Prague Castle, the largest castle complex in the world, is a delight to photographers and other artists for its perfect location on a hill overlooking Prague’s medieval architecture.
The castle started out as a small fortress, on high and easily defensible terrain. The Vltava has an ugly tendency to flood periodically, and when it does, it wreaks havoc upon the buildings and bridges in its way. Prague Castle, being on the hill, is impervious to such whims of nature.
The first building in the castle complex was the Church of the Virgin Mary, in the 9th century AD. In the 10th century, Vratislaus I founded the Church of St. George, in which the remains of his mother, St. Ludmila, would later be buried. Wenceslas I, the son of Vratislaus, added to the religious theme by founding St. Vitus’s Cathedral, in which he kept an arm bone said to have come from the body of the saint.
Both churches (particularly St. Vitus’s Cathedral) were originally very small. It took the architecturally-inclined Emperor Charles IV to establish some of the most stunning buildings in the complex, turning it from a small stronghold to something resembling the beauty that visitors see today. The castle walls were fortified, and the royal palace was redone in Gothic style.
In the 15th century, with Charles IV gone and foreign troops invading from all over Europe, Prague Castle sustained serious damage, and was unoccupied for a very long time. It was not rebuilt until 1485, when King Ladislaus II Jagello began works on the building. Defense towers were added to one side of the complex, and architect Benedikt Rejt built Vladislav Hall.
In the 16th century, the castle again experienced devastation, this time in the form of a massive fire. The fire, which occurred in 1541, destroyed several areas of the complex. With the Habsburgs now firmly in charge, the castle gradually grew. Rudolf II had the entire northern wing and the Spanish Hall built to house his immense collection of curios. Ferdinand I had the Summer Palace built for his wife, Anne.
The 17th century brought the Estates Uprising, the Second Defenestration of Prague, and the Thirty Years’ War. These events brought further damage to the castle, with Swedish troops looting it and making off with many of Rudolf II’s treasures.
In the 18th century, Empress Maria Theresa made the last significant architectural changes to Prague Castle.
The castle complex is massive, and much of it is open to the public, including the gardens. The History of Prague Castle exhibit, a long-running attraction, is very popular, and provides visitors with a great deal of history and facts about the castle. Golden Lane, where Franz Kafka once lived, offers a series of small shops and a display of suits of armor and classic weaponry.
As an interesting side note, when communist rule ended in Czechoslovakia, playwright Vaclav Havel became president. Not liking the uniforms worn by the castle guards, he had them redesigned by the costume designer for the film Amadeus. The