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Prague Castle

Prague Castle offers a unique example of continuous settlement and uninterrupted human activity for more than thousand years. It became the seat of the profane as well as the church authority of the Přemyslid princedom and all later Central European states with Prague as their capital.

  • Before AD 850

Before AD 850

Landscape

The character of the Hradčany promontory and the extent to which it was settled was determined primarily by its natural conditions. The original lay of the land was completely unsuitable for stable settlement. The narrow, stretched, and arched ridge was divided by a ravine into two blocks, while bedrock protrudes at the summit, and the slopes were carved by ravines as well.1 Fig. 1

Fig. 1: Reconstruction of the original physical geography of Prague Castle. 1 – western block of the promontory; 2 – eastern block of the promontory; 3 – so-called transversal ravine. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 1: Reconstruction of the original physical geography of Prague Castle. 1 – western block of the promontory; 2 – eastern block of the promontory; 3 – so-called transversal ravine. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

The subsoil of the site was formed during the Old Palaeozoic Era and consists of highly resistant quartzite, greywacke, and sandstone, interspersed with layers of slate. Its basic morphology was shaped by weathering between the Vltava and its left-bank tributaries, the Malostranský potok (dry today) and the Brusnice, in the Triassic and Quaternary periods.2

The area’s geomorphological inhospitality was compensated by its strategic location within the Prague Basin; its proximity to the Vltava River at the intersection of various trade routes, commanding views, and, last but not least, the presence of water resources. Fig. 2 The natural water resources consisted of springs with groundwater on the slopes of the promontory and contributed essentially to the attractiveness of this location. However, vast interventions into the morphology of the terrain had to be taken into account. The rocky summit seems to have been bare and arid (a link to the possible etymology of the local Slavonic name ‘Praha’ has been proposed). The southern flank was covered with shrubs, the northern one was dominated by a forest of beeches, furs, and occasionally yews.2

Fig. 2: Model of the current physical geography of Prague between Střešovice, Dejvice and the Lesser Town; contour map on a scale of 1 : 5 000. The Baroque fortification has been partially removed. 1 – open watercourses, current Vltava River bed; 2 – dry watercourses and reconstructed courses (after Zavřel 2001 and Záruba – Šimek 1963); 3 – dry Pleistocene meanders of Vltava River (according to Záruba – Šimek 1963); 4 – Holocene dry bed of the Vltava River (according to Záruba – Šimek 1964); 5 – Prague Castle in the Romanesque Period. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 2: Model of the current physical geography of Prague between Střešovice, Dejvice and the Lesser Town; contour map on a scale of 1 : 5 000. The Baroque fortification has been partially removed. 1 – open watercourses, current Vltava River bed; 2 – dry watercourses and reconstructed courses (after Zavřel 2001 and Záruba – Šimek 1963); 3 – dry Pleistocene meanders of Vltava River (according to Záruba – Šimek 1963); 4 – Holocene dry bed of the Vltava River (according to Záruba – Šimek 1964); 5 – Prague Castle in the Romanesque Period. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

The vicinity of the castle provided mineral resources as well. The most important were the iron ores on the southern slope of the spur and limestone from the nearby Petřín Hill, which was considered a highly desirable building material. Besides these, river boulders (for paving), river sand (an ingredient for plaster) and timber from the Stag Moat were available. Loess from Prague Castle and its surroundings was later to serve as raw material for brickmaking.3

Settlement

The Prague Castle area offers a unique example of continuous settlement and uninterrupted human activity for more than 1,000 years. In the Early Middle Ages the settlement was subjugated to the natural configuration of the terrain. The builders were forced to gradually lower and level the terrain, which seems to be the reason for the rarity of Prehistoric finds in this locality. Deposits, today amounting to a thickness of more than 16 m, started to cover the slopes.4 Fig. 3

Fig. 3: Eneolithic grave, part of a cemetery of the Corded Ware culture (2900–2600 BC), found in the Lumbe Garden on the Northern foreground of Prague Castle in 1996. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 3: Eneolithic grave, part of a cemetery of the Corded Ware culture (2900–2600 BC), found in the Lumbe Garden on the Northern foreground of Prague Castle in 1996. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

The first evidence of a human presence is concentrated in the north-western foreground of Prague Castle. The oldest find is the tip of an adult mammoth’s tusk, discovered in the Pleistocene loess sediments in the grounds of the Riding School in 2004 (40000 and 26000 BP).5

The first settlement in this area dates back to the Late Stone Age, i.e. the Neolithic Period (6000–4000 BC), and belonged to the Linear Pottery Culture, to which five pits in the Lumbe Garden have been attributed. Apart from these finds, there appeared two cemeteries of the Corded Ware and Únětice Cultures, discovered during the 1996 excavation campaign.6 7 Fig. 4

Fig. 4: Map of Prague Castle area with Prehistoric finds. Marked locations: 1 – Jiřská Street – Eneolithic period; 2 – Slévárenské Court – Roman Empire; 3 – Hradčanské Squarre – Bronze Age; 5 – Lumbe Garden – Eneolithic period; 6 – Jelení street – Eneolithic and Bronze Age. Blue points within the Prague Castle area mark prehistoric finds, in situ as well as in secondary positions. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 4: Map of Prague Castle area with Prehistoric finds. Marked locations: 1 – Jiřská Street – Eneolithic period; 2 – Slévárenské Court – Roman Empire; 3 – Hradčanské Squarre – Bronze Age; 5 – Lumbe Garden – Eneolithic period; 6 – Jelení street – Eneolithic and Bronze Age. Blue points within the Prague Castle area mark prehistoric finds, in situ as well as in secondary positions. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Until the 1980s, it was believed that the area of the future Přemyslid castle itself had not been inhabited before the Early Middle Ages. However, older finds started to be found in secondary deposits, especially on the ramparts, and in 1987 the first ceramic finds were made in situ. Today a multitude of finds attests to an Eneolithic (4000 BC) and a late Bronze Age settlement of the so-called Knovíz Culture (1200–1000 BC).6

The Roman Period is evidenced by an out of context fibula and a fragment of Roman terra sigilatta with a drilled hole that could have been worn perhaps by one of the builders of the early medieval fortification. 6

References

1 Frolík, Jan, ‘The natural settings of Prague Castle’, in The Story of Prague Castle, Prague, 2003, pp. 30-35

2 Maříková-Kubková, Jana and Herichová, Iva, ‘Geologický a topograficko-urbanistický vývoj areálu’, in Archeologický atlas Pražského hradu, Díl I., Castrum Pragense 10, Prague, 2009, pp. 59-66

3 Zavřel, Jan, ‘Geologie, morfologie a osídlovaní malostranské kotliny’, in Medivaealia Archaeologica 3, Pražský hrad a Malá strana, Prague, 2001, pp. 7-27

4 Maříková-Kubková, Jana and Herichová, Iva, ‘Geologický a topograficko-urbanistický vývoj areálu’, in Archeologický atlas Pražského hradu, Díl I., Castrum Pragense 10, Prague, 2009, pp. 59-66

5 Herichová, Iva, ‘Desať archeologických skvostov z Pražského hradu’, Historická revue, vol. XX, no. 1, 2009, p. 32

6 Frolík, Jan, ‘The prehistoric finds’, in The Story of Prague Castle, Prague, 2003, pp. 36-41

7 Březinová, Helena and Turek, Jan, ‘Šňůrové a raně středověké pohřebiště v severním předpolí Pražského hradu – archeologický výzkum v Lumbeho zahradě’, Archeologické rozhledy, vol. LI, 1999, pp. 653-687

Continue to: AD 850 – 1050

Landscape Settlement

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