History of the Archaeological Research at Prague Castle
Archaeological finds unearthed at Prague Castle in the 19th century were mainly connected with building works carried out in the course of the completion of St. Vitus Cathedral and the repair of St. George's Church. The first and so far the most extensive systematic research was realized in the years 1925 to 1929 in connection with the adaptation of Prague Castle for the purpose of its serving as the seat of the first president of the Czechoslovak Republic. The completion of the principle research tasks in 1929 was followed by salvage research work of various degrees of intensity. The chief result of this period was the formation of the first real idea of the oldest appearance of Prague Castle.
After 1945 several reconstructions were carried out on the area of the Castle during which archaeological research continued. In the years 1950 to 1951 the oldest Christian church at Prague Castle, the Church of Virgin Mary of the late 9th century, was discovered. Research carried out in St. George's Convent (1959-1963) led among other things to the unearthing of the oldest burial-ground of the Premyslid princes. In the late 70's a skeleton burial-ground dating in the period of from the late 9th to the early 11th centuries was discovered in Lumbe Garden behind the Riding-School of Prague Castle.
From the early 80's further research was carried out which afforded, for example, a precise idea of the form of the Romanesque princes' palace. Complete salvage research and preliminary research are still under way at Prague Castle. The latest results of these activities include finds in Lumbe Garden of 1996 in the form of dwelling and production structures dating in the primeval period and skeleton graves from the older Bronze Age (Unetice Culture). The most valuable find of the modern era was a Renaissance ceramic water piping system for drinking water.
The Sites of Archaeological Excavations
Proof of intensive archaeological research activity lies in the remainders of various buildings and other ancient structures unearthed below ground level at Prague Castle. Some of these sites are accessible to the public.
The oldest masonry remainders are those of the Church of Virgin Mary, founded by Prince Borivoj I before 885. This church is the second oldest in Bohemia and the oldest in Prague. It was a simple, building with single nave and an apse and during the excavations the grave of Prince Spytihnev (895-915) and his wife was found in its interior. The preserved northern part of the church lies in the Prague Castle Picture Gallery in the neighbourhood of the passageway between the Second and Fourth Courtyards. The masonry of the church, a part of the floor of cretaceous marly limestone tiles and the foundations of the altar in the apse are visible. The church can be seen from the mentioned passageway and from a window in the Picture Gallery.
Under St. Vitus Cathedral there are parts of older church buildings which stood here before the construction of the present cathedral. In the sightseeing circuit generally accessible to tourists the masonry of the northern apse of St. Vitus Rotunda, founded in the 30's of the 10th century by the prince St. Wenceslas, can be seen. The better preserved parts of the southern apse with the grave of this saint are not accessible to visitors. Of the Romanesque Basilica of St. Vitus a part of the eastern crypt of SS. Cosma and Damian with the main apse can be seen. The seat of the St. Vitus chapter, so-called Monastery of the Church of Prague, was situated to the north of the Romanesque Basilica. The southern wall of its cloister neighbours with the royal tomb. Numerous architectural elements of the Romanesque basilica can also be seen on the sightseeing tour.
In the space between St. Vitus Cathedral and the building of the Old Provost's House there is a covered excavation which can be seen through a grille from the Third Courtyard of the Castle. Concealed here are the foundations of the episcopalian Chapel of St. Maurice of the 11th century and the south-western part of the Romanesque Basilica of St. Vitus (a part of the western crypt with an apse and the southern part of the transept with several vaults).
The adjoining area containing the northern end of the Romanesque passage which connected St. Vitus Cathedral with St. Bartholomew's Church, which stood in the centre of the present Third Courtyard in the 12th-13th centuries, is not accessible to the public.
A part of the archaeological excavations, covered with a reinforced concrete structure, has been preserved below the paving of the Third Courtyard. It spreads out in front of the entrance to the Old Royal Palace and in the zone along the southern wing. Only a narrow corridor, which runs from the Gothic floor of the Old Royal Palace to the south-western corner of the Third Courtyard, passes through the site of the excavations. It begins by the foundations of the no longer existing wing of the royal palace built after the mid-13th century. The communication continues through the basement of a 13th-century house of considerable size and two Gothic houses. Visible on the southern side are the remainders of older stone buildings in the form of the corner of a small house and the masonry of a larger house containing two rooms. These Romanesque buildings date in the late 12th or the early 13th century and they are much smaller than the neighbouring Gothic houses. According to their unearthed remainders the oldest dwelling-houses of the 10th and 11th centuries were of an even more modest character. They were simple frame houses usually containing one room only.
The remainders of the defence rampart which protected the castle site from the late 9th to the first half of the 12th century are an interesting sight.
Also situated on the area of the excavations are the foundations of a Romanesque house which were discovered in 1944 in the course of the hollowing-out of a fire protection reservoir in Hradcany Square. On that occasion their masonry was removed, transferred to the Castle and newly placed on the site of the excavations.
