History of Prague Castle
On the basis of archaeological research and the oldest written sources, it is thought that Prague Castle was founded around the year 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the house of Premyslides.
The early medieval castle site was fortified with a moat and a rampart of clay and stones. The first walled building was the Church of Virgin Mary. Other churches, dedicated to St. George and St. Vitus, were founded in the first half of the 10th century.
From the 10th century, Prague Castle was not only the seat of the head of state, the princes and later kings, but also of the highest representative of church, the Prague bishop. The first convent in Bohemia was also founded in the grounds of Prague Castle, a convent next to the church of St. George for the order of Benedictine nuns.
The basilica of St. Vitus, built on the site of the original rotunda, was the main castle church since the 11th century, where the relics of the patron saints of the land were kept: SS. Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert. And from the 10th century, the convent of the Prague church was an important educational and cultural institution.
The period of the rule of King and later Emperor Charles IV (the middle of the 14th century) was a time of prosperity for Prague Castle, for then it first became an imperial residence, the seat of the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. The royal palace was magnificently rebuilt and the fortifications strengthened. Building began on the Gothic church of St. Vitus on the model of French cathedrals.
Building continued at the Castle during the reign of Charles's son, Wenceslas IV (Václav IV). The Hussite wars and the following decades, when the Castle was not inhabited, caused the dilapidation of its buildings and fortifications.
The next favourable time came after 1483, when a king of the new dynasty of Jagellons again made the Castle his seat. New fortifications were built and, together with them, defence towers on the northern side (the Powder Tower, the New White Tower and Daliborka). The architect of the fortifications, Benedikt Ried, also rebuilt and enlarged the royal palace: the splendid Vladislav Hall was the biggest secular vaulted hall in the Europe of that day. Its big windows are considered to be one of the first examples of the Renaissance style in Bohemia.
The kings of a further dynasty, the Habsburgs, started rebuilding the Castle into a renaissance seat. In accordance with the taste of the time, the Royal Garden was founded first, and in the course of the 16th century buildings serving for entertainment were put up in it: the Summer Palace, the Ball Game Hall, a shooting range and the Lion's Court. Afterwards the Cathedral and the royal palace were adapted. New dwelling houses began to be built to the west of the Old Royal Palace, along the southern ramparts.
The adaptation of the Castle came to its height in the second half of the 16th century, during the rule of Rudolph II. The emperor settled permanently at Prague Castle and began to turn it into a grand and dignified centre of the empire. And he founded the northern wing of the palace, with today's Spanish Hall, to house his precious artistic and scientific collections.
The Prague defenestration in 1618 started a long period of wars, during which Prague Castle was damaged and robbed. It was used by the country's ruler only exceptionally and temporarily.
In the second half of the 18th century, the last great rebuilding of the Castle was carried out, making it a prestigious chateau-type seat. But at that time the capital or the empire was Vienna, and Prague was just a provincial town. The Castle gradually became dilapidated and its art treasures were impoverished by the sale of the remains of the Emperor Rudolph's collections.
Emperor Ferdinand V, after abdicating in 1848, chose Prague Castle as his home. On this occasion, the Chapel of the Holy Cross on the Second Courtyard was rebuilt. The Spanish Hall and the Rudolph Gallery were done up in preparation for the coronation of Francis Joseph I which, however, did not take place.
There was a big movement to complete the building of the Cathedral, but this was not inspired by the ruler but by the patriotic Union for Completing the Cathedral of St. Vitus. It was in fact completed in 1929.
After the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak Republic in 1918, Prague Castle again became the seat of the head of state. The Slovene architect Josip Plecnik was entrusted with the necessary alterations in 1920.
Today, reconstruction and alterations to the grounds of Prague Castle are still ongoing, and this is not only a matter of essential building maintenance. The basic aim is to open the grounds of the Castle to all comers. Since 1989, many previously closed areas have been thrown open to the public, for instance the Royal Garden with its Ball Game Hall, the Southern Gardens, the Imperial Stables, the Theresian Wing of the Old Royal Palace.
Today Prague Castle, besides being the seat of the head of state, is also an important cultural and historical monument. The Crown Jewels are kept at Prague Castle, as are the relics of Bohemian kings, precious Christian relics, art treasures and historical documents. Events important for the whole country still take place within its walls. Hence Prague Castle is the embodiment of the historical tradition of the Czech state, linking the present with the past.