Karlstejn Castle in Prague, history and location

Karlštejn Castle

Karlstejn Castle is the most famous Czech castle, one of the symbols of the Czech kingdom during the Gothic period. The castle was conceived as a symbol of imperial power and the Holy Roman Empire, and at the same time it became an impregnable fortress for the storage of the most important state documents, Czech and imperial symbols of state power, jewels and holy relics.

Over the years, the castle has become a magical cultural monument that welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Its rich history is associated with many names, names, things and events.

Karlštejn Castle is located on the top of a cliff on the bank of the river Berounka and consists of several floors. At its highest point, the Great Tower in the Chapel of the Holy Cross housed the royal regalia and jewels.

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Video: Karlstejn Castle

Architecture

Karlštejn Castle consists of three main buildings, defended as a unit and as independent fortifications. Emperor Charles set this fortress the task of being not only an impregnable stronghold, a “stone nut”, but also to become the center of religious and political life in Europe, like the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

The large tower is rectangular in plan – 25 by 17 meters. The average thickness of the castle walls is about 4 meters, on the north side the thickness reaches 6 meters.

The castle is tiered, depending on the degree of religious significance of each building. The lower level, the burgrave, then the palace of the emperor, his secular dwelling. And finally, the Great Tower, which contains the “holy of holies” – the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The complex was conceived as a way for pilgrim pilgrims to the “holy spring”.

On the lowest and least important level is the outer courtyard, where the burgage is located and the servants do the household chores: washing laundry, baking bread, forging weapons and storing supplies.

The Chapel of St. Cross is decorated in the likeness of Sainte Chapelle, the chapel of the royal palace on the island of Cité in Paris, where Charles IV went to pray as a child. The ceiling and walls are decorated with four thousand plates of jasper, agate, onyx and amethyst, framed in gold with Charles’ personal coat of arms and the Bohemian lion. The sun’s rays, once inside, do not disappear, wandering and reflecting in the thousands of polished surfaces of the stone shards. Overhead hangs Venetian glass depicting the sun, moon and stars. The most precious thing in the chapel is the altar with 130 images of saints and popes. Among the portraits is an image of Emperor Charlemagne, a distant ancestor of the King of Bohemia.

The first room you enter in the castle is the Hall of Man. An imposing room, decorated with a wooden ceiling and an original 14th century fireplace. In this room were gathered manas or vassals, who were entrusted with the protection of the castle.

In the Luxembourg Hall is the family portrait gallery, the largest gallery of portraits of Czech rulers in the country. Several portraits were painted for the gallery by the great master Theodoric (author of the wonderful decoration of the Chapel of the Holy Cross).

History

In 1347 Charles IV, King of Bohemia, entered Rome and took the crown of the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1348, Charles carries out significant construction work in his new empire: he lays the New Town in Prague, the University of Prague, and Karlstejn Castle.

The foundation stone of Karlstejn (Karlstejn – “Charles Stone” is the name of the castle) was laid by Arnost of Pardubice, the first Archbishop of Prague and the closest advisor to the King.

In 1365, the “heart of the castle” – the Chapel of St. Cross was consecrated. The construction was fully completed only 20 years later.

At the same time with the completion of the construction expensive works on furnishing and decorating the interiors of the castle were going on.

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In Karlštejn the emperor collected the most valuable things for all Christianity: the spear of St. Longinus, a large piece of wood from the cross of Christ, with nail holes in it, a sponge bought in Mantua from the Benedictine monastery of St. Andrew, and two thorns from the crown of Christ, which were kept in the church of St. Chapel in Paris (Sainte Chapelle) and given by John the Good, the French king. To store his relics, Charles built the Great Tower, in which he constructed four powerful iron doors with cunning locks.

The management and defence of the castle at the time was entrusted to the burgrave, who was in charge of the garrison of vassals, which consisted of knights who lived in the manors around the castle.