The excavations below the Third Courtyard can be visited exceptionally on the basis of a previous agreement with the archaeological workplace and the Department for the Care of Historic Monuments of the Office of the President of the Czech Republic.
Another excavation site, which is not accessible to visitors, is situated below the Court of Paradise of St. George's Convent. The masonry of the older building phases of the convent was discovered by Igor Borkovsky in the course of research in the years 1959 to 1962. The excavation area in this locality is demarcated by the foundations of the present cloister.
The Old Royal Palace is also surrounded by several areas with archaeological sites. Fragments of the rampart fortification system of the 10th century can be seen below the Northern Palace Courtyard similarly as the Romanesque enclosing wall of the courtyard which was situated to the north of the Romanesque princes' palace.
From the 13th century the courtyard was filled with various kinds of small buildings and annexes to the princes' palace. Below the Southern Palace Courtyard there are several small rampart walls which demarcated the path which from the 12th century ran to the no longer existing gate in the South Tower next to the princes' palace. This path started on the area of present Petikostelni Square (Square of Five Churches) in the Little Quarter and wound its way up a steep slope full of bends. Its northern end has been preserved in the form of a deep, walled-in hollow below the Hall of Columns of Wenceslas IV in the western part of the Old Royal Palace. None of the mentioned sites is accessible to visitors.
Concentrated archaeological research carried out since 1925 has afforded new, valuable finds which supplement our knowledge of various aspects of life at the Castle in the past. The collection of finds, which is very varied, consists mainly of fragments of different kinds of vessels, building elements, stove tiles and window glass along with various metal articles, coins and products made of bone and, uniquely, jewellery.
The most valuable finds include jewellery of the 10th century found in grave in the burial grounds on the territory of the so-called Pheasantry and Lumbe Garden. The deceased, who were at least partly members of the entourage of the princes, were buried with their gold and silver decorations, some of which were evidently imported from Great Moravia while others were produced in Bohemia after Great Moravian models. Found in the richest graves were drum-shaped earrings decorated with small grains, earrings with animal heads, round buttons with glass imitations of precious stones, S-shaped earrings and other jewels.
Of the rarer finds of an older period mention should at least be made of glass, so-called Arab cup of the 13th century, finely decorated with a gilded inscription and stylized dolphins, and a group of ceramic vessels dating in the 12th and 13th centuries and found in the so-called Romanesque well in the basement of the southern wing.
Huge layers were formed directly below the windows of former Rozmberk Palace particularly by building rubble under which there was a large quantity of kitchen waste of the 15th and 16th centuries. Apart from the usual pieces of broken kitchen vessels, fragments of quality table pottery, glass cups and painted bottles were also found here. Testimonies to the richness of the local diet were provided not only by animal and fish bones, but also by snail and oyster shells.
Tiles from several richly decorated stoves rank among the most valuable finds. Figural reliefs, evidently created after quality graphic models, were provided with a multi-coloured glaze and in some cases they were gilded as well.
Rediscovery of the ancient Royal Tomb in the Cathedral of St. Vitus
A team of specialists from the AVCR Archaeological Institution, the Office of the President, and Prague Castle administration, after many years of exploration and with the help of the most modern technology, discovered the location of the original storage of the remains of the Czech king and Roman emperor Charles IV under the main altar of the church of St. Vitus. The existence of the ancient Royal Tomb is also mentioned in some archives and historic manuscripts. Its rediscovery for the present generation, and hence its precise location and viewing of its areas, however, occurred in March of this year after five years of preparation. It is already evident that this is a find of great significance, but it will be necessary to wait for at least several months for the results of research and the answers to many questions.
Notice: The following document is available in Czech language only.
Prague Castle restoration work
The restoring and conservation works of the Prague Castle administration during six years of operation became a top workplace of world-class parameters. The working areas achieve outstanding results, particularly in the area of restoring and conserving historic textiles. The working areas have found their head office in 1998 in the areas of the former Institute of Gentlewomen at Prague castle. They were put into operation in the first half of 1999. The Prague Castle administration previously considered setting up a smaller depository atelier for treating the most precious artistic articles. With regard to the necessity of preserving the unique collection of grave textiles from the 10th to the 17th centuries and the needs of speeding up restoration of the abundant collection of castle tapestries and sacred paraments from the Cathedral of St. Vitus fund, the whole concept of the working areas was soon modified.
In this way, the working areas can now carry out almost all restoration and conservation interventions into collection articles preserved not only at the Prague Castle, with the exception of furniture. The working areas are divided into several ateliers - free textiles, tapestries and carpets or artistic crafts. Furthermore, there is a so-called wet process here - a multi-purpose room set up for excellent cleaning of textiles. Another essential part is also a photo studio, determined above all for photographic documentation of work processes on extensive articles.
Notice: The following document is available in Czech language only.
- Prague Castle restoration work (PDF, 140 kB)