 1344 that work began on the great Gothic edifice we see today. The building was laid down in the French Gothic style by Matthias of Arras, but after his death in 1352 work continued under the supervision of the German architect Peter Parler and his family workshop. Parler was a great innovator, and the vaults in St. Vitus's ceiling are masterpieces of Gothic construction. Of particular interest is the chapel of St. Wenceslas, where the relics of the saint--who was martyred introducing Christianity to Bohemia--are kept. The chapel is magnificently decorated with semiprecious stones and includes scenes from the Passion of Christ and St. Wecneslas's life.
Despite the efforts of Matthias and the Parlers, the cathedral was far from complete, however, and apart from some Renaissance and Baroque additions it remained in its unfinished state until the nineteenth century. In 1844, the Union for the Completion of the Cathedral of St. Vitus was formed with the aim of finishing the cathedral in Gothic style and removing non-Gothic decorations. The process was slow and it was not until 1929 that the cathedral was complete--nearly 600 years after work began.
Inside the cathedral are 22 side chapels, including the richly decorated Chapel of St. Wenceslas. The twentieth-century stained glass in the nave is also particularly striking. The chancel and crypt contain many royal tombs and sarcophagi.
(1001 Historic Sites To See Before You Die)
Prague Castle, with St. Vitus's Cathedral, dominates the city of Prague; Bohemia's rulers have always lived here. When the new republic of Czechoslovakia was created in 1918, Joze Plecnik (1872-1957) was commissioned to reconstruct and renovate the castle and its gardens. He designed the bull staircase, from the third courtyard to the southern garden's created the Plecnik Hall in the west wing; and constructed the presidential apartment. After Plecnik's return to Ljubljana, reconstruction continued under his assistant, Otto Rothmayer (1892-1966), who designed the Rothmayer Hall and an open spiral staircase, enveloped in an elegant cage, by the Theresian Wing. Plecnik's projects included a granite monolith obelisk (1928); two pine flagpoles (1920-23); a limestone pyramid in the Ramparts Garden (1920-27); and the elegant small belvedere (1925-30) in the Na Valech Garden. The granite bowl in the Paradise Garden (1920-27) is truly remarkable, and a fine example of Plecnik's genius and the skill of Czech masons: 13 feet in diameter, it is carved from a solid block of Mrakotin granite. Plecnik was probably influenced by Schinkel's stone bowl in front of the Altes Museum in Berlin. The flagpoles, too, are exceptional: tall columns of varnished timber, they seemingly rest on blocks of granite. Plecnik had a perfect eye for garden design, public art, and urban landscaping. He could position an obelisk or a pyramid in exactly the right place.
(1001 Buildings To See Before You Die)”