In case of danger, they were obliged to report to the castle and ensure its protection. The second type of vassals, the so-called ‘castle vassals’, were required to stand guard at the gates at all times, to ring the bells and maintain order throughout the castle.

The most famous Czech Gothic painter, Master Theodoric, also took part in the decoration of the castle – M. Wurmser, T. da Modena. He was awarded a manor on Možina and other privileges for his unique interior decoration works.

At the time, Charles personally supervised the completion of these works, often stopping at the castle. The last time the king visited the castle two years before his death in 1376 was with his son (from his second marriage) and heir Vaclav (Wenceslaus IV), who liked to visit the castle with his first wife.

At the outbreak of the Hussite uprising and in fear of impending wars, the Czech coronation jewels and a number of treasures from many monasteries, in particular from Zbraslav monastery, were transported to Karlštejn. Thus for some time the Czech and imperial regalia from Prague Castle were stored together in the Chapel of St. Cross.

The precautions were not in vain – the insurgents managed to keep Prague and the Prague Castle until 1434.

The Hussites also tried to storm Karlštejn, however, they occupied all the surrounding hills and bombarded the castle walls with stones and lit oakum, so they remained under the castle walls for 7 months in 1427 without breaking through even to the inner courtyard.

Emperor Sigismundus (Latin: Sigismundus, Czech: Zikmund; 1368-1437), second son of Charles IV, infamous for his death sentence on Jan Hus, ordered all treasures to be taken out of Karlštejn, but by the time Bohemia recognized Sigismund as its king, the Czech regalia had already been returned to Karlštejn in 1436.

In spite of this, the imperial treasure remained forever outside Bohemia and to this day forms part of the treasury in Vienna.

Under King Wladyslaw II Jagiello a new surge of grandeur of Karlštejn takes place. Extensive reconstruction of the palace and other buildings, especially the Gothic burgrave castle complex takes place at this time.

After the great fire in Prague in 1541, when a great number of court books were destroyed by fire, the castle authorities decided to move the copies of burnt originals to Karlštejn, where a large archive of letters and chronicles was located. In 1609 the famous supreme decree of Emperor Rudolf II. declaring the freedom of religion in the state, was deposited in the castle with great honors. Under Rudolf, the castle was renovated and reconstructed in the Renaissance style.

At the beginning of the Thirty Years War the Czech crown jewels were taken to Prague Castle as a precaution.

In 1620. Karlstejn was besieged by the Swedes, they even managed to break behind the first line of fortifications, but they went no further.

Overall, Karlstejn suffered more from the defenders than from the besiegers during its history. Almost every one of the soldiers of the garrison considered it their duty to take something “to remember”.

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In 1625, after the suppression of the Czech class revolt, Emperor Ferdinand II abolished the Karlštejn burgrave and raised the castle and its surroundings to the rank of a country manor, and the castle with the surrounding lands, which became a dowry of the Czech queens, gave it to his wife Eleonora. The latter mortgaged it to Jan Kavka of Říčany exacerbating its decay. The castle belonged to the same family until the beginning of the 18th century. Then all the treasures of Charles IV were finally transported to Prague Castle. Relics were a huge number, they were stored in 22 huge cabinets. They made the main part of the famous Prague castle treasury in the St.Vitus Cathedral.

The widow of Emperor Leopold (Leopold I., 1640 – 1705) managed to recover Karlštejn by paying a deposit.

Maria Theresia (1717-1780), who owned the castle after Elisabeth (Charles the Habsburg’s wife), gave it to the Hradcany Boarding School for Noble Maidens. The new owners used the castle mainly for domestic purposes, occasionally serving masses in some of the chapels. The boarding house is considered the last owner of the property before it passed into state ownership.

When Emperor Franz I. Stephan (1708 – 1765) and his daughter Luisa visited Karlštejn in 1812, the sovereign decided to initiate urgent restoration works to save the dilapidated castle and even provided financial means.

