Gothic Prague Architecture
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The Old Lady of Architecture
Humanity has always sought out ways to improve and the Gothic Prague period was no exception. It took the basic rules of Romanesque design and applied the latest building techniques. The main differences between Romanesque and Gothic are:
- The stronger Rib Vault replaced the Groin Vault.
- The Pointed Arch (ogival) replaced the Roman semi-circular arch.
- The wall thickness was reduced and supplemented with external Buttresses (often extending two floors).
- Massive internal “Drum” columns are replaced by clustered columns.
- Large windows.
- The Greek Cross plan is largely replaced by Latin Cross plan.
- Verticality is the main feature.
So what that all means is they dropped the Romanesque requirements for thick walls but kept the vast internal spaces by spreading the load of the building using internal clustered columns and external buttressing. As you’ll find here, the ST Vitus Cathedral, Church of Our Lady Before Tyn and Church of Our Lady of the Snows are all fine examples of the Gothic Prague period. There is a scale of more than two to one when measuring width against height. Throw in the huge vertical windows and add pointed arches and you cannot fail to have your view drawn upwards. This is not by accident. The designers of Gothic churches wanted you to look up to heaven and even Gothic Prague residential buildings were designed to have open courtyards surrounded by wide arcades which the new stronger “Ribbed” vaulted ceiling could support.
Places to See Gothic Prague
My favourite church in the city is the Gothic style Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. It’s absolutely beautiful inside, bathed in light and really not what you would have expected. In fact you’ll be shocked as to how much light is let into the building compared with a Baroque style church.
But it’s not just churches where you can see the Gothic style. On the Old Town Square adjacent to the Church of Our Lady before Tyn is the House at the Stone Bell (these are both pictured above) which is Gothic and also the oldest building on the square dated to the late 13th Century. If you walk along Celetna then most of the facades are Baroque but the buildings themselves are mostly Gothic. At the far end of that street you’ll come to the Powder Gate which is another example of a Late Gothic structure but with a Neo-Renaissance decorative upgrade. And remember that the Charles Bridge with it’s associated gate towers is also a Gothic Prague structure.
The Old Town and Jewish Quarter walking tour explains about Gothic architecture on various parts of the route including the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn and the Old Town Hall.
The other dominant Gothic structure on the Old Town Square is the Old Town Hall. A collection of buildings from the 13th Century and tower from the 14th Century, you’ll need to go inside to appreciate the vaulting.
Up at the Prague Castle you’ll find most of the Gothic structures are hidden or exist only as basements and foundations from what’s called “Late Gothic” bordering on Renaissance. The big Gothic draw is the Cathedral of ST Vitus, ST Wenceslas and ST Adalbert which is of the same Late Gothic style (also could be called French Gothic because of the cathedral plan). This cathedral had to incorporate part of a Romanesque Rotonda that previously existed here and contained the remains of ST Wenceslas (Czech patron saint). The two towers were added to the West side of the Cathedral from 1860 but as they retain the same style they are Neo-Gothic.
The next era – RENAISSANCE