The Waldstein Palace was built by powerful Czech nobleman and generalissimo of the imperial army Albrecht Wenceslaus Eusebius of Waldstein (1583–1634) as his Prague residence. The palace was designed by Italian architect Andrea Spezza.
Construction work started in 1623 and other Italian architects such as Nicolo Sebregondi and Giovanni Pieroni participated alongside Spezza.
Albrecht Waldstein did not enjoy his seat for long. Between 1630, when the decoration of the palace was finished, and his violent death in 1634, he stayed at the palace for less than twelve months. Some sources even say that he stayed at the palace for only 80 days altogether.
Because Waldstein was declared a traitor at the end of his life, the emperor was able to confiscate his property and thus the palace passed into the ownership of the Habsburgs. Shortly after that, the palace was bought for a nominal price by Maxmilian of Waldstein, a distant relative of Duke Albrecht’s. The palace was then occupied by the Waldstein family for more than three hundred years. The palace has been owned by the state since 1945.
The Waldstein Palace complex
The Waldstein Palace complex is of imposing size – the length is 340 metres and the width 172 metres.
The front facade faces Valdštejnské Square. It has three storeys, a dense system of windows and many lucarnes. A showcase with a pilgrimage painting of the Virgin Mary of Klatovy is situated above the blind central portal.
The residential part of the palace surrounds four courtyards. The first courtyard of the palace was once called the Ducal Courtyard since it was used by the Duke and his family. St. Wenceslaus Chapel stands in the lefthand corner. The Chapel is 16 metres high. It is decorated with scenes from the Legend of St. Wenceslaus. The altar was made by cabinetmaker and carver Arnošt Jan Heidelberger in 1630 and it is the oldest Baroque monument of its kind in Prague.
The second courtyard, bordered by Valdštejnská Street and by a wing of the former stable, now rebuilt as the Senate Plenary Session Hall, is dominated by a statue of Albrecht Waldstein. It is a bronze cast of a plaster statue by Ludvík Šimek, probably from 1873, made by restorer Petr Dvořák. Albrecht Waldstein is holding a marshal’s baton in his right hand to symbolize his military rank.
The third courtyard is accessible through the gate from Valdštejnská Street. The courtyard is surrounded by a four-winged, two-storey building originally designed for pages and their preceptor. The building runs towards Klárov as a single wing and connects the palace to the Riding School.
The fourth courtyard is accessible through the passageway that runs by the Information Centre. Originally, it was intended for the economic operations of the palace, but eventually became part of the residence of Maxmilian Waldstein and his family. It was given the name of Count Court.
The Main Hall
In the 17th century, the Main Hall covering an area of 288 square metres and reaching a height of 10.5 metres over both storeys of the palace, was the second largest hall in Prague, right after the Spanish Hall at Prague Castle. Originally, it served as an entrance area to ceremonial rooms: it is the area where the duke’s personal guard stood and from which the visitors would be ushered into the drawing rooms for an audience.
The ornamentation of the hall is mainly a celebration of Albrecht Waldstein’s art of war. The ceiling fresco pictures Mars, the God of war, on his chariot. According to some historians, it is Waldstein who is pictured like the God of war and the star above his head represents the planet Mars. The composition was sketched by Baccio del Bianco in 1623 and the fresco was then painted by Domenico Pugliani in 1628. The two smaller lateral bays in the shape of a cartouche represent war trophies.
The rich stucco decorations, including figures of winged geniuses, palm trees, weapons, war trophies, musical instruments and victory crowns were probably created by stuccoers from Milan such as Santino Galli, led by Domenico Canevalle.
The original Baroque appearance of the Main Hall changed significantly in mid-19th century. Marble portals and doors were taken there from the Černínský Palace, which was being converted into barracks at the time, and the walls were decorated with smooth surfaces of artificial marble.
The first, constituting plenary session of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic took place here on December 18, 1996. The senators met there for two years until renovation work on the current Plenary Session Hall in the former Waldstein stables had been completed.
Nowadays, the Main Hall is used for lectures, conferences, seminars, cultural, social and protocolar events.
The Plenary Session Hall
The hall with its area of 60 x 8.6 metres used to serve as a stable for 37 horses in the past. Albrecht Waldstein was said to love horses more than people. Each horse allegedly had its own portrait above its box, with relevant information such as its name, age and breed. Four niches with tyings for horses have been preserved in the foyer.
The construction of the stable began in 1624. In the middle of the 18th century, it ceased to serve its original purpose and the entire space was rebuilt. Warehouses, pantries, kitchens and servants’ rooms were situated there. Such state lasted until 1944 when the hall had to be reconstructed because of serious statical problems. The Baroque installations were removed then and the original layout was restored. Since 1956, the Pedagogical Museum of Jan Amos Comenius was located in the stable.
Currently the hall hosts plenary sessions, conferences and seminars. The reconstruction leading to the current shape of the hall was completed in 1998.
The seats for senators are located on the southern side of the hall. On the opposite side, there are seats for the President and Vice-Presidents of the Senate. There is a gallery for the public and media including interpreters’ booths on one side and a gallery for the Government on the opposite side.
The enlargement of a remarkable historical map of Europe of 1592 hangs on the wall behind the gallery for the public. Europe is portrayed there as a female character dressed in a period renaissance clothing. She has a golden coin hanging on the chain on her chest with the inscription Bohemia, with the city of Praga (Prague).
Photos © Tomáš Rasl