AD 850 – 1050
In written sources, Prague and Prague Castle do not appear explicitly before the end of the 9th century. However, we are convinced that we have to deal with one of the central seats of the Bohemians mentioned in earlier Frankish chronicles. The first such note in the Annals of Fulda, dated January 845, refers to the adoption of Christianity. At that time 14 Bohemian nobles arrived with their retinues in Regensburg, where they asked Louis the German to be baptised. The next known mention refers to the christening of Duke Bořivoj sometime before 885 by Bishop Methodius in Moravia. Fig. 5 Both these acts can be understood in the context of their time as political.8
Apart from Prague, two other sites played a major role in the early history of the duchy, namely Levý Hradec and Budeč.9 Fig. 6 In the second half of the 9th century, Prague Castle was supposedly a seat of the Bohemians that fulfilled administrative as well as symbolic functions. After his baptism in Moravia, Bořivoj intended to return to his seat at Levý Hradec, but ended up in a battle for Prague and had the Church of the Virgin Mary, the first church built in the area of Prague Castle, founded near its future acropolis.10
Bořivoj’s heirs started to settle down in the area of Prague Castle. Fig. 7 Contacts with Moravia broke off in 895 and the Bohemians sought for help at King Arnulf’s in Regensburg. His elder son Spytihněv contributed to the establishment of an archpresbyteriate, which fell under the bishopric of Regensburg.8 His younger brother Vratislav was already considering establishing an independent bishopric in Prague. The construction of the St George Basilica may be linked to this intention.11
In connection with the political developments within the Frankish Empire the political orientation changed and St Wenceslas was forced to subjugate himself to the East Frankish King Henry. Evidence of this can be seen as well in the consecration of another church in the area of Prague Castle, to Vitus, the Saxon patron saint.12 Power consolidated, the duchy grew, and finally in 973 13, under the rule of Boleslav II, a bishopric was established. By that time, the Přemyslids had become an important political factor of Central Europe. Fig. 8
However, after the death of Duke Boleslav II in 999, a major crisis emerged.9 Even Boleslav’s widow, the former Frankish queen Emma tried to contribute to its solution.14 Fig. 8 The issue was only definitively solved by the presence of a strong and self-confident ruler, such as Břetislav I after 1034.
Conclusive archaeological evidence of a stable settlement during the whole 9th century is still missing. However, a dense settlement is attested in the neighbouring area of today’s Hradčany and the Lesser Town. 15 Fig. 9 We have to deal not only with settled areas but with important production and trade centres that were dispersed over the dominant hill of today’s Prague Castle. 16 By that time, it apparently played a symbolic role, which is indicated by the find of the warrior’s grave with sword, dated to the mid-9th century. The mythical ‘Žiži’ mound and the stone throne at the top of the castle’s promontory, where the dukes were installed, give an idea of its primarily spiritual aspect. The remains of the Church of the Virgin Mary from the 9th century, the first church at this site, support this theory. Fig. 10 The church was situated on a small projection of the northern slope of the promontory, and we can assume that a still undiscovered settlement complex was situated in its neighbourhood.17
Other architectural remains of Church architecture stem from the first half of the 10th century. Vast building projects were the construction of the St George Basilica and the foundation of the St Vitus Rotunda. Fig. 11 Both churches defined the central part of the castle’s promontory, part of which was to become the duke’s seat. The first building phase of the ducal palace is assumed in the area between both churches. Supposedly, the whole area was protected by a simple fortification at that time which was gradually renovated and improved. 18 Fig. 12 The archaeological finds have changed the interpretation of Prague Castle profoundly. Apart from a spiritual level, we must count as well with the worldly power. During the 10th century, the site became a representative seat of the profane as well as ecclesiastical power within in the Přemyslid domain. A bishopric was installed, a bishop’s palace erected, the chapter founded. 19 All these events shaped the complex of Church buildings and pushed the duke’s palace to the southern edge of the promontory.
Art and Architecture
Ecclesiastical and secular institutions, installed at the castle, turned it into a major centre of the arts in Central Europe.
