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Prague Castle (Czech: Pražský hrad) is a castle complex in Prague, Czech Republic, dating from the 9th century. It is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle was a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 square meters (750,000 square feet), at about 570 meters (1,870 feet) in length and an average of about 130 meters (430 feet) wide. The castle is among the most visited tourist attractions in Prague attracting over 1.8 million visitors annually.

The castle buildings represent virtually every architectural style of the last millennium. Prague Castle includes Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, Romanesque Basilica of St. George, a monastery and several palaces, gardens and defense towers. Most of the castle areas are open to tourists. The castle houses several museums, including the National Gallery collection of Bohemian baroque and mannerism art, exhibition dedicated to Czech history, Toy Museum and the picture gallery of Prague Castle, based on the collection of Rudolph II. The Summer Shakespeare Festival regularly takes place in the courtyard of Burgrave Palace.

The neighborhood around Prague Castle is called Hradčany.

 

Hradčany

Hradčany (common Czech pronunciation: [ˈɦrat͡ʃanɪ] ( listen); German: Hradschin), the Castle District, is the district of the city of Prague, Czech Republic surrounding Prague Castle.

The castle is said to be the biggest castle in the world at about 570 meters (1,870 feet) in length and an average of about 130 meters (430 feet) wide. Its history stretches back to the 9th century. St. Vitus Cathedral is located in the castle area.

Most of the district consists of noble historical palaces. There are many other attractions for visitors: romantic nooks, peaceful places and beautiful lookouts.

Hradčany was an independent borough until 1784, when the 4 independent boroughs that had formerly constituted Prague were proclaimed a single city. The other 3 districts were Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter), Staré Město (Old Town), and Nové Město (New Town).

The history of the castle began in 870 when its first walled building, the Church of the Virgin Mary, was built. The Basilica of Saint George and the Basilica of St. Vitus were founded under the reign of Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia and his son St. Wenceslas in the first half of the 10th century.

The first convent in Bohemia was founded in the castle, next to the church of St. George. A Romanesque palace was erected here during the 12th century.

King Ottokar II of Bohemia improved fortifications and rebuilt the royal palace for the purposes of representation and housing. In the 14th century, under the reign of Charles IV the royal palace was rebuilt in Gothic style and the castle fortifications were strengthened. In place of rotunda and basilica of St. Vitus began building of a vast Gothic church, that were completed almost six centuries later.

During the Hussite Wars and the following decades, the castle was not inhabited. In 1485, King Ladislaus II Jagello began to rebuild the castle. The massive Vladislav Hall (built by Benedikt Rejt) was added to the Royal Palace. New defense towers were also built on the north side of the castle.

A large fire in 1541 destroyed large parts of the castle. Under the Habsburgs, some new buildings in Renaissance style were added. Ferdinand I built the Belvedere as a summer palace for his wife Anne. Rudolph II used Prague Castle as his main residence. He founded the northern wing of the palace, with the Spanish Hall, where his precious art collections were exhibited.

The Second Prague defenestration in 1618 began the Bohemian Revolt. During the subsequent wars, the Castle was damaged and dilapidated. Many works from the collection of Rudolph II were looted by Swedes in 1648, in the Battle of Prague (1648) which was the final act of the Thirty Years' War.

The last major rebuilding of the castle was carried out by Empress Maria Theresa in the second half of the 18th century. Following his abdication in 1848, and the succession of his nephew, Franz Joseph, to the throne, the former emperor, Ferdinand I, made Prague Castle his home.

In 1918, the castle became the seat of the president of the new Czechoslovak Republic, T.G. Masaryk. The New Royal Palace and the gardens were renovated by Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik. In this period the St. Vitus Cathedral was finished (on September 28, 1929). Renovations continued in 1936 under Plečnik's successor Pavel Janák.

On March 15, 1939, shortly after the Nazi Germany forced Czech President Emil Hacha (who suffered a heart attack during the negotiations) to hand his nation over to the Germans, Adolf Hitler spent a night in the Prague Castle, "proudly surveying his new possession." During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II, Prague Castle became the headquarters of Reinhard Heydrich, the Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. He was said to have placed the Bohemian crown on his head; old legends say an usurper who places the crown on his head is doomed to die within a year. Less than a year after assuming power, on May 27, 1942, Heydrich was attacked during Operation Anthropoid, by British-trained Slovak and Czech soldiers while on his way to the Castle, and died of his wounds (which became infected) a week later.

