Prague Castle Imperial Gardens and Belvedere
Until the middle of the 15th Century Prague Castle was largely defended by it’s own high walls and a moat on the northern side. As new defences were installed over the next Century it enabled the Castle grounds to be extended to the north by about 300 metres. Part of that extra space was allocated to the Prague Castle Imperial Gardens which if open, during the summer, is on the route of my Prague City Walking Tour.
The picture above shows the layout in 1842 so it would have looked like this for the previous 300 years outlined in black and the light green area directly underneath is the Deer Moat defensive ditch. It’s a fairly narrow walled garden which served three functions. Closest to the entry for the Castle were the formal gardens and original fountain which took up about half of the space. The second part of the Prague Castle Imperial Gardens was a south-facing kitchen garden for seasonal fruit and vegetables which took up another 20% of the space. Finally the Dendrological part of the garden where trees/plants brought from other parts of the empire were grown.
You’ll also find this described as the Queen Annes Summer Palace. Queen Anne was the wife of Emperor Ferdinand I who commissioned the building of a Summer Palace in the Prague Castle Imperial Gardens in 1538 coincidentally it was after Anne had given birth to their TENTH child. It would become officially the first building in Prague built in the Renaissance style but for such a relatively small building it took 17 years to complete. Queen Anne never saw the finished building as she died just after giving birth to their FIFTEENTH child in 1547. It formally opened in 1555. It is a folly i.e. something of no real practical use. Maybe the odd art exhibition, it was used as an observatory in the early 17th Century and towards the end of the Thirty Years War the invading the Swedish Army used it as a barracks in 1648. It’s not a publicly accessible building unless open for an exhibition.
The Singing Fountain
This was not part of the original plan for the Prague Castle Imperial Gardens and was commissioned in 1562 to sit in the Giardinette (formal Italian Renaissance garden directly in front of the Belvedere). It’s made of bronze, weighs in at just over 5 tons and was constructed by Tomas Jaros who was the same guy that made the giant Zikmund bell for the ST Vitus Cathedral High Tower. The “singing” effect is as the water falls onto the bronze disc it creates something like a musical harmonic. It’s not quite the same as when it was first built because at the very top used to stand a double-headed black eagle (symbol of the Habsburg Empire). This was replaced with the cherub after independence in 1918. Ferdinand I died before it was installed!
The Ball Games Hall
Well it does what it says on the tin. This was a place where royalty could play ball games. Compared with the 17 years it took to build the Belvedere, the Ball Games Hall look less than two years but it’s been an unlucky building. Part of the original foundations collapsed only 50 years after being built and it has burned down three times in it’s history. What you see now is following renovations after 1952. It is not a publicly accessible building.
The Presidential Building
It’s a grand name and was built on the grounds of a large Baroque greenhouse/gazebo for the then President Edvard Benes but in the post-Communist era no Czech President has lived there although on occasion, meetings have taken place and the building contains part of the original gazebo structure. It was most interesting in the Communist Era when the building and the associated gardens were used so often by the Communist elite that all windows in Prague Castle that overlooked the Prague Castle Imperial Gardens were covered.
Tour Tips: If you are exploring the Imperial Gardens then you may have it in mind to visit the historic castle buildings. I’ve put 4 options below which will help you skip ticket queues. Two are options for self-guiders and the other two are for people who want to join a guided group.
Where are the Prague Castle Imperial Gardens?
The marker in the map is the Belvedere (Queen Annes Summer Palace) and to it’s left are the Prague Castle Imperial Gardens. Remember that it’s a park so it only has a summer season which means it’s open from April 1st to October 31st. There are 2 public entries into the Prague Imperial Gardens i.e. from the castle at one end and from the Belvedere at the other. On special occasions you may find the Chotkovy Sady (Chotek Park) entry is open for a festival and that can have an entry into the gardens.
My personal preference is to take the Tram 22 up the hill and get off at Kralovstvi Letohradek (it literally translates as Imperial Summer Garden). Then you just cross the road and enter the Prague Castle Imperial Gardens via the Belvedere gate. There’s also a WC here. Also note that if you are taking this route check my post about the Sand Gate, the last fortified city gate in this area which is only 100 metres away when you get off the tram.