Why You Should Visit the Convent of Saint Agnes?
Have you ever heard of the convent of Saint Agnes in Prague? We’d bet you haven’t! And guess what, the other tourists haven’t either. While crowds of them clog the Old Town Square and Charles Bridge, there are these inconspicuous places in Prague that will simply take your breath away. Anežský klášter is one of them and it offers a great sightseeing experience without the need to push aside tons of other eager visitors. And those of you who like to include some art in their travels will appreciate it even more. Of course, you should still see the mainstream attractions everyone else is going to see, but if you have a few hours and feel like you want to unwind in a quieter place, this former convent right in the heart of the city might be just the thing.
Situated on the eastern bank of the Vltava river, the convent of Saint Agnes was one of the first gothic buildings in Prague. It is named after its founder, princess Agnes of Bohemia from the Přemyslid dynasty. The extensive complex encompasses the Church of Saint Francis and its presbytery, a cloister, several convent buildings, a chapel, beautiful gardens, and a lapidarium. It was declared a national cultural heritage in 1970. Today, the convent serves the purposes of the National Gallery, hosting various exhibitions, workshops, and cultural events.
Its place in history
On top of being a princess by birth, Agnes of Bohemia was directly related to no less than 3 other saints – so it should have come as no surprise when she refused an advantageous match with the Holy Roman Emperor and, most likely in 1231, opted to become a nun and established a convent instead. The site became an important spiritual centre as well as the Přemyslid burial ground. The period of the monastery’s prosperity ended with the death of its founder and the subsequent end of the Přemyslid dynasty’s rule, and its significance gradually declined. It was finally abolished in January 1782 when the enlightened abolishing of monasteries was all the rage and transformed into workshops, warehouses, and apartments for the poor. Since then, it has undergone several reconstructions, most recently in the second half of the 20th century for the purposes of the National Gallery.
You can find out more about St. Agnes and her era in our new video.
The National Gallery hosts a permanent exhibition on the premises of the convent as well as various temporary expositions. These are open from Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 6 pm and on Wednesday until 8 pm. There is an admission fee of 220 CZK for adults and a reduced fee of 120 CZK if you fulfill various conditions. The admission for children under 18 and students under 26 is free of charge. In the permanent exhibition you can feast your eyes on various pieces of Bohemian medieval art, a string of Madonna-with-child statues and paintings as well as various other mostly religious motives collected from all over the country. Check the National Gallery Prague website for workshops, temporary exhibitions, and occasional cultural events.
If you are not interested in the exhibition but would like to visit the complex nevertheless, the gardens and ground floor with the cloister, refectory, lapidarium and the Church of St. Francis and its presbytery are freely accessible every day (excluding Mondays). In the summer the gardens are open 10 am – 10 pm (on the weekend until midnight) and from October to March 10 am – 6 pm. Thanks to a recent reconstruction, the whole complex is wheelchair (and stroller!) accessible.
Things to do within
Permanent exhibition: Medieval Art in Bohemia and Central Europe 1200–1550
The permanent exhibition is located on the first floor of the monastery and it presents over 200 exhibits, including paintings, sculptures, and other objects of artistic craft. The items on display reflect the transformations of form and function of art over the course of the three centuries. Most of the exhibits have their origin in the Czech lands with a few artworks from the surrounding historical regions of Franconia, Saxony, and Austria. Among the real treasures of the exhibition are objects made during the rule of the Luxembourg dynasty and the upswing of the Czech lands under the Jagiellonian dynasty.
Prague used to be one of the leading European art centres in the past. While the 14th century witnessed a heavy focus on traditional Czech craft, from the 15th century onwards, due to a blooming cultural exchange across Central Europe, our art became part of the bigger picture, corresponding to the wider trends. The exhibition reveals this development of artistic craft in the Czech lands by presenting some of the gems of both domestic and international production.
In October 2016, a sightseeing route through the complex was opened on the ground floor that features the most important exhibit – the monastery itself. The route offers an opportunity for a self-guided tour through the historical buildings, their gardens, and the adjacent lapidarium. The focus of the tour is the architectonic style of the convent in relation to its location and historical context. Don’t miss this unique chance to soak up the authentic atmosphere of the monastery. Wandering among the individual buildings gives you the feeling of travelling back in time. There is also a separate circuit for younger visitors, which includes interactive games and other educational activities. Together with the art workshop at the end of the tour where you and your progeny can try your hand in writing with an actual quill or creating artwork using various stamps, among other things, it turns this extraordinary exhibition into a family-friendly experience.
There are exhibits in the yards of the convent as well as inside. Apart from the architecture, visitors may also admire some of the most valuable artifacts found during the archaeological investigations of the complex. These can be found in the lapidarium – a true paradise for all the history buffs among you! The tour is conducted with the help of handy leaflets for both children and adults, audio guides, and the aforementioned smartphone apps.
Again, as mentioned above, the entirety of the self-guided experience as well as the garden is completely free of charge, visitors only pay for the art exhibition on the second floor.
An integral part of the circuit is the renovated monastery garden. But this isn’t just an old boring garden, oh no! The whole place is adorned with nearly two dozen sculptures made by contemporary Czech artists, such as Aleš Veselý or Jaroslav Róna. One of the first sculptures of František Bílek, a famous Czech sculptor, also made its way into the garden. The artworks are surrounded by modern pieces of furniture so that visitors can relax while admiring the sights. Even children will enjoy this part of the tour, for some of the objects in the garden are designed to engage their attention.
The best time to visit
To be honest, there is no bad time to visit the convent of Saint Agnes. Due to its combination of interior and exterior spaces, there are things to do in any kind of weather (the gardens are sometimes closed when weather is really bad, but who would want to be outside during a storm anyway). However, different seasons offer different kinds of experience in the monastery, and it is up to every individual visitor to decide what it is they seek.
Apart from the permanent and temporary exhibitions, various kinds of cultural events take place on the premises of the convent. While the wintertime is relatively quiet in terms of public happenings, the autumn and spring are rich in concerts of classical music. If your stay in Prague coincides with any of these, definitely give it a try. There is nothing like listening to the grand tones of world-renowned composers in the historical environment of a cloister. Once the weather gets warmer and the days become longer, the quiet monastery turns into one of the liveliest spots in Prague. Unfortunately, the pandemic times have left their mark on the cultural events the monastery has been offering so its schedule is still not very busy, but we’re hoping that come summer the lively atmosphere will be back!
Where to go after?
After you’ve enjoyed all that culture, why not reward yourself with a nice glass of wine or a cup of coffee? Of course, there is a small café right on the premises, but they only just opened and the options they offer are still quite limited. The St. Agnes winery (Vinárna U Svaté Anežky) is right next door, they have lovely wine, good beer, nice coffee, small refreshments, outside seating for when the weather is on your side, and they’re open every afternoon except for Sundays.