Karlštejn Castle holds an absolutely exceptional position among Czech castles. It was established by the Czech king and Roman emperor Charles IV as a place to store the royal treasures, collections of holy relics and the crown jewels. The construction of the castle was finished in 1365 by the consecration of the Chapel of the Holy Cross situated in the Great tower.
Karlštejn was reconstructed in the Late Gothic style after 1480 and in Renaissance style in the last quarter of the 16th century. Its present appearance is the result of the last reconstruciton, which was carried out in the puristic Neo-Gothic style at the end of the 19th century.
The core of the castle consisted of three parts placed on three levels-differentiated terraces; every level express different importance. On the lowest terrace there stood the Imperial Palace (Císařský palác), above it there was the Marian Tower (Mariánská věž) and the Big Tower (Velká věž) stood the highest.
The Well Tower (Studniční věž), being the logistical centerpiece the castle could not function without, was the first part of the castle to be built. Miners were brought in from the mining town of Kutná Hora, however, water was not encountered even after the depth of the well was 70 meters, well below the level of the nearby Berounka river. An underground channel was therefore excavated to bring in water from a nearby stream, yielding a water column of 25 meters, sufficient to last for several months. The reservoir had to be manually refilled roughly twice a year by opening a floodgate. Considering the significant strategic weakness incurred to the castle by the lack of an independent water source, the existence of the underground channel was a state secret known only to the Emperor himself, and the burgrave. The only other persons aware of its existence were the miners, who were however allegedly massacred on their way from the castle after the construction, leaving no survivors.
The Chapel of the Holy Cross located in the highest High Tower enjoyed such esteem that Charles IV entered it barefoot as a sign of humility and had it fitted with three iron doors and nine locks. Its decoration is inspired by the description of Heavenly Jerusalem in the biblical book of Revelations. The chapel was used as a repository for the crown jewels and held Charles’ collection of the remains of saints. The chapel with four windows, partially glazed with precious stones, cross vaults with profiled ribs, frescoes from the life of Christ and 129 unique panels depicting the saints by Master Theodoric make a visit to this sacred room a truly ethereal experience.