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Strahov Monastery - Strahov Monastery Courtyard 1/132, Hradčany

Strahov Monastery

Strahov Monastery Courtyard 1/132, Hradčany

The oldest Premonstratensian Order monastery in Bohemia was founded in 1140 by Prince Vladislav II. from the initiative of Olomouc bishop Jindřich Zdík. This was during the period of pan-European religious euphoria related to crusades. Along with the Basilica of St.George at the Prague Castle (founded in 973) and Břevnov Monastery (founded in 993) it is one of the oldest monasteries in the country. By 1182 latest the construction of Strahov Monastery was completed and thanks to a continuous support of the king, it had become one of the most influential centres of education and also an important economic unit. In that period the monastery was probably bigger than the Prague Castle and it was the largest Romanesque building in Bohemia and one of the largest ones in Europe too. After a fire in 1258 the monastery was rebuilt in an early Gothic style; the whole area stood out with its majestic design, large fortifications and unprecedented technical features such as a windmill, sewage system or floor heating in some rooms. After the Hussite wars the monastery was going through a rough period and it didn´t start to flourish again until the turn of the 16th/17th century when a reconstruction in late Renaissance style took place. One of the most important events in the history of the monastery took place in the year 1627: German town of Magdeburg, where the founder of the Premonstratensian Order St.Norbert was buried, was seized by the Protestants and the remains of the saint were taken to Strahov where they were buried again and St.Norbert became the Bohemian country patron. In 1648 the monastery was plundered by the Swedish army and then expanded and rebuilt in early Baroque style, in 18th century there were some minor refurbishments in peak and late Baroque style. Complex architectural development was finished off in 1783 by the construction of a Classicist library building.

The monumental peak Baroque entrance gate with a statue of St.Norbert by J.A. Quittainer is the work of A.M. Lurago from 1742. On the top of a stone pillar in the former outer farmyard there is another statue of St.Norbert. On the left side behind the gate there is a deconsecrated church of St.Roch built between 1603-12, used originally as Strahov parish church and now converted into a gallery; it is a unique combination of Gothic and Renaissance styles, possibly based on a design by G. M. Filippi. Its construction was commissioned by emperor Rudolph II as a way of thanking for protection from a plague epidemic. The courtyard is dominated by a three-naved church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary; behind it there is a Medieval gate leading to the entrance courtyard of the monastery. On its left side there is the abbey building from 1680-98 (project by J. B. Mathey) with abbey refectory and private abbatial chapel from 1743. On the right-hand side there is the convent building, surrounding a Court of Paradise.Current appearance of the convent is Baroque, however, numerous Romanesque elements were preserved, including two whole rooms. On the first floor of the cloister there is the famous Strahov Picture Gallery, developed since the 1930´s and re-opened in 1994. The convent also consists of a Theological Hall, an older part of the library from 1671-79 (G. D. Orsi de Orsini), and of a spectacular winter refectory room. South wing is elongated with the summer refectory. South of the convent building, there is the monastery garden and viewing terrace with a Baroque pavillion which offers a splendid view on the Prague valley. The courtyard is closed up by the General Provisionary building, built after 1718.

In front of the west side of the Assumption church there is the entrance into the youngest part of the whole site, the Classicist library building which was built between 1783-86, cobverted from an old early Baroque granary (I. J. N. Palliardi, stucco decorations by I.M.Platzer). It main part is formed by the monumental Philosophy room from 1782-84, which runs through two floors of the building and is decorated with a wall painting History of Mankind by A.F. Maulbertsch from 1794. Strahov library stored over 130 000 items including illuminated manuscripts and incunables (early printed books before 1500); one of its greatest treasure is a parchment gospel-book from the 9th century. Authentic Baroque wooden bookshelves and a collection of globes from the 17th-19th centuries are also unique.

The monastery area also consists of many non-religious buildings which form an evidence of its former busy economic life. The most significant one is the brewery building (13/134) which was used until the beginning of 20th century, there is also a house of monastery´s butcher (2/130) and few other parts of the former commercial establishment.

In 1950 the Premonstratensians were forced to leave the monastery which was then turned into a Museum of National Literature (MNL) which incorporated the monastery library. After 1989 the monastery was given back to the Premonstatensian Order which now takes care of the pastoral activities and site maintenance. MNL is currently renting the premises and it is gradually moving its literary archives outside of Prague. Strahov Monastery has been named a national cultural monument in 1989.

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