The complex of buildings that today forms the Strahov Monastery was primarily built as a place of prayer and worship. Over time, it has also become a site that remembers significant historical events and epochs. Of course, it was also gradually rebuilt, enlarged, and redesigned under the guidance of prominent architects and artists, thus becoming a place of beautiful architecture. However, Strahov has been that from the very beginning. This was confirmed by the architectural-historical survey of the oldest, Romanesque, form of the monastery, which revealed that the Strahov monastic complex was from the very beginning exceptional in its monumentality and beauty in the context of the whole of Europe. This original beauty was long hidden under layers of newer reconstructions, but even today we can see parts of it in the form of exposed Romanesque masonry and remnants of architectural elements. Let's take a look in the following lines at what can be seen today.

Aerial view of the Strahov Monastery complex today.

What the Monastery Complex Looks Like Today

Aerial view of the facade of the monastery complex from the east. The central building is the monastery basilica with two towers, which form the typical silhouette of Strahov when viewed from the Lesser Town or the Old Town.

The monastic complex is at first glance complex, but a closer idea can be provided by a bird's eye view, which you can see at the link below.

monastery site

History of Strahov

Architecture is always an expression of the history of the architectural complex itself, and this is no different at Strahov. Its history began in 1140 when the Bishop of Olomouc, Henry Zdik, along with the Czech King Vladislaus II, conceived the idea to build a monastery opposite Prague Castle, on a site known as Strahov (from the Old Czech “strahovati” = to guard). Initially, they settled a community of Guardians of the Holy Sepulchre there, but in 1143, this community was replaced by a community of Premonstratensians from Steinfeld in the Rhineland.

The founding charter of the Strahov Monastery has not survived in its original form; the oldest available copy dates from 1410 and is incomplete. This document was published in the edition "Codex diplomaticus et epistolaris Regni Bohemiae." The charter is signed by Henry, "the humble servant of the Olomouc church," which refers to Bishop Henry Zdik, a giant in both ecclesiastical and secular politics of the 12th century. Henry in his declaration reflects on his spiritual journey, including a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and expresses a desire to live according to the example of the holy priests. The story continues with mention of Bishop John, who contributed to the construction of the monastery and donated his estates for this purpose. After the deaths of Prince Oldrich and Bishop John, the responsibility for the monastery was taken over by Prince Vladislaus and Bishop Ota, who expressed their support for the project. Vladislaus, along with his wife Gertrude, significantly contributed to the development of the monastery by donating properties and financial resources. The charter then details the donated properties, including lands and names of servants, which demonstrates the scope and significance of this spiritual enterprise.

View of Strahov Monastery before 1736.

Convent Building

In addition to the church, the monastery complex includes buildings where the monks live, known as the convent building. It primarily consists of the chapter house, a communal dining hall, and areas for sleeping and dining. In the original Romanesque structure, the convent building was a square, enclosed complex adjacent to the monastery basilica. The center of the convent building featured a water source, which at Strahov is formed by a pool with proven Romanesque origins. It is fed by abundant springs that emerge from Petřín Hill. Over time, the convent building underwent renovations, especially during the Gothic period, after the Hussite Wars, and very significantly during the baroquization of the monastery buildings after 1682.

The wing of the summer refectory was inserted into the Romanesque wall of the monastery during the major Baroque reconstruction of the convent building after 1682.

Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The spiritual and architectural center of the Strahov Monastic complex is the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. After the monastery was seized by the communist regime in 1950, an architectural-historical survey was conducted. It discovered the original structure in the form of a three-aisled basilica ending with three Romanesque apses. A transept extended westward from the apses. The building material was opuka, abundant in the area. The inter-nave arcades and walls of the main nave were demolished after a major fire in 1257 and replaced with a then-modern Gothic structure. The church remained in this form until 1601 when it was revitalized after its destruction during the Hussite wars. This period saw a major transformation in appearance, with the demolition of two Romanesque towers in the west and their replacement with two towers over the transept. The church was also extended, and the Chapel of Our Lady of Passau was added to the north. The church is 63 meters long and 10 meters wide.

View into the monastery basilica towards the main altar.

Library Halls

From the beginning, the monastery naturally included a library, as the monastic rules stipulated the need to own specific liturgical books so that the brothers could celebrate the liturgy. In the Middle Ages, books were hand-written and very expensive, even for an institution like a monastery. There were very few books, and there was no need for a special library building. This situation changed with the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Books became more accessible, and gradually the monastery could afford to own more of them. However, we do not have detailed information about the monastery library until the Thirty Years' War. During the restoration of the monastery under Abbot Jan Lohelius (1586-1612, who later became the Archbishop of Prague), not only the monastery buildings but also the book collection were renewed. A testament to his work is the so-called Lohel Wing, where the library was located. At the end of the Thirty Years' War, after the Swedish troops occupied Hradčany and the Lesser Town (1648), a large number of books were taken as war spoils. During the time of Abbot Jerome Hirnhaim, new library spaces were built above the western wing of the Romanesque convent (now the Theological Hall) between 1670 and 1674. The Theological Hall was later expanded and adorned with frescoes by Strahov Premonstratensian Siard Nosecký. Between 1783 and 1785 (completed in 1797), the Philosophical Hall was built under the initiative of Abbot Václav Mayer, equipped with the library furniture from the dissolved Premonstratensian monastery in Louka near Znojmo.

