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The cathedral of Saint Vitus is inside the grounds of Prague Castle and is the largest Gothic church in the country. When you visit it, in reality you will be visiting more than 1,000 years of history of the city printed on its walls and recalled in its stained-glass windows.
In 929, Wenceslas ordered a rotunda to be built dedicated to Saint Vitus. One century later, in 1060, a Romanesque basilica was built here. It was not until 1344 that the construction of the cathedral we see today began, under the reign of Charles IV.
The architect entrusted with the project at the beginning was the Frenchman Mathieu d’Arras, who designed a project similar to the Gothic cathedrals of his country. But on his death in 1352 they called on the famous architect Peter Parler, who was the constructor of Charles Bridge, also begun during the mandate of Charles IV.
Many old constructions have been built over several centuries, although it is unusual that they last nearly six-hundred years, like those of the cathedral of Saint Vitus. In fact, the convulsive history of Prague, with wars, fires and sackings, meant that the cathedral was not completed until 1929. For this reason, inside you can appreciate different styles that range from Gothic through to modern art. Throughout its history, the cathedral has been a place of worship for Hussites and Calvinists.
If you walk around the cathedral of Saint Vitus, make sure you look at the gargoyles, which with their fantastic forms brilliantly conceal the water outlets.
On the south façade is a spectacular 99-metre high tower, built by Peter Parler. It is crowned by a bell tower that was added later, in 1770. This is the Golden Portal, which until the 19th century was the main entrance to the interior of the cathedral. The portal was decorated by Venetian masters in the 14th century, with scenes of the Final Judgement.
The best façade is where the main entrance is today. It has three large bronze doors crowned by a rose window that Frantisek Kysela made in the final years of the works, between 1925 and 1927. The rose window represents scenes of the Creation. There are also fourteen statues of saints and others that represent Charles IV and the architects of the cathedral.
Once you have gone inside, you will probably notice the sheer size of the cathedral, no less than 124 metres long, 60 wide and 34 high. The structure is of three naves with side chapels.
The presbytery of the cathedral of Saint Vitus is in Gothic style and the vaulting is where the architectural genius and talent of Peter Parler is reflected, creating distinct constructive solutions to those that were known at the time.
Above you, 21 busts decorate the triforium: they are men and women from the Luxembourg dynasty, as well as several archbishops and the constructors of the cathedral. Experts consider them as masterpieces of Czech sculpture.
One of the most outstanding parts of the cathedral of Saint Vitus is, without doubt, the chapel of Saint Wenceslas. It is a Gothic masterpiece, built by Peter Parler between 1362 and 1367 in the place where the Saint was buried. On the walls of the chapel, more than 1,000 precious stones set in gold pay homage to one of the martyrs most venerated by the people. Particularly curious is the bronze knocker on show here. According to the legend, Wenceslas was murdered at the orders of his brother, grabbed on to the knocker and held on to it standing even after death.
You will also see the lavish tomb of Saint John Nepomucene, for which more than 20 tons of solid silver were used. It was built in 1736.
The stained-glass windows testify for the variety of styles present in the cathedral of Saint Vitus, since they carry the signatures of the best artists of their time. It features, for example, the stained-glass window made by Alphonse Mucha at the beginning of the 20th century about Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius.
The crypt is reached by going down some steps. This is where the royal pantheon is, with the tombs of several rulers, such as Charles IV, who lies alongside his four wives and some of his children. Also in the crypt you can see the remains of the first rotunda of Saint Vitus.
Since 1791, the cathedral has jealously guarded the jewels of the Czech crown. The royal treasure is beneath the ground of this temple, in a room closed with seven locks, the keys for which are in the hands of seven different institutions. Although they cannot be visited, perhaps you would be interested to know that one of these jewels, the crown of Charles IV, has a most disturbing legend behind it. Tradition states that whoever wears it without the right to do so will die violently, as has occurred several times throughout history. Who knows if the reason that it is no longer on view to the public is to avoid temptation?
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