Karlštejn Castle
The Stronghold of Bohemia

karlstejn castle, czech republicKing of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV ordered the building of Karlštejn castle to house and protect his royal treasures. In 1348, after finding an easily defensible location, construction of Karlštejn castle was begun and nine years later it was completed. Today this storybook castle is fully restored and anyone with an interest in Middle Age art and history should be sure to pay a visit. Located just thirty minutes away from Prague, a trip to this wonderful village will take you back six centuries in time to a day when Prague lay at the center of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Castle

Situated on a rocky outcrop surrounded by five low hills, Karlštejn castle's location combines with its architecture to create a formidable stronghold. Although it was constructed as a safe place for the crown jewels and Charles IV's collection of religious relics, both the King and his son Wenceslas frequently used the castle as a country home and royal palace. The castle was besieged several times over the centuries, most notably for seven months by the Hussites in 1422, but the main tower was never taken. A major restoration to repair damage that had been sustained over the centuries was completed in the late 19th century.

The upper castle complex consists of three buildings; the Imperial Palace, the Great Tower and, unusually for Central European castles, a smaller second tower. To facilitate the castle's defense, each of these buildings was situated at a different elevation. The Great Tower, with its six-meter thick walls, occupies the highest point in the complex.

The three floors of the Imperial Palace were the residence of the King, the Queen and their retainers during their visits to the castle. The first floor is memorable for the Vassal's hall, which was occupied by the castle's Knights. The great wooden wardrobes that once held their weapons can be seen along the walls, decorated with the coats of arms of their houses. Upstairs on the second floor, the Emperor's private apartments can be visited; their sparse furnishings accurately depict the furnishings of the medieval period. On the same floor, the Forebears Hall houses the largest existing collection of portraits of Czech rulers. The third floor of the palace is not part of the public tour, but it was home to the Queen(s) - King Charles IV had four wives, three of whom died young - and their courts.

Marian Tower is the smaller of the two towers and it was the home of Charles IV's private treasury. A replica of the 2 kilogram, bejeweled crown of the Bohemian Kings is on display here (the original is stored in Prague Castle) along with holy relics such as a crocodile's skull that was once believed to be the head of the dragon slain by Saint George.

The Great Tower is situated at the highest point of the castle and it overlooks the access road that leads up from the village. The Chapel of the Holy Cross - the golden treasure of Karlštejn Castle - is located on its second floor. The lower portion of the chapel's gilded walls are incrusted with semi-precious stones set in the shape of crosses while the gilded ceiling is set with glass and stones laid out like a starry sky. An impressive set of 129 paintings dating back to the 14th century covers the upper part of the walls. This collection of gothic portraits by Theodoric - the royal painter of Charles IV, is one of the largest in the world. The figures represent the angels, saints and religious figures who make up the 'Army of the Heavens'.

In order to preserve the sanctity of the chapel of the Holy Cross, King Charles decreed that no man could lie with a woman in any chamber of the Great Tower, whether it be his lawful wife or not. This decree gradually became distorted over time until legend had it that no woman was allowed to enter Karlštejn castle.

The Visit
From Karlštejn train station, you'll need about 10 minutes to walk to the village (follow the signs that say 'hrad') and 20 minutes more to walk up the hill to the Castle. The road going up the hill from the village is lined with numerous shops offering Bohemia crystal, marionettes, handcrafts, jewelry, and other souvenir items at prices that are sometimes much cheaper than you'll find in Prague, but the road is steep. During summer months those not wanting to walk can choose to ride up the hill in a horse drawn carriage!

Visiting the three main buildings of the castle is only possible as part of a guided tour. When you arrive at the castle you'll be able to choose one of two completely different tours which visit either the Imperial Palace (200 CZK, 100 CZK students/children) or the Imperial Palace and the Great Tower (300 CZK, 100 CZK students/children - open from July 1st - November 20th). Both English and Czech language tours begin every 30 minutes.

Rest and Relaxation
After the castle tour and the strenuous walk up the hill from the train station, you'll probably want to take a break on the way down. Stop off in one of the many tempting pubs or restaurants along the road, standard Czech fare and beer are offered at very reasonable prices.

For those interested in an overnight trip, the area surrounding Karlštejn castle is also home to Krivoklát and Tocnik castles, the Konepruské and Serbian caves, and a golf course is just over the hill. A handful of pensions and hotels are available on the road leading up to the castle, as well as the Pension "U Nádrazí" (rooms from 500 CZK/night), located right behind the train station.

Getting There
Train: 30 min. from Smíchovské nádrazí or Hlavni nádrazí, 50 CZK round-trip

More Info
Karlštejn Castle is open daily except Mondays from March 1 - November 20 as well as for two weeks during the Christmas holiday season (Dec 26 - Jan 9)

Mar, Nov-Dec: 09:00 - 15:00
Apr, Oct: 09:00 - 16:00
May - Jun, Sep: 09:00 - 17:00
Jul - Aug: 09:00 - 18:00
Official website: www.hradkarlstejn.cz
History of Karlštejn Castle: www.allcrusades.com
Website of Karlštejn village: www.mestys-karlstejn.cz
Karlštejn Castle Art: www.everycastle.com