Tens of thousands of people are expected to queue for hours to view the Czech crown jewels, which have just gone on display at Prague Castle’s Vladislav Hall. The priceless collection, which includes the St. Wenceslas crown, is being shown for the first time in five years – but only for a 10-day period.
Housed in a glass case designed in the 1920s by architect Josef Gočár, the medieval collection consists of the gold, jewel-encrusted St. Wenceslas crown, the St. Wenceslas sword, the royal orb and sceptre, the coronation cloak, the coronation cross and other items.
Friday’s opening followed a ceremony on Thursday evening in which seven “holders of the keys” opened the heavy metal door to the vault in St. Vitus Cathedral where they are normally kept. Among the seven were the president, the prime minister, and other senior state, city and church officials.
The person who carried the St. Wenceslas crown from the chamber to the display cabinet in the Vladislav Hall was Ivana Kyzourová, the director of Prague Castle’s monument care department.
“It’s always an exceptional feeling, and a feeling of responsibility. You handle it extremely carefully to make sure nothing happens to it. But maybe that is unnecessary, because since 1345 the crown has been through so many things that it could definitely go through a few more.”
That crown was made on the orders of Charles IV for his own coronation as Czech king in 1347. The last monarch to wear it was Ferdinand V, who took the throne in 1835. Almost a century later, in 1929, it was displayed to the general public for the first time.
Since then ordinary Czechs have had few opportunities to see the crown and the rest of the collection. In recent times, it has only been shown in connection with the election of Czech presidents and the present exhibition relates to the appointment of Miloš Zeman as head of state earlier this year.
Overseeing the exhibition is František Kadlec, the head of the tourism department of Prague Castle.
“The greatest interest is in the coronation collection: the jewels. But visitors are also interested in the coronation cloak, which is less well known. Understandably, they’re very interested in the crown, as the most valuable item – people ask about its weight, its value, the cost of insuring it, and such like.”
Visitors, who will be limited to around 5,000 a day, have until May 19 before the crown jewels are returned to their vault at St. Vitus Cathedral, most likely for another five years.