View into the Theological Hall built during the tenure of Abbot Jerome Hirnhaim in the 1670s of the 17th century.

Abbey and Provisorate Building

The abbey building is a long wing that opens to the east towards Prague, forming a distinctive dominant feature in the silhouette of the Strahov Monastery. The abbey, or prelature, serves as the abbot's residence and, during the Baroque period, also functioned as a representative wing with spaces for receiving guests, as the abbot was also a political figure. It includes the abbot's chapel and other halls. The prelature at Strahov is connected to the provisory building, which was constructed in 1718, linking the prelature to the monastery basilica and architecturally closing off the space known as the inner courtyard.

The monastic provisory, or the spaces managing the monastery's economy, is accessible through a passageway, its facade adorned with a statue of St. Norbert from 1740. The interior once housed a chapel with an oratory, which was lost during the Communist takeover of the monastery. The prelature adjoins the provisory, a building with a tumultuous architectural history from the very beginning of the monastery, as evidenced by the partially preserved Romanesque halls in the basement. The former abbot's dining room in the prelature is decorated with a ceiling painting by Strahov Premonstratensian Siard Nosecký, depicting the scene from the biblical Book of Daniel – "The Feast of King Belshazzar." Until the mid-20th century, the walls were covered with ornamental paintings. In April 1950, the monastery was seized as part of a State Security operation known as "Action K," during which the furniture was confiscated and dispersed, mostly lost irretrievably. After restitution in 1990, the buildings were returned to the monastery, although only a small portion of the original furnishings returned to the monastery's possession.

The facade of the monastery prelature, which has served as the abbot's residence from the Romanesque period to the present day.

Minor Architecture

Within the monastery complex are scattered interesting architectural features, statues, columns, and particularly noteworthy is the Church of St. Roch, which now serves as a venue where tickets for tours are sold. The main monastery gate was constructed in 1674 and later reconstructed after being damaged by artillery fire in 1742. It is adorned with sculptures by Jan Antonín Quitainer. Opposite the main gate stands a stone column with a statue of St. Norbert, a work from 1631 by Václav Raussel and Zachariáš Bussi. Another artistic piece, the Ecce Homo column, decorates the outer courtyard, and its current statue is by Čeněk Vosmík from 1910. The Statue of Our Lady of Exile, created by Alessandro Monteleone in 1954, stands in the garden of Strahov Monastery as a reminder of the original Marian column and is a place for regular pilgrimages and prayers. From here, there is also an impressive view of the Prague panorama including Prague Castle.

The Ecce Homo statue by sculptor Čeněk Vosmík from 1910.

Monastery Gardens

Strahov Monastery was originally founded well beyond the city walls, at a place called Strahov, derived from the word “strahovati,” meaning “to guard.” It has maintained its location away from the urban development on at least three sides to this day. Throughout history, the monastery was surrounded by agricultural land, primarily vineyards in the Middle Ages, which over the centuries, as the climate became less favorable for viticulture, were transformed into gardens. Today, most of the monastery gardens are accessible to the public. We would like to draw attention to the remarkable views, especially from the lookout near the Statue of Our Lady of Exile. A pleasant path leading to this spot runs through Petřín Park.

The history of the Strahov Gardens begins with King Vladislaus II, the founder of the monastery, who donated these lands to the newly established monastery in 1140. From the very beginning of the monastery’s economy, various gardens were established, including today’s abbot’s and convent gardens, with underground tunnels ensuring their irrigation. In the 16th century, Abbot Jan Lohelius expanded the economic activities, including beekeeping. His successor, Abbot Kaspar of Questenberg, had the gardens enclosed with a wall and added a summer house and a fountain. In the 17th century, the gardens continued to develop but were damaged during the Swedish invasion in 1648. They were later restored by Abbot Vincenc Makarius Frank, who added greenhouses and more trees. At the beginning of the 18th century, the monastery and gardens underwent a significant Baroque transformation, but the siege of Prague in 1742 destroyed them again. In the 19th century, the gardens were used for fruit cultivation, and in the 20th century, revitalization efforts included the construction of a viewing platform and the installation of the Statue of Our Lady of Exile. The gardens have since undergone further reconstructions and modernizations, including new greenhouses, a small vineyard, and an irrigation system. Today, they serve for crop cultivation, beekeeping, and wine production, thus maintaining the original connection between the garden and the kitchen.

View into the convent garden from the so-called Lohel Wing, with a beautiful backdrop of the city of Prague.