A hidden gem in the Central-European metropolis, the Strahov library is a place that you simply cannot miss. Let’s marvel at the vast history and the beautiful decorations – and perhaps have a glimpse at the organ once played on by Mozart?
While more and more tourists arrive in Prague every single year, the majority tend to miss out on what is arguably one of its greatest assets: the stunning Strahov Library. Located only a quick walk from the castle and cathedral, the Strahov Monastery is tucked gently into a hillside, surrounded by wine ranks as far as your eyes can see.
I remember seeing Strahov Monastery during my first visit to Prague, back in 2015. I , just like everyone else, was bracing the cold January winds and making my way towards the stunning cathedral and the busy castle square. I could barely make out the monastery in the distance – the silhouette of a large building accompanied by a lone church tower and surrounded by what I assumed to be wine ranks during the warmer days of the year. I never went, I thought I had better things to do back then.
Finally, on a freezing February day in 2018, I made it to Strahov Monastery. After spending the morning near the castle, we decided to walk towards the stunning monastery – deeply encouraged by the promise of a gluhwein and a pastry on the way over. We fell in love with the cobble-stoned alleys and pathways that snaked themselves around the mountainside towards the monastery. And the view along the way was more than we could ever have dreamt of.
With Nutella dripping down our chins, we both agreed that Prague looked like a smaller, more quaint version of Paris.
What to see at Strahov Library?
As the name reveals, this is indeed a library. And the collection is probably one of the more impressive you’ll ever encounter. We marvelled at amazing scripts, Egyptian hieroglyphs and old maps – and the absolutely magnificent baroque halls, of course. If you’re a nerd like me, this is heaven. If, on the other hand, this sounds quite far off from what you would consider a fun activity during hols, I urge you to give it a chance. If nothing else but for admiring the stunning decor.
In fact, Strahov Monastery is home to a vital part of Czech cultural history. There are circa 200 000 prints, most of which are dated back to the 16th and 18th century, a collection of 3000 manuscripts, and approximately 1500 first prints.
One of their most important belongings is the Strahov Evangeliary dating all the way back to the 9th century.
The origin of the collection goes back to the early 12th century, as the Premonstratensian monastery was founded on a top overlooking the bustling city of Prague. The building of a library begun soon after, but if was unfortunately interrupted several times throughout the centuries. A big fire left most of the building in ashes in 1258, then the Hussite warriors seriously damaged the building in the 15th century. And then, finally, the Swedish army invaded Prague in 1648 – and they raided both the library and monastery. Many of the books were then taken to Sweden, leaving Strahov only with nothing but empty shelves and desperation.
The area around the monastery includes the nearby Church of Our Lady of Ascension, where the great Mozart played the church organ in 1787.
The monastery, with its impressive library, became renowned in Europe at the turn of the 19th century. And quite naturally, it attracted visitors from near and far – great thinkers, mighty kings and anyone in between. Lord Horatio Nelson visited in 1800, and Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise, visited in 1812.
The Historical Halls of Strahov Library
These days, most visitors favour the two splendidly decorated halls of the library: the Theological Hall and the Philosophical Hall.
The Theological Hall was built after the end of the brutal Thirty Years’ War which haunted Europe like a spectacle. The exquisitely beautiful Theological Hall, built in a Baroque style, was completed by architect Giovanni Domenico Orsi in 1679. In order to keep the collection protected and safe, they operated with a row of strict rules: You were forbidden to enter the library carrying any type of light, you were not allowed to stay after 7.30, and prohibited books were kept in a special place – separately from the others. Obviously it worked – the collection stayed intact for centuries.
After decades of wealth and growth, the Strahov Library gained more books for their collections in the 17th and 18th century, so they decided to build a second hall in order to house their ever-growing collection. The Philosophical Hall, courtesy of the talented architect Jan Ignaz Palliardi, was soon a fact.
Also worth seeing, is the lobby connecting the two halls. The long hallways is filled with curiosities and historical artifacts collected during the monastery’s extensive history.
When should you visit Strahov Library?
The Strahov Monastery is open most days, except for December 25th and Easter Sunday, so there’s plenty of opportunities to pop around next time you’re in charming Prague.
The area around Strahov Monastery can also offer you an abundance of other activities. Try some holy beer while you’re at the monastery (there’s a post coming on that)! Nearby, you will also find Museum of Alchemy – but bear in mind it’s for a slightly younger generation. Both D and I are very interested in alchemy, but we ended up being the only ones over the age of 12 on our tour… And of course, the stunning cathedral and castle is only a walk away (and don’t forget to get a pastry on the way!)