Going Behind the Scenes at the Beautiful Strahov Monastery Library in Prague

Going Behind the Scenes at the Beautiful Strahov Monastery Library in Prague

Tuesday, 29 September, 2020

Prague Castle sits majestically on top of a hill, overlooking the orange tile roofs of the city. Behind the castle complex is the Strahov Monastery, an abbey founded in 1143. For centuries, its been a place of worship and refuge, as well as home to a stunningly beautiful library and a brewery with some of the best beer in all of Europe.

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We’ve written about the monastery and its cabinet of curiosities in a previous post. Recently, we treated ourselves to a private tour of the Strahov Monastery Library and the Břevnov Monastery with Insight Cities.

On a sunny, cool afternoon, we got deep into history, frescoes, beer, Bohemian lore, and more with Vadim, our guide on Beer & Baroque: A Highbrow Brew Tour. Our four-hour excursion included a behind-the-scenes look at Strahov library, followed by beer in the restored 17th-century brewery pub, as well as a private tour of the Baroque church at Břevnov with a chaser of the beer brewed at the Benedictine monastery.

The Strahov Monastery Library is open to the public, but the public tour doesn’t allow visitors to go inside the library halls. The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, antique globes, statues, and ceiling frescoes are only visible from behind a velvet rope strung across the doorways. It’s an exhilarating feeling to peek inside those rooms, but it also creates an almost unbearable urge to go inside.

The guides from Insight Cities know the secret passwords to take their visitors places other mere mortals don’t get to go. And all of the guides hold Masters- and PhD-level degrees in history, architecture, literature, and more. They’re experts on the subject matter and are super-friendly, personable, and fun. It’s like visiting these places with a new friend who also happens to be ridiculously well informed.

(Full disclosure: We paid for our tour, and this post is not sponsored; we’re sharing it because it was a thoroughly magical experience, and we wanted you to see these beautiful pics.)

view of prague castle
Almost every adventure in Prague starts with a view of Prague Castle.

We met Vadim, our guide, at a tram station in Mala Strana, at the bottom of the hill below the castle, then took the very scenic ride up to the top. After a short stroll around the castle complex, we made our way to the Strahov Library.

The Library is made up of three parts: The Theological Hall, the Philosophical Hall, and the Cabinet of Curiosities. (More on the Cabinet here.)

Walking through the broad doorway into the Theological Hall was a singular thrill. The sense of history, tradition, and respect for learning and knowledge is palpable.

the theological hall of the strahov monastery library
The Theological Hall of the Strahov Monastery Library.
the philosophical hall of the strahov monastery library
The Philosophical Hall of the Strahov Monastery Library.
statue of a sad monk in the theological hall
Why so sad? You live forever in a beautiful library.
antique globes in the theological hall
Antique globe in the Theological Hall.
fresco in the theological hall of the strahov monastery library
Ceiling fresco in the Theological Hall.
three people looking at up at the ceiling in the Theological Hall
We spent a lot of time looking up like this.
the philosophical hall of the strahov monastery library
Wall fresco in the Theological Hall.

When it was time to move on to the Philosophical Hall, we walked to the rear of the Theological Hall and turned right into a ‘secret’ passage that’s not visible to the public. It, too, is lined with books and portraits of important people from long ago.

Then we emerged into the glowing, airy, thoroughly magical expanse of the Philosophical Hall. We all gasped and giggled and then very silent for a while, taking it all in.

the philosophical hall of the strahov monastery library
The gilded wonder of the Philosophical Hall.

The people in the doorway of the photo above are on the general tour.

the philosophical hall of the strahov monastery library
Normal-sized humans included for scale in the Philosophical Hall.

We spent so much of the day in this position:

three people looking up at the ceiling frescoes
Again, lots of looking up.

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Next, we took another short tram ride to the Břevnov Monastery, a Benedictine abbey founded in 993 — although most of what you see on a visit now is from the 18th century. Our guide to the frescoes and history of the beautiful Baroque church was an actual, working, modern-day monk who spoke with Vadim in Russian and to us in English. The walls are decorated with trompe l’oeil murals, as is the vaulted ceiling. And at the back, a lovely, ornate pipe organ.

monk explaining the history of the monastery
Learning the history of the Břevnov Monastery.
monk explaining the ceiling fresco in the monastery
Explaining the ceiling frescoes in the Břevnov Monastery.
ceiling fresco in the monastery
Ceiling fresco in the Břevnov Monastery.

Our time at Břevnov concluded with a visit to the preserved ruins of the original church, which are tucked under the current church and accessed by hidden stairs underneath the pulpit.

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Insight Cities

In addition to the tour we tried, Insight Cities also offers a dozen other wonderful experiences in Prague, including Art Nouveau and Cubist Architecture, the Cold War Years, Culinary Prague, and more. They also have outposts in Vienna, Budapest, Berlin, and Salzburg.

Given the current pandemic situation, Insight Cities is also providing online virtual tours that take you to notable landmarks of Prague via live-streaming video. One could, if one was so inclined, enjoy a private tour of the Strahov Monastery Library from one’s own living room in PJs. Just sayin’.

Visit the Insight Cities website to learn more and to schedule in-person or virtual tours.

Top image courtesy of David Humphreys.

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