In the general turmoil, however, Franz ordered some of the castle’s original furnishings, including even some of the wooden upholstery, to be taken from Karlštejn to Vienna.

Emperor Franz Josef I was more humane and entrusted the restoration work to the Central Commission for the Protection of Monuments, led by Friedrich Schmidt (a professor at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts who later passed on the supervision to his pupil Josef Mocker). The latter became famous for restoring many castles in Bohemia and, in particular, for completing the construction of St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle.

Architect Mokker devoted the last years of his life to Karlstejn. His merit (as well as a great reason for the attacks) is that the reconstruction was carried out (chosen by Mokker once and for all) by the method of purism, the aim of which is to achieve the purity of the architectural style of the monument, typical for the Middle Ages, the removal of other styles (for example, all Renaissance Burgrave buildings were torn down), which is of exceptional artistic and historical value. Thanks to Mokker’s reconstruction, we can see the castle through the eyes of a contemporary of the Czech “Charlemagne”.

However, some experts argue that Charles IV would not have recognized his castle after the “reconstruction work” using Portland cement. It is believed that for this reason UNESCO is in no hurry to recognize the castle as a World Heritage Site. However, such subtleties apparently do not bother tourists, the number of which Karlstejn ranks second in the Czech Republic after Prague.

Practical information

How to get there

The castle is 35 kilometers from Prague, in the south-east. The train from Prague Main Station takes 35 minutes and runs every hour.

Working time of the castle

in March 09.00-15.00 daily except for Mondays; in April, October 09.00-16.00 daily except for Mondays; in May, June, September 09.00-17.00 daily except for Mondays; in July-August 09.00-18.00 daily except for Mondays; in November: 01. 11-26.11, 09.00-15.00, daily except Mondays; in December 09.00-15.00, daily except Mondays from 26.12-31.12; in January 09.00-15.00; daily except Mondays from 01.01-08.01; in February the castle is unfortunately closed to visitors.

Cost

for adults – 220 Kc; for children, students and pensioners – 120 Kc.

Karlstejn Castle – the pearl of the Middle Ages in Bohemia

Karlstejn Castle is one of the most visited attractions in the Czech Republic. The town is located near Prague, so you can get here on your own. Of course, there are many medieval buildings in the Czech Republic, but Karlstejn is a win-win option. Choose at least half a day to see it and leave in the morning. What to consider before the trip – you will learn from our article.

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Karlstejn Castle

Photo: Karlstejn Castle

General information about Karlstejn Castle

Karlstein Castle in the Czech Republic in the past was a royal residence, but today it is a cultural and architectural monument of national importance. According to local residents, the castle embodies the Czech statehood.

Useful information! The place is situated 30 km from Prague on a mountain rising above the Berounka River. The castle is surrounded by a dense forest, so it is not surprising that on the observation deck you can make pictures reminding of scenes from a fairy tale movie.

For a long time the castle has been the second most visited tourist attraction in the Czech Republic. There are still many unsolved mysteries in the history of the royal residence. One legend has it that a noblewoman who murdered fourteen innocent maids lived at the castle. In the aftermath, she was condemned to a painful death by starvation. Historical facts confirm that during the Hussite Wars the palace walls were besieged by the supporters of Jan Hus, who destroyed the castle. There is also a legend that women were forbidden to enter the palace, but the fourth wife of Charles IV lifted the ban.

Karlstejn Castle

And another legend tells of a blind musician who played the lute in the castle and was accompanied by his faithful dog. One day a prince listened to the music and wanted to treat him to a glass of wine, but the dog would not let the musician drink the drink because he smelled poison. The dog drank the wine and died a few minutes later, and some time later, the musician died of homesickness for his faithful friend.

Three times a year, services are held in the small town, and the Pope is present. Classical music is played in the knight’s hall. If you are lucky enough to get to the castle complex in early autumn, you will get to the annual harvest festival dedicated to the local vineyards. During the events, guests are invited to taste young wine and traditional national dishes, admire theatrical performances stylized as the Middle Ages, and see knightly tournaments.

