My last visit to Prague was 22 years ago. Prices certainly were cheaper back then, most especially for beer, which might also have something to do with me not remembering that much of my time in the city. Three things I do remember; Charles Bridge, the Astromonical Clock (blame that one on the beer) and Prague Castle. Over visited they might be, but no self respecting tourist can really visit Prague without checking out all three.
Having been up the hill and visited our immediate environs, it was now time to venture further afield and start ticking off some of the items on the “tourist list” starting with Prague Castle. The trams in Prague are the best way of getting around the city and this definitely applies to getting up to Prague Castle with one running directly there from outside where we were staying. No matter where you’re staying, it’s hard to miss the castle as its pretty much visible from anywhere in Prague having also played residence to kings and emperors since the 9th century AD and these days the President of the Czech Republic.
The Guinness Book of Records lists Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world. I think it’s all down to how a castle is defined, however, as technically both Mehrangarh Fort (which really is a castle) in Jodhpur, India and Malbork Castle in Poland are larger. Regardless, with an area of more than 66,000 square metres, the castle complex is massive and immensely popular with over 1.8 million tourists visiting every year.
Much of the castle complex can be viewed for free, although we opted to buy a family pass costing 500cz (NZ$32) for a closer up inspection of a few of the sites, including St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, the Old Royal Palace and Golden Lane. One could be forgiven for thinking we might be cathedralled out, but St Vitus is so amazingly spellbinding, that Veronica proclaimed it as her favourite so far.
Often the interior of a church either lets the outside down, or vice versa. Not the case with St Vitus. The cathedral is equally as good on the inside as it is the outside and is a place where you literally can spend hours marvelling at the skill of the artisans who have all played their part in making such a wonderful showpiece.
Entry to some parts of St Vitus Cathedral is free and for most people, what you can see for free is probably sufficient. But the following photos show what you potentially miss out on by not paying a bit extra to visit.
Whilst the cathedral, for us, was the highlight of the whole Prague Castle complex, it is by no means the only attraction. Walking around the corner takes you to the oldest surviving church building within the caslte, St George’s Basilica, which was originally built in 920 AD.
Also serving as a concert hall, the Basilica’s Romanesque interior is beyond beautiful. In the main nave resides the tomb of Prince Vratislav, founder of the Basilica and father of the famous St Wenceslas Tombs of other members of the ruling Premyslid dynasty also are situated in the Basilica.
While much smaller than St Vitus Cathedral, the Basilica is still a marvel to see. We were in and out within 20 minutes but still more than sufficiently wowed. Think of it as a T20 version to the ODI experience of St Vitus Cathedral, with the overall caslte complex being a test match (my apologies for the random cricketing analogy).
As part of our Circuit B ticket we were also able to visit the Old Royal Palace. Whilst most of the palace wasn’t particularly interesting, the New Land Rolls Room is spectacularly decorated with family crests of the clerks who worked there. Unfortunately, you need a permit to take photographs (I think this can be purchased when buying your ticket for about 50cz), which I wasn’t aware of and henceforth I’ll need to rely on the internet to remind myself of just how special this room was.
The last thing included on our Circuit B ticket was a walk down Golden Lane. The name of the Lane is derived from goldsmiths who used to live there, along with guards of the castle. We immediately dubbed it Prague’s Diagon Alley due to the narrow laneway and number of small houses squeezed in next to each other.
At the bottom of the Lane is the castle’s prison built in the 15th century AD within Daliborka Tower. The tower takes its name after its first prisoner, the Knight Dalibor of Kozojedy and legend has it that Dalibor learned to play the violin whilst imprisoned with his music being heard around the castle. Obviously he wasn’t much of a virtuoso because it didn’t save him from being decapitated in the yard in front of the Tower. However, his story has lived on, most notably in the opera Dalibor written by the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana.
The actual tower hosts all manner of torture instruments which were supposed to have been used in their day up until 1781, when it ceased to operate as a prison. Explaining what the instruments were to our kids and why they were used required our own creative talents.
What a place. There’s so much to see and do at Prague Castle, that it really is worthy of multiple visits. The unfortunate thing is that with so many other awe-inspriting things to see in Prague, we weren’t going to be able do that. But hey, it’s only been 22 years since my last visit, so I’m sure I’ll be back in 22 years time to have another look.