Hradčanské Square (Hradčanské náměstí) is the foreground of the Prague Castle. Its ground plan was defined by ancient paths which led from the castle gates. Its proximity to the Prague Castle afforded the space a representative character, and magnificent aristocratic residences were built there as early as the 16th century. The oldest phase in palatial architecture is evident in the Schwarzenberg Palace whose gables and sgraffito decor points to the 16th century chateau architecture. The Thun Palace at the head of the square is a typical example of late 17th century palatial architecture. At the time, thanks to the palace’s architect Jean Baptiste Mathey, Prague architecture veered towards Roman inspiration. The Archbishop’s Palace, located in close proximity to the Prague Castle, acquired its current form during the Rococo reconstruction in the second half of the 18th century, and it exhibits a significant change in taste in that era. The passageway on the ground floor hides an entrance to a little street which leads to an architectural wonder – the Sternberg Palace. Its amazing garden facade with a protruberant oval hall was inspired by contemporary Roman architecture and French architecture of the late 17 th century.
The Sternberg Palace is open to the public because it contains a collection of European paintings from the National Gallery, whose roots are connected to the activities of the patriotic nobility at the close of the 18th century. The installation of public collections in aristocratic palaces has a tradition dating back more than 200 years. The expansion of the gallery to the Schwarzenberg and Salm Palaces on Hradčanské Square was well in line with this tradition. The remarkable co-existence between historical palatial architecture and Czech and European art works makes the area around the Square an imaginary national cultural acropolis, whose unquestionable importance contrasts with the purely touristic utilization of many of the significant buildings in the vicinity.