Prague Castle was truly the highlight of our visit to the city. Perched atop a hill overlooking the Vltava River and the center of Prague, it is extremely hard to miss the beauty and grandeur of this symbol of Czech history, culture, and politics.
The founding of the Castle complex predates any mention of it in records, as they think it was founded sometime in 880. Since then, it has endured a long history of changing regimes, new architectural additions, and at least a few wars. The Castle has been called home by Bohemian kings, Roman emperors, Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, and communist government officials – if the walls could talk! Nowadays, it functions as the residence and office for the President of the Czech Republic and remains a popular attraction for visitors to Prague.
It really is more of a complex than just a castle – it takes the Guinness Book title for largest ancient castle in the world. The complex is it’s own small city – it includes the cathedral and a few other places of worship, what were once living quarters, government buildings, shops, restaurants, gardens – even a torture chamber. The Bohemian crown jewels are also housed (or hidden, really) within the complex. It is rumored that the Bohemian crown jewels are cursed, and that any illegitimate ruler who wears the crown will die within a year. And so the story goes that while Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich was a resident of the Castle, he placed the crown on his head and died less than a year later.
One of the highlights in the Castle complex is Golden Lane, a 15th century row of dwellings that once housed goldsmiths and artisans. Within each house are time-period exhibits and artifacts to explore, including medieval armor, a bedroom and workshop space set up as it would have been during that time, a lookout with weapons and crossbows, and a tower that was once used as a dungeon.
Another highlight was St. Vitus Cathedral, home to some of my absolute favorite stained glass artwork of any we saw while in Europe – the colors and stories depicted were so bright and intricate. Begun in 1344 but not finished until 1929, the cathedral was built in the Gothic style of architecture like many similar cathedrals throughout Europe – making it extremely large and imposing. But the most impressive aspect to me was not the flying buttresses, but the stained glass. The cathedral is also the eternal resting place of former Roman emperors and Bohemian kings – some of their bodies still on display in glass-faced tombs, bones and all.
We took our time wandering the grounds and exploring the buildings, gardens, and taking in the amazing views of the city. The grounds were immaculate and very well taken care of – there is even a vineyard where you can taste wine!
While we were in Prague, we visited the Castle two days in a row – there was so much to see that we really couldn’t fit it all in one day. It was very enlightening to get a glimpse of not only the way people lived, but also how people were ruled over half a world away and hundreds of years ago. It puts into perspective how small our own sliver of time is in relation to human history as a whole and reiterates that things are always changing.