Slightly over 30 kilometres from central Prague, Karlštejn Castle invites visitors to return to the times of one of the greatest medieval rulers of Europe – Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Originally a royal castle, Karlštejn has never been sold to private hands. At present, it enjoys the status of a National Cultural Monument of the Czech Republic; the National Heritage Institute manages the property on behalf of the Czech state.
Origin of the Karlštejn Castle
Charles IV had the castle built initially as a country residence, but subsequently decided to convert it into a shrine for the treasure of the Holy Roman Emperors – the Imperial Insignia and holy relics associated with the Passion of Jesus Christ. The new spiritual role of the castle found its reflection in the splendour of the Karlštejn chapels. In Mary’s Tower we can still admire paintings portraying Charles IV as a collector of holy relics and a series of scenes from the Apocalypse on the walls of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, as well as the authentic 14th century ambience of St. Catherine’s Chapel where the Emperor used to pray in private. The magnificent Chapel of the Holy Cross in the Great Tower, designed according to the biblical description of the New Jerusalem, boasts a vault decorated with golden stars and a unique gallery of 129 panels of saints, prophets and angels by Master Theodoric, a leading court painter of Charles IV, and his collaborators. The Karlštejn chapels can be visited on a detailed Exclusive Tour that is offered from May to October (the climatic conditions do not allow all-year operation). Since the capacity is limited, it is recommended to make a reservation or to buy tickets online before coming to the castle.
The Imperial Residence tour takes visitors to the private chambers of Charles IV, the state rooms as well as halls that used to be occupied by the Emperor’s courtiers and by the knights who guarded the precious treasures at the castle – first the Imperial Treasure and later the Crown Jewels of the Kingdom of Bohemia that were kept at Karlštejn for almost 200 years before they left the castle for good in 1619. An exact replica of the crown of the Kings of Bohemia that was made for Charles’s own coronation in 1347 can be seen in the last room on this tour. (The original crown is kept in the Cathedral of Sts. Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert at Prague Castle; public displays take place on special occasions, usually once in several years.) Although most of the original furnishings of the Imperial Palace have not survived or have been moved to other places in later periods, the tour conveys valuable information on the history of the castle, as well as an insight into the Emperor’s life. This tour can be taken all-year round; the opening hours are shorter in the winter months.
In the summer, it is also possible to take a short tour to the highest floors of the Great Tower, with a fine view over the wooded hills surrounding the castle as the highlight.
All the three tours are offered in Czech and English; tours in a number of other languages can be booked in advance – Karlštejn’s team of tour guides is multilingual.
Up-to-date information on the available tours, opening hours at different times of the year and entrance fees can be found at the official website of the castle.
Karlštejn can be reached from Prague by train or by car. Both the train station and the parking area are located in the municipality below the castle. Allow approx. 30 minutes for a leisurely walk uphill; taxis or horse-driven carriages can take guests to the vicinity of the castle. The municipality offers also a choice of restaurants, hotels and guest houses, as well as other tourist attractions – see its website for more information on the local service providers.
Lovers of scenic countryside can combine a tour of Karlštejn Castle with a visit to the flooded quarries known as Malá and Velká Amerika (Little and Grand America).