From hidden jewels to wild assassination plots, Prague Castle has an intriguing past.
SARAH AMANDOLARE MARCH 06, 2017 Prague photo by Jorge Royan
Prague is one of those places that seems like it was pulled straight from a fairy tale. Head to Prague Castle, specifically, and you'll see what we mean. The complex of castles have been around since the 9th century, and they've got the charm to prove it. Professionally, it's the official home of the President of the Czech Republic. But for obvious reasons, it's become a popular tourist spot, and a hotspot for stand-out Instagram photos.
Prague Castle has its share of secrets, as any age-old landmark does. You can read all about seven of our favorites ahead.
Lawbreakers have been tossed out of Prague Castle's windows.
The word defenestration, which means throwing someone out of a window, was invented for an incident at Prague Castle in 1618. A year prior, Roman Catholic officials had shut down a pair of new Protestant chapels. Angry Protestant rights defenders called for a trial in the council room at the Castle, and won.
What happened next went down in history: Two Catholic regents and their secretary—all found guilty of violating the right to religious freedom—were shoved out the window. Luckily, a pile of horse manure broke their fall and they emerged uninjured.
The Crown Jewels are seriously secure.
Stowed away in a chamber of St. Vitus Cathedral, the Bohemian Crown Jewels include the St. Wenceslas crown, royal scepter, and coronation cloak. And the Republic isn't taking any chances with their safekeeping. Both the chamber door and iron safe inside have seven locks, the keys to which are held by seven people, including the President, Prime Minister, and Prague Archbishop.
As for public displays of the jewels, only the President can make that call, typically putting them on exhibit every five years or so. When he does, all seven key holders must head over to the Castle for the unlocking process.
The Butcher of Prague held court at the Prague Castle.
A crucial Holocaust organizer, Reinhard Heydrich held court at Prague Castle starting in 1941. Assigned by Hitler to rule the Czech people of Bohemia-Moravia, he quickly set out on a campaign of disappearances and executions—terrified Czechs nicknamed him The Butcher of Prague. But a group of exiled Czech government officials decided to take action, hatching a plan called Operation Anthropoid to assassinate Heydrich.
In May 1942, two Czech soldiers parachuted back into the country and headed for Prague, where they hopped on bicycles and rode toward the Castle. When they spotted The Butcher in his Mercedez convertible, they made their move, shooting and tossing grenades his way. Heydrich died from his wounds a week later, and the 2016 film Anthropoid is based on the incredible story.
There's an ancient relic for dancers.
St. Vitus Cathedral holds the most extensive church treasury in the Czech Republic and among the largest collections in Europe. Some items can be traced back to the early Middle Ages, but one relic in particular stands out: the arm of Saint Vitus, a Sicilian who died a martyr when the co-ruling Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian cracked down on Christians in 303.
Years later, in the Late Middle Ages, people in countries like Germany and Latvia celebrated the feast of Vitus by dancing at his statue. Today, he's known as the patron saint of dancers and entertainers, as well as epileptics—and is said to protect against lightening.
The Prague Castle is in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Prague Castle complex is enormous, with an area totaling of 753,474 square feet. That makes it the largest ancient castle in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The complex extends down to the Lesser Quarter or Mala Strana, where several chateaux and palaces are found. Wallenstein Palace, for one, is home to the Czech Senate and includes 26 houses and six gardens.
There's a tropical garden
Back in the 16th century, Rudolf II had a garden of tropical plants, including citrus trees, at Prague Castle. The tradition continues today at the Orangery, a tubular-shaped glass-enclosed greenhouse built in 1999 in the Royal Gardens.
Dreamed up by Olga Havlová—then-president Václav Havel's first wife—the three-part structure has space for budding, growing, and maintaining different tropical plants and Mediterranean fruit. It's open to visitors in summer months.
Kafka spent time writing at Prague Castle.
Golden Lane, a small street just behind Prague Castle, has charming rows of little houses. These days, souvenir and bookshops occupy some of the lower floors and tourists mill around. But in the last years of the 16th century, alchemists under Emperor Rudolph III lived here, and reportedly tried to turn metal into gold. Much later, Franz Kakfa, lived with his sister in house No. 22 from 1916-1917. It was a good move: Kafka wrote short stories for "A Country Doctor," and was inspired to write his book “The Castle” during his Golden Lane stay.