Prague Castle

Trip Start Sep 24, 2012
Trip End Nov 02, 2012

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Hlavní město Praha,
Thursday, October 18, 2012

It had to be visited; Prague castle. We arrived, after a tiring uphill walk for ages, just in time for the hourly changing of the guard. Same process as the British and other royal palaces, the same stern guard faces and pomp and ceremony; but fun to watch and everyone clap at the end.

After Cesky Krumlov castle and being told being told Prague castle was a slightly larger version, we had a view of what to expect. Prague castle is more of a township with some older buildings that have been renovated after fires and neglect at various times over the centuries, with only some areas able to provide an idea of the castle of years ago. E.g. Golden Lane where guards in the 16th century build meagre houses and gradually a little laneway of a village grew. It now has tiny dwellings set up 'as if' they were in the earlier centuries- an everyday living and bedroom, a herbalist, the seamstress, alchemist, the forge, the sergeant of the guard. Others were now modern souvenir shops. Even the house of Franz Kafker sister where he lived for a few years was now a tiny shop selling his books, cards and souvenirs.
The Old Royal Palace had little furniture, but its grand early gothic architecture gave a feel of the ceremonial and celebratory use it had and still has today. Czech presidents are still sworn into office here, but not by riding in on horseback via the 'riding stairs' built in one entrance so ancient rulers could ride in for their coronations. A replica of the Czech crown, mace and sceptre were on display- 2.5 kgs of gold and large precious stones. What a headache to wear that.

In on of the castle grounds squares is the small and ancient basilica of St George had only a few remnants of the Romanesque origins in the 10th C when good King Wenceslas's father Vratislav 1st. built it. Some stonework and frescoes remain, along with Vratislav's tomb.

The most prominent building of all (which towers over everything) is the vast largely gothic basilica of St Vitus. It was built in several stages with different architects over several centuries. In fact some doors were only completed in the 1950's. The different architectural styles and quests for designers to make their mark often showed in the clashes of design.
The interior resembled Notre Dame in Paris, however in the detail it was very obvious it was a work in progress and still is today. The stain glass windows were created by artists over the centuries and as late as the 1930"s. All the period and styles of the windows blended with the overall ambience. The highlight of the basilica was the St Wenceslas Chapel and Tomb. This Chapel is decorated in a very bold Baroque style with maroon and gold dominating this chamber. The alter, the centre piece of this room had a commanding presence.

A short walk and we were in 'the Golden lane', a row of medieval houses no bigger than ten square metres with very low ceilings by today's standards as the occupants were very short. The castle sharpshooters built them, then others joined in settling here. They were occupied until last century e.g. Kafka's sister had a house here which he rented off her. Now the houses are displays of their old use or small museums- a forge, living areas, torture equipment. The Daliborka is the last building- a dungeon and torture chamber which still houses some of these items. Very creepy and not to be visited for long.
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