Czernin Palace virtual tour
01.06.2011 / 10:45
The idea to build the Czernin Palace in the Prague Castle District was brought forth by Humprecht Jan Czernin, Count of Chudenitz (1628-1682). When Count Czernin stayed in Venice as the ambassador of the Habsburg Empire he was looping for a gifted architect for the proposed Czernin Palace.
The building site bought by Czernin in 1666 had a lot of disadvantages. The main one was in irregular shape in 60 x 250 metres size and 8,5 metres downgrade.
After a number of unsuccessful attempts, Count Czernin finally found a proper architect on November 9, 1667. Italian Francesco Carratti proposed a design of palace with the front size of 134,4 metres long. Regarding the plans Czernin entrusted Carratti with building of the palace.
At that time Francesco Caratti was the chief architect of Václav Jan Michna of Vacínov and cooperated with the Princes of Lobkowitz. Significant baroque monumental buildings, such as the Chateau in Roudnice nad Labem or the Dominican Church of St. Mary of Magdala near Újezd in the Lesser Town of Prague, were built according to his plans.
The proper building works started in 1669. They were making by Prague builders Jan de Capauli and Abraham Leitner according to the project of Francesco Caratti. The building shell was completed in 1673. It was only a building without ornaments and furnishing. Hence emperor Leopold I visiting Czernins at that time commented the palace ironically: “It is a large barn. It has no barn door though.“ In 1675 the interiors was being furnished. Hence Count Nicholas Colloredo described the building in a completely different manner: “The palace will be the most beautiful gem of Prague. Its design and location are an evidence of a high reason of a chevalier who got such a building made.“
After the death of Count Humprecht Jan Czernin on February 13, 1682, his oldest son Heřman Jakub took over the construction and hired architect Giovanni Battista Maderna. Ten years later, Maderna was replaced by versatile Dominico Egidio Rossi who managed to push through a range of partial solutions and contributed significantly to the completion of internal palace arrangements. In 1696, the Czernins signed a contract with architect Giovanni Battista Alliprandi. In 1717 – 1731 František Maxmilián Kaňka was the chief architect of the palace.
Glory of the palace culminated in the era of Count František Josef Czernin. Completing works were the most intense under his reign. Czernin´s financial situation was getting worse. Count was finally forced to implement financial cuts. The inevitable crisis of the family fortunes was brought by his sudden death on March 6, 1733.
After the death of Emperor Charles VI in 1740, the tensed political situation resulted in the War of the Austrian Succession. Bavaria, Saxony, France and Spain opposed Maria Theresa. The war brought a damage to the palace. In summer 1742, when the French-Bavarian garrison was hemmed in Prague, the palace was occupied by two infantry regiments and converted into a fortification. Valuables were stored in the basement, embrasures were created in the walls, the furniture, which could not be stored, was burned on open fireplaces in the rooms, and trenches went through the ornamental garden. The Palace was seriously damaged by a shelling of the Austrian army and attacks of French troops. The Czernin Palace sustained a further blow by the Prussian occupation of Prague in 1757.
Financially exhausted Czernins offered the palace to tenants. A military hospital and apothecary were set up there in 1779. Count Jan Rudolf Czernin offered a part of the palace to the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts for art exhibitions and auctions. The art gallery of the Society later evolved into the current National Gallery. Count reserved rooms only on the second floor for himself. Family archives were placed on the ground floor and the revision office of Czernin domains with a writing room was moved to the left wing. Other rooms in the palace were filled with tenants, and there was also a silk factory for a short time there. The rent did, however, not even suffice for covering the costs connected to the basic maintenance of the building, and Jan Rudolf decided to sell the Palace to the soldiers in the end. A number of rooms was seized for the military hospital in 1809, and the situation repeated in 1815. One year later, Czernin was willing to leave empty rooms for the establishment of a common lodging-house. In 1818, military convalescents were accommodated in the palace.
The artillery unit and then a military hospital were located in the palace in 1829 – 1830. In 1848 the building was inhabited by 28 families and a military unit.
A contract of purchase, through which the palace was transferred to the army, was approved by Emperor Franz Josef I on April 11, 1851. The building was rebuilt for new purposes in 1851 – 1853. The number of floors was changed and the palace was divided into small rooms. The large hall disappeared completely. All stucco ceilings, the chapel vault, murals and all that had something to do with changing the heights of rooms was destroyed. New additions included military kitchens, lavatories, dormitories, offices and three cylindrical toilet towers, out of which the largest one had the diameter of about 8 metres. This state lasted until 1920, when soldiers left the building.
In 1920, the Czechoslovak government decided the Czernin Palace would be allotted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs whose offices were dispersed in several locations in Prague. In 1924 architect Pavel Janák won the contest for the completion and reconstruction of the palace. In 1929 - 1934, the palace was rebuilt according to the original design of Francesco Caratti.
A reception ceremony to the completion of the reconstruction of the original premises hosted by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Edvard Beneš and visited by Czechoslovak and foreign personalities, representatives of the Prague diplomatic corps and participants of the 3rd International Philosophic Congress was held in the Czernin Palace on September 3, 1934.
During the Second World War, the palace was the seat of the Reichsprotector, Konstantin von Neurath and his successor Reinhard Heydrich. The Secretary of State, K.H.Frank, also had his office in the palace. Cellars were converted into bomb shelters, the roof was equipped with a concrete frame against bombing, and the ground floor was surrounded by a strong wall of reinforced concrete, protecting the exits from the bomb shelters, and a telephone exchange. At the end of the war, a part of the so called Janák Annex was used as a military hospital.
In May 1945, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia moved to the Czernin Palace again. The palace has been the headquarter of Czech diplomacy since then.