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ST VITUS CATHEDRAL

The spectacular Gothic Katedrála svatého Víta is an unmissable sight in Prague, not least because of its dominant position on Hradčany hill, looming over the Vltava and the rest of the city. Prince Wenceslas first built a rotunda here on a pagan worship site and dedicated it to St Vitus (svatý Vít), a Roman saint. Matthew d’Arras began work on the grand cathedral in 1344 when Prague was named an archbishopric. He died shortly thereafter and Charles IV hired the Swabian wunderkind Petr Parléř to take over. With the intervention of the Hussite Wars, however, work stopped and, remarkably, construction was only finally completed in 1929.

NEED TO KNOW

prac_info Third Courtyard, Prague Castle • 224 372423/34 (castle information centres) • Adm (only combined tickets with the castle available; buy at the information centres in the castle courtyards) • www.katedralasvatehovita.cz

prac_info Cathedral: open 9am–5pm Mon–Sat, noon–5pm Sun (Nov–Mar: to 4pm)

prac_info Great South Tower: open 10am–6pm daily (Nov–Mar: to 5pm)

Google Map

  • The entrance (western) areas of St Vitus Cathedral can be visited for free – you’ll see about a quarter of the building. Admission is charged for other areas.
  • The Royal Crypt may be entered with a guide, and you can see the basilica.
TopTen

1. Great South Tower

The point at which the Hussite Wars halted construction of this 96-m (315-ft) tower is clear. When work resumed, architectural style had moved into the Renaissance, hence the rounded cap on a Gothic base.

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Great South Tower

2. Royal Crypt

The greatest kings of Bohemia are buried in a single room beneath the cathedral, including Charles IV, Wenceslas IV and Rudolf II.

3. High Altar

Bounded by St Vitus Chapel and the marble sarcophagi of Ferdinand I and family, the high altar and chancel follow a strict Neo-Gothic philosophy.

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High altar and chancel

4. Wenceslas Chapel

This stands on the site of the first rotunda and contains St Wenceslas’s tomb. The frescoes of Christ’s Passion on the lower wall are surrounded by 1,300 semi-precious stones. To celebrate his son Ludvik’s coronation, Vladislav II commissioned the upper frescoes of St Wenceslas’s life.

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Frescoes at Wenceslas Chapel

5. New Archbishop’s Chapel

Czech artists Alfons Mucha created the Art Nouveau window of the Slavic saints for the chapel. Despite appearances, the glass is painted, not stained.

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Stained-glass window, New Archbishop’s Chapel

6. Bohemian Crown Jewels

You’d think there would be a safer place for the crown and sceptre of Bohemia, but the coronation chamber of Wenceslas Chapel is said to be guarded by the spirit of the saint.

7. The Tomb of St John of Nepomuk

The silver for this 1,680-kg (3,700-lb) coffin came from the Bohemian mining town Kutná Hora, signified by the miners’ statues to the left of the tomb.

8. Sigismund

One of four Renaissance bells in the Great South Tower, the 18-tonne bell affectionately known as Sigismund is the nation’s largest and dates from 1549. It takes four volunteers to ring the bell on important church holidays and at events.

9. Royal Oratory

The royals crossed a narrow bridge from the Old Royal Palace to this private gallery for Mass. The coats of arms represent all the countries ruled by Vladislav II.

10. Golden Portal

This triple-arched arcade was the main entrance to the cathedral until the western end was completed in the 20th century.

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Old entrance to the cathedral

PETR PARLÉŘ

After the death of Matthew d’Arras, Charles IV made the Swabian Petr Parléř his chief architect. Parléř undertook work on St Vitus Cathedral, Charles Bridge and numerous other Gothic monuments that still stand in Prague. He trained numerous artisans, and his talented sons and nephews continued his work after his death in 1399.

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