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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.

  • Modern Era – Today

Modern Era – Today

Archaeological Research

The first finds from Prague Castle appeared with the opening of the grave of Duke Břetislav I in 1824, the second case occurred in 1837, as graves were accidentally discovered in the Royal Garden. A wave of interest for archaeological discoveries raised only in the 1870s, during the completion of St Vitus Cathedral, when older building remains emerged. This completion was initiated by the Unity for the Completion of the Cathedral and led by the architects Josef Mocker (1835–1899) Fig. 25 and Kamil Hilbert (1869–1933). Fig. 26 The construction unearthed remains of the former Romanesque basilica and Rotunda with the grave of St Wenceslas.32

Fig. 25: Josef Mocker (1835–1899), first architect of the completion of St Vitus Cathedral. Credit: The Archive of the Prague Castle

Fig. 25: Josef Mocker (1835–1899), first architect of the completion of St Vitus Cathedral. Credit: The Archive of the Prague Castle

Fig. 26: Kamil Hilbert (1869–1933), second architect of the completion of St Vitus Cathedral. Credit: The Archive of the Prague Castle

Fig. 26: Kamil Hilbert (1869–1933), second architect of the completion of St Vitus Cathedral. Credit: The Archive of the Prague Castle

The reconstructions of the 1920s offered an even larger opportunity for archaeological campaigns. At that time a specialised department of the State Archaeological Institute was established, which is operating to date. The archaeological investigation of Prague Castle as a scientific project started on the 4th of June 1925. Its duration, the longest in the Czech Republic, ranges this excavation among the world’s foremost archaeological sites. From the beginning on, work was guided by the employees of the Archaeological Institute (Jaroslav Pasternak, Jaroslav Böhm, and to a smaller extent by Jaroslav Filip). As head of the excavation was first appointed Karel Guth (1883–1943), then Ivan Borkovský (1897–1976) Fig. 27 and Zdeněk Smetánka (*1931). Most important was the contribution of Ivan Borkovský, who in 46 years achieved to finish the excavation of the 3rd courtyard Fig. 28, the Church of Virgin Mary and St George Basilica. 33 34

Fig. 27: Ivan Borkovský (1897–1976), head of the excavation of Prague Castle from 1943 to 1974. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 27: Ivan Borkovský (1897–1976), head of the excavation of Prague Castle from 1943 to 1974. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 28: Archaeological excavations in the 3rd courtyard in 1925. Floor plan of a church (today ascribed to St Bartholomew) in the centre. Today its remains are protected by a concrete ceiling, carrying the pavement of the courtyard. Credit: The Archive of the Prague Castle

Fig. 28: Archaeological excavations in the 3rd courtyard in 1925. Floor plan of a church (today ascribed to St Bartholomew) in the centre. Today its remains are protected by a concrete ceiling, carrying the pavement of the courtyard. Credit: The Archive of the Prague Castle

The last period of vast excavation campaigns were the 1980s that moved the dating of settlement of Prague Castle back into the past by a whole century. 35 The excavations were led by archaeologist Jan Frolík (1992-2010) and Jana Maříková-Kubková (since 2010).

Site Today

Visitors of today’s Prague Castle Fig. 29 have the opportunity to observe a couple of important remains of the older history of the site, exclusively as exhibits. These monuments create a discontinuous and fragmentary image of different periods.35

Fig. 29: Prague Castle from the south, in the foreground the former suburbium (today’s Lesser Town)and the Charles Bridge. Credit: Martin Frouz

Fig. 29: Prague Castle from the south, in the foreground the former suburbium (today’s Lesser Town)and the Charles Bridge. Credit: Martin Frouz

