A look at the crown jewels' former home, 40 kilometers southwest of Prague, from the Czech Tourist Authority's castle guide

Karlštejn is the most notable Czech castle and one of the symbols of the Czech Kingdom.

Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV founded the castle, built on three levels, in 1348.

The first level contained residential rooms used by the emperor, his wife and their court.

The second level was a place of catharsis, housing the Church of Our Lady and Charles IV's private chapel, which was connected to the church by a narrow corridor. The chapel was devoted to St. Catherine, his patroness.

The highest point of the castle was the tower, which features the building's largest religious space - the Chapel of the Holy Cross - symbolizing "Heavenly Jerusalem."

Charles IV originally intended the castle as place of relaxation but, during more than seven years of construction, its role began to change. Ultimately, the crown jewels and various religious relics were housed here, and during Charles's reign the castle was predominately a representative seat.

By horse, it took only one day to get from the castle to Prague, the meeting place of Europe's political elite.

In the course of the Hussite wars, Karlštejn was a frequent target for attacking Hussites; in 1422, its fortifications proved strong enough to withstand a siege.

In the late 15th century some alterations were made to the castle, in the Late Gothic style. In particular, reconstruction of the Great Tower altered the outline of the castle.

Between 1578 and 1597, during the reign of Rudolf II, extensive reconstruction was carried out in the Renaissance style.

In 1625, Emperor Ferdinand II downgraded Karlštejn's status, and the castle and its dominion became the dowry of Czech queens.

Maria Theresa donated the dominion to a noblewomen's institute, and it was only in the late 18th century that Karlštejn's historic significance was duly appreciated.

Under the guidance of architect Josef Mocker, a "regothicization" of the castle began in 1887, involving the demolition of some castle buildings and the construction of new ones. With much the same appearance that it has today, the castle was opened to the public in 1910.

Today, the Great Tower and the Chapel of the Holy Cross (consecrated in 1357), dominate the castle. The vaults are decorated with semi-precious stones, set in the shape of crosses, and contain the castle's unique collection of portraits of saints, popes, bishops, and other religious leaders.

Above the altar is a niche enclosed by golden bars, where the crown jewels and relics were once placed. The vault's decorations show a sky containing stars, the moon, the sun and the five planets that were known at that time.

(The Chapel of the Holy Cross is open to the public but visits must be organized ahead of time.)

The original version of this article appears on the official Czech Tourism website.

Official Website | Karlštejn Castle Image Gallery

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