Klementinum (3)

The Old Town of Prague is home to the Clementinum, one of the most spectacular architectural complexes in the area. It was the spot chosen by the Jesuits to build their centre on being called to Prague by Emperor Ferdinand I in 1566. The mission given to the clerics required an operational base from where they could undertake a not exactly small task: convert the Czechs to Catholicism.

Europe was experiencing an agitated period due to Luther’s Reform, which led to Protestantism and many religious wars. From Rome, Catholicism fought to hold on to its privileged place amongst the European nations.

The Clementinum, thus called because it was built over the old monastery of Saint Clement, was built between the 16th and 18th centuries and ended up occupying what before had been houses, churches and gardens.

From the beginning, the Jesuit institution rivalled the Carolinum, the other university in Prague. On joining the two universities in 1622, the Jesuits came to control the city’s entire higher education system. Nevertheless, the clerics continued believing that two-thirds of the people of Prague were heretics. For this reason, they organised fervent searches for suspicious books written in Czech, which ended up later on the bonfire.

In the Clementinum there is also the church of the Holy Saviour and its Baroque courtyard, which dates from the 17th century. From its façade, seven large statues of saints sculpted by Jan Bendl contemplate the visitor. The night is the best time to appreciate the complex, since it is beautifully illuminated. If you are a veteran traveller perhaps you could check out the similarity of this building and its courtyard with that of the Gesù in Rome.

Also of note here is the Italian chapel, from the late 16th century, the design of which tells us of the beginning of Baroque style. If you get the chance, you should visit the chapel of the Mirrors, which only opens for classical music concerts.

In 1773, the Pope decided to dissolve the congregation of the Jesuits, so its members had to abandon the work they were carrying out in the city. The Clementinum was turned into the library of the University of Prague and later the National Library. Some of its rooms can be visited, but in silence, naturally.

Guided visits are organised to get an in-depth knowledge of the place and to appreciate its Baroque and Rococo style. It is one of the best options, since the Clementinum, with its three churches and ten courtyards, is considered the largest architectural complex after that of Prague Castle.

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