By the 14th century some of Europe’s aristocracy felt it was about time they had more home comforts and far fewer draughty arrow slits. As a consequence, castle design changed from being a purely military installation to the medieval equivalent of today’s luxury mansion in Beverly Hills within a gated community.
Enter Charles IV. He instructed his workforce to build the amazing Castle Karlštein in 1348 as a comfy royal residence and to house the crown jewels for the empire and the kingdom. By 1355 he was able to move in and the interior decorations were finally completed by 1367. Not bad considering the construction industry at the time didn’t have the kind of machinery aiding them today.
Charles IV’s Czech flat pack castle included a fortress complete with luxurious living quarters and apartments for ecclesiastical visitors. The fortress is really three in one: there are three independent structures with their own fortifications grouped around the outline of an irregular trapeze.
This forms the oblong, 5-floor living quarter with a chapel together with the Marianské Collegium Church and St Catharine’s private chapel. Right on top of the hill sits a tower containing a chapel of the Holy Cross together with the repository for the crown jewels and crown. Nice bachelor’s pad!
Later kings and queens added various gorgeous interior decorations; among the oldest of the existing wall paintings are two located in the Virgin Mary chapel that depict Charles IV in two different positions.
One shows the monarch receiving a thorn from the crown of Jesus Christ and the other shows him carefully placing it into a reliquary which is shaped like a cross. Both paintings are often referred to as the finest examples of early 14th century Czech portraiture.
Sadly, I ran out of time to visit Castle Karlštein, but at least I got to see and photograph the Schwarzenberk Palace, which is part of the palace complex in central Prague.
The original Renaissance building dates back to 1563 and was designed by the Italian master and architect Augustin. The palace underwent considerable restoration in 1871 (under the watchful eye of architect Josef Schulz).
Initially, the palace housed the Technical Museum but now proudly boasts the Prague Military Institute, which is why I haven’t got pictures from the interior…they don’t let just any old German in, you know…and I can’t find my pics from the exterior either – why aren’t there any on Wikipedia? This “bachelor lady” is in the process of packing up her belongings to go travelling, so heaven knows where my Schwarzenberk pictures have wandered off to!
…which reminds me, both Nürnberg Castle in Germany and Slatiňany Castle in the Czech Republic, have some splendid examples of 14th, 15th and 16th century knight’s armour and accoutrements such as saddles and horse’s protective armour. Castle Slatiňany was a medieval fortified manor that was later rebuilt to become a mansion in around 1580 on behalf of B. Mazanec of Frymburk, clearly another one who wanted a chic bachelor pad with splendid views. It’s undergone several transformations since then but frankly, it looks almost pedestrian and homespun compared to Castle Karlštein.
The treasure hunt I’m planning for Molly, Peter and Leroy will take them to various ancient monuments in Europe, from the Comburg’s fortified monastery in Schwäbisch Hall in Germany to Prague’s Strahov Monastery and famous library in the Czech Republic to Strasbourg’s cathedral and the picturesque villages of the Alsace. Along the way they’ll be visiting some castles, where “red herrings” will have led them.
Like most Church-owned buildings at the time Strahov Monastery sprung into life in 1140 looking not unlike a castle – in fact it was originally the same size as Prague Castle, which is located almost directly opposite on a neighbouring hill.
The original monastery burnt down in the 13th century and had to be rebuilt. The facade and some of the buildings seen today date mainly back to the 18th century.
The views over the city from the monastery’s hill are amazing and their own-brewed beer is worth climbing up there for. At the time they were completely restoring their famous library, but we were allowed to have a sneak preview of the already restored paintings on the ceilings in the Theological and the Philosophical Halls.
The monks managed to hang on until the 1950s, when the communists drove them out, but today there are bachelor monks flitting through the long corridors and secret passageways again, clearly enjoying their stay in this lofty bachelor pad overlooking Prague’s famous old and new town.
My next blog visits will be to Castle Bratislava (ca. 907 AD) in the Czech Republic, which overlooks the mighty Danube River and the not quite so impressive Caerphilly Castle (12th century), which overlooks a run-down little town in Wales (but does feature largely in BBC programmes like Merlin) and, if I get time, a little bit about Heidelberg Castle and town, home to Germany’s oldest university. And no, I didn’t lose my heart there!