Walking in the footsteps of kings

The Royal Road goes across Old Town, over Charles Bridge, through Lesser Town and ends at Prague Castle. Click to enlarge the map.

A one-day journey along the Royal Road.

If we want to enter the city as the city itself wishes us to, we can do so by starting at the Powder Tower (Prasna brana). Through it we enter Prague's Old Town (Stare Mesto).

The Powder Tower's immediate surroundings offer a symbolic entrance to the city: at the turn of the 19th century, the Royal Capital City of Prague had its representative Municipal House (Obecni dum) built beside the tower. Karel Spillar's colourful Secessionist mosaic The Apotheosis of Prague decorates the space above the entranceway. A quote by Svatopluk Cech adorns the mosaic and still offers us an appropriate greeting to the city:

"Hail to you Prague! Brave time and malice as you have resisted all storms throughout the ages."

The Municipal House

We shall follow the route taken for the coronation and funereal processions of the Czech kings of the 16th to 18th centuries; that is to say we shall proceed along the Royal Road. Connecting the King's Court, where the Municipal House stands today, to Prague Castle, this road traverses Prague's four original towns: New Town (Nove Mesto), Old Town (Stare Mesto), Lesser Town (Mala Strana) and Hradcany. Along this route, the city welcomed royalty to its most impressive buildings.

The first royal procession to travel this road was that of Emperor Maximilian in 1562. The most spectacular processions were those of Maria Theresa in 1743, Leopold II in 1791, and Ferdinand V in 1836.

From the Powder Tower, we proceed to Celetna Street, one of the city's oldest streets, into Prague's Old Town. After a short walk and a quick left from the Powder Tower we find ourselves in the open space of the Fruit Market (Ovocny trh). On the corner stands a superb example of Prague's Cubist architecture: The House of the Black Madonna (Dum U cerne Matky Bozi).

Old Town Square with the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn

Celetna Street, comprising a collection of Baroque palaces that were originally Romanesque and Gothic houses, leads us to Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti). The Old Town Hall (Staromestska radnice) and the Church of St. Nicholas (kostel sv. Mikulase) dominate the square.

To the right of the mouth of Celetna, opposite the Old Town Hall, the eastern side of the square consists of The House at the White Unicorn (Dum u bileho jednorozce), Tyn School (Tynska skola), The House at the Stone Bell (dum U ka-menneho zvonu), and the Golz-Kinsky Palace. The tower of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn (kostel P. Marie pred Tynem) stands tall behind them.

We continue along the Royal Road to the Little Square (Male namesti), which separated a block of homes behind the Old Town Hall from what was originally a marketplace. This square features a public fountain with a very well preserved Renaissance wrought iron grating dating back to 1560.

Karlova Street: have a cup of coffee in front of a Baroque portal

From here, the royal procession would head towards what is known today as Karlova Street. On the corner of Karlova and Husova Streets we can see part of one of the most beautiful secular structures in Prague, the Clam-Gallas Palace. The typical Romanesque interior in the building at 156/I is especially worth seeing.

Further along the road, to our right, we pass the Clementinum and its church, the Church of St. Clement (kostel sv. Klimenta), the Italian Chapel (Vlasska kaple) and the Church of St. Saviour (kostel sv. Salvatora).

Retrace your footsteps from the top of the Old Town Bridge Tower

Before us lies The Square of the Knights of the Cross (Krizovnicke namesti). Here, for the first time, we get a view of our destination: Prague Castle. The square is enclosed by the facades of the Church of St. Saviour, the Church of St. Francis (kostel sv. Frantiska Serafinskeho) with the Convent of the Knights of the Cross with a Red Star (konvent radu krizovniku s cervenou hvezdou), and the Old Town Bridge Tower (Staromestska mostecka vez).

Through the triumphal gateway of the Old Town Bridge Tower we step onto Charles' Bridge (Karluv most). The panoramic view over the Vltava River to the Lesser Town (Mala Strana) and Prague Castle is a sight that epitomises Prague's beauty. We take in a natural amphitheatre, rising well above the water's surface up to the forested peak of Petrin, across from which Prague Castle stands in contrast, full of manmade structures dating back to the Romanesque era.

Lesser Town Bridge Towers with Prague Castle in the background

The Lesser Town Bridge Towers dominate the foreground of this impressive scene. Lesser Town then culminates in the two towers and cupola of the St. Nicholas Cathedral (chram sv. Mikulase). The entire composition is completed by the monumental presence of Prague Castle, behind which stand the St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert Cathedral (Katedrala sv. Vita, Vaclava a Vojtecha – generally known as the St. Vitus Cathedral) and the two-towered Romanesque St. George's Basilica (Bazilika sv. Jiri).

The Lesser Town side of the bridge ends at the two Lesser Town Bridge Towers. Stepping through the gateway between them we continue along the Royal Road into Lesser Town.

St. Nicholas Cathedral

Mostecka Street takes us to Lesser Town Square (Malostranske namesti), which is surrounded by typical Lesser Town buildings and their Gothic cores that were gradually reconstructed in the Renaissance and Baroque styles. The incomparable St. Nicholas Cathedral dominates the square. We walk towards it through an arcade that runs along the left side of the square.

