The Křivoklát Castle is an attractive tourist destination; it was founded at the beginning of the 12th century by Prince Vladislav, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.Prague - Malá Strana, Vltava River, and Charles Bridge, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.Prague towards the northwest, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.The beauty of the countryside, known as Bohemian Paradise, has enchanted many artists, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.Český Šternberk Castle, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.Koněprusy Caves, the largest cave system in Bohemia, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.Mělník Chateau and tower of the Church of St. Peter and Paul as seen from the historic locks in Hořín, photo by: Archiv Vydavatelství MCU s.r.o.
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Central Bohemia - the Rakovník and Beroun areas

Unlike the Kladno area, the river basin of the Berounka River is mostly forested and agricultural. The rugged landscape with its many valleys and canyons has still retained most of its natural beauties that made it popular among the Bohemian rulers long ago. They primarily used it for hunting and built several castles here for this purpose. The oldest such castle is likely the mythical castle Tetín, which Czech legend claims was the seat of Teta, the daughter of the mythical Krok and sister of Princess Libuše. Tetín is the site where St. Ludmila was murdered in 921, the grandmother of St. Václav (Wenceslas). In the place where the castle was supposed to have stood, archaeologists actually discovered the remains of a Slavic settlement from the 8th century, as well as another fortified settlement five thousand years old. The original Romanesque church from 911 was reconstructed several times, then insensitively restored in 1858.

About 15 km south of Rakovník lay the remains of the castle Týřov, built at the end of the 13th century. This was evidently a massive castle at the time, but it began to deteriorate from the beginning of the 16th century. Today, one can only look at the ruins and guess what a glorious castle it must have been.

Křivoklát Castle

The Křivoklát Castle is an attractive tourist destination; it was founded at the beginning of the 12th century by Prince Vladislav. After the middle of the 13th century, the castle was expanded and rebuilt by King Přemysl Otakar II. The end of the 14th century saw further modifications initiated by Václav IV. Křivoklát Castle was destroyed during the Hussite Wars, then at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries the Jagiellonian dynasty gave it the appearance that it bears today. Extensive and lengthy repairs also took place from 1882 to 1938. The castle chapel “Na Křivoklátě”, with its decorations, is one of the earliest preserved Late Gothic sites in Central Europe. The castle also conceals an extensive library, one of the largest collections of its kinds in the country. It is remarkable that it was basically collected by a single person, the landgrave Karel Egon I. of Fürstenberk, probably the biggest collector of books in his time.

In 1280, the castle Žebrák was built, but about 120 years later, the castle Točník was built on the hill above it, the comfortable “recreational” residence of Václav IV. Rather than an actual castle, however, it was probably more of a medieval chateau which simply “pretended” to hold a military function.

Karlštejn Castle

Among the castles designed for relaxation and amusement for the sovereigns, or for military purposes, there is one, built for a special reason, that stands out: Karlštejn, built by the Parler workshop from 1348 to 1357. It is said that Karlštejn was to provide a home for the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire and for the relics of saints. The fact is, however, that Charles IV took up this purpose much later, and the jewels were then stored in the Chapel of the Holy Cross in the Great Tower. At the beginning of the 15th century, the Czech crown jewels were housed here for a while as well. Karlštejn today holds the most extensive collection of panel paintings in all of Europe. This is a unique collection comprising 129 Gothic portaits of saints, created from 1359 to 1365 by the workshop of Master Theodoricus, the Italian-born court painter of Charles IV. The walls of the Chapel of the Holy Cross are adorned with polished semi-precious stones, gold accessories, and frescoes, much like the Chapel of St. Wenceslas (Václav) in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. Beautiful period murals also decorate the lower Marian Tower with its capitular Church of the Virgin Mary. In many places, these frescoes faithfully portray Charles IV himself. The ruler’s dwelling at the castle, the Imperial Palace, was later heavily damaged, so the original murals today show us their former glory.

Castles were built not only by the rulers, however, but also by the nobility. One example of a noble seat was Krakovec castle, built by one of the courtiers of Václav IV in 1381-1383, Jíra of Roztoky. The walls of this castle, which has been deteriorating since the 15th century and today is only a ruin, provided refuge to the religious reformer Jan Hus.

