Royal Gardens and Belvedere
The Royal Gardens in Prague, Královská Zahrada, is a kaleidoscope of colours in spring and summer. Historic buildings surround the Royal Garden: Belvedere or Royal Summer Palace, Ball Game Hall and the Presidential Summer Residence. When the Royal Garden was laid out in the sixteenth century, it caused quite a stir because the Italian botanist planted exotic species such as citrus and fig trees. He was also the first horticulturist to grow tulips in northern Europe.
Royal Summer Palace or Belvedere
At the east side of the garden is situated the Belvedere, the summer residence of Ferdinand of Habsburg, King of Bohemia and of a whole string of other countries. Ferdinand had the palace built for his spouse, Queen Anne, who never lived there because she died before the construction was completed.
The summer palace is a wonderful example of Italian Renaissance architecture. Pay special attention to the roof which is reminiscent of a ship’s hull. The arched gallery with slender columns makes the palace look very elegant. Look up at the roof and admire a few of the seventy-four reliefs.
The Royal Summer Palace was used for relaxation and past time activities such as the ball game, a game similar to badminton.
Summer Palace: checkered history
In the 17th century, Emperor Rudolph II enjoyed spending time in the summer palace and let some of his astrologers work there.
In 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years´ War, the Swedish army ransacked the palace. Later on it was used to store corn, flour and vegetables. During the reign of Maria Theresa, the artillery of the Austrian army established themselves in the building. Plans to turn it into an observatory fell through and for some time it was an ammunition factory. Early nineteenth century the army left the building and today the summer palace is used for exhibitions and musical performances.
Royal Gardens and the Ball Game Hall
Halfway the garden is the Ball Game Hall with elegant arcades that open up to the garden. The entire facade is decorated with sgraffito of allegorical representations depicting sciences, virtues and chemical elements. The sgraffito needs to be renewed about every twenty years. On a lower level, behind the Ball Game Hall is the orangery with exotic plants and citrus trees. This greenhouse is open from mid-June to mid-September, entrance fee €1. The interior is simple and stylish, with a black and white checkered tile floor, paintings of seascapes and a 17th century tapestry. During Communist days, the garden was closed to the public and only after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 were they open to everyone.
Communist symbol on the wall of the Ball Game Hall
Early eighteenth century, the Ball Game Hall turned into stables and at the end of the century the army used the hall for storage. During the Second World War, the Nazis set the hall on fire. The Communist regime rebuilt the Ball Game Hall and made a few changes. They glazed in in the open arches and restored the sgraffito and also added a new sgraffito: the Communist symbol of the five-year plan, a hammer and sickle.
Singing Fountain in the Royal Gardens
The singing fountain stood in the middle of the garden. The fountain is still there but it doesn’t sing anymore. When the water flowing out of heads of the numerous figures and animals, dripped into the bronze bowl and you put your ears against the rim a ‘singing sound’ was to be heard. After a recent restoration of the fountain, the singing sound was lost.
Presidential Summer Residence
A bit further down, on the same side as the ball game hall, you will see a mustard-coloured building. This was the residency of the President of the Czech Republic from 1948 to 1998. During the beginning of this period, large parts of Prague Castle were closed. In 1948 hiding places and subterranean corridors were dug out so that the residency was directly connected to the castle complex. Hardly had the underground corridors been finished when they were blocked as it was likely that ant-communists would use them as shelters.
The Royal Gardens has two main entrances. The first can be reached via Prague Castle and the Prasny Most bridge. The other entrance is on Marianske Hradby Street opposite Kralovsky letohradek tram stop, tram 22.
photos: Marianne Crone