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Prague Castle (Czech: Pražský hrad) is the official residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic. Located in the Hradčany district of Prague and dating back to the ninth century, the castle has been a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it.
The Guinness Book of Records lists Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world. It occupies an area of almost 70,000 m2, at about 570 meters in length and an average of about 130 meters wide.
The history of the castle stretches back to the year 870 with the construction of its first walled building, the Church of the Virgin Mary. The Basilica of Saint George and the Basilica of St. Vitus were founded under the reign of Vratislav and his son St. Wenceslas in the first half of the 10th century.
The first convent in Bohemia was founded in the castle, next to the church of St. George. A Romanesque palace was erected here during the 12th century. In the 14th century, under the reign of Charles IV the royal palace was rebuilt in Gothic style and the castle fortifications were strengthened. In place of rotunda and basilica of St. Vitus began building of a vast Gothic church, that have been completed almost six centuries later.
During the Hussite Wars and the following decades, the castle was not inhabited. In 1485, King Ladislaus II Jagello began to rebuild the castle. The massive Vladislav Hall (built by Benedikt Rejt) was added to the Royal Palace. New defence towers were also built on the north side of the castle.
A large fire in 1541 destroyed large parts of the castle. Under the Habsburgs, some new buildings in renaissance style were added. Ferdinand I built Belvedere as a summer palace for his wife Anne. Rudolph II used Prague Castle as his main residence. He founded the northern wing of the palace, with the Spanish Hall, where his precious art collections were exhibited.
The Second Prague defenestration in 1618 began the Bohemian Revolt. During the subsequent wars, the Castle was damaged and dilapidated. Many works from the collection of Rudolph II were looted by Swedes in 1648, in the Battle of Prague (1648) which was the final act of the Thirty Years' War.
The last major rebuilding of the castle was carried out by Empress Maria Theresa in the second half of the 18th century. Following his abdication in 1848, and the succession of his nephew, Franz Joseph, to the throne, the former emperor, Ferdinand I, made Prague Castle his home.
In 1918, the castle became the seat of the president of the new Czechoslovak Republic. The New Royal Palace and the gardens were renovated by Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik. Renovations continued in 1936 under Plečnik's successor Pavel Janák.
On March 15, 1939, shortly after the Nazi regime strong-armed former Czech President Emil Hacha (who suffered a heart-attack during the negotiations) to hand his nation over to the Germans, Adolf Hitler spent a night in the Prague Castle, "proudly surveying his new possession." During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II, Prague Castle became the headquarters of Reinhard Heydrich, the "Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia". He was said to have placed the Bohemian crown on his head; old legends say a usurper who places the crown on his head is doomed to die within a year. Less than a year after assuming power, on May 27, 1942, Heydrich was attacked by British-trained Czech soldiers while on his way to the Castle, and died of his wounds (which became infected) a week later.
After the liberation of Czechoslovakia, it housed the offices of the communist Czechoslovak government. During the Velvet Revolution, Alexander Dubček, the leader of Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring, appeared on a balcony overlooking Wenceslas Square to hear throngs of protesters below shouting "Dubček to the Castle!" As they pushed for him to take his seat as president of the country at Prague Castle, he embraced the crowd as a symbol of democratic freedom.
After Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the castle became the seat of the Head of State of the new Czech Republic. Similar to what Masaryk did with Plečnik, president Václav Havel commissioned Bořek Šípek to be the architect of post-communism Prague Castle's necessary improvements, in particular of the facelift of the castle's gallery of paintings.
The castle buildings represent virtually every architectural style of the last millennium. Prague Castle includes Gothic St Vitus Cathedral, Romanesque Basilica of St. George, a monastery and several palaces, gardens and defense towers. Most of the castle areas are open to tourists. Nowadays, the castle houses several museums, including the National Gallery collection of Bohemian baroque and mannerism art, exhibition dedicated to Czech history, Toy Museum and the picture gallery of Prague Castle, based on the collection of Rudolph II. The Summer Shakespeare Festival regularly takes place in the courtyard of Burgrave Palace.
The neighborhood around Prague Castle is called Hradčany.
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