After the liberation of Czechoslovakia and the coup in 1948, the Castle housed the offices of the communist Czechoslovak government. After Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the castle became the seat of the Head of State of the new Czech Republic. Similar to what Masaryk did with Plečnik, president Václav Havel commissioned Bořek Šípek to be the architect of post-communism Prague Castle's necessary improvements, in particular of the facelift of the castle's gallery of paintings.

 

Loreta

Loreta is a pilgrimage destination in Hradčany, a district of Prague, Czech Republic. It consists of a cloister, the church of the Lord’s Birth, the Santa Casa and a clock tower with a famous chime.

Construction started in 1626 and the Holy Hut was blessed on 25 March 1631. The architect was the Italian Giovanni Orsi, and the project was financed by Kateřina Benigna, a noblewoman of the Lobkowicz family. Fifty years later the place of pilgrimage was surrounded by cloisters, to which an upper story was added after 1740 by Kilián Ignác Dientzenhofer. The baroque facade was designed by the architects Christoph Dientzenhofer and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, and added at the beginning of the 18th century.

The chapel is most known for its peal, heard since August 15, 1695. It was constructed during 1694 by watchmaker Peter Neumann from thirty smaller and larger bells.

Today the building also houses a large collection of liturgical tools, mainly monstrances. Exhibitions are occasionally held on the first floor of the cloister.

Neighbouring Loreta Square (Czech: Loretánské náměstí) is named after Loreta.

 

Deer Moat around the Prague Castle

The "Stag Moat" is the body of water that surrounds Prague Castle. There’s a lovely walking path along the water’s edge that wanders through green valleys and wood. It’s a great escape from the busy city. You can enter a peaceful realm to do some bird watching without wandering too far from the city center.

The deep natural gulch that surrounds the Prague Castle got its name after the deers, that used to be kept there since the 16 th century. It is spanned by a big Powder Bridge from 1770, which connects the Royal Garden on one side with the Prague Castle on the other side.

 

Animals Raised in the Deer Moat

Originally, the purpose of the Deer Moat was to protect the Prague Castle. In the middle ages, there were vineyards on the southern slope of the moat. The deers were raised there from the end of the 16 th century until 1740s and it was also used for hunting. In 1741-42 all the deers were shot by the French army that occupied Prague at the time.

The Emperor Rudolph II. kept lions in the Deer Moat in the 16 th century, as a symbol of the Bohemian Kingdom (a lion is pictured on the Bohemian national emblem).

There used to be a wooden Powder Bridge over the Deer Moat since 1534, then it was replaced by stone dyke in 1770. It probably got its name after the Powder Tower nearby. It divided the gulch to Upper Deer Moat and Lower Deer Moat.

 

Secret shelter of the Communist representatives

During the Communist era, the pavements disappeared from the Deer Moat, because it wasn´t accessible to public. Thanks to that, there are many kinds of animals still preserved there nowadays. A secret subterranean shelter for the representatives of the Communist regime was built deep in the hillside of the Deer Moat at the time.

At the present, the Deer Moat is open to public and various cultural events take place there in the summer.

 

Werewolf in the Deer Moat

There is a legend about a werewolf from the Deer Moat, that goes back to the era of Rudolph II. in the 16 th century. A man called Jan used to take care of the Emperor´s predatory animals and most of all of his two wolves. He was mute, but learned to howl as a wolf and one day he disappeared. Suddenly, a new big wolf was found in the Deer Moat, even the Emperor himself came to see him. The wolf´s behaviour was strange and people were afraid of him, because his eyes resembled Jan's eyes. Nowadays, the legend advises not to walk through the Deer Moat in the night, the werewolf is dangerous for dogs and for people moving quickly.

 

Bohemian Crown Jewels

The Bohemian Crown Jewels, sometimes called the Czech Crown Jewels (Czech: české korunovační klenoty), include the Crown of Saint Wenceslas (Svatováclavská koruna), the royal orb and sceptre, the coronation vestments of the Kings of Bohemia, the gold reliquary cross, and St. Wenceslas' sword. They were originally held in Prague and Karlštejn Castle, designed in the 14th century by Matthias of Arras. Since 1791 they have been stored in St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle. Reproductions of the jewels are permanently exhibited in the historical exposition at the former royal palace in the castle. The crown was made for the coronation of Charles IV in 1347, making it the fourth oldest in Europe.