Karlstejn Castle

Photo: Karlstejn Castle, Czech Republic

History and construction

The year 1348 is marked in the Czech history as one of the most significant. At that time the reigning monarch – Charles IV founded the New Town in Prague and began construction of the Karlštejn palace. As conceived by the king in the castle were to be stored relics, treasures that belonged to the family of the monarch.

Karlstejn Castle near Prague

Interesting facts about the palace:

  • construction was carried out at an altitude of 72 meters above sea level;
  • The project of the sights belongs to the French architect Matvei Arassky;
  • The right to lay the first stone was entrusted to Archbishop Arnošt Pardubický;
  • It took 9 years to build, but the king had settled in the castle two years earlier.

The palace had a staggered architecture, with each successive floor towering above the previous one. On the lowest level were household outbuildings and servants’ apartments, the upper levels were occupied by the palace rooms, and the highest structure was the Great Tower – 25 m high and 4 m thick walls.

An interesting fact! On the lower steps there was the Well Tower, but there was no water in it, because it could not be found on the territory of the castle. Then it was decided to extend the well to the river.

The period of prosperity of the castle lasted until 1421, but in the early 15th century the royal treasures were taken away by King Sigismund I so they would not fall into the hands of enemy armies – the Hussites and the Swedes. The conquerors did not get inside the castle, but the Chapel of the Holy Cross suffered considerably.

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Karlstejn Castle

In the second half of the 15th century Karlstejn Palace in Bohemia was restored, decorated in Gothic style with Renaissance elements. However, the landmark was gradually falling into decay, which led to the fact that at the end of the 17th century some of the buildings on the territory of the castle were on the verge of destruction, and some buildings were used as warehouses and storage for grain.

The revival of the castle began in the early 18th century, when representatives of the arts became interested in it. The complete reconstruction was finished in 1899, and as a result the appearance of Karlštejn was greatly changed.

Architecture and what to see in the area

The attraction consists of two thematic parts:

Within the Upper Palace Complex, one can explore:

  • The Great Tower and the Mary’s Tower;
  • Imperial Castle;
  • Church of the Virgin Mary.

In the Lower Castle there is a large courtyard preserved, as well as a burgrave, and at the lowest point there is a well tower, inside which there is a well that has never had water.

Noble Hall

The castle complex has preserved several unique masterpieces of 14th-century architecture – Gothic-style stained-glass windows, cladding made of precious minerals, and paintings in the Chapel of the Holy Cross. By the way, it is the Chapel is the heart of the palace complex, the vault, the walls are decorated with gilded plaster, precious minerals, and the dome resembles a starry sky with the Sun and the Moon.

Tours are also available inside the Imperial Palace. Unfortunately, not all rooms are open, only:

Imperial Crown

  • The Hall of Nobles, which displays fragments of the ancient wooden panels with which the walls were insulated;
  • the Audience Hall, where the royal armchair is placed between the windows so that the monarch can see people’s faces while the guests cannot see his because of the blinding sun; the Emperor’s Crown of St. Wenceslas
  • the assembly hall is decorated with ancient frescoes depicting relatives of the monarch Charles IV;
  • In the refectory the cutlery from the Gothic era is on display, and it is noteworthy that all of the decoration on the cups and bowls is in relief – this was done on purpose so that the dishes would not slip in greasy hands;
  • the bedroom is the king’s favorite chamber, with the figure of St. Catherine leaning over his bed, thanks to whose patronage the monarch won his first battle.

A copy of St. Wenceslas’ crown, weapons, antique chess, maps and precious stones are on display in the St. Mary’s Tower.

Interesting fact! Among the exhibits is the skull of a crocodile, in the times of King Charles IV the animal was mistaken for a dragon.

