Karlštejn Castle is one of the most visited castles in the Czech Republic. It was built by Charles IV between 1348 and 1355. It originally served to safeguard the imperial and royal treasure and the Crown Jewels and to store state documents.
The castle is entered through two through two gateways 100 metres apart. The second gateway leads into the Burgrave´s Court (Purkrabský Dvůr), which is now fitted out as an open-air theatre. Conducted tours of the castle also start here.
On the south side of the court stands the four-storey Burgrave´s House (Purkrabství), the lower parts of which date from the 15th century. At the western tip of the castle are domestic offices and the Well Tower, with 90m/300ft deep well and a large wheel for drawing water.
From the Burgrave´s Court a large gateway leads into the narrow Main Court (Hradní Nádvoří).
To the right is the Imperial Palace (Císařský Palác); a staircase (far right) leads up to the first floor. Documents, pictures and models illustrating the history of the castle are displayed in two rooms of the palace. At the east end is St Nicholas´s Chapel (not open to the public).
Of the imperial apartments on the second floor only the Emperor´s study, with fine panelling, is preserved. The original half-timbered top storey, in which were the women´s apartments, was replaced during the 19th century restoration by a wooden wall-walk.
To the north of the palace is St Mary´s Tower (Mariánská věž). On the second floor (reached by a staircase within the walls) can be found St Mary´s Church, with a painted beamed ceiling and partly preserved 14th century wall paintings (themes from the Apocalypse, representations of Charles IV, etc.). At the south-west corner of St Mary´s Tower is the vaulted St Catherine´s Chapel. It was originally decorated with wall paintings , but Charles IV had these replaced by large plaques of semi-precious stones let into the walls.
On the highest part of the site is the mighty Great Tower (Velká Věž), 37m/121ft high, which is linked with St Mary´s Tower by a wooden bridge. On the second floor is the Chapel of the Holy Rood (Kaple Sv. Kříže), which was consecrated about 1360. It is divided into two by a gilded iron screen which closes the sanctuary to the public. The vaulting, which comes down low on the walls, is completely gilded and studded with glass stars. On the walls, above the candle stands (for 1330 candles), are more than 2200 precious stones set in gilded plaster and 127 painted panels by Master Theodoric (1348-67), behind which there were originally relics. Behind the altar is a recess in which the Imperial crown jewels (now in the Hofburg in Vienna) and the Bohemian royal insignia (now in St Vitu´s Cathedral in Prague) were formerly kept.
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