Places to visit
Church of the Holy Virgin Mary
According to historical sources St Mary’s Church, erected about 885, was the first church at Prague Castle and only the second of whole Bohemia. The quest for its discovery represented one of the main goals of the archaeological excavation of the castle since 1925. Its remains were investigated by Ivan Borkovský in the 1930s and 1950.
The oldest shape can be estimated on grounds of the found remains as a single-naved longitudinal building with rectangular presbytery and large stone tomb containing the secondary interment of a man and a woman, identified as Duke Spytihněv I and his wife. Currently visible masonry belongs to an 11th century reconstruction. The surroundings of the church served for burials. The church burned down in the second half of the 13th century.
The Grave of the Warrior
In the 1920s, at the spot of the obelisk installed by architect Josip Plečnik the burial of an important male was discovered. His high social rank can be deduced from the rich grave goods: iron sword, axe, dagger, knife and razor, sharpening steel and wooden bucket are unique among the Prague graves of this time. The grave belonged to a cemetery, most part of which was irretrievably destroyed through modern construction. The other preserved 16 graves, however, enable to an appropriate view of the burial rite in the 9th and 10th centuries with minimal or completely missing equipment. The so-called grave of the unknown warrior was situated outside the area of church buildings of the castle. This fact contributes to a dating to pre-Přemyslid times, to the 9th century. The grave was removed together with the authentic archaeological context, as if ‘in situ’, and can be viewed in the Story of the Prague Castle exhibition.
The first written reference to the existence of a ‘bishop’s court’ is made in the Legends of St Wenceslas to the year 994. But its beginnings are connected with the foundation of the Prague bishopric in 973. First it was a wooden building, several times reconstructed; only after 1060 it was rebuilt in stone. A one-nave chapel with apse dedicated to St Maurice was attached to this building. The relatively great distance between rotunda and bishop’s house clearly suggests that the construction of a bigger bishop’s church was envisaged already in the 970s.
A portion of the ground plan of the bishop’s house and of the chapel is freely accessible from the 3rd courtyard, within the so-called ‘Small excavations’ from the exterior through a metal grate.
St Vitus Rotunda
St Vitus Rotunda was founded as the third church at Prague Castle by Duke Wenceslas in 929. The original building consisted of a circular nave with one apse oriented to the East and containing the altar of St Vitus. Wenceslas’ body was transferred here shortly after his death in Stará Boleslav. A second, southern, apse with St Wenceslas chapel was added, to house his grave. Apart from the saint’s tombstone, there was an altar dedicated to the twelve apostles erected in the apse. The fragments of the southern apse were discovered by Kamil Hilbert at the beginning of the 20th century. A third apse was built to the northern wall in the 11th century. From written sources we know of a rich decoration of the rotunda’s interior.
St Vitus Basilica
In 1060, at the place of the St Vitus Rotunda a triple-aisled church with two choirs and a transept, following Rhineland models, was erected and consecrated in 1097. Its south-eastern facade strictly respected the shapes of the rotunda; the main choir was dedicated to St Vitus and the crypt beneath to St Cosmas and Damian. The western part of the basilica together with the choir of the Virgin Mary and the crypt of St Martin was probably based on templates from Mainz. The southern apse of the rotunda together with St Wenceslas grave was incorporated into the southern, aisle in which a new chapel developed, becoming the main liturgical and constructional axis of the whole structure in the following centuries. Before 1100, north of the basilica, the area of the capitular monastery was set out, connected by a southern corridor with the so-called church of St Bartholomew and by the so-called long corridor with the Church and Monastery of St George.
St George Basilica
St George Basilica, the second oldest church at Prague castle, was founded by Duke Vratislav I (915–921) and consecrated during the reign of Wenceslas in 925. At this time the body of St Ludmila was transferred to this monastery. The new church was to fulfil representative functions of the Přemyslid Dukes and served as their burial place. The oldest form of the building can be estimated from its remains excavated by Ivan Borkovský. Most of the traces were erased by renovations in the following centuries and by the reconstruction at the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century. The oldest building phase from the 10th century is represented by a triple-aisled basilica, the dimensions of which do not differ from the currently visible state, a modern reconstruction of the 12th century basilica.
