Hradčany Quarter - Locality Description



Hradčany is a Prague quarter (area of 1.5 sq km, a part of Prague 1 and Prague 6) and the historical town on the left bank of the river Vltava in direct vicinity to the Prague Castle. Up until the beginning of the 14th century there was a forest touching the western side of the Castle through which there was a road to the northwest Bohemia going past the Břevnov Monastery and later also the Strahov Monastery. On the open space outside the Castle next to this road in the place of today’s Hradčany Square and in its surroundings, burgrave Hynek Berka of Dubá founded a serf town in 1320 which was expanded under Charles IV (in 1375) towards the west (including Pohořelec, Loretto Square and Nový svět) and also fortified. Similarly to the near-by Lesser Town, Hradčany too was burned during the Hussite Wars in 1420 and in 1541 it burned down again almost entirely. After the second fire aristocracy and church bought the land around the advantageously located Hradčany Square and Renaissance palaces and canonicate houses began to be built here. The attractiveness of the location increased even further after Rudolph II elevated the serf townlet to a royal town in 1598. In the period following the Battle of the White Mountain the transformation of Hradčany to a residential aristocratic settlement was completed. Between 1653 and 1720 during the construction of the Baroque fortification of Prague Hradčany was enclosed in brick walls with bastions. Until the Theresian period the town was separated from the Castle by a deep artificial moat with a drawbridge, which ran through today’s First Castle Courtyard. Two more moats ran through today’s Second courtyard. Hradčany remained one of the four Prague town quarters until 1784 when it was included in the Royal Capital of Prague during the Josephine reforms.

Modern interventions in the construction have never been too extensive and thus Hradčany remains a uniquely preserved urbanistic complex of a Renaissance and especially Baroque aristocratic town. Only parts of the original Gothic fortification of the town remain, mainly the section along Nový svět Street, the gate on the Radnické (Town hall) Stairs and the section along the Strahov path up to Petřín Hill. On the other side of the same path there is well-preserved Baroque fortification with bastions; the Baroque Písecká Gate in K Brusce Street has also been preserved.


Originally, on the wooded hillock called Strahov there was a burial ground for the servants of the Prague Castle or the dwellers of a nearby settlement. The name is derived from guards which guarded the way to the royal settlement. At the beginning of the fourth decade of the 12th century, Bishop Jindřich Zdík and Prince Vladislav II chose the location for the foundation of a monastery into which they later invited members of the new order of Premonstratensians from Rhineland. The grounds of the Strahov Monastery were damaged by fire and wartime events several times so it was repeatedly rebuilt – in Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. The building development was completed with the construction of the classicist library building in 1783. The unique Strahov library holds over 130 thousand books including manuscripts and first prints. The Strahov art gallery with its precious collection of European fine art is also famous. The three-nave abbatial church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary dominates the courtyard. It is a Baroque building with a Romanesque core which was elevated among the most significant catholic churches by the title Basilica minor in 1992. Under the courtyard on the slope towards the Vltava lies the Strahov Garden with beautiful views of Prague. The Strahov Monastery with its towers belongs among the distinct dominant features of Prague, especially as viewed from the Charles Bridge and the Old Town bank of the Vltava River.


The name of this area next to the ancient crossroads leading to the Prague Castle and to the fords on the Vltava River, documented as early as in the 14th century, refers to frequent fires with which this place was afflicted. The chronicler Cosmas mentions in 1091 the Pohořelec market settlement. It was burned down at the end of the 11th century and it is possible that this event led to the transfer of the main Prague marketplace to the other side of the Vltava, to the area of today’s Old Town Square. Pohořelec became part of the serf town of Hradčany later under the rule of Charles IV who in 1375 extended Hradčany towards the west and surrounded it by walls. Until then the Pohořelec settlement belonged to the Strahov Monastery. Three decades later Pohořelec was completely rebuilt, but in 1420 the quarter was burnt by the Hussites, like the larger part of Hradčany and the neighbouring Lesser Town. After this event the area remained vacant for over 60 years and the newly risen quarter was destroyed by another large fire in the Lesser Town and Hradčany in 1541. The year 1742 was also unfortunate as the French army entered the town; a larger part of Hradčany turned to ashes again. Unlike the near-by Hradčany Square, which in the Baroque period changed into a representative aristocratic settlement, Pohořelec has kept its burgher character and even today, thanks to its ancient gables, attics, chimneys, Spanish-tiled roofs and house signs, it still has a calm, almost intimate, feel to it.

