Starting in the 10th century, the Prague Castle served as the seat of Czech princes and later kings, and the seat of the Prague bishop.
Today, it is the official residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic.
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.
Prague Castle was founded around 870 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty.
The first stone building in the castle area was the Church of the Virgin Mary of which only remnants can be seen today.
In the 10th century, St. George’s Basilica [photo below] was founded and the first Czech convent was established there – St. George’s Convent, which now houses a gallery.
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 (1233 – 1278) improved fortifications and rebuilt the royal palace for the purposes of representation and housing.
The Prague Castle experienced one of its greatest periods during the reign of Charles IV (1346-1378) when it became the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor.
The expansion of the Castle continued during the reign of Charles’ son Wenceslas IV, but the Hussite wars (1419 – 1437) and the subsequent decades during which the Castle was abandoned lead to its deterioration.
In 1485, King Ladislaus II Jagello began to rebuild the castle. The massive Vladislav Hall was added to the Royal Palace. New defence towers were also built on the north side of the castle.
The Habsburg dynasty took over the Czech throne in 1526. The seat of power moved to Vienna and the Prague Castle served mainly for recreational purposes.
A large fire in 1541 destroyed large parts of the castle.
The reconstruction of the Castle culminated during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II who became Czech king in 1575 and moved his court back to Prague.
The Second Prague defenestration in 1618 began the Bohemian Revolt. During the subsequent wars, the Castle was damaged and dilapidated.
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.
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.”
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.
The castle buildings represent virtually every architectural style of the last millennium.
The castle has four churches: St. Vitus Cathedral [photo below] – the seat of the Archbishop of Prague, St. George’s Basilica – the oldest surviving church building within Prague Castle, All Saints Church and Holy Cross Chapel.
It has four palaces: Old Royal Palace, Belvedere, Lobkowicz Palace, and New Royal Palace [photo below].
The castle also has five halls: Column Hall, Spanish Hall, Rudolph’s Gallery, Rothmayer’s Hall, Vladislav Hall [photo below].
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.
Other buildings in the castle include: Golden Lane (street), Old Supreme Burgrave’s House, Ball Game Hall, Riding School, Old Provost Residence and New Provost Residence [photo below].
There are four towers: White Tower [photo below], Black Tower, Dalibor Tower and Mihulka.
The castle has eleven gardens: Royal Garden of Prague Castle [photo below], Orangery, Riding School Terrace Garden, The Garden on the Bastion, South Gardens, Paradise Garden, Garden on the Ramparts, The Hartig Garden, Deer Moat, St. Wenceslas vineyard and Horticultural Gardens.
Structures in the castle include: Kohl’s Fountain [photo below], Matthias Gate, Obelisk, Statue of Saint George.
The Bohemian Crown Jewels, sometimes called the Czech Crown Jewels include the Crown of Saint Wenceslas, the royal orb and sceptre, the coronation vestments of the Kings of Bohemia, the gold reliquary cross, and St. Wenceslas’ sword. Since 1791 they have been stored in St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle.
The castle is among the most visited tourist attractions in Prague attracting over 1.8 million visitors annually.