THIS ISSUE
Table of Contents
Subscribe to TIME
ADVERTISEMENT
Other News
On New Year's Eve, the Miseries of Minsk
As Russia hikes up the cost of gas for Belarus, the mood turns gloomy
Mogadishu at 60 Miles an Hour
Arms merchants are once again doing brisk business after a rapid change of power in this tough town, but so far the peace has held
Fatal Bombing Effectively Ends Spanish Peace Process
A car explostion, blamed on Basque separatists, that killed one person in Madrid has Madrid officials declaring a cease-fire broken
SEAN GALLUP / SPECTRUM PICTURES
PALACE INTRIGUES Prague Castle incorporates a wealth of architectural styles, including the gothic majesty of St. Vitus' Cathedral and the Vladislav Hall

High And Mighty

Prague Castle has been home to emperors and dictators, potentates and presidents, but it is the complex itself that has always reigned supreme over the Czech capital

Prague Castle, Czech Republic

Archaeologists have been digging at Prague Castle since 1925; the place is still filled with buried treasures. For the past four years, they've been looking for the original tomb of Charles IV, the 14th century Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor. His body was moved to a royal crypt two centuries after his death in 1378, and the location of his initial resting place was lost until, in March, the researchers drilled a 4-cm hole under the main altar at the castle's St. Vitus' Cathedral, peered through it and found the spot.

However, when I paid the archaeologists a visit, they seemed just as interested in the castle's current occupants. I overheard one of them reassure another: "Don't worry. They [the administration of Czech President Vaclav Klaus] won't be here in two years!" The exchange was a reminder that political power is transient, but Prague's marvelous castle will always endure.

The building — or more accurately, collection of buildings — doesn't look much like a castle. Perched peacefully on a gentle hill, its four spires pointing upward and away from the worldly bustle of Prague, the complex originated as a Christian church in the late 9th century. In addition to the cathedral, it contains St. George's Basilica and several chapels, but most of its inhabitants have been more concerned with the exercise of earthly powers than with spiritual matters. Dictators, emperors, governors, kings, presidents and princes have come and gone, but the castle has silently dominated the skyline — and Czech political life — for more than 1,000 years. Czech rulers never had enough cash to commission a complete overhaul of the buildings. Instead, over the centuries, palaces and churches rose next to and on top of each other.

FRANTA TOTH / SPECTRUM PICTURES
GOTHIC SPLENDOR The Vladislav Hall is now frequently used for music recitals

Inside St. Vitus' Cathedral is the Chapel of St. Wenceslas, dedicated to the eternal ruler of Czech lands. And inside the chapel, behind a door, are the St. Wenceslas Crown and the Czech Republic's state jewels, which have only been exhibited in public 10 times in the past 100 years. Fortunately, the castle itself is strewn with other jewels: Vladislav Hall with its graceful Late Gothic vaulted ceiling, masterpieces such as Titian's Young Woman at Her Toilet and Rubens' The Assembly of the Olympic Gods on display in the Castle Gallery and, most magnificent of all, the cathedral, infused with the sublime light that streams through the medieval rosette and the stained-glass windows by 19th century Czech artists, including Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha. Prague is clearly still king of the castles.

TOP Go To Top

FROM THE JULY 4/11, 2005 DOUBLE ISSUE OF TIME EUROPE MAGAZINE; POSTED SUNDAY, JUNE 26, 2005.
To Our Readers
Britain
Norway
Iceland
Italy
Spain
Turkey
France
Germany
Czech Republic
Switzerland
Russia
Cuisine
Past Journeys
Europe Then & Now [August 18-25, 2003]
Summer of Culture [May 20, 2002]
The Quest For Quality [August 20/27, 2001]