St George Monastery
The Benedictine convent of St George was founded in 976 as the very first monastery in Bohemia. Mlada, the sister of Duke Boleslav II had gone to Rome, where she among others negotiated the foundation of the Prague bishopric. In Rome she took the name Maria and after her return she became the convent’s first abbess. The preserved structure is the result of a radical Baroque rebuilding. At the time of its foundation the buildings seem to have been of wood. A part of the area was a small chapel of the Virgin Mary together with the grave of an unknown young woman, furnished with a memoria. Second important abbess was Berta, who had the convent and basilica rebuilt after a fire in 1142. From this time stem the oldest stone relicts discovered during the excavations.
The latest results of the archaeological research attest the existence of a first ducal palace at today’s St George square. According to modest archaeological finds and analogies we have to deal with a plastered wooden building. Written records testify an upper floor with a hall, mentioned in connection with Břetislav I enthronement in 1035. With respect to the expansion of the church area of St Vitus and St George, the palace moved towards the southern slope. We are well informed about its Romanesque stone phase since 1135, which is preserved beneath today’s Old Royal Palace.
Roads through the castle and gates
The layout of Prague Castle has preserved the early medieval paths scheme. The main way led south of the promontory’s ridge from east to west, it is attested in a number of layers, beginning with the 10th century. It was either covered with simple small pebbles or with wooden boards. On some places the rocky subsoil called for continuous reinforcement, which led to a continuous stratification. The originally main gate, non-existent today, was situated in the south and connected the castle with the Lesser Town. On the eastern side, at the place of the later Black Tower, there was an entrance for pedestrians. The North-western part was accessed by the third gate, connecting the territory of the castle with the Hradčany foreground. In the Early Middle Ages there was no way to the north, a bridge across the Stag Moat was erected only in the Renaissance.
The archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of domestic architecture in the area of Prague Castle. The oldest features from the period between the 10th and 11th centuries belong to log buildings, simple single-room houses with rectangular ground plans. Mostly they showed packed earth floors, only exceptionally covered with timber, flat stones, or pebbles. Their equipment seems to have been modest: traces of fireplaces for cooking, wooden cases for valuables, and post pits of the furniture were found. At some places, fences between the individual plots and fragments of a wooden road have been preserved. The area was built up rather densely; however, these buildings are attested only at a few spots.
The first attested fortification of the Prague Castle area was a simple moat dug in the 9th century. At the beginning of the 10th century, Spytihněv I had a wood and clay wall built around the castle. This wall became subject to several alterations during the following two centuries, especially in view of the southward expansion of the area. At some places on the southern slope, even four construction phases have been attested. Apparently this wall encompassed the whole area; in the south it was continued by the fortification of the suburbium of the Lesser Town. There is no fortification attested for the densely settled area of neighbouring Hradčany at that time. This fortification system was in use until the 12th century when it was replaced by a stone wall with towers.
The Story of Prague Castle
The permanent exhibition ‘The Story of Prague Castle’ offers a view of the history of the site from Prehistoric times to the 20th century, supplemented by individual stories (such as the stories of the patron saints of Bohemia, the Church and the Cathedral, of burying, dining, etc.) It is to be found on the Gothic floor of the Old Royal Palace, in an authentic architectural milieu. This exhibition, among others, presents the most precious archaeological finds from the excavations at Prague Castle and is added by an exciting interactive children’s game.
St Wenceslas well and water resources
During his excavations in 1928, Ivan Borkovský discovered a well lined with stones, dated according to the find of a wooden bucket to the 10th century. Originally there seems to have been a natural spring, either recharged by ground water or harvesting rain water. Subsequently the spring was walled up to a depth of about 2.5 metres, in the approximate neighbourhood of the transversal ravine across the promontory, in front of the later Golden gate of St Vitus Cathedral. Today, the well is referred to as St Wenceslas well since it lies south of the Chapel of St Wenceslas.
There were plenty of water resources at the castle. Despite its inhospitality, springs of groundwater were to be found in the erosion gullies of the rocky promontory.
