The Old Royal Palace was built in 1135 in the beautiful Romanesque style, which was a popular architectural method, common in medieval buildings. The rulers of Bohemia and the Czech kings used the palace as their residence.
It was not the first structure to be built on this site and had been preceded by others dating back to the 10th century. It is now part of the huge Prague Castle complex, with only a small part of the original structure still visible, mainly in the basement areas.
Due to the enthusiastic building efforts of several great Czech rulers, it is now an eclectic mix of different architectural styles including gothic and renaissance. Emperor Charles IV carried out the first major reconstruction work in the 14th century. He extensively remodeled the palace using Gothic architecture.
Original buildings such as the All Saints Chapel and the Old Diet, where state assemblies used to be held, were destroyed in the 1541 Prague Castle fire, leaving only the foundations.
Charles IV's son, Wenceslas IV, rebuilt the chapel on top of the previous ruins and also expanded the palace by constructing two more wings.
The impressive late gothic Vladislav Hall was built by Vladislav Jagiello at the beginning of the 16th century. It is extremely large, stretching 60 meters in length. Along the southern wall is an observation gallery with panoramic views of Prague. It has a marvelous vaulted ceiling, beautiful renaissance windows and at one stage was the biggest hall in medieval Prague not associated with a church.
It was used for a variety of important functions including knight's tournaments, coronations, celebrations, banquets, markets and government meetings. It is still in use today and is host to many state functions including the presidential elections.
The Rider's Staircase in the Valdislav Hall has an interesting history as it was built to allow the knights, as well as their horses, to enter the hall for tournaments. Next to Vladislav Hall is the Ludwig Wing, named after Vladislav's son, which housed the Czech Chancellery. It is also reported that the Thirty Years' War started in this room when two Catholic Governors were thrown from the windows.
The Habsburgs came to power in the middle of the 1500s and they continued to make changes and construct new buildings in the renaissance style. The Spanish Hall in the northern wing was built at this time. It is a large, beautifully ornate room and was once full of artworks collected by Rudolph II. The stucco work on the walls is particularly wonderful. The room is opened at only certain times of the year.
Maria Theresa also became a contributor to the palace and she ordered the construction of the Theresian Way in the middle 18th century and this was used to house the office registers. It is now used to house an exhibition of creative art and from time to time concerts are held here.
When Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, the palace became the seat of the president and during World War II the crown jewels where held there for safekeeping. It was also used as the headquarters of Reinhard Heydrich, who was the German Nazi SS leader and governor of occupied Bohemia and Moravia.
Many of the castle rooms are open to visitors, with several guided tours available in a variety of languages.
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