Czech king Charles IV founded the monastery of the canonry of the St. Augustine’s Order and the church consecrated to St. Charles the Great on 18th September 1350. The buildings are situated on the most elevated area of the Prague’s New Town today known as Karlov.
This act, which happened two years after the establishment of New Town, was part of a grandiose urban plan and over all concept of the king. His aim was to populate the area, show devotion and pay tribute to Charles the Great, who was his exemplar in many ways.
The church, consecrated in 1377, was built in late-gothic style. The building has a central octahedral area and presbytery and with its later baroque adjustments takes a unique place in the Prague architectural history. Its shallow ribbed vault with 24m in diameter is one of the remarkable features of this building and dates from 1575. The roof made of three domes is of Baroque style and dates from 1756.
The monastery burned out several times mainly during different wars and even had to be rebuilt. It was discontinued in 1785 and the building has served different purposes since then. Currently the building houses the Police Museum’s exposition of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of CR.
In 1708-1711 the church gained a new feature in the form of an external staircase, the so called Holy Steps, which were built beside the south side. Under the staircase there is an imitation of the Bethlehem cave, the Chapel of the Birth of the Lord, which was built as a “grotta”. Karlov gradually became a place of pilgrimage. In addition there was a painting of the Virgin Mary in the church, whose author, Jan Jiří Heintsch, pictured her as with child. That is why the church had been consecrated to the Virgin Mary in 17th century.
The church at Karlov contributes to Prague’s panorama with its cupolas. Each of them features a Sanctus steeple with lantern, onion shape dome and finial. The middle steeple, with 40m in height, is accessible by a staircase with which we can appreciate the complicated roof structure of the cupola.