The development of the castle’s settlement structure was essentially influenced by its rugged terrain. We may consider the eastern part of the ridge as the urban seed of the Přemyslid castle, which from the first half of the 10th century contained the stone churches of St George and St Vitus and most probably the first ducal palace as well. Since the 9th century a wood and clay wall with a number of gates encircled the whole area, in 12th century it was replaced by a stone wall. 20 Fig. 13
The first known churches belong to the basic architectural types of the period. The Church of the Virgin Mary had one nave and a rectangular apse, St George is being reconstructed as a three-nave basilica and St Vitus was originally built as a rotunda with single apse. The original churches can be studied from the fragmentary remains of their floor plans only.21 Fig. 11
Arts and Crafts were inspired by the import goods, needed by Church institutions, only later on, did works of art for the decorating altars, liturgy, and vestments begin to be made at the site itself. The level of local arts and crafts, whose products were intended mainly for the lay inhabitants of the castle, can be estimated from the jewellery found during the excavation of the cemetery in the Lumbe Garden.22 Fig. 14 Fig. 15 Fig. 16
At least by the time of the foundation of the chapter (972/973) we may reckon with a modest scriptorium. The first liturgical books that came to Prague were imported from the realm of Francia, namely e.g. from Regensburg. In the 10th century Strachkvas-Christianus, a scion of the Přemyslid family and author of a famous legend of St Wenceslas, was educated there. The first known liturgical work of the Prague scriptorium is the St Wenceslas Mass from the first half of the 11th century.23 Most interesting is a copy of Gumpold’s legend of the life of St Wenceslas, written by the bishop of Mantua in 980s. We have to deal with an illuminated luxury edition commissioned by former Frankish Queen and Bohemian duchess Emma, now kept in the library of Wolfenbüttel.24 Fig. 8 Fig. 37
Bohemia was part of a continuous band of Slavic settlement on the eastern and southern edges of the Frankish empire. Since Prehistoric times, Central Europe represented a natural crossroad of long distance trade routes, directed from north to south, from the Baltic to the Adriatic Sea (the so-called Amber Road) and from east to west, from north-eastern and eastern Europe to the Caliphate of Córdoba. Fig. 17 After the fall of the Avar Khaganate at the end of the 9th century, Central Europe opened up to Christian missionaries as well as political, cultural and economic contacts. Bohemia was annexed to the Empire in 805 and despite political changes has since then been a natural constituent of the Western European cultural sphere.25
The records of Ibrahim ibn Yaqub and al-Bakri, Arabic travellers to Prague, mention trade in salt and furs, but mainly focus on slaves, who were traded all over Europe at the time, such as in Marseilles.26 Fig. 18 In addition, amber, rock crystal, textiles, talc, and jewellery were imported from the East. Contacts in the sphere of culture and education were bound to the Church realm. Priests and friars arrived from the west and helped to build up Church institutions. The first Bohemian bishop was the Saxon friar Thietmar. On the other hand Bohemian intellectuals went to study in the empire, such as Christian-Strachkvas (Regensburg) or Cosmas (Liège). Moreover, international contact can be seen by imports of objects of art, craft and construction techniques.27 Fig. 19
Sites within the realm of the Frankish empire reflect numerous connections with Prague. Prague Castle was a royal residence, just like Nijmegen, Ingelheim or Ename. As Biskupija Crkvina it served as the burial ground for the elite, in the continuity of settlement it can be compared to Velzeke. It was the seat of the first Benedictine convent in Bohemia, and this makes a link to Montmajour and Ename. It was inspired by Northern Italian architecture, especially that of Ravenna, motifs from the central palace chapels can be found indirectly at St Vitus rotunda as well.
Further relations with Italy can be derived from the creation of Bishop Gumpold’s Legend of St Wenceslas. A coin of the Bohemian Duke Oldřich († 1034) found in Kostoľany proves trade and commercial connections to the East. Fig. 20
8 Třeštík, Dušan, ‘Čechy. Čechové’. in Střed Evropy okolo roku 1000, Prague, 2002, pp. 126-130
9 Žemlička, Josef, ‘Čechy. Centra a organizace vlády’, in Střed Evropy okolo roku 1000, Prague, 2002, pp. 130-132
10 Frolík, Jan, ‘Duke Bořivoj and the Church of the Virgin Mary’, in The Story of Prague Castle, Prague, 2003, pp. 52-55
11 Frolík, Jan, ‘The basilica and convent of the St. George – the oldest extant church building’, in The Story of Prague Castle, Prague, 2003, pp. 60-63
12 Frolík, Jan, ‘Three stops in the Church of st. Vitus’, in The Story of Prague Castle, Prague, 2003, pp. 64-67
13 Třeštík, Dušan, ‘Čechy. Založení pražského a moravského biskupství’, in Střed Evropy okolo roku 1000, Prague, 2002, pp. 144-145.
