Prague’s Palace Gardens
In the north-eastern part of Prague’s Lesser Quarter (Malá Strana), behind the palace of General Wallenstein, hero of the Thirty Years War, there runs a street called Valdštejnská. This elegant thoroughfare is lined with former palaces built by wealthy aristocrats from the 16th century onwards. Although the buildings themselves are of architectural note, it is what lies hidden behind them that merits the greatest attention. The so-called Palace Gardens (Palácové zahrady) represent one of the finest ensembles of Baroque garden design in Europe.
by Duncan J.D. Smith
Six Gardens in One
During the 1990s this stunning series of five Italianate gardens, each built for an individual palace, was restored back to something like its original appearance after being abandoned for years to the ravages of time. Now it is possible to appreciate both the tastes and sensibilities of the 18th century Baroque aristocracy who commissioned the gardens, and to appreciate the skill and vision of the craftsmen who built them, on land originally used only for vineyards.
The gardens are laid out across precipitous terrain beneath the Old Castle Staircase (Staré zámecké schody). The differences in elevation have been turned ingeniously to good advantage by means of a series of stepped terraces and graceful stairways, finished off with balustrades, arbours, fountains and statuary. The tiny pockets of flat ground created by this design were then used for formal plantings of ornamental shrubs, climbers, roses and fruit trees. Since the gardens are today interconnected, the modern visitor is afforded the luxury of being able to make a tour of all six gardens in one journey.
Frescoes and Loggias
The tour begins at Valdštejnské náměstí 3 with the so-called Ledebour Garden (Lederburská zahrada), the most westerly of the six. It is named after Adolf, Earl of Ledebour, who bought the associated palace in 1852. The garden had been first laid out in the early 16th century but then modified in 1787–97 by architect Ignác Jan Palliardi to the Baroque design seen today. At the bottom is a splendid five-arched Sala Terrena designed by Giovanni Battista Alliprandi, with Pompeiian-style frescoes by artist Václav Vavřinec Reiner depicting ancient mythological scenes.
Adjacent to the Ledebour Garden is the Small Palffy Garden (Malá Pálffyovská zahrada), a strictly utilitarian garden with terraces of fruit trees and small lawns first put down in 1751. Laid out at the same time is the third garden, the Great Palffy Garden (Velká Pálffyovská zahrada), re-designed in the early 19th century in the Classicist style (although historical records mention a garden here as early as 1681). On the highest of its seven terraces, reached via a tunnel and arch constructed through the thickness of the parapet walls, is a loggia. Today it carries a plaque recording the part played in the restoration of the gardens by the Prague Heritage Fund under the auspices of former Czech President Václav Havel and His Royal Highness Charles, the Prince of Wales.
Orangeries and a Gloriette
Like the Small Palffy Garden, the next garden, the Kolowrat Garden (Kolovratská zahrada), is also utilitarian in nature and planted with fruits trees. It does, however, still manage an ornamental fountain at the bottom of its seven terraces. In front of this is a wrought iron gateway leading out onto Valdštejnská created in 1858 by Maximilian Egon of Fürstenberg, who tore down a house that once stood here to gain access.
The fifth garden – and one of the most attractive – is the Small Fürstenberg Garden (Malá Fürstenberská zahrada). Like the Ledebour Garden it was designed anonymously and then modified later by Palliardi, this time in 1784–88 in the late Baroque or Rococo style. From the fountain and frescoed loggia at the bottom a long staircase runs up the axis of the garden, past a pair of orangeries to a gloriette pavilion. At the very top is an observatory tower, which affords an excellent overview of all the gardens.
Yet More Gardens
The tower cleverly doubles as a gateway to the Southern Gardens, which are strung out below the southern ramparts of Prague Castle (Pražský hrad). These comprise two distinct gardens, namely the Paradise Garden (Rajská zahrada) to the west and the Garden on the Ramparts (zahrada Na Valech) to the east. Both were laid out originally during the Renaissance period although their present form is largely the work of Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik, who worked here in the 1920s. A stone obelisk marks the place where a pair of ‘defenestrated’ Catholics landed in a dung heap in 1618!
Back in the Palace Gardens, the sixth and final garden is the Great Fürstenberg Garden (Velká Fürstenberská zahrada). Created in the 18thcentury for a palace now occupied by the Polish Embassy, it is the largest of the gardens and the last to be renovated. Named for the aristocrats who acquired it in the 1860s, it boasts a series of impressive floral terraces at the top of which is a lovely garden house.
The gardens are just one story from the Only In Guide to Prague, featuring unique locations, hidden corners and unusual objects. Find out more about the
Also in this series by Duncan J.D. Smith:
Berlin's Bridge of Spies from Only in Berlin
About the Author
Explorer and travel writer Duncan JD Smith first got the history bug when his grandfather unearthed the grave of a Roman soldier. He opened his own museum aged eleven and went on to study archaeology at Birmingham. After many years in travel publishing, in 2003 he relocated to Vienna, where he writes and publishes his Only In Guides, a series of city guides for independent cultural travellers. Duncan is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
Prague is featured in the Summer 2019 issue of Timeless Travels magazine, as its Curious City (also by Duncan J.D. Smith). Find out more about the content of the issue, or purchase a digital copy for just £3.95. Don't forget the whole Timeless Travels Collection (24 magazines) is available for just £49.99 - that's just £2.08 each!