Two huge Renaissance palaces – the Smiricky House and Sternberg Palace – are at the end of the right side of the lower part of the square. The main facade of the St. Nicholas Cathedral, the vocational homes of the Jesuits and, across from the homes, Liechtenstein Palace, enclose the longer side of the upper part of the square, which also features the Holy Trinity Column.

The Royal Road then rises from Lesser Town Square up Nerudova Street. This was the main route connecting the city with Prague Castle. It consists of several palaces and houses on medieval plots, all with late Baroque facades. Noteworthy buildings include the Morzin Palace on the left and, on the right, Thunov Palace and the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (kostel P. Marie ustavicne pomoci). Nerudova also boasts the highest number of houses with emblems.

The base of Prague Castle is situated at the end of Nerudova, on the right. Continuing up this way we find ourselves on Ke hradu Street. The edge of the base affords one of the most impressive views of Prague. The Theresian wing of the castle frames the left side of the street, while the green massif of the Seminary Garden and Petrin frames the right. The towering Vitkova and Vysehrad dominate the inside.

Charles Bridge and Old Town from the base of Prague Castle

The Gothic tower of the Church of the Virgin Mary before Tyn, the bridge towers of Charles' Bridge, the Baroque onion-domed roofs of the Churches of St. James, St. Saviour, St. Gall, and Our Lady Victorious, the Baroque cupolas of St. Nicholas Cathedral and the Church of St. Francis, and the roofs of the National Museum, the National Theatre and the Municipal House all emerge spectacularly from the vast sea of the city's roofs.

Upon entering Nerudova Street we find ourselves in another one of Prague's historic neighbourhoods: Hradcany. If we leave the royal procession route for a while and set out around Hradcany's main square, the first thing we notice is the Classicist Salmovsky and Renaissance Schwarzenberg Palaces. Alongside a White Friar cloister we come to Hradcany's Renaissance town hall. The Early Baroque Tuscan Palace (Toskansky palac) creates practically the entire western front of Hradcany Square (Hradcanske namesti).

At the beginning of the second street in the fork in the route, there are canonries reconstructed in the Baroque style on one side, and on the other side we can see the extensive Renaissance Martinic Palace (Martinicky palac). A line of Baroque facades of capitular, canonical, and burgher homes leads us around the entrance to Sternberg Palace to the Baroque Archbishop's Palace (Arcibiskupsky palac).

The Baroque Plague Column of St. Mary (Mariansky morovy sloup) stands in the middle of the square. The lengthwise axis of Hradcany Square opens to the celebrated entrance to Prague Castle.

Matthias' Gate - the entrance to the 1st Courtyard of Prague Castle

To acquaint ourselves with Prague Castle we walk through the gate, with its statue The Battle of the Titans (Ignaz Platzer, 1768) atop the entrance, to Courtyard I. This is the youngest of the castle courtyards, originally completed in the 2nd half of the 18th century as part of Niccola Paccassi's work during the Theresian reconstruction of the castle. The older Manneristic-Baroque Matthias' Gate (Matyova brna – Giovanni Maria Filippi, 1614) was incorporated into it as well.

From the gate we come to Courtyard II. It was developed in the second half of the 16th century after the castle moat was filled up and was prepared during the Theresian reconstruction. The Prague Castle Gallery is here, housed in the north wing.

The private court of the Chapel of the Holy Cross (kaple sv. Krize – originally designed by Anselmo Lurago after 1753), a Baroque structure rebuilt in the spirit of Late Classicism by Karl Brust (1852 – 1858), is in the corner of the courtyard. The fountain, known as Leopold's, Kohl's or the Lion's, was built in 1686 by the Italian court stone-mason Francesco della Torre. Jeronm Kohl created the fountain's statues of the ancient gods Mercury, Vulcan, Neptune and Hercules.

The high tower of St. Vitus Cathedral

In the passage to Courtyard III we can see a fragment of the castle's Romanesque fortifications. The mouth of the passage is opposite the Neo-Gothic facade of the St. Vitus Cathedral.

We set out to the right alongside the cathedral. Paccassi's facade, behind which the Old Royal Palace and a Renaissance annex are situated, encloses the courtyard. In front of the cathedral stands the Old Provostry, originally a Romanesque Episcopal court, converted into the Gothic style after 1486, Renaissance after 1541, and Baroque around 1662.

A granite 16,38 meter-high monolith was erected as a memorial for the victims of the First World War. Josip Plecnik designed it in 1921 and President T.G. Masaryk covered its cost in 1928. In this courtyard we can also see a fountain upon which a Gothic equestrian statue featuring St. George stands.

The entry to the Golden Gate (Zlata brana), which features a mosaic of the Final Judgement and optically connects the Great Tower (Velka vez) and the massive St. Wenceslas Chapel (Svatovaclavske kaple), rises from behind the St. Vitus Cathedral. Upon passing the cathedral's chancel with its abundance of chapels we come to the square in front of the St. George Basilica.