Practical information

Entrance to the castle chapel

  1. Coordinates of the site: 49° 56′ 21.7527″ N, 14° 11′ 16.8213″ E.
  2. A visit to Karlštejn Castle is chosen individually depending on the sightseeing itinerary. For details on the castle’s schedule, visit the official website at www.hrad-karlstejn.cz/en. Entrance to the chapel
  3. Ticket prices also depend on the chosen sightseeing tour: Imperial Palace – CZK 210, sacred relics of the castle complex – CZK 500, entrance to the observation deck – CZK 170. For more information on ticket prices, see the site of the attraction (see item 4). Tickets are available on the castle website and must be printed out after payment.
  4. The official website of Karlštejn Castle: www.hrad-karlstejn.cz/en.

How to get from Prague to Karlštejn on your own

Given the short distance between the Czech capital and the attraction, many are interested in the question – how to get from Prague to Karlstejn by yourself?

The fastest and most budget route is by train. There are comfortable double-decker trains running between the localities. The distance between Prague and Karlstejn is only 30 km, so the trip takes 40 minutes.

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Connections in the direction of Prague-Beroun leave from the central railway station with an interval of half an hour. The station is located near Wenceslas Square and the subway station Hlavni nadrazi. To go from the subway station to the railway platform, it is not necessary to go out on the street, because the station is located underground and the ground building is closed.

Railway Station

Prague railway station

The price of a Prague-Karlstein ticket is 90 Czech crowns, if you buy tickets in both directions, the price will be slightly less.

Useful information! The time, train number and seat number are not indicated on the ticket and the document is valid for 24 hours from the time of purchase.

Make sure to show at the ticket office a public transport ticket valid for 1 or 3 days, in this case you can get from Prague to Karlstejn at a lower price. Also the travel card must be shown together with the ticket to the ticket inspector in the car.

The cars have tables, clean toilets, comfortable footrests, and warmth in any weather. Experienced tourists recommend choosing seats on the second floor to enjoy the surrounding scenery during the trip.

Wagons in trains

The train arrives in Karlstejn and it will take about two kilometers to the castle, this can be done on foot or take a cab. It is difficult to get lost in the small town, as there are signs leading from the train station to the palace. After getting off the train, walk across the river and turn right.

Active travelers to the question – how to get from Prague to Karlstejn? The answer is – by bicycle. A fascinating journey along a scenic route awaits you. By the way, for cyclists in the Czech Republic have special roads, on which you can reach speeds of up to 25 km/hour.

Cab to the castle

A convenient and expensive way to visit Karlštejn Castle is to join a tour group.

How to get from Prague to Karlstejn Castle quickly and comfortably? Call a cab through the app Uber. The trip will cost about 400 Czech crowns.

Important: The city of Karlstejn is a pedestrian city, the main parking is in the Lower part, a few kilometers from the castle. There is parking in the Upper part of Karlstejn, but honeymooners and disabled vehicles stop here.

Prices on the page are for May 2019.

Helpful tips

Chapel in the castle

  1. Excursion tickets should be bought in advance, because the attraction is popular and wanting to walk around the residence of the Czech monarchs is quite a lot.
  2. The chapel of the Holy Cross, which is located in the North Tower, is most popular. Chapel in the Castle
  3. To get to the castle is not easy – the ascent is quite steep and difficult, so children and older people need to bring water and count their strength.
  4. On the way to the castle there are cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops.
  5. On their own can not be inside the castle, only as part of a tour group, but the surrounding area can be visited without time constraints.
  6. If you can not get to Prague from Karlstejn, you can stay overnight at one of the hotels.

Karlstejn Castle – the pearl of medieval architecture in the Czech Republic, be sure to plan a tour to the site. We hope that our information will help you to get to the palace quickly, comfortably and get the most out of your trip.

Useful information for those who want to visit Karlstejn Castle and what you can see inside – in this video

Author: Julia Matyuhina

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