Prague Architecture – A Short Tour for the Casual Traveler
Explore the streets of Prague in the Czech Republic and you’ll find great buildings that span the centuries. Gothic, Baroque, Beaux Arts, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco architecture stand side-by-side along narrow, winding roads in Old Town, the Lesser Quarter, and the Hradcany. As for churches? It’s no wonder that Prague is called the golden city of spires.
Spanning 570 meters, Prague Castle in the Hradcany royal complex is one of the largest castles in the world.
Prague Castle, or Hradcany Castle, is part of a vast complex that includes St. Vitus Cathedral, the Romanesque Basilica of St. George, the Renaissance Archbishop’s Palace, a monastery, defense towers, and other structures. The royal complex, called the Hradcany, perches on a hill overlooking the River Vltava.
Today, Prague Castle is a favorite landmark and tourist attraction. The Castle contains the Czech presidential offices and houses the Czech Crown Jewels. Over the centuries, the Castle has seen many transformations.
History of Prague Castle
Construction on Prague Castle began in the late 9th century when the royal Premyslid family took power over the united Czech territories. Saint George Basilica, Saint Vitus Cathedral, and a convent were erected within the fortress walls.
The Premyslid family died out in the 14th century, and the castle fell into disrepair. Under the leadership of Charles IV, Prague Castle was transformed into a prestigious Gothic palace.
The Hradcany royal complex was again remodeled under reign of Vladislav Jagellonský. His throne room is praised for for its expansive vaults with intricate network of intertwined ribs. The Archbishop’s Palace was rebuilt from its Renaissancefoundations.
In the late 1500s, during the reign of Rudolf II, Italian architects built a new palace with two big halls. The “New World,” a district with modest homes along winding alleyways, was also constructed within the Hradcany compound.
The Archbishop’s Palace
The Archbishop’s Palace in the Hradcany royal complex was built on the foundations of a Renaissance home—built and rebuilt several times. The Palace was reconstructed in 1562-64 by the archbishop Anton Brus. In 1599-1600, a chapel with frescoes was added.
In 1669-1694, the Archbishop’s Palace was rebuilt in the Rococo style by J. B. Mathey. The decorative portal with an inscription in Latin is still intact.
The statue on the left is from the 20th century. The statue honors Tomas Masaryk, founder of the former nation of Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was the first democracy in Eastern Europe after World War I.
Homes Along the Vltava
Buildings cluster along a shallow branch of the Vltava River in Prague.
During the 16th century, pragmatic industrial buildings sprang up on Kampa Island, known today as Little Venice. More elaborate homes along the Vltava River have the characteristically Czech hooded dormers.
Old Town Square
Gothic houses, some built on Roman foundations, cluster around Staromestska namesti, the Old Town Square.
Many of the homes in Old Town Prague were renovated during the late Renaissanceand Baroque periods, creating a collage of architectural styles. Some homes have Gothic arbors typical of the 13th century, and some have Renaissance-era arch gables.
The Square itself is an oddly shaped plaza dominated by the Town Hall tower and its intricate astronomical clock.
Narrow cobbled streets wind through Hradcany, the Lesser Quarter, and Old Town Prague. Maintaining old architecture, including the architecture of street design, is an expensive decision, but it’s a judgment that often pays off in tourist dollars. Preserving the past enriches the future.
The Charles Bridge
Gothic architecture and Baroque sculpture combine in the Charles Bridge, which arches over the river Vltava in Prague’s Lesser Quarter.
Roman Emperor and Czech King Charles IV (Karel IV) started construction on the Charles Bridge in 1357. The work was completed by the architect Petr Parler, who transformed the Emperor’s cornerstone into a Gothic monument. The two-story bridge tower is lavishly decorated and carved with sculptures of the Emperor, his son Wenceslas, and Saint Vitus.
Rows of Baroque statues were added during the 18th century.
The Charles Bridge is 516 meters long and 9 and a half meters wide. Popular with tourists and street artists, the Charles Bridge offers scenic views of golden stucco buildings below.