Architecture of Prague – St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague (Katedrala Sv. Víta) – Gothic jewel with a lookout tower at Prague Castle

St. Vitus Cathedral (Katedrála Sv. Víta) – Roman Catholic cathedral in Prague, which is an example of Gothic architecture, as well as the largest and most important church in Czech Republic.

Its full name is: Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Václav and Vojtěch / Albrecht (Katedrála svatého Víta, Václav a Vojtěcha).

This imposing Gothic monument is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague and the spiritual seat of the Czech state.

In the cathedral there are free and paid sections, services and guided tours, you can also visit the south tower gallery of the cathedral and admire the panoramic view of Prague (you have to pay a fee to visit the observation room). The crypt of the cathedral, that is, the graves with the remains of the Czech kings, is closed to visitors. All possible visits to the cathedral, as well as climbing the observation tower, are described in detail at the end of this article.

The Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Vojtěch is located in the historic part of Prague, in the Prague Castle complex (Pražský Hrad) castle complex and is its dominant feature. Entrance to Prague Castle is free.

Panoramic view of St. Vitus Cathedral from the observation deck Petřínská Tower (Petřínská rozhledna)

Until 1997 the cathedral was only dedicated to St. Vitus and is still more commonly referred to as St. Vitus Cathedral. On April 23, 1997, by decree of Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, who gave the cathedral its original name, the cathedral received its present name of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Vojtěch.

The first church of St. Wenceslas, which was in the form of a rotunda in the early Romanesque style, was founded by Prince Wenceslas I, who became the patron and heavenly protector of the people of Bohemia and the Czech lands.

The rotunda was replaced by a Romanesque basilica, the construction of which was begun in 1060 by Prince Spytychny II. The southern apse of the rotunda was included in the eastern transept of the new church because it contained the tomb of St. Wenceslas, who had by then become the patron saint of Bohemian princes. The basilica was also called the Basilica of Spytichnév; it was small in size and became the burial place of many Czech rulers and other members of the Přemyslovic and Luxemburg families.

After the establishment of the Archbishopric of Prague approved by Pope Clement VI on May 5, 1344, the construction of the modern Gothic cathedral started. King Johann of Luxembourg laid the foundation stone of the new cathedral building on November 21, 1344. Johann’s son Charles IV, King of Bohemia and future Holy Roman Emperor, conceived this new cathedral as a coronation church, family crypt, treasury of the kingdom’s most precious relics, and pilgrimage site for the patron saint Wenceslas.

Many famous masters worked on the cathedral: the French architect Matthias of Arras, the German-Czech architect and sculptor Peter Parler, and then his sons Wenzel Parler and Johannes Parler, after them succeeded by Master Petrilk. The building process was halted with the outbreak of the Hussite Wars in the first half of the 15th century, during which the paintings and sculptures were badly damaged by the Hussite iconoclasm, and a fire in 1541 severely damaged the cathedral.

From the second half of the 15th century there were attempts to complete the cathedral, but they were unsuccessful and introduced only some elements in the Renaissance and Baroque styles.

The successful completion of the cathedral began in 1861 and included the removal of Baroque elements and the restoration and completion of the cathedral in the Gothic style. Much of the design and elements designed by Peter Parler were used in the restoration, giving the cathedral a harmonious whole. For the anniversary of St. Wenceslas in 1929, St. Vitus Cathedral was finally completed – almost 600 years after its construction began.

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Today this Gothic monumental building is a wonderful decoration of Prague and a model of Gothic architecture.

Exterior of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague

The main portal of St. Vitus Cathedral faces west. Here the pointed towers and the central pediment point skyward.

The facade has three entrances with tympanums leading into the main nave of the cathedral. Above the portal is a large rose window, 10 meters in diameter, based on cartoons by František Kyselý on the theme of the Creation of the World.

The southern facade of the cathedral is a ceremonial entrance to the temple, where the entrance is called the Golden Gate (Zlatou bránou).

The arched entrances are decorated with the unique Gothic mosaic of the Italian type with the depiction of Charles IV and his wife Alžbeta of Pomerania, created in 1370-1371 by unknown mosaic artists from about one million glass cubes and stones of more than 30 colors.

At the entrance is a bronze lattice decorated with calendar reliefs and signs of the zodiac, the work of Yaroslav Goreitz from 1955.

On the same, southern side, rises the Great South Church Tower, also called the great bell tower, and in the top of which is a public viewing platform.

Photo of the Golden Gate of St. Vitus Cathedral

The eastern and northern facades of the cathedral are less remarkable, but are also striking in their Gothic design.

Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague

The interior decoration of St. Vitus Cathedral amazes with a combination of grandeur and wealth, which are at the same time very subtly and harmoniously intertwined with a certain spatial simplicity and elegance.

Here, the high Gothic vault of the main aisle meets the exquisite stained glass windows, which, streaming with the penetrating light, turn into powerful arched openings, partially decorated with sculptures and carvings.

The side aisles are lower and connected around nineteen chapels, the old and new sacristies.

Paintings and semi-precious stones, among other things, adorn the cathedral.

The space of the Cathedral, at a height of about 14 meters, is divided in two by the Triforium, a balcony-garret which divides the Cathedral into an earthly and a heavenly part.

The Triforium is famous for its rare portrait gallery of 21 busts created by the Parlerge smelter between 1371 and 1385. There are busts of representatives of royal dynasties, archbishops and architects – the creators of the cathedral – as well as more modern personalities who contributed to the completion of the cathedral.

The most prominent place in the cathedral is St. Wenceslas Chapel (Svatováclavská kaple) with a star vault.

In the chapel there is a tomb with the relics of St. Wenceslas.

The lower part of the chapel is decorated with semi-precious stones and paintings depicting the Passion of Christ, dating back to the original decoration of the chapel from 1372-1373. In the upper part of the walls are paintings depicting scenes from the life of St. Wenceslas. Above the altar is a Gothic statue of St. Wenceslas, created by Jindřich Parler in 1373.

A door in the corner of the chapel leads to the stairs to the Korunní komory (Crown Chamber) where the crown jewelsCrown of St. Wenceslas from 1346, royal scepter from the first half of the 16th century, imperial apple from the middle of the 16th century, crown jewels, coronation cross, sword and textile. The jewels have been a national cultural monument since 1962.

Who has the keys to the door leading to the crown jewels? There are seven keys.: the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Prague, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, the President of the Senate, the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus Church and the Mayor of Prague.

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Other rare structures in St. Vitus Cathedral include at least the marble tomb of Jan Oczek of Vlašim (1367-1370), six tombstones of the Přemyslids (after 1373), the silver tomb of Jan Nepomucký (1733-1736) and the tomb of Count Leopold Šlik (1723), and a monument to Cardinal Bedřich Šwarzenberg.

In the choir of the cathedral are the tombs ofBřetislav I, Spitichnev II, Břetislav II, Borivoj II (Czech princes), Přemysl Otakar I and Přemysl Otakar II (Czech kings).

In the center of the nave, in front of the main altar, is the mausoleum (tomb) of Maximilian II, Ferdinand I and his wife Anna of Jagiellon, completed in 1589. The mausoleum is externally protected by a Renaissance grille with pictures of Czech kings and queens on the sides, who are buried in an underground crypt with a tomb accessible from the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Remains of Czech kings and emperors and their relatives are buried in the tomb.: Rudolf I, Habsburg (King of Bohemia), Charles IV (King of Bohemia, Roman Emperor), Vaclav IV (King of Bohemia, Roman Emperor), Rudolf II (King of Bohemia, Roman Emperor), Ladislav Pogrobek (King of Bohemia and Hungary), George of Podebrady (King of Bohemia).

St. Vitus Cathedral has two organ blocks .

The upper facade belonged to the baroque organ created in 1765 by Anton Gartner, while the lower neoclassical body contains today’s main organ. It was built by Josef Meltzel in 1929-1931.

Viewpoint in the South Tower of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague

One of the most visited parts of St. Vitus Cathedral is the high South Church Tower (Velká jižní věž katedrály sv. Víta) with a height of almost 100 meters.

After walking 287 steps in the tower you find yourself in Renaissance gallery at the height of 56 meters, which is an observation deck and from which you can enjoy the magnificent panoramic views of Prague.

During the ascent you can see 7 bells, including the largest bell in Bohemia, Sigismund, dating back to 1549.

Practical information

Services and concerts of the cathedral choir are held in St. Vitus Cathedral.

The Neo-Gothic part of the cathedral can be visited for free. The historical part of the cathedral, including St. Wenceslas Chapel and the tombs of the kings and princes of Přemysl, is accessible only with a valid Prague Castle tour and for a fee, together with other Prague Castle sites.

The crypt of the cathedral is not accessible to visitors.

Climbing to the cathedral’s South Tower observation deck is possible for a fee. Climbing to the tower is not included in the Prague Castle tours and must be paid separately. Access to the observation tower is from the Third Courtyard of Prague Castle, to the left of the Golden Gate. In case of bad weather the tower is closed.

