Strahov Monastery, Museum, Library and Norbertines
Strahov Monastery is both famous and not famous. Famous: because the two bell towers of the basilica determine the skyline of the left bank of the Vltava River. Not famous: because few tourists visit the Strahov Monastery and the Strahov Library.
Important reasons to add Strahov Monastery to your what-to-see list is its almost perfect location atop Petrin Hill, the panoramic view of Prague, the lack of tourists, and the Strahov Library brimming with theological books and Bibles. Enough reasons to put Strahov Monastery on your what-to-do-in-Prague list.
Strahov Monastery: What to See
The Strahov Monastery complex consists of five attractions
1. Strahov gallery
2. Assumption of Mary Basilica
3. Strahov library
4. Strahov monastery brewery
An additional attraction of a visit to the Strahov Monastery is the walk via Petrin Hill, the largest park in the city centre. Winding paths lead uphill and offer magnificent views. In the spring, when the fruit trees are in bloom the walk is even more pleasant. If you don’t feel like walking, you can take the funicular from Ujzed Street in the Mala Strana district. This is an attraction in itself!
Strahov Gallery: the Paintings
The Strahov Gallery collection comprises almost five hundred paintings of which about two hundred are on display in the Strahov Museum. They are shown in chronological order and cover the periods from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century
The exhibition consists of the following sections
1. Paintings and sculptures from 1300-1500, culminating in ‘Madonna with Child’ also known as ‘the Strahov Madonna’
2. Rudolfine painting, characteristic of this style are allegorical portraits or still lifes composed of images of fruit, vegetables, fish and books. The most famous artist of this genre is Guiseppe Arcimboldo who worked at the court of Rudolf II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
3. Flemish paintings
4. Italian paintings
5. Central European paintings
Most of the artworks in the Strahov Museum date back to the Baroque period: early 17th century to the first half of the 18th century. The characteristics of this style in painting are grandeur, sensuous richness, realism and chiaroscuro. The monastery possessed also works of art pre-seventeenth century, but these were taken as booty at times of war, and a significant part of the collections disappeared during the communist period. Yet, there are plenty of works of art left, in fact about so many that only part of the collection is on display.
Rudolf II as Verumnus
In 1591 Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted a portrait of Rudolf II as Verumnus, the god of seasons. When the portrait was finished, the painter gave it to Rudolf II as a present. During the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) it fell into the hands of the Swedes and disappeared without a trace. In 1845, it was found back in Skolkloster Castle near Uppsala, Sweden, where it still is.
Basilica Assumption of the Virgin Mary
The Basilica is located in the middle of the Strahov complex. Originally, a Romanesque basilica which burnt down soon after it was built. It was rebuilt in the Gothic style but disaster struck again. In the fifteenth century at the height of the Hussite Wars the church was looted and fell into decay. The basilica was rebuilt, this time in Renaissance style, and again badly damaged in 1742 during the siege of Prague at the time of the Austrian wars of succession. And once more the basilica was rebuilt, this time in Baroque style and this is the church we see today.
The nave of the basilica is 63 meters long, 10 meters wide and 16 meters high. The main altar is of marble. There are ten side altars with paintings depicting the birth of Jesus, the Sacred Heart, John of Nepomuk, the conversion of St. Paul and Bohemian patron saints. Dazzling frescoes adorn the walls and vault in other parts of the basilica.
Mozart improvised on the organ when he visited Strahov Monastery and the basilica in 1787. Not surprising, because he has played almost all organs in Prague.
The chapel dedicated to St Norbert contains a gilded sarcophagus, inside st an ebony box containing the body of Saint Norbert, founder of the Order of the Premonstratensians or the Norbertines and, in Britain and Ireland known as the White Canons, from the colour of their habit.
The Strahov Library consists of three parts: theological hall, philosophical hall and the cabinet of curiosities. The floor-to-ceiling bookcases in both halls brim with historical books and Bibles. Exquisite frescoes decorate the ceilings and the walls, and geographical and astrological globes line the walls. The cabinet of curiosities is not a piece of furniture but a place where curiosities are exhibited. These cabinets are the forerunners of modern museums. The collection includes interesting objects from flora and fauna. Read here more about the Strahov library here.
Strahov Monastery Brewery
No monastery without a brewery! Over the centuries the monks became more experienced in brewing beer until they found the perfect recipe which they still use today. This microbrewery brews three special varieties: Norbert blond, Norbert dark and Norbert IPA. The food in the restaurant is highly recommended as many dishes are based on beer. Read here more about the Strahov monastery brewery here.
Strahov Monastery: A Brief History
Trade routes are favourite locations to erect monasteries and Strahov Monastery is no exception to this rule. It was on the trade route between Nuremberg in present-day Germany and Krakow in present-day Poland. Calamities struck at regular intervals and there were several monasteries on this spot.
The first monastery dates back to the twelfth century and founded by the Norbertine monks. They focus on preaching and pastoral duties. In the thirteenth century their monastery burned down and in the following centuries the monastery was looted during the Hussites Wars.
However, the monastery and the monks survived all trials and tribulations until 1952 when the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia banned all manifestations of religion. In 1953, the monastery was opened as a Museum of Literature. After the Fall of Communism, the monastery was returned to the Norbertines who still live and work here today.
How to get there
Strahov Monastery is located on Petrin Hill
1. The shortest way to get there is by tram 22, Pohorelec stop. Walk up Pohorelec Street and up the stairs to Strahovske nadvori and Strahov Monastery.
2. Take tram 22 to the Ujzed stop. Take the funicular to the last stop and walk along a marked path to Strahov Monastery
Recommended way back to the city centre on foot: you walk down the hill so it is not exhausting. Take Uvoz street, which turns into Nerudova, until you get to Malostranske namesti. There are plenty of tram stops here. Nerudova street offers splendid views of Petrin Hill. This street is lined with Baroque houses bearing house signs.
Address: Strahov Library, Strahovske nadvori 1, Hradcany, Prague
Photos: Marianne Crone, Wiki Commons (portrait of Rudolf II)