The seat of the Prague Archbishopric, St Vitus Cathedral is the city’s most important Gothic building, located in the middle of the Prague Castle complex. Built over several centuries, it contains many artistic treasures, from the crown jewels to the mausoleums of the kingdom’s greatest personalities, from its Venetian mosaic to the Art Nouveau stained glass windows by Alfons Mucha.
The building is the result of more than five centuries of construction on a site where a stone rotunda (10th century) and later a Romanesque church had already stood. In the Middle Ages, the burial places of St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert, the patron saints of Bohemia, were found here. In the 14th century, Emperor Charles IV initiated the construction of a huge Gothic cathedral for the newly created archbishopric, which was to reflect the status of Prague as the capital of the Empire in terms of its splendour and beauty.
He first commissioned a French architect, Matthieu d’Arras, whose work in the choir is reminiscent of the great French cathedrals. Upon his death, he was replaced by Petr Parléř, who completed the choir with a very inventive vault, with intertwined ribs that form an organically unified and very dynamic space.
Due to the Hussite wars, the work was interrupted for a long period; in the following centuries, an elegant Renaissance gallery and a Baroque dome were added to the tower. The cathedral was not completed until the beginning of the 20th century by Josef Mocker (completion of the nave, west facade with two towers).
In addition to the beauty of its architecture, St Vitus Cathedral in Prague contains a wealth of art and history. On the outside, at the southern entrance, there is a magnificent Venetian mosaic on a gold background. This "golden door" leads you directly to the St. Wenceslas Chapel, lavishly decorated with precious stones, golden stucco and frescoes: this is where the tomb of St. Wenceslas, the great patron saint of the Bohemian kingdom, is located. Behind the door at the back are the precious crown jewels, which are rarely shown to the public.
Other equally prestigious tombs can be found in the choir chapels: as in Saint-Denis in France, St Vitus Cathedral serves as the main mausoleum for the ruling dynasty. Many members of the Přemyslid dynasty are buried under Gothic tombstones carved by Petr Parléř.
More recent and particularly impressive is a huge, ostentatious Baroque tomb in solid silver containing the remains of another Bohemian patron saint, St. John Nepomuk.