The Králův Dvůr Castle very near Beroun was fortunate enough to meet an opposite fate. After the middle of the 16th century, it was gained and reconstructed by the Lobkowicz family and was repeatedly reconstructed and embellished until the middle 19th century. In 1394, King Václav IV was ambushed and captured by irate leaders of the nobility. The small town of Králův Dvůr has been known as a centre of iron production since the 14th century – the first ironworks were established here by Charles IV in 1346. Later, the first blast furnace in Bohemia was built here.

This area is less known for its iron, however, and more for its chateaus. Chateaus here range from the Starý zámek fortress, later reconstructed in Baroque style, to the Late Baroque Nový zámek in Hořovice (after 1709). Nový zámek (new castle) was modified in Empire style just after the middle of the 19th century, while the original Rococo furniture has been preserved only in the castle dining room.

The tradition of local comfortable residences designed for relaxation continues even today, albeit in modified form. The first Czechoslovakian president T. G. Masaryk established his “countryside” residence in the frequently reconstructed hunting chateau of Rudolf II in Lány. The Lány Chateau was modified and modernized into its present appearance in 1929 by the Slovenian architect Josip Plečnik (1872- 1957). The quiet and pleasant environment of Lány was also favoured by president Václav Havel.

The settlement of Svatý Jan pod Skalou (St. John beneath the cliff) had a purely ritual function from the very beginning. A cave chapel existed here from the 11th century and was granted to the Ostrov Monastery by Břetislav I. Building activities took place here from the 13th century. As a place of pilgrimage, the cave of St. Ivan and Chapel of St. John attracted many pilgrims. The local monastery was closed during the Enlightenment reforms of Josef II in 1785, but the site still serves as a remarkable example of a place of pilgrimage with Baroque decorations, also partially the work of the famous Dientzenhofer family.

Koněprusy caves

Very old traces of human activity can be found around the Berounka River. During the construction of the D5 highway from Prague to Plzeň, a prehistoric site with hundreds of stone tools from the Paleolithic period was discovered here, about 1.5 million years old. This is the oldest known human settlement in the Czech Republic. This area, rich in karst formations and aptly known as the Czech Karst, holds a number of renowned Koněprusy caves. They are a favourite and sought-after hiking destination, but the site also brought a double surprise to both archaeologists and speleologists: a forgery mint was discovered here in which a huge amount of fake coins were produced from 1460 to 1470. In addition to this, the karst caves concealed wall engravings depicting Palaeolithic animals 15,000 years old.

From the 2nd to 1st century BC, a vast (82 hectares) Stradonice oppidum was built around Beroun – this is one of the largest Celtic settlements in Bohemia. The site’s size and wealth of its archeological findings suggests that this may have been the site of one of the mints stamping the famous “rainbow” gold Celtic coins (staters). Stradonice maintained contact with the Gallic Aedui tribe (of Bibracte near Autun, France), and together with the Celtic settlement of Závist above Zbraslav withstood the onslaught of Germanic tribes until the beginning of our era.

The landscape around the Berounka River, though, hides traces of much more ancient times. In 1839, the French engineer Joachim Barrande (1799-1883) was carrying out survey work for a future railway when he discovered extremely rich deposits (e.g. in the villages of Skryje and Týřovice) of Palaeozoic fossils (hundreds of thousands of them are now in the Czech National Museum).

The city of Beroun itself was founded in 1295 by King Václav II. Many of the local monuments were destroyed by numerous fires, but some have been preserved today, such as the two city gates from the 14th century: the Upper (Plzeň) and Lower (Prague) Gates. Both were repeatedly repaired and modified, however, just like many of the Baroque houses in the historical parts of Beroun.

The city of Rakovník is the centre of local hop-growing traditions. The city was damaged many times by wars and fires, and the only remnants of the original fortifications are the impressive Prague Gate from 1516 and the “High Tower” from 1524. The rest of the old town, including the Church of St. Bartholomew, was mostly reconstructed in Baroque style.