Since the Prague Castle’s construction, it has always been the residence and the center of power for the region of Bohemia.
An old slave citadel
The first Czech leader who had fortified the cliff overlooking the Vltava was Prince Bořivoj I (852-884.) By the end of the 9th century, he had transferred his residence here, from the fortress of Levý Hradec, a few miles downstream. At his death, the church of the Virgin Mary, second Christian sanctuary established in the Czech lands, was built.
The remnants had been discovered, you can see it in the passage leading to the garden of Bastion. Bořivoj fortress, protected by an earthen embankment and a fence, covered almost the entire area of the present castle. The church was the only building stone, the prince and his guards were housed in a wooden building, ancestor of the royal palace.
Other stone churches had been added: in 920, which preceded the Basilica of St. George, St. Vitus rotunda 10 years later. In 973, the castle became the seat of the newly created diocese of Prague: the rotunda was elevated to the cathedral and St George had a convent. In the mid 11th century, primitive defenses were replaced by walls 5meters high, punctuated by several doors towers. A century later, the wall stepped up to 14 meters, and a beautiful palace was built, 50 meters long, in limestone with light colors.
The energetic Ottokar II (1228-1278) continued the fortification of the castle and extended the royal palace. But in the future when Charles IV (1316-1378) decided to move to Prague Castle, it was partly ruined. Even before his accession to the throne in 1346, he began to evolve the Castle residence worthy of a king. Among its improvements, a sumptuous palace of French Gothic replaced Ottokar palace, but it was destroyed by a fire in 1303.
A chapel was added to the Petr Parler project and the gilding covered the roofs of the towers and proclaimed the glory of the Castle. Its role as a spiritual and political center of the country materialized in 1344 by the building of a new high Gothic cathedral.
The first period of decline
The amenities of the Castle continued with the son of Charles IV, Wenceslas IV (1361-1419), however, he lived in the Royal Court, the site of the present Municipal House. The Castle suffered many disorders caused by the Hussite wars. Successors lodged in the Royal Court until 1483, when Vladislav II (1456-1516), fearing riots by residents of the Old City, chose to find safety from the heights of Hradschin.
Vladislav called the talented architect Benedikt Ried Castle, and he replaced the fortifications abandoned by modern defenses, including Daliborka, the White Tower, and the massive Powder Tower or Mihulka. The palace took its final form around the magnificent throne room designed by Ried, named later Vladislav.
A cultural citadel under Rudolf II
A colorful period opened with the reign of Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612). His predecessors had already begun the process of transformation from a Gothic castle to a Renaissance-style palace. Ferdinand I (1503-1564) fitted out extensive gardens on the other side of the deep moats of Deer and crowned Belvedere, elegant Summer Palace in the Italian style. Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol (1529-1595) and his architect Bonifaz Wohlmut added to the beautiful jeu de Paume after the great fire in 1541, which lead to numerous reconstructions.
Under Rodolphe there was significant reconstruction and additions to the west of the castle, to accommodate the emperors constantly growing art collections. His reign was noted for his architectural work and the role of the Castle as a cultural center. Around the emperor who seldom went out of the palace, brought together a cosmopolitan crowd of painters, sculptors, scholars, scientists, artisans, adventurers, and alchemists, always ready to satisfy his insatiable curiosity.
The second period of decline
After the forced retirement of Rudolph, in 1611, the castle lost its role as a royal residence. Yet this is the dramatic defenestration took place that would lead to the Thirty Years War.
Castle knew, however, a bright interlude during the short reign (1619-1620) of Frederick, the “king of one winter”, and his wife, Elizabeth Stuart, who scandalized the central Europe by her necklines and her boldness. In 1631, the Saxon army took up his quarters there. In 1648, the Swedish came back with many of its treasures. The Prussian guns hammered during the siege of 1757. Its operation and maintenance rested many problems; borrowed furniture and equipment for fitting welcome.
After the Prussian seat, the Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) asked Nicola Pacassi to give the building a look more consistent with the 18th century. The architect changed the post-medieval towers and turrets, dormer, gables, and cupolas, and replaced the picturesque disorder by a series of facades in the late Baroque style.
In doing so, he managed to reorganize the entire complex and gave the castle its present appearance. But Maria Theresa was succeeded by his son Joseph II (1741-1790) who found no better than to Castle barracks artillery. In 1836, the last coronation ceremony took place at Hradschin: Emperor Ferdinand V was crowned king in the cathedral.
Residence of the President of the Republic
In 1918, the founders of Czechoslovakia gave the Castle a symbol of a modern, democratic state, the only acceptable residence for the president of the young republic. The first to fill that office, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was more than a worthy successor. Early twentieth century, the quiet voice of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) is sometimes do hear the hubbub of Prague. The son of a Slovak and a Czech Moravian German, Masaryk was a professor of philosophy and sociology at the Czech University of Prague.
The fierce opponent of irrational behavior fought anti-semitism and nationalism clericalism and made a lot of enemies in the process. Elected member of the Austrian parliament, he wanted an autonomous government in the Czech empire, but once the changed circumstances of the First World War, he realizes that there is no other solution than outright independence.
Philosopher foremost, however, he becomes the engine of a movement uniting Czechs and Slovaks and raises an army of emigrants and deserters to fight alongside the Allies. In 1918, he made a triumphal entry to Prague, and now affectionately referred by his initials TGM, became the first president of Czechoslovakia.
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk hired Josip Plečnik to adapt the Castle for his new vocation. The choice of Josip Plečnik may seem surprising because he was deeply religious, he worked in a largely secular state; lover of the classical past, he was neither traditionalist nor a supporter of avant-garde ideas as most of his Czech colleagues. His unusual career did recognize as a precursor of postmodernism, but Plečnyk resisted any tag.
His work includes the Castle apartments presidential reshuffle and the creation of the monumental hall of columns (Sloupová síň). But it is probably the courtyards and gardens which are best his modest genius: the ingenious design of the levels of the third court, which flattens a slope inconvenient and uncovers the foundations of the Romanesque basilica, the staircase of Taurus , which connects the southern courtyard gardens, and the gardens themselves, including the garden of Bastion. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists enjoyed Plečnyk style, but his subtle changes of the Castle is now a model for adaptation of a historic needs of his time.
From 1939 to 1945, under the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the castle remained the residence of a powerless president, Hacha, but the Nazis exploited the symbolic and ceremonial in any occasion at all times: in 1941, Hacha had submitted to Reichsprotektor Heydrich the seven keys that opened access to the crown and are Vaclav Cathedral Treasury.
During the period 1948-1989, the walls of the Castle without fancy seemed a metaphor for the coldness of the communist system. But many of its rooms remained open to the public, and they proceeded to numerous restorations and archaeological research. Since 1989, the authorities’ objective is to restore the symbolic continuity with the past of the Castle and make the Castle widely open to the public. I guess it is a good thing you don’t break the history but it gives a new dimension with democracy regime.