Karltejn Castle is to Prague and the Czech Republic what Windsor is to London and England.
It's precise foundation date is a little unclear, but it was certainly founded by Charles IV (he of Charles Bridge fame in Prague) who was King of Bohemia from 1346 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1355. There are reports of a ceremonial founding for the Castle on 10th June 1348.
Some schools of thought state that Charles built the Castle specifically to house the Bohemian Crown Jewels, but it seems more likely that the decision to move the Jewels here was taken after his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in 1355, in which case much of the Castle had already been built. In that year Charles established the Karltejn Chapter, who job it was to pray in the 'sacred spaces' of Karltejn and protect valuable relics housed inside.
The Castle has four definite sections, the Burgraves Residence and the Bailey forming the entrance area, the Imperial Palace, the Lesser or "Marian" Tower and the Great Tower.
The Imperial Palace which is the bulkiest part of the Castle (pictured right) was certainly in place by 1350 when Charles visited. The Lesser Tower (pictured centre) was built simultaneously and is accessed directly from the upper storey of the Imperial Palace, this Tower was the sovereign's initial place of refuge should the more vulnerable Palace be attacked.
The Great Tower (pictured left) came slightly later and was initially one storey smaller than it is today, but even then must have dominated the Castle as it does now. The Tower is completely free-standing and contains one of the most sacred places in the Czech Republic, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, where the most valuable treasures of the Holy Roman Empire were housed which occupies the whole of the second floor of the Tower.
The Castle was essentially complete by the time of the Hussite Wars when the Crown of St. Wenceslas was hastily taken from Prague Castle and removed to the relative safety of Karltejn. Ironically at the same time the Holy Roman relics were taken from Karltejn to Nuremberg. The Castle was besieged in 1422 but not badly damaged, although over the next hundred years the Lesser Tower sank into disrepair. When the Thirty Years' War against Sweden erupted in 1619 the Bohemian Crown Jewels were moved back to Prague. In 1645 the relics of the saints from Karltejn back to St. Vitus Cathedral, marking the end of Karltejn's time as resting place of any precious relics.
In 1648 the move was justified when the Swedes occupied the Castle and did some damage to its structure. Urgent repairs were undertaken in 1815 and in 1848 a national pilgrimage was undertaken to the Castle to celebrate it's 500th anniversary. The Castle by this time had become a potent symbol of Czech nationalism. A massive programme of restoration was completed in 1910 and today Karltejn Castle is the most visited attraction in the Czech Republic outside of Prague.
Don't bother with the taxi ride up to the Castle though, unless you really can't walk far, because it goes a long way out of your way and the walk to the Castle isn't half as steep as tour guides might make out.
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