On the right we are treated to a view of part of the Old Palace, which has not been obscured by Paccasi's reconstruction, as can be seen in the lower arcade, built in the Gothic style after 1260, and the upper windows designed by Benedict Ried in 1493. This is generally considered as the first instance of the Renaissance in Bohemia.

St. George Basilica and the Institute of Noblewomen

Opposite the basilica is the Institute of Noblewomen (Ustav slechticen), a late Baroque Pacassi building built in 1753 – 1755 that includes the Renaissance Romberk Palace (Rozmbersky palac). The institute was connected with the palace's All-Saints Chapel (kaple Vsech svatych), which Petr Parler designed for Emperor Charles IV in 1370 as a variation on the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. We then proceed along Jirska Street alongside Lobkowicz Palace, which is a Baroque reconstruction (Carlo Lurago, 1651 – 1668) of the Renaissance Pernstejn Palace.

From Prague Castle's west gate, built at the end of the 16th century, we can go back several meters. The Black Tower (Cerna vez) stands by this gate. It is part of the original Romanesque fortifications from the first half of the 12th century. The grounds of the Old Burgrave's House (Stare purkrabstvi), a Renaissance structure, are situated around the tower.

Golden Lane

We turn right at the stairs and walk along Golden Lane (Zlata ulicka), which consists of tiny homes originally built for the castle archers and stuck into the Rudolphinian castle fortifications. The street ends at the Daliborka cannon tower (delova vez Daliborka), built at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries.

We return to Jirske namesti and, while walking around the Neo-Gothic New Provostry (Nove pro-bosstvi, Josef Mocker, 1877 – 1878) and the supremely Baroque Capitular Deanery (Kapitulni dekanstvi, Jan Blazej Santini-Aichl, 1705 – 1706), we pass the other side of the St. Vitus Cathedral. We come once again to Courtyard II and here we turn right to the Northern Internal Gate (Severni vnitrni brana). From here we can access the Prague Castle Gallery and Rudolph's Imperial Stable.

the Powder Bridge (Prasny most)

We step onto the Powder Bridge (Prasny most), which connects the castle with its recreation facilities. Thanks to the configuration of the terrain, Emperor Ferdinand I was able to build extensive grounds for rest, hunting, entertainment and sport in close proximity of his seat. Prague thus did not need faraway Versailles, Sanssousi, Schnbrunn, Oranienburg, Escorial, or Petrodvorec.

Over the bridge, opposite Prague Castle's massive Hippodrome, we move on to the entrance to the Royal Gardens. Along the right side we pass the summer residence of Czechoslovak presidents. At the wide crossroad we can see the original Summer Ball-Game Hall (Letni micovna). The Baroque Hercules Fountain (Jan Jiri Bendl, 1670) stands in the middle.

The lengthy Ball-Game Hall encloses the right side of the garden. Boniface Wolmut built this Renaissance-Manneristic structure, with its sgraffitoed allegories of knowledge, virtue and the elements, in 1567 – 1569. The hall was nearly destroyed at the end of the Second World War, but restoration work on it was completed in 1952 (Bedrich Hacar, Pavel Janak). In front of it stands Matyas Bernard Braun's Baroque statue, Nights (Noci). Prussian gunfire destroyed some of the statue's decorations.

If we turn right just behind the Ball-Game Hall, we can walk around the greenhouse built at the end of last century according to the plans of Eva Jiricna. The path along the wall of the Old Orangery (Stare oranzerie) offers a view over the Deer Moat (Jeleni prikop) and the castle fortifications. The massive peripheral walls around the adjacent terrace are the remains of the Fikovna, built at the beginning of the 1570's.

Queen Anne's Summer Palace (Letohradek kralovny Anny)

At the end of the Old Orangery we once again enter the garden. Queen Anne's Summer Palace (Letohradek kralovny Anny), a fine Renaissance structure, stands at the end of the garden. In the 1920's The Giardinetto in front of it was restored into its original geometric Renaissance form (Pavel Janak, Otakar Fierlinger, Jan Sokol).

The Renaissance Singing Fountain (Zpvajici fontana) stands in the centre of the garden. Artist Francesco Terzio from Bergamo designed it, Hanus Peysser from Nuremberg carved a model of it, and, from 1563 to 1568, Prague smith and bell-maker Tomas Jaros cast it in bronze. Drops of water chime as they drip into the lower basin. Jan turs' bronze Victory statue, made in 1921, stands on a tall sandstone pedestal in front of the summer palace.

Pisek Gate

From Queen Anne's Summer Palace we cross the tram tracks to the Pisek Gate (Pisecka brana), part of the remains of Prague's Baroque ramparts. We walk through a small quarter of family homes that were built after 1910 in an area that was once occupied by fortifications.

We then turn left on U Psecke brany Street to Tychonova Street. Houses 4 and 6 (post numbers 268, 269/IV) are next; these are less famous examples of Czech Cubist architecture. Tychonova Street takes us to Na Valech Street, at the end of which there is a new administrative building with a corridor that leads to the A-line's Hradansk metro station, where our own personal royal procession through Prague comes to an end.

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