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Hradčany, The Strahov Monastery, Petřín and The Lesser Town


Southern part of Hradčany with the Lobkovic Palace, photo by: Libor Sváček, archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.

Hradčany, settled since the 3rd millennium B.C., spreads out to the west of Prague Castle. Around 1320, a medieval town was built, and in 1598, Hradčany was first granted municipal privileges. Hradčany was not a typical town. Diminutive burgher houses from the 14th century huddle in the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) in the shadow of the palaces. Today, these houses, with their simpler Renaissance and Early Baroque facades, contrast with the noble monumentality of the palaces, creating a poetic magic. At its centre is Hradčanské náměstí (Hradčany Square), which opens onto the main entrance of the first courtyard of Prague Castle. Grand palace courts and ecclesiastical institutions decorate the square, such as the Renaissance Lobkowicz (later called Schwarzenberg) Palace built with sgraffito decoration completed in 1563, in which the Military Museum now has an exhibition.

The gate leading to the Šternberk Palace leads us around the corner to the Rococo facade of the Archbishop’s Palace, which contains the very valuable European art collections of the National Gallery.

Besides the gracious noble palaces and their luxurious gardens, such as the Černín Palace garden, churches such as the exquisite Loreta (1626; baroque facing of the complex by K. I. Dienzenhofer, dating from 1722), dominate Hradčany.


View of Strahov Monastery, photo by: Libor Sváček, archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.

The Strahov Monastery, founded in the mid-12th century, spreads out to the south of Hradčany. Frequently reconstructed throughout its history, its Baroque face is the most distinctive, but the Rudolphine Church of St. Roch, dating from the 17th century is also worthy of attention as well as the Romanesque walls of the monastery buildings. The above indicates the complexity of the building development of this district. The spacious buildings today serve as part of the Monastery, The Museum of Czech Literature and the rich Strahov Gallery. The library, containing thousands of books and manuscripts, the oldest of which date from the 9th century, is especially noteworthy. The bookcases in the Theological and Philosophical Halls, built in Baroque style in the late 17th century, are original.


Petřín tower (60 m) - Prague?s Eiffel Tower dating from 1891, photo by: Libor Sváček, archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.

The Strahov Monastery is connected to the Petřín Orchards, located on the remains of the original hunting grounds. In the 12th century, vineyards and gardens took over the grounds and today, a two-kilometre long walking path runs through Petřín, offering a view from the Petřín View Tower, a 60 m high copy of the Paris Eiffel Tower. In addition, there is a curious mirror Labyrinth, which, like Petřín, was made in celebration of the Jubilee exhibitions in 1891. There are also dozens of statues or groups of statues and a funicular railway that takes you to the top of Petřín Hill.

MALÁ STRANA (the Lesser Town)

Malá Strana can be found in the area under Petřín and Prague Castle. In the 8th century, a mercantile settlement existed for a few hundred years, until Prince Břetislav moved the Jewish settlers to the other side of the Vltava in the 11th century. The Lesser Town became the residential town for Bohemian nobility and foreign envoys. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is the home to many embassies today.

The Lesser Town obtained municipal privileges from Přemysl Otakar II in 1257. Its centre at that time was Malostranské náměstí (Lesser Town Square) with the Church of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas Church and its adjacent Jesuit College represents the most monumental religious building of the Prague Baroque.

The originally Protestant Church of the Most Holy Trinity, handed over to the Catholics after the lost uprising and dedicated to Our Lady of Victory, was the first Baroque church in Prague. In 1628, it became the home of the Miraculous Infant Jesus of Prague.

Vrtbovská garden (F. M. Kaňka, M. B. Braun, 1730), photo by: Libor Sváček, archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.

The Augustinian St. Thomas Church conceals a Baroque treasure in the shape of an altar by Peter Paul Rubens, commissioned in 1636. This altar is accessible to the public. The magnificence of baroque palaces, such as Thunovský Palace built in 1726 in Nerudova Street, and the charm of baroque gardens such as the Vrtbovská Garden with statues from 1730, or the Ledeburská Garden made in 1720, attracted many dignitaries such as Prince Albrecht of Wallenstein. He made use of the Post-White Mountain confiscation of Protestant Property to build his imposing residence of 22 houses, a brickworks and several gardens to form the Albrecht of Wallenstein Palace in the early 17th century.

Smiřický Palace (1606), photo by: Libor Sváček, archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.

Today, it is the The local aristocratic residences were considerably more modest before Albrecht’s of Wallenstein’ time, such as the Smiřický Palace on Malostranské Náměstí (Lesser Town Square), with its partially-altered façade dating from after 1763. The Šternberk Palace, located next to the Smiřický Palace suffered from a terrible fire that started in 1541, badly damaging The Lesser Town, and Prague Castle.

The Johannine Church of the Virgin Mary under the Chain, dating from 1169, is probably the most impressive of Lesser Town structures. Its Gothic hall and tower appears in front of the remains of the Romanesque walls, behind which the presbytery was converted in Baroque style. The Knights of St. John, known as the Maltese Knights after 1530, were supposed to protect the stone bridge.