Photograph of the week: Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic


Prague Castle is so much more than just a pretty face. Its fairytale facade hides a past filled with mystery, mayhem, power struggles and fierce assassination plots. It’s also far, far larger than your average palace. In fact, with a total surface area covering 7.28 hectares (over 780 000 square feet), the Guinness Book of Records has proclaimed Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world.

Photo of the week: Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic

But back to the mayhem, which is what makes Prague Castle so very intriguing. Intriguing enough to warrant over 1.8 million annual visitors at last count.

Built in the 9th century, perhaps one of the darkest periods in Prague Castle’s history began on the night of March 15, 1939 when Adolf Hitler spent the night at the castle, after occupying Prague during World War II. Although Hitler left the city soon after, he would later send in SS General Reinhard Heydrich to take charge of the castle and rule the Czech people. A key player in the horror that was the Holocaust, Heydrich was named The Butcher of Prague by the Czech people – his rule being one of tyranny and terror, characterized by disappearances and executions. In response, a group of exiled Czech government officials hatched a plan called Operation Anthropoid to assassinate Heydrich. Their plan would succeed, and Heydrich died on June 4, 1942, from wounds sustained during their assassination attempt.

This was not the first time Prague Castle played a starring role in a murderous plot, though. Did you know, for example, that the word “defenestration”, which can be defined as the action of throwing someone out of a window, was invented for an incident at Prague Castle in 1618? As the story goes, in 1617, Roman Catholic officials shut down a pair of new Protestant chapels. Incensed, Protestant rights defenders called for a trial in the council room at the Castle, and won. Two Catholic regents and their secretary were found guilty of violating the right to religious freedom. Their punishment? They were thrown out the window to their death. (In their case, the murders did not succeed: all three are said to have landed on a pile of horse manure, emerging uninjured – if rather mucky.)

These days, Prague Castle residents are more political than murderous. Once the seat of power for kings of Bohemia and Holy Roman emperors, in 1918 Prague Castle became the official seat of the President of the Czech Republic. It remains as such today, with the president living in the New Royal Palace located within the grounds, and the 26 houses and six gardens of Wallenstein Palace serving as home to the Czech Senate.

It is also home to The Bohemian Crown Jewels – including the St. Wenceslas crown, royal scepter, and coronation cloak. Don’t expect to be able to see them on your visit to Prague Castle however. Kept under lock and key (seven of them, in fact) in a chamber of St. Vitus Cathedral, only the President can decide if and when the jewels go on public display (which happens every five years or so).

You can visit Prague Castle seven days a week, year-round, except for December 24th. Opening hours are slightly different for different areas of the castle complex, but your best bet is to arrive at 10am to access all areas and exhibitions. The ceremonial Changing of the Guard, including a fanfare and flag ceremony, is held daily at 12pm in the first courtyard, while the Changing by the Castle gates happens on the hour from 9am to 6pm.

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Comments (7)

  1. Kangna Gauba says:

    Ooo. Never really bothered to look up the history of the Prague Castle. It’s interesting to know that its past is lined with such brutal murder and criminal incidences. Because usually castles have always been a symbol of being a safe retreat.

  2. Abi Peterson says:

    I love visiting old castles, I think it’s partly because when I was little my parents would take me to a couple of local ones. I’ve never been to Prague but I think the castle there would blow everything I’ve seen out of the water. Good pub quiz knowledge with the Guinness World Records factoid, I’ll have to store that one away for future use if it ever comes up! I also didn’t have a clue about defenestration or that it first came about here. It’s a lot more morbid and mysterious a history than I’d realised. I assume the castle and surrounding area gets very busy with tourists, so when would you say is the best time to go? I can’t help but think it would look all the more magical with a dusting of snow so maybe winter could work in its favour, especially if prices are a little lower and it’s off peak so it may be a tad quieter too.

  3. Ellen says:

    Closed on 24th December? We always have to remember that round the world people celebrate Christmas differently – or not all in many instances.

    Even so I’m not sure that on Christmas Day, supposedly a celebration of love and joy, that people will be queueing up for a castle with such a gruesome history.

  4. Gerald says:

    Any ancient building in Central Europe is highly likely to have an interesting history. Waves of invasions from east and west. Layer after layer of history through the ages. Maybe that is why national identity is so highly prized in many states.

  5. Caroline Bartlett says:

    In all of its long history over the centuries has Prague Castle ever looked better?

    It’s only over the last quarter of a century that cleaning buildings has become practical and affordable. Almost every city needs the tourists and nowadays city governments are willing to spend the cash to make the most of their assets.

    Then there’s the lighting, tastefully done to show off the building after dark – that didn’t use to happen.

  6. Leslie Anne says:

    Ah, one of my dream destinations. I haven’t been though, so this article really makes me wish even more that I can go travel there very soon. I like the amazing architecture and rich history. Aside from all the historic ghastly killings, the castles remind me of all those fairy tales I heard as a kid.

  7. Helen Johnson says:

    A rich history with a little murder, religion and police all mixed in for good measure. It’s a beautiful place, not surprising it gets so many visitors each year. Is it free to explore the grounds, and maybe chargeable to go inside and see the exhibitions?

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