Karlštejn Castle information
Rising above the village of Karlštejn, 30km southwest of Prague, this medieval castle is in such good shape that it wouldn’t look out of place on Disneyworld’s Main St. The crowds come in theme-park proportions as well, but the peaceful surrounding countryside offers views of Karlštejn’s stunning exterior that rival anything you’ll see on the inside.
Karlštejn was born of a grand pedigree, starting life in 1348 as a hideaway for the crown jewels and treasury of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV. Run by an appointed burgrave, the castle was surrounded by a network of landowning knight-vassals, who came to the castle’s aid whenever enemies moved against it.
Karlštejn again sheltered the Bohemian and the Holy Roman Empire crown jewels during the Hussite Wars of the early 15th century, but fell into disrepair as its defences became outmoded. Considerable restoration work, not least by Josef Mocker – the king of Prague's neo-Gothic architecture – in the late 19th century, has returned the castle to its former glory.
There are three guided tours available. Tour I (50 minutes) passes through the Knight’s Hall, still daubed with the coats-of-arms and names of the knight-vassals, Charles IV’s Bedchamber, the Audience Hall and the Jewel House, which includes treasures from the Chapel of the Holy Cross and a replica of the St Wenceslas Crown.
Tour II (70 minutes, May to October only) must be booked in advance and takes in the the Marian Tower, with the Church of the Virgin Mary and the Chapel of St Catherine, then moves on the Great Tower for the castle's star attraction, the exquisite Chapel of the Holy Cross. Designed by Charles IV for the safekeeping of the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, and of sacred relics of the Crucifixion, the chapel's walls and vaulted ceiling are adorned with thousands of polished semiprecious stones set in gilt stucco in the form of crosses, and with religious and heraldic paintings.
Tour III (40 minutes, May to October only) visits the upper levels of the Great Tower, the highest point of the castle, which provides stunning views over the surrounding countryside.