The centre of the square is decorated with the Baroque group of statues of St. John of Nepomuk. The houses on the square are originally mainly of Renaissance style and were rebuilt in the Baroque style after the fire of 1741. The Kučera’s Palace on the corner with its picturesque Rococo facade belongs among the most interesting buildings. Narrow stairs lead through the house At the Golden Tree (8/147) to the Strahov Courtyard. On an inconspicuous grassy place in front of the near-by grammar school of Johannes Kepler (in Keplerova Street) the early history of modern science was written: there used to stand the folly of Jacob Kurz of Senftenau, in which the imperial court astronomer the Dane Tycho Brahe lived and worked from 1599 to 1601. His stay and cooperation with the German mathematician Johannes Kepler is commemorated by a statue of the two great men by Josef Vajce from 1984.


The area of today’s Loretto Square was originally outside the walls of the serf town of Hradčany on the way towards the Strahov Monastery and further west. According to archeological findings there was a burial ground here between the 10th and the 12th centuries and a marketplace in the 14th century. During the rule of Charles IV the area, together with Pohořelec and a part of the Nový Svět, was attached to Hradčany and surrounded by walls. After the devastating fire in the Lesser Town and Hradčany in 1541 two north-south streets of houses were built in the place of today’s square. The square as we know it today was created in the period after the Battle of the White Mountain when many local citizens fled abroad and the houses gave way to more representative aristocratic and church buildings. Until 1791 there was a small church of St. Matthias in the area. Its origin goes back to early Middle Ages, its outline is marked on the paving of the terrace in the Černín Palace. Today’s name of the square has been used since the 18th century and it originates from the Loretto Chapel (Santa Casa) which was built in the 1620s and it became the centre of today’s Loretto pilgrimage site. Among other significant buildings surrounding the square is the Capuchin Monastery with the church of Our Lady. The square is one of the nicest in Prague.


Loretánská Street connects the Loretto Square with the Radnické Stairs and with the Hradčany Square. The eastern part of the street up to the Strahov Gate (from the second fortification), which used to stand outside house No.13/179, was, since 1320, a part of the serf town of Hradčany. The western part was outside the town walls and it was not attached to Hradčany until 1375 by Charles IV. After Hradčany received the status of royal town in 1598 the Hradčany Town hall was built which served its administrative purpose until the union of Prague town quarters in 1784. As one of the few buildings in Hradčany it did not fall prey to fire during the invasion of the French army in 1742 and thus it is one of the few preserved houses in this part of town, which witnessed the glorious royal and imperial parades. The street was originally called Radodomská (probably owing to the town hall building), then Radnická. Its today’s name has been used since the 18th century. Between the house At the Leather Hill (15/179b) and house At the Cannon (17/103) it is possible to walk up the stairs to Úvoz Street.


Úvoz Street is a continuation of Nerudova Street towards Pohořelec. Since time immemorial there was an important path from the fords on the Vltava River to north-western Bohemia passing through here. The street and its course follow this path. The road cutting deeply into the slope and rising up the steep hill used to be called Strahovská and since the 14th century Hluboká. The name Úvoz has been official since 1870. It was through here, along Nerudova and Úvoz streets to Pohořelec, that carriages going to the Prague Castle as well as the coronation parades of Czech kings passed. In front of the gates of the Strahov Monastery they made a sharp turning to the right and across the Loretto Square and Hradčany Square they headed towards the bridge over the moat by which the entry to the Castle was protected until mid 18th century. The difficult terrain in the steep slope prevented regular construction for a long time and the road was lined mainly by gardens and vineyards. Today the northern side of Úvoz is lined with burgher houses and the back wings of the palaces on the Loretto Square and Loretto Street. The southern side is mostly without buildings and there is a beautiful view of the Strahov garden, the Petřín slope and the Vltava bassin.


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