Tickets for guided tours and for the cathedral observation tower are available from the Prague Castle Information Center. Tickets to the observation tower can also be purchased on the first floor of the tower itself.

For information about the conditions of St. Vitus Cathedral, tours, access to the observation tower, ticket prices and places to buy tickets, please visit the the official website of Saints Vitus, Wenceslas and Vojtěch Cathedral: katedralasvatehovita.cz/cs.

Entrance to the Prague Castle grounds is free.

You can get to the Prague Castle by public transport, cab, by car or on foot from the historical center of Prague. Learn more about Prague Castle, its sites and museums.

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Address of St. Vitus Cathedral: III. nádvoří 48/2, 119 01 Praha 1-Hradčany, Czech Republic.

Coordinates of St. Vitus CathedralADDRESS: 50°05′ 27.0 “N 14°24′ 03.0 “E (50.090833, 14.400833).

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St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral is a church that adorns the historic center of the Czech capital; the dominant feature of Prague Castle. This is one of the most famous fortresses in Europe: the original medieval Gothic style is organically combined with Baroque elements and sophisticated Neo-Gothic stylizations. Travelers who have been to Western European churches like Notre Dame de Paris have a strong impression of the spectacular, but somewhat gloomy art of the Middle Ages. St. Vitus cathedral, bursting with light, completely destroys this stereotype. As it turns out, the Gothic can not only remind us of the insignificance of man, but also inspire us and give us new strength.

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History of St. Vitus Cathedral

As is typical of many religious buildings, St. Vitus Cathedral did not arise from nothing. About 4 centuries before it, a compact round Romanesque church was built, later a larger basilica, where the monarchs of the first Czech dynasty of the Přemyslid dynasty were crowned. The new building, founded in 1344, had equally serious tasks: the cathedral was to be a coronation and burial place for royalty, and also the main treasury of the country.

St. Vitus Cathedral The eastern part of the cathedral Neo-Gothic elements of the cathedral are juxtaposed with XX century bas-reliefs

The famous Flemish architect Matthias of Arras began the project, but because of his death the task was handed over to the German specialist Peter Parlerz, who defined the architectural appearance of the entire historic center of Prague. His works include the Charles Bridge and the Church of All Saints in Prague, as well as many smaller churches in Bohemia and Germany. The new master was an experienced sculptor, so he emphasized the volumetric decoration of the cathedral. By the end of his life he managed to finish only a part of the transept and the choir. The architect’s sons finished the southern side of the temple and a part of the tower. He did not manage to complete what was started, it was too great a plan. In the next centuries, the construction progressed very slowly for financial reasons or because of the war.

In XV-XVI centuries the work on St. Vitus Cathedral was continued by architects B. Reith and B. Wolmuth. Thanks to their efforts the northern part of the cathedral with the tower was built, which allowed in the still unfinished temple to hold services and ceremonies.

The construction of the cathedral was completed only in the early XX century. The western part was finished according to the design by Peter Parlerz Czech architects. The basic works on the decoration of the temple were finished by 1929.

Name of the cathedral

St. Vitus, the patron saint of the temple, was a Roman martyr from the early days of Christianity. In 1997, in honor of the thousandth anniversary of the death of Bishop Adalbert of Prague, or, in Czech tradition, Vojtech, the cathedral received a new name, St. Vitus, Vaclav and Vojtech. Wenceslas is also a significant figure: he is a prince of the Přemyslovich family, the patron saint of Bohemia. Tourists, however, still use the old name by which the temple became famous around the world.

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The significance of the temple for modern Bohemia

Each new era has added to the Cathedral of St. Vitus its distinctive features. A new outburst of patriotic feelings in the 19th century made the Czechs once again return to the question of the completion of the building. A group of architects, connoisseurs of Gothicism, designed the western part of the building as close to the original as possible. Bright stained glass windows in the northern part of the cathedral appeared in the twentieth century. Finally, it was not until 1929 that construction was officially completed. Now it is the largest museum and religious center of the capital, an organ hall with wonderful acoustics, a repository of Czech history and a symbol of national unity. It is still the site of important ceremonies, such as the farewell ceremony for Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic.

Facade Elements of St. Vitus Cathedral The interior of St. Vitus Cathedral

Architectural features

You can appreciate the gigantic size of the building from afar when you admire the panorama of Prague. Up close because of the dense square construction it is impossible to take a complete picture of the entire building with its dark Gothic walls and baroque copper domes covered with patina. To appreciate the beauty of the cathedral one has to walk around with his eyes raised to heaven – perhaps that was the architects’ intent. The length of the temple is 124 m, height of towers is from 82 to 96,5 m. The circular rosette window on the facade of the cathedral, one of the last additions of the XX century, reaches 10 m in diameter.

Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral

The grandeur of the building is fully grasped when guests enter. The high vaults, lancet arches and windows, preserved since the Middle Ages, the mysterious galleries in the side aisles, separated from the main space by powerful columns, can be viewed for hours. Light enters the cathedral through colorful stained-glass windows based on biblical history. The most recent ones were made by craftsmen based on sketches by Alphonse Mucha, the greatest Czech artist of the Art Nouveau era. In the upper tiers, a balcony with busts runs along the perimeter of the temple: not only monarchs and figures of the church, but also architects who participated in the construction are depicted for history.

Tombstone of Jan Nepomutsky in silver Ceiling of the Cathedral of St. Vitus The circular rose window

Royal Regalia

St. Vitus Cathedral is still the repository of royal treasures, even though the Czech Republic has long ceased to be a monarchy. The St. Wenceslas Chapel, built during the reign of Charles IV by Peter Parlerz (completed by 1367), is called the treasury of Gothic art. Here rests the body of the eternal ruler and protector of the country, and above the chapel in the Crown Chamber is carefully guarded from prying eyes the golden crown of Saint Wenceslas, consisting of 4 heraldic lines decorated with large stones – blood-red spinels and rubies, bottomless blue sapphires and dark green emeralds. The legend says that the one who will wear it will not live a year. It is said that only Hitler’s protector R. Heydrich dared to wear it, and in less than a year he was killed in an assassination attempt (1942). The masterpiece of jewelry art, slightly overstuffed with jewels, was created in the XIV century, the more modest orb with reliefs from the history of King David and Adam and the scepter – somewhat later. The relics are not on display more than once a decade, but exact copies of the monarch’s regalia are on display for the comfort of tourists. You can see them in the Sejm Hall, in the Old Royal Palace, located right at the southern wall of the cathedral.

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The vault of the temple is supported by 28 columns. Twenty artists at different times have created stained glass paintings for the cathedral, among them the modernist Alphonse Mucha. The organ of St. Vitus cathedral is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe.

The walls of the chapel are decorated with intricate frescoes and decorated with gold and mosaic of semi-precious stones. In the middle is the figure of St. Wenceslas in martial armor.

Stained-glass window by Alphonse Mucha

In the chapels of the choir one can see the tombstones of Czech rulers and bishops. In the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene rest the remains of Matthias of Aras and Peter Parlerz. In the chapel of Jan Nepomuk there is a tombstone made of silver and weighing about two tons. In all, there are 23 chapels in the cathedral.

The space of the temple is divided in two by the triforium. This balcony-gallery divides the Cathedral of St. Vitus horizontally into an earthly part and a heavenly sphere. The triforium contains busts of representatives of royal dynasties, archbishops and the architects who built the cathedral.

In front of the main altar, created in the 19th century by artists Kranner and Moker, is a white marble tombstone by Dutchman Molina (1589). Its lid is decorated with relief images of Ferdinand I, his wife Anna Jagiellonka, and their son Maximilian II. This is the above-ground part of the mausoleum – below is the royal crypt. It is entered from the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

When descending into the crypt, visitors will see the remains of the foundations of the old rotunda discovered by archaeologists. There is also a royal crypt with the sarcophagi of Charles IV, Wenceslas IV, Jiří of Podebrady, Rudolf II and other rulers of Bohemia.

St. Vitus Cathedral is one of the must-see sites during a tour of Prague Castle.

Crypt of St. Vitus Cathedral The square in front of the cathedral

For tourists

The Cathedral is open for visitors from 9 am to 6 pm during peak tourist season from April to October. From November to March it closes earlier, at 16 hours. On Sunday, visitors are welcomed from noon. Entrance to the Cathedral of St. Vitus is free, but to see all the chapels and the secret rooms can only be part of a paid guided tour of Prague Castle. Acquaintance with the so-called “small district” costs 250 Czech crowns, the “big” – 350. There are organ music concerts with a special schedule, which you can check on the official website.

How to get there

Prague Castle is closed to transport, so tourists have to walk a lot. To get to St. Vitus Cathedral the best way is to get off at the streetcar stop on route 22 “Prague Castle”. The streetcar in Prague is the main mode of public transport on a par with the subway; during the working hours of the temple, it runs strictly according to a schedule on average once every 10 minutes. From the bus stop you walk about 300 meters to the south, turning east just behind the Prague Castle Picture Gallery. If you have energy left after seeing the cathedral, you can visit this interesting museum with paintings by Titian and Rubens for 150 crowns.

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