Prague Castle Tour: Power, Glory and Destruction
Tour is 3 hours, 10 minute tram ride to tour sight from hotel.
Over the 1,100 years that it has presided over Prague, Prague Castle has been the seat of Bohemian Kings, Holy Roman Emperors, and the Hapsburgs’ Regents (including those famously tossed from its windows by enraged Hussites). The largest castle complex in the world, it has imparted prestige not only to the presidents of the first Czechoslovak Republic but, more ominously, to the Nazi Reichsprotektors and to the Communist Party chairmen of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. During the Velvet Revolution of 1989, demonstrators filled Prague’s streets with the chant “Havel na Hrad!” (“Vaclav Havel to the Castle!”), a call to reclaim the traditional home of Czech leadership for a new era of democratic governance.
Constructed and reconstructed in every architectural style, incorporating Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, Renaissance and Neoclassical monuments, the Castle buildings have also been bombarded by artillery, plundered by marauding armies, and left to deteriorate by indifferent Austrian Emperors.
At the height of its prominence in the 16th-century, the castle was transformed into cultural center by the eccentric Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, who amassed the largest collection of fine art in Europe and attracted the leading scientists of the day, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler to his court (along with assorted frauds and alchemists).
Highlights include the aforementioned sites as well as a stroll through the Moat (now dry) and Gardens. We pass by the Renaissance Ball Game Hall where tennis was played by sporty aristocrats and the vast Vladislav Hall, which was built to host indoor jousting tournaments. Since 1995, the hall has been brilliantly illuminated by lighting paid for by The Rolling Stones as a gift to their friend, President Vaclav Havel.
Outside the Castle grounds, we walk through Hradčany (Royal Town). We may stop at the Domeček (“Little House”) and discuss the fate of political opponents imprisoned there by the Gestapo and Communist StB (Secret Police). Around the corner lies the pilgrimage site of the Loreto Church which contains the “Santa Casa,” a “reproduction” of the Virgin Mary’s Nazareth home. Farther up the hill is the Strahov Monastery with its ancient library containing two hundred thousand volumes. At the monastic brewery, you can conclude by savoring the rare St. Norbert’s microbrew while taking in a panoramic view of the 100-spired city below.