Its beginnings can be traced back to the 9th century, when the rulers of the Premyslid lands established their seat upon the hill above the Vltava basin. In the pre-Romanesque era, it consisted of a central prince's court and three stone churches within fortifications. The main entrance from the city was through the west gate, facing Opys.
St. George Basilica
In the 10th century Prince Wenceslas had the St. Vitus Rotunda built with four consecrated apses, the remains of which are currently preserved under the Chapel of St. Wenceslas in St. Vitus Cathedral. The foundations of the later Spytihnev Basilica of the 11th century also remain preserved. In 973, the Prague bishopric was established at St. Vitus Cathedral and the first convent of Benedictine (Ordo Benedictinarum) nuns in Bohemia was founded in the Church of St. George.
At the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries, the castle gradually became a stone Romanesque royal seat. It grew by a bishop's house, chapel, innovative fortifications, and new towers: the White Tower and the still well-preserved Black Tower.
St. Vitus Cathedral
The greatest structural developments came during the reign of Charles IV, when the castle served as the imperial seat. The smelting houses of Mathieu d'Arras and, later on, Petr Parler transformed the Romanesque St. Vitus Basilica into a magnificent Gothic cathedral, expanded the royal palace, and annexed the imperial All-Saints Chapel.
Charles' son Wenceslas IV left the castle and settled in the Royal Court in Prague's Old Town. This marked the close of the most significant era in the history of Prague Castle. The castle regained its importance at the end of the 15th century, under the reign of Vladislav Jagiello, who had new fortifications built and sevaral parts of the castle renovated. Court architect Benedict Ried oversaw construction of the representative Vladislav Hall and the Equestrian Stairs, both of which connect Gothic elements with those of the Renaissance era that followed.
The first Habsburg ruler, Ferdinand I, expanded the castle with the Royal Garden (Kralovska zahrada) behind the Stag Moat (Jeleni prikop) and had Queen Anne's Summer Palace (Letohradek kralovny Anny) and the Ball-Games Hall (Micovna) built. Work on Bonifaz Wolmut's designs for the presbytery and tower of the unfinished St. Vitus Cathedral was stopped temporarily.
In 1541 the castle and part of Lesser Town were burned in a major fire and the castle underwent reconstruction work until the end of the century. The next momentous era in the castle's history came during the reign of Rudolph II (1576 – 1611), when the imperial seat returned to Prague. During this period palaces were built on the north and south sides, along with the Spanish Hall and Rudolph's Gallery.
The first early Baroque structure was Matthias' Gate (Matyasova brana), built in 1614. After the second Prague Defenestration (1618), when royal governors were thrown out of the windows of Czech court offices – sparking the second anti-Habsburg uprising – the monarchy once again left the castle and went there only for the coronations of Czech kings and short-term stays.
During the Prussian siege of Prague in 1757 the castle was severely damaged. Maria Theresa had all the castle buildings, including the Old Palace, repaired in an extensive Baroque Classicist reconstruction project led by Viennese architect Niccolo Paccassi.
Romantic Historicism revived construction work on St. Vitus Cathedral. It was built according to designs by Josef Mocker and Kamil Hilbert and completed in 1929. In 1918 the castle became the seat of the president of the new Czechoslovak Republic and the symbol of an independent state. The first president, T.G. Masaryk, appointed Slovenian architect Josip Plecnik to convert the castle's palaces to the official presidential residence. Otto Rothmayer, Pavel Janak and Jaroslav Fragner all had the honour of following in Plecnik's footsteps.
The dignity that Masaryk bestowed upon the castle returned in 1989 when Former President Vaclav Havel took up residence there. Several noteworthy projects have been completed since then, primarily the restoration of the Lion's Court (Lvi dvur), a new path to the Stag Moat and Josef Pleskota's tunnel through the dike of the Powder Bridge (Prasny most), and Eva Jiricna's new Orangery (Oranzerie).
The grounds of the Prague Castle are open daily from 05:00 to 24:00. St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St. George Basilica, the Powder Tower, Golden Lane and Daliborka are open from 09:00 to 17:00. The Royal Gardens of Prague Castle are open from 10:00 to 18:00, with the exception of At the Bastion (Na baste), which is accessible for the entire duration of the castle grounds' visiting hours.
Prague Castle's information centre in Courtyard III is open daily from 09:00 to 17:00. Most of the historical buildings have handicap access. Tour guide services can be ordered by telephone on +420 224 373 368. Tours of interiors and parts that are generally not freely open to the public are organised in four circuits:
A – St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, The Story of Prague Castle exhibition, St. George Basilica, Powder Tower, Golden Lane, Daliborka
B – St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, Golden Lane, Daliborka
C – Golden Lane, Daliborka
D – St. George Basilica
Note: a full tour of the castle requires more than a one-day stay in Prague. For longer stays, it is a good idea to spend one day doing tour circuit A.