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2020-03-06

Prague Castle

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1) Rotunda St. Vitus 2) the Princely Palace 3) Basilica St. George
 

The history of the castle began after 895 when its first walled building, the Church of the Virgin Mary and first fortification, was built. The Basilica of Saint George and the Basilica  were founded under the reign of Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia.

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Basilica St. George

The current cathedral is the third of a series of religious buildings at the site, all dedicated to St. Vitus. The first church was an early Romanesque rotunda founded by Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia in 930. This patron saint was chosen because Wenceslaus had acquired a holy relic – the arm of St. Vitus – from Emperor Henry I. It is also possible that Wenceslaus, wanting to convert his subjects to Christianity more easily.

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Basilica St. George

The Convent of Saint George was a convent of Benedictine nuns located in Prague Castle in Bohemia between 973 and 1782. Founded in 973, the convent was next to the seat of ecclesiastical and state power in Bohemia and occasionally the entire Holy Roman Empire, and played an important historical role. Although no longer active, the convent's building and the attached Bascilica dedicated to Saint George still exist. The building of the convent housed the Czech National Gallery's collection of 19th-century Bohemian art for a long time. 


Romanesque palace
 

In the year 1060, as the bishopric of Prague was founded, prince Spytihněv II embarked on building a more spacious church, as it became clear the existing rotunda was too small to accommodate the faithful. A much larger and more representative Romanesque basilica was built in its spot. Though still not completely reconstructed, most experts agree it was a triple-aisled basilica with two choirs and a pair of towers connected to the western transept. The design of the cathedral nods to Romanesque architecture of the Holy Roman Empire, most notably to the abbey church in Hildesheim and the Speyer Cathedral. The southern apse of the rotunda was incorporated into the eastern transept of the new church because it housed the tomb of St. Wenceslaus, who had by now become the patron saint of the Czech princes. A bishop's mansion was also built south of the new church, and was considerably enlarged and extended in the mid 12th-century.

Bazilika sv. Víta

King Ottokar II of Bohemia improved fortifications and rebuilt the royal palace for the purposes of representation and housing. 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 were completed almost six centuries later.

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St- Vitus

Construction of the present-day Gothic Cathedral began on 21 November 1344, when the seat of Prague was elevated to an archbishopric. King John of Bohemia laid the foundation stone for the new building. The patrons were the chapter of cathedral (led by a Dean), the Archbishop Arnost of Pardubice, and, above all, Charles IV, King of Bohemia and a soon-to-be Holy Roman Emperor, who intended the new cathedral to be a coronation church, family crypt, treasury for the most precious relics of the kingdom, and the last resting place cum pilgrimage site of patron saint Wenceslaus. The first master builder was a Frenchman Matthias of Arras, summoned from the Papal Palace in Avignon. Matthias designed the overall layout of the building as, basically, an import of French Gothic: a triple-naved basilica with flying buttresses, short transept, five-bayed choir and decagon apse with ambulatory and radiating chapels. However, he lived to build only the easternmost parts of the choir: the arcades and the ambulatory. The slender verticality of Late French Gothic and clear, almost rigid respect of proportions distinguish his work today.

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After Matthias' death in 1352, 23-year-old Peter Parler assumed control of the cathedral workshop as master builder. He was son of the architect of the Heilig-Kreuz-Münster in Schwäbisch Gmünd. Initially, Parler only worked on plans left by his predecessor, building the sacristy on the north side of the choir and the chapel on the south. Once he finished all that Matthias left unfinished, he continued according to his own ideas. Parler's bold and innovative design brought in a unique new synthesis of Gothic elements in architecture. This is best exemplified in the vaults he designed for the choir. The so-called Parler's vaults or net-vaults have double (not single, as in classic High Gothic groin vaults) diagonal ribs that span the width of the choir-bay. The crossing pairs of ribs create a net-like construction (hence the name), which considerably strengthens the vault. They also give a lively ornamentation to the ceiling, as the interlocking vaulted bays create a dynamic zigzag pattern the length of the cathedral.

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St Wenceslaus chapel

While Matthias of Arras was schooled as a geometer, thus putting an emphasis on rigid systems of proportions and clear, mathematical compositions in his design, Parler was trained as a sculptor and woodcarver. He treated architecture as a sculpture, almost as if playing with structural forms in stone. Aside from his bold vaults, the peculiarities of his work can also be seen in the design of pillars (with classic, bell-shaped columns which were almost forgotten by High Gothic), the ingenious dome vault of new St Wenceslaus chapel, the undulating clerestory walls, the original window tracery (no two of his windows are the same, the ornamentation is always different) and the blind tracery panels of the buttresses. Architectural sculpture was given a considerable role while Parler was in charge of construction, as can be seen in the corbels, the passageway lintels, and, particularly, in the busts on the triforium, which depict faces of the royal family, saints, Prague bishops, and the two master builders, including Parler himself.

Work on the cathedral, however, proceeded slowly, because the Emperor commissioned Parler with many other projects, such as the construction of the new Charles Bridge in Prague and many churches throughout the Czech realm. By 1397, when Peter Parler died, only the choir and parts of the transept were finished.

Perhaps the most outstanding place in the cathedral is the Chapel of St. Wenceslas, which houses relics of the saint. Peter Parler constructed the room between 1356 (the year he took over) and 1364 with a ribbed vault. The lower portions of the walls are decorated with over 1300 semi-precious stones and paintings depicting the Passion of Christ dating from the original decoration of the chapel in 1372–1373. The upper area of the walls have paintings depicting the life of St. Wenceslas, by the Master of the Litoměřice Altarpiece between 1506 and 1509. Above the altar, is a Gothic statue of St. Wenceslas created by Jindrich Parler (Peter's nephew) in 1373. The Chapel is not open to the public, but it can be viewed from the doorways. A small door with seven locks, in the southwest corner of the chapel, leads to the Crown Chamber containing the Czech Crown Jewels, which are displayed to the public only once every (circa) eight years.

After Peter Parler's death in 1399 his sons, Wenzel Parler and particularly Johannes Parler, continued his work; they in turn were succeeded by a certain Master Petrilk, who by all accounts was also a member of Parler's workshop. Under these three masters, the transept and the great tower on its south side were finished. So was the gable which connects the tower with the south transept. Nicknamed 'Golden Gate' (likely because of the golden mosaic of Last Judgment depicted on it), it is through this portal that the kings entered the cathedral for coronation ceremonies.

The entire building process came to a halt with the beginning of Hussite War in the first half of 15th century. The war brought an end to the workshop that operated steadily over for almost a century, and the furnishings of cathedral, dozens of pictures and sculptures, suffered heavily from the ravages of Hussite iconoclasm. As if this was not enough, a great fire in 1541 heavily damaged the cathedral.

During the Hussite Wars and the following decades, the castle was not inhabited. In 1485, King Vladislaus II of Hungary 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.

Royal Palace

The Royal Garden is an Italian Renaissance garden, situated in Prague Castle, and created around 1540 based on the project by Emperor Ferdinand I of Habsburg. Its site was originally a vineyard that Emperor Ferdinand I purchased to create a garden for the royal court.

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.

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Belveder

The Third Defenestration of Prague in 1618 took place at the castle and 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.

Third Defenestration of Prague in 1618

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 for T.G. Masaryk. The New Royal Palace and the gardens were renovated by Slovenian architect Joža Plečnik. In this period the St Vitus Cathedral was finished (on September 28, 1929). Renovations continued to 1936 under Plečnik's successor Pavel Janák.