Graves of saints
Relics of national patron saints, who lived in the 10th century, are kept at Prague Castle. First to be buried here was St Ludmila, grandmother of Duke Wenceslas. Her grandson had the relics transferred to St George Basilica in 924. Her cult was celebrated by the local Benedictine nuns and she was canonised in 1143/1144. The most important Bohemian saint became Duke Wenceslas, who was murdered by his Brother Boleslav I on the nearby castle of Stará Boleslav in 929/935. Shortly after, his corps was brought to Prague Castle and buried in the new apse of the St Vitus Rotunda. Wenceslas was venerated of political reasons, the Frankish emperor Otto II had a legend about his life written in 980 by Gumpold, bishop of Mantua. Vojtěch-Adalbert of the Slavník family was murdered in Prussia in 997 and venerated as a saint. Today, his relics are kept at St Vitus Cathedral, successor to the former rotunda.
Graves of dukes and Church dignitaries
The Přemyslid dukes were buried on a number of places within in the castle. While we do not know the location of Bořivoj’s grave, the corps of his wife Ludmila was transferred to the newly built St George Basilica. The burial vault in the Church of the Virgin Mary was conceived as the tomb of Bořivoj’s son Spytihněv I and his wife. Since the 10th century, St George Basilica and afterwards the Rotunda and Basilica of St Vitus were the burial ground of the Bohemian dukes. At the time of the construction of the cathedral, the buried dukes were transferred to the choir chapels and entombed in the new Gothic limestone vaults created by the workshop of Peter Parler. At St Vitus’ Church, dignitaries working at Prague Castle were buried as well.
The oldest cemetery in the area of Prague Castle has been found on the 3rd courtyard and at least a part of it falls into the pre-Christian era. Here the grave of an unknown warrior was found. The cemeteries around the Churches of the Holy Virgin Mary, St Vitus and perhaps St George as well, all originate in the 10th century. Other burial grounds from the 10th century came to light at the north-western foreground of Prague Castle: in the Royal Garden, around the Riding School, and in the Lumbe Garden. Though we do not have to deal with church cemeteries, the grave finds are remarkably rich and unique at this site.
Lesser Town (Malá Strana) is the oldest and most impressive quarter of Prague. It lies on the slopes of Prague Castle, on the left bank of Vltava River. The maze of its old alleys is dominated by the Malostranské Square with the Baroque Church of St Nicholas.
From the Petřín Hill you have a magnificent view of the town. Access on foot from Prague Castle or by cable car. On the top you will find the observatory Štefánikova hvězdárna, the lookout Petřínska rozhledna, a mirror maze and a large complex of gardens (Kinského zahrada, Petřínské sady, Schönbornská zahrada, etc.)
A location attractive for tourists is the Kampa, an artificial island in the Vltava River.
The Lesser Town and the Old Town are connected by the Charles Bridge, the oldest still extant bridge of Prague, which replaced the preceding Judith Bridge. The construction began in mid-14th century under the auspices of Charles IV. Originally the bridge did not exhibit any decoration. Since the end of the 17th century, 30 statues and sculptural groups have been placed on the bridge.
One of the largest landmarks of this quarter on the right river bank is the Old Town Square. There is to be found the Gothic town hall with the Prague Orloj, the oldest still working astronomic clock from the beginning of the 15th century. On the Old Town Square, a number of important Gothic and Baroque churches are situated as well.
Josefov (Josefstadt in German). Jewish settlement of Prague can be traced far back. Jewish merchants settled in the area of today’s Lesser Town, in the 10th century, founding a trading post. To the opposite river bank it was moved in the 12th century. The original Jewish ghetto, since the Middle Ages surrounded by borders and self-governed, in the 19th century, became a slum area doomed to be demolished. After the rebuilding, only a few original buildings remained, among them the Jewish town hall and six synagogues: The Klaus, Maisel, Pinkas, Old New, Spanish, and the High Synagogue. In close proximity of the Klaus Synagogue there is to be found the old Jewish cemetery, the oldest gravestones dating back to the 15th century.
Vyšehrad is situated on a rock above Vltava River and offers an interesting panoramic view of the town and Prague Castle on the opposite side. This early medieval fortified settlement from the 10th century, originally one of the seats of the ruling Přemyslid family, is dominated by the Church of St Peter and Paul together with a cemetery of outstanding Czech figures, called Slavín. Other churches were situated at Vyšehrad as well. Still extant is the St Martin Rotunda at the main gate. From the 10th century stem the relics of the Church of St Lawrence.