The Ball-game House
One way of approaching Prague Castle is by tram and embarking at the Prague Castle Pražský hrad stop and walking along U prašného mostu to the Castle. A number of points of interest line the way.
The first is the Lion’s Court (Lví Dvůr), now a restaurant but built by Emperor Rudolf II to house his private zoo, which included leopards, lynxes, wolves and lions. Further on is the Prague Castle Riding School (Jízdárna Pražského hradu), which is now used for temporary exhibitions.
Opposite the Riding School are the Castle Gardens (Královská zahrada), a popular spot to sit and relax. They were established by Emperor Ferdinand I in the 1530s, on the site of a former vineyard. They suffered from devastation several times, including by the Saxons and Swedes, and were only saved from a French attack in 1741 by the payment of thirty pineapples. Europe’s first tulips were first grown in the gardens, for acclimatisation. They were brought from Turkey and then exported to the Netherlands.
Also of interest is the Singing Fountain (Zpívající fontána), so called for the sound the water makes when it hits the metal bowl. The part of the gardens near the fountain also offers some of the best views of the Castle and St Vitus Cathedral.
After the gardens and before the Castle is the Powder Bridge (Prašný most) which spans the Stag Ditch (Jelení příkop), which was used by Habsburgs to grow fruit.
On the southern edge of the Castle Gardens is the long, narrow Ball-games Court (Mícovna), built between 1567 and 1569 by Bonifaz Wohlmut. The ornate façade is covered with sgrafitto, where wet plaster is scraped away to create distinctive black and white patterns.
The Ball-games court was later converted to stables and then a military store. Towards the end of World War II it was badly damaged by fire and its exterior restored during the Communist era (look out of the hammer and sickle among the decoration on the northern façade). The interior was refurbished in a modern style and is used for ceremonial purposes.
The Royal Gardens are open to the public; the Ball-Games Court is not.