The latest building phase of the Church of the Virgin Mary (11th century) can be observed through the windows in the passage between the 1st and 2nd courtyards, preserved are the walls and a younger stone plastering. Fig. 30 Just like the remains of the Chapel of St Maurice with the Bishop’s House, they can be accessed the whole day without restrictions. Fig. 31 The bars of a low annex (built in the 1920s) on the southern side of the cathedral offer a view of the south-western part of the St Vitus Basilica. The interior of St George Basilica houses preserved tiny fragments of a pre-Romanesque building phase of red sandstone within the northern wall of the nave, the position of the oldest ducal burials being marked in the pavement. Fig. 32 A fee is to be paid here. The remains of St Vitus Rotunda and the crypt of the St Vitus Basilica were unearthed in the course of a modern reconstruction of the royal tomb, only guided access is provided. Fig. 33 Further traces of the oldest settlement of the castle are not accessible for the public at all; they are part of the archaeological reserve beneath the 3rd courtyard Fig. 34 and the Old Royal Palace. In situ preserved are the oldest settlement layers of the fortification as well as the wooden structures. The very first spatial arrangement is still tangible in the current ground plan of the castle. Moreover it is witnessed by the position of the oldest fortification lines, paths, dwellings, or the oldest cemetery containing the so-called grave of the warrior. The historical topography and objects can be studied in the permanent exhibition ‘The Story of Prague Castle’ in the Old Royal Palace.36 Fig. 35

Fig. 30: Remains of the Church of the Virgin Mary, view from the window in the passage between 1st and 2nd courtyard. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 30: Remains of the Church of the Virgin Mary, view from the window in the passage between 1st and 2nd courtyard. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 31: Covered area of the archaeological preserve between the Cathedral and the building of the Old Provost’s House in the 3rd courtyard. The remains of St Vitus Basilica and a part of the bishop’s area are visible between the bars. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 31: Covered area of the archaeological preserve between the Cathedral and the building of the Old Provost’s House in the 3rd courtyard. The remains of St Vitus Basilica and a part of the bishop’s area are visible between the bars. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 32: Interior of today’s St George Basilica, second half of the 12th century, later renovations and reconstructions. Credit: Jan Gloc

Fig. 32: Interior of today’s St George Basilica, second half of the 12th century, later renovations and reconstructions. Credit: Jan Gloc

Fig. 33: The remains of the Crypt of SS Cosmas and Damian from the Romanesque Vitus Basilica. The area of the archaeological preserve in the passage to the new royal burial chamber beneath St Vitus Cathedral. Credit: Martin Frouz

Fig. 33: The remains of the Crypt of SS Cosmas and Damian from the Romanesque Vitus Basilica. The area of the archaeological preserve in the passage to the new royal burial chamber beneath St Vitus Cathedral. Credit: Martin Frouz

Fig. 34: The remains of the southern apse of St Vitus Rotunda in the archaeological preserve within the new royal burial chamber beneath St Vitus Cathedral. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 34: The remains of the southern apse of St Vitus Rotunda in the archaeological preserve within the new royal burial chamber beneath St Vitus Cathedral. Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 35: Exhibition of the ‘Story of Prague Castle’, room of the Old Land Rolls in the basement of the Old Royal Palace. Credit: Jan Gloc

Fig. 35: Exhibition of the ‘Story of Prague Castle’, room of the Old Land Rolls in the basement of the Old Royal Palace. Credit: Jan Gloc

References

32 Maříková, Jana and Frolík, Jan, ‘História archeologického výskumu Pražského hradu’, in Historická revue, vol. XX, no. 1, 2009, pp. 39-45

33 Frolík, Jan, ‘Fragments from the history of archaeological research’, in The Story of Prague Castle, Prague, 2003, pp. 458-461

34 Frolík, Jan, ‘Achtzig Jahre Archäologie auf der Prager Burg (Zur Erinnerung an die Anfänge der Archäologischen Ausgrabung der Prager Burg als Wissenschaftlichen Projekt)’, in Maříkocá-Kubková, Jana, Schlanger, Nathan and Lévin, Sonia (eds), Sites of Memory. Between Scientific Research and Collective Representations, Castrum Pragense 8, Prague, 2008, pp. 31-45

35 Maříková-Kubková, Jana, ‘Die rolle der Archäologie bie der Formierung der Symbolik der Prager Burg’, in Maříkocá-Kubková, Jana, Schlanger, Nathan and Lévin, Sonia (eds), Sites of Memory. Between Scientific Research and Collective Representations, Castrum Pragense 8, Prague, 2008, pp. 95-104

36 See the exhibition catalogue of The Story of Prague Castle, Prague, 2003
http://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle/the-story-of-the-prague-castle.shtml

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