The crown has an unusual design, with vertical fleurs-de-lis standing at the front, back and sides. Made from 22-carat gold and a set of precious 19 sapphires, 30 emeralds, 44 spinels, 20 pearls, 1 ruby, 1 rubellite and 1 aquamarine, it weighs 2475g. At the top of the crown is the cross, which reportedly stores a thorn from Christ's crown of thorns.

The Royal sceptre is made from 18-carat gold, 4 sapphires, 5 spinels and 62 pearls with an extra large spinel mounted on top of the sceptre; it weighs 1013g. The Royal orb is also made from 18-carat gold, 8 sapphires, 6 spinels and 31 pearls. It weighs 780g and is decorated with wrought relief scenes from the Old Testament and the Book of Genesis. The Coronation robe was used from 1653 until 1836. It is made from precious silky red material called "zlatohlav" and is lined with ermine (fur of the stoat). The robe is stored separately from jewelry in a specially air conditioned repository.

For the coronation ceremonies, St. Wenceslas' sword, a typical Gothic weapon, was used. The first mention of the sword reported in historical records is in 1333, but the blade dates back to the 10th century, while the hilt is from the 13th century and textiles are probably from the time of Charles IV. The iron blade length is 76 cm, at the widest point is 45 mm and has a ripped hole in a cross shape (45 x 20 mm). The wooden handle is covered with yellow-brown fabric and velvet embroidered with the ornament of laurel twigs with thick silver thread. After coronation ceremonies, the sword was used for the purpose of granting knighthoods.

The oldest leather case for the crown was made for Charles IV in 1347. On top are inscribed four symbols: the Imperial eagle, Bohemian lion, the coat of arms of Arnošt of Pardubice and emblem of the Archbishopric of Prague.

The door to Crown Jewels chamber, and likewise the iron safe, is hardly accessible and has seven locks. There are seven holders of the keys: the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Prague Archbishop, the Chairman of the House of Deputies, the Chairman of the Senate, the Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus Cathedral and the Mayor of Prague, who must all convene to facilitate opening the impenetrable door and coffer.

The crown is named and dedicated after the Duke St. Wenceslaus of the Přemyslids dynasty of Bohemia. The jewels should be permanently stored in the chapel of St. Wenceslaus in St. Vitus. They were only lent to Kings, and only on the day of the coronation, and should be returned in the evening that day. After 1918 and the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic the Coronation Jewels ceased to serve their original function, but remained important as symbols of national independence and statehood.

In the past, the Jewels were kept in different places, but have been always brought to royal coronations in Prague. Wenceslaus IV (1378-1419) probably moved them to Karlštejn Castle. They were then repeatedly moved for safety reasons: in the 17th century, they were returned to Prague Castle, during the Thirty Years' War (1631) they were sent to a parish church in České Budějovice, and then they were secretly taken to the Imperial Treasury, Vienna (1637). While the Jewels were stored in Vienna, the original gold orb and sceptre from the 14th century were replaced with current ones. The new orb and sceptre probably originated with an order by Ferdinand I in 1533. Possible reasons for this replacement might be that the originals were simply too austere, and lacked any precious stones. Deemed unrepresentative of the prestige of the Kingdom of Bohemia, it made sense to replace them with an orb and sceptre in an ornate, jeweled style that resembled the crown.

The Jewels were brought back to Prague on the occasion of the coronation of Bohemian king Leopold II in 1791. At that time, the current tradition of seven keys was established, though the holders of the keys in the course of time were changed according to political and administrative structures. The jewels were kept in Vienna due to the threat from the Prussian Army, but were later returned to Prague, arriving in the city on 28 August 1867.

According to the ancient tradition and regulations laid down by Charles the Fourth in the 14th century, the Jewels are exhibited only to mark special occasions. Exhibitions can take place only at the Prague Castle. In the 20th century there were nine such moments in history. The President of the Republic has the exclusive right to decide on the display of the Crown Jewels.

An ancient Czech legend says that any usurper who places the crown on his head is doomed to die within a year. This legend is supported by a rumor that Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi governor of the puppet state Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia secretly wore them, and was assassinated less than a year later by the Czech resistance.

 

Hradcany Prague Castle District
Crown of Bohemia

 

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