The Waldstein Garden is a part of the seat of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic.
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The Waldstein Garden, covering an area of more than 14,000 square metres, is the second largest garden in the centre of Prague; only Prague Castle gardens are larger.
The garden was created in the style of an Italian manneristic park, and as surviving letters by the sculptor Adrian de Vries show, Albrecht Waldstein himself actively participated in its shaping through his proposals and comments.
The Waldstein Garden is divided into two geometrically distinct parts. In the larger part you can see the largest Sala Terrena in Prague and in front of it a fountain with a sculpture of Venus and Cupid. In 1910, the fountain was placed in a marble pond which had previously been a separate fountain. Also in this part of the Waldstein Garden you can see the mysterious, artificial stalactite wall. If visitors take a careful look at the stalactite wall, they may recognize hidden silhouettes of animals such as frogs and snakes or grimacing faces. In the second, smaller part of the Waldstein Garden you will find, for example, a large pond with an artificial island where a sculpture of Hercules with a club in his hand stands, ready to strike the dragon at his feet. There is also a glasshouse and the Riding Hall here.
The Waldstein Garden has undergone several major changes. For example, in the 18th century it was almost completely forested and interlaced with lots of small paths. Smaller changes were made to it in the 1950’s, when the large pond was re-introduced. The garden has been a part of the Senate complex since 1996, the Senate having embarked on the most recent reconstruction and opening it to the public.
The dominant feature of the Waldstein Garden is the monumental Sala Terrena, which was not originally just an open building in the Waldstein Garden, but a sort of continuation of the palace’s residential rooms and which was mainly used for admiring the garden. At the time it was built, no other palace had a building like it in its garden.
Its interior decoration is in keeping with the palace’s indoor areas. There are 32 painted scenes in total in Sala Terrena, mainly from ancient mythology and the Trojan War, the work of a follower of the Italian painter Baccio del Bianco. The ceiling is adorned with frescoes depicting Olympus: Zeus with his wife Hera and the goddess Aphrodite in the middle (in Roman mythology Jupiter, Juno and Venus), Hellenic gods on the northern side, and Trojan gods on the southern side. The medallions bordering Olympus depict motifs from the Trojan War.
The Sala Terrena could be reached from the palace through an artificial cave, known as the grotto. The artificial grotto with its oval stone manger, was used by the palace dwellers on hot days as a cool shelter. The entrance to the cave from the grotto is on the northern side of the Sala Terrena, while on the southern side there is a door leading to the retirade: the relaxation room.
Waldstein Riding Hall
The Riding Hall is a spacious two-storey building that closes the whole Waldstein complex from its eastern side. It served its original purpose until the end of the 19th century. After WWI, the Waldsteins rented it to the Laurin & Klement car factory and later to other automotive plants. Car repair services remained there even after WWII and there was talk of building hall garages in the cellar during the 1950’s.
The Riding Hall has been part of the seat of the Senate since 1996 and thus it was included in extensive reconstruction plans for the whole of the Waldstein complex. Careful reconstruction succeeded in getting rid of improper building interventions and static defects from the past and the historic character of the building was restored. The Senate Chancellery rents out the Riding Hall to the National Gallery, which organizes exhibitions there. The rent is nominal.
Sculptures and fountains
Most of the sculptures that you can see in the Waldstein Garden are the work of the renowned Dutch sculptor, Adrian de Vries, who also worked at the court of Emperor Rudolf II. He learnt his craft in Italy and worked for the Duke of Waldstein probably from 1622 until his death in 1626. The last sculptures that Waldstein ordered were then completed by de Vries’s assistants. De Vries is buried not far from the Waldstein Garden, in Saint Thomas’s Church in Malá Strana.
De Vries’s bronze sculptures line the main path of the Waldstein Garden in front of the Sala Terrena. Among them, for example, you will find Neptune the god of the sea, Bacchus the god of wine, the oracle Laocoon and his sons, a walking horse, and a horse with a snake. As well as a set of bronze statues of ancient gods, goddesses and horses, de Vries also made a sculpture for Waldstein of Hercules fighting with a centaur that wants to kidnap his wife, Deianeira. The statue adorns the fountain in the middle of the small pond in the east part of the Waldstein Garden. Another statue of Hercules by de Vries, this time fighting a dragon, can be found on the artificial island in the largest pond in the garden.
The Waldstein Palace was looted in 1648 by Swedish soldiers, who removed the freestanding statutes and the original fountains. The statutes can now be seen in the Museum de Vries in Sweden, not far from Drottningholm Palace, the seat of the Swedish royal family. The statues in the Waldstein Palace are copies made at the beginning of the 20th century according to the originals.
Fauna and flora
The Waldstein Garden is a valuable area from an architectural and artistic point of view and its rich and varied fauna and flora add the finishing touches to its unique atmosphere.
Among the pride and joy of the Waldstein Garden are its Indian and white peacocks, which have been kept there since 2000 and that have chicks almost every spring. The Waldstein Garden rovides a haven for common moorhens and wild ducks. Although they are not among the fauna that live here permanently, it seems that the Wldstein Garden suits them, making them come back regularly. You can also see Eurasian eagle-owls, the argest owls living in this country. They have a wingspan of 160–170 cm and the females are larger than the males. You will find their aviary by the stalactite wall. The pond is full of catfish, pikes, orfes and Koi carps, which are considered the most beautiful ornamental fish in the world.
The garden is decorated by mature oak and maple trees or magnolia. The central part is planted with box-trees and tulips. There are hydrangea plants next to the stalactite wall and among the vines and figs on the south wall of the Waldstein Palace you can see crocuses, daffodils and lavender.
Photos © Tomáš Rasl
In case of heavy rains, the Waldstein Garden is closed to the public for safety and operational reasons.