The Landscape Guide

The Belvedere Garden, Prague

Rudolph the Second’s increasing estrangement from Vienna, his slackening interest in his possessions there, had brought about the downfall of New Building. More and more did the emperor confine himself to the circle he had himself drawn, till he never went outside his own residential town, Prague. But it was only in his last years that he withdrew, melancholy and hating mankind, from all the outside world. Before that time his interest was centred in art. His Chamber of Art at the Hradschin had a world-wide reputation because of its fabulous treasures. He also felt a wonderful affection for his garden.  At the Hradschin he found a particularly fine castle, called the Belvedere (Fig. 363), which was built by a pupil of Sansovino, and was unquestionably the greatest building of the Italian Renaissance on this side of the Alps. 

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From the pillars round the rooms one saw a long garden which had been laid out by an Italian gardener, just like the pleasure place of Ferdinand I. and his son who founded Ambras. Unfortunately, there is no picture or description of it in its early state; we only hear of whimsical festivities, such as the theatre performance at night on the entrance of Ferdinand in 1558, which he saw from the corridor of the Belvedere. It was one of the masques, when the fireworks and automatic arts of this period won astonishing triumphs. But Rudolph soon turned his whole heart to the garden, which was separated from the castle by rather deep trenches where deer were kept. There were wooden bridges leading to the main castle, but the trenches . themselves were not filled with water in Rudolph’s time, they were changed into a deer-park. It was a wonderful pleasure to watch the wild creatures from the high covered bridges, "especially in the breeding season, when they rushed about over the hill and wall.”

The garden of the Belvedere is almost level, and is orientated with the castle. The main axis is indicated by fountains, one of which, with two shells and ornamental figures, is still preserved before the garden front of the Belvedere (Fig. 364).

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


 It bears the name of  “the Singing Well,” from a bagpiper on the top, who must have blown the water out of his pipe with a singing sound. It looks as though an arboured path from this spot marked out the middle. The grottoes were especially famous, and the emperor in his later, sadder days liked to be there, and took pleasure in their wonderful mirrors and invisible music. But visitors liked the wild animals best, and at the other end of the garden there were lions, camels, and other beasts in wooden cages. Later on, towards the middle of the seventeenth century, the noise seemed inconveniently near to the castle, and the animals were moved farther off; for apparently New Building had been turned into a menagerie.

Rudolph had plants brought from Italy, Spain, and Asia; pomegranates, oranges, citrons, and lemons were imported, according to an account of the year 1632. And the honour of having been the first to grow tulips in Europe (which so many gardeners tried to do) was accorded to Rudolph by the travellers’ books. Rudolph also adorned his garden with beautiful statues, and by the castle there were set up two tennis-courts, which, like the greater part of the garden, were destroyed in the sieges during the Seven Years’ War. In this garden the shy prince passed the last sick and sad years of his life; and strangers who wanted to see the emperor came disguised as gardeners or stable- men to satisfy their desire.