Most people only cross the Charles Bridge to see Prague Castle, but there is a lot to do outside of the castle (and plenty to do in it). If you do it right, exploring Prague’s Castle District (Hradčany) will take you twice as long as it does to enjoy the city’s other boroughs, including Old Town. And one of the most interesting stops in Hradčany is the Strahov Monastery.
The Strahov Monastery was founded in 1138 and began to develop as a monastic community some years later. But the monastery’s progress was halted in the 1400s when the Hussites plundered and nearly destroyed Strahov. It barely survived through the 16th century when reconstruction began. Around this time, they built a monastery brewery (I guess to make religion more palatable to the Czechs).
Over the course of its history, Strahov has been under siege at least half a dozen times. First during the Thirty Years’ War, then hundreds of years later when the French attacked Prague. Each time, they rebuilt and reopened. That is, until the 1950s when communism put a swift halt to the official activities of the monastery. Since the fall of communism, it has been in varying states of reconstruction, where you, eager visitor will find it today.
(You like that? You should see what my historical re-tellings sound like after a few pints.)
Why it’s worth a visit
A struggling Frankenstein of a monastery might pale in comparison to the ancient wonders that the rest of Prague has to offer. But you shouldn’t discount it as an interesting place to visit. For one, because of its location. Strahov is located high on a hill behind Prague Castle, which gives you quite a unique view of the castle that you can’t get from anywhere else.
And perhaps because its location, it’s not as crowded as some of Prague’s other attractions. It’s peaceful and interesting. And aside from being a nice place to enjoy some peace and a good view, you’ll actually find a good amount of things to do up at the monastery.
It’s also worth noting that Casino Royale was filmed there some years ago, if you’re into that kind of thing.
The Basilica of Assumption of Our Lady (not the catchiest name of all time), has been reconstructed quite a few times, each in a different style. It began as Romanesque basilica, then was remodeled in a Renaissance style. Later it was redesigned as Baroque, giving it a Sistine Chapel-esque look. But without the crowds.
The Picture Gallery
The monastery currently houses the Picture Gallery, which holds over a thousand paintings that were preserved over the centuries of its turbulent history. You can expect to find traditional European art and sculpture dating all the way back to 1300. But rest assured, I would never recommend you go all the way to Strahov to see stuffy old Flemish art. No, the major draw of Strahov is the library.
The Strahov Library
The library of the Strahov Monastery is right out of the library porn slideshow you’ve seen on Pinterest. It has two large, beautifully adorned halls. One is the Philosophical Hall, which has a gorgeous painted ceiling, and contains works about philosophy, astronomy, math, and history. The other is the Theological Hall, which houses thousands of religious books and is lined with globes. As you can probably guess, you can’t go inside and browse through the ancient texts. You can only admire them from afar.
The Strahov Library is widely considered the second most beautiful in Prague. So why not go to the most beautiful? Because that one (the Klementinum) is currently closed indefinitely. And because at Strahov, you can also get drunk!
The Monastic Brewery
Yes, there is a working brewery at the Strahov Monastery. Like the other buildings in Strahov, it’s undergone some periods of inactivity and some reconstruction. It was restored as recently as 2000. Outside of special events occasionally held at the Strahov Monastic Brewery, you can hang out there any time and have freshly brewed St. Norbert beer at the brewery building or the St. Norbert Restaurant, where you can also enjoy traditional Czech cuisine. Though their specialty is the beer, the food is also pretty fantastic.
The brewery alone is worth the trip. With a nice terrace that will only get more popular as the days warm up, this is one of the best places in Prague to get a cold one.