Green below the Castle
Written & Foto by: René Jakl
Houses, courtyards, palaces, and passageways
- that's how Prague residents see the Lesser Bank. Of the many green
oases that lie hidden among the sinuous streets, the palace gardens
beneath the Prague Castle are among the most beautiful.
The long-dilapidated gardens that were closed to the public began
to be opened up gradually during the nineties. Fortunately, their
reconstruction brought them as close as possible to their historical
state. And no wonder - the conservative Historical Landmark Preservation
Institute is principally entrusted with the administration of the
gardens. As of today the reconstruction has cost CZK 297 million.
The state budget bore the lion's share of the expenditures, but
Britain's Prince Charles has also contributed to the financing -
who, together with Václav Havel, is a patron of the Prague Heritage
First, in 1995, the Ledeburská and Malá Pálffyovská gardens were
opened, after having been off-limits since 1955 due to damaged structure.
So now, people who had last walked through the gardens forty years
earlier, are finally able to enjoy them again. This happens to be
the case with Zbynìk Hyrl, director of Unica, the company that
now operates the gardens. In 1997 the Velká Pálffyovská garden was
opened, and the most recent phase of the reconstruction was completed
in 2000, with the access to the Kolowratská and Malá Fürstenberská
The first gardens and vineyards beneath the Prague Castle date
back to the 14th century, when the southern slope there gradually
lost its defensive function. Each garden has developed its own character,
bequeathed by history and various owners. The ornate baroque Velká
Pálffyovská garden, with its round fountain and cast triton sculpture,
neighbors on the east the austere Kolowratská garden, which is planted
only with fruit trees and lawns, and on the west the Malá Pálffyovská
garden, which is rather utilitarian. This contrasts with the playful,
later rococo arrangement of the Malá Fürstenberská garden. The baroque
Ledeburská garden to the west shines on the Lesser Bank with red,
axially symmetrical stairways of fired brick, exiting from the terrace
above the garden's parterre. Together with the adjacent, richly
stuccoed sala terrena, this serves for organizing concerts. Admission
to the gardens costs a considerable CZK 90, CZK 40 for children,
students, and pensioners. Hyrl explains this sum: "The gardens
must earn the cost of their operation. Furthermore, an admission
fee regulates disorderly conduct, because people think more respectfully
about entering." According to Hyrl, there is no graffiti problem
in the gardens.
The renewal of the Velká Fürstenberská garden, the last in the
complex of gardens beneath the castle, is currently being planned.
Hyrl points out that the situation is complicated by a lack of
funding and the problem of access for workers and construction equipment.
If an agreement is reached, bulldozers and trucks will enter the
Velká Fürstenberská garden through the Polish embassy below the
garden. Once the needed landscaping and renovations are completed,
the entire sun-soaked band of the southern gardens will be connected
and will flourish, precisely in accord with the inscription above
the sun dial in the Velká Pálffyovská garden: Claret in orbe dies,
ac tetres, hora pete umbras - "Let the day be clear over the
world and chase away the nasty shadows."