14 Kilián, Jan, Polanský, Luboš, et al., Emma Regina – Civitas Melnic: sborník příspěvků z konference u příležitosti 1000. výročí úmrtí kněžny Emmy Reginy a 80. jubilea narození Pavla Radoměrského konané 9. listopadu 2006 v Regionálním muzeu Mělník, Mělník – Prague, 2008
15 Boháčová, Ivana, ‘The Archaeology of the dawn of Prague’, in Boháčová, Ivana and Poláček, Lumír (Hrsg.), Burg – Vorburg – Suburbium. Zur Problematik der Neben areale frühmittelalterlicher Zentren, Internationale Tagungen in Mikulčice VII, Brno, 2008, pp. 103-119
16 Čiháková, Jarmila, Dragoun Zdeněk and Podliska, Jaroslav, ‘Pražská sídelní aglomerace v 10.-11. století’, in Polanský, Lumír, Sláma, Jiří and Třeštík, Dušan (eds), Přemyslovský stát kolem roku 1000, Prague, 2000, pp. 127-146
17 Maříková-Kubková, Jana and Herichová, Iva, ‘Geologický a topograficko-urbanistický vývoj areálu’, in Archeologický atlas Pražského hradu, Díl I., Castrum Pragense 10, Prague, 2009, pp. 59-66
Frolík, Jan, ‘The ducal throne and the mysterious Žiži, Duke Bořivoj and the Church of the Virgin Mary ‘, in The Story of Prague Castle, Prague, 2003, pp. 48-55
18 Frolík, Jan, ‘The half-forgotten Founder’ (pp. 56-59), ‘ The Basilica and Convent of St. George: The oldest extant Church Buildings’ (pp. 60-63), ‘Three stops in the Church of St. Vitus’ (pp. 64-67), ‘Did Ibrahim Ibn jakub visit Prague Castle?’ (pp. 68-70), all in The Story of Prague Castle, Prague, 2003
19 Frolik, Jan, ‘The old Town Provostship at the Prague Castle until the end of the 13th Century according to the excavation in 1984′, Castrum Pragense 2, Prague, 1999, pp. 169-484
20 Maříková-Kubková, Jana and Herichová, Iva, Archeologický atlas Pražského hradu, Díl I., Castrum Pragense 10, Prague, 2006
21 Frolík, Jan, Maříková-Kubková, Jana, Růžičková, Eliška and Zeman, Antonín, Nejstarší sakrální architektura Pražského hradu. Výpověď archeologických pramenů, Prague, 2000
22 Frolík, Jan and Smetánka, Zdeněk, Archeologie na Pražském hradě, Prague, 1997, pp. 67-71
23 Katedrála viditelná a neviditelná, in press (Prague, 2013)
Bartlová, Milena (ed.), Svatý Vojtěch ve středověkých iluminovaných rukopisech, in Svatý Vojtěch. Tisíc let svatovojtěšské tradice v Čechách, katalog výstavy, Prague, 1997
24 Zachová, Jana, ‘Legendy Wolfenbüttelského rukopisu’, Filosofia, 2010, pp. 207
25 Třeštík, Dušan, ‘Die Tschechen’, in Wieczorek, Alfried and Hinz, Hans-Martin (eds), Europas Mitte, Band 1, Stuttgart, 2000, pp. 356-366
26 Frolík, Jan, ‘Did Ibrahim Ibn Jakub visit Prague Castle?’, in The Story of Prague Castle, Prague, 2003, pp. 68-70
27 Třeštík, Dušan, Vznik Velké Moravy. Moravané, Čechové a střední Evropa v letech 791–871, Prague, 2001