Tourists brave new security measures at Prague Castle

Entrance to Prague Castle, photo: Kristýna Maková

Beefed up security at Prague Castle is leading to long queues, as tourists are forced to wait to have their belongings checked by a ring of police, soldiers and Castle guards. The latest measures, which have just come into effect, are causing major disruptions at one of the Czech Republic’s top tourist sights.

Entrance to Prague Castle, photo: Kristýna Maková
Increased security at Prague Castle was promised in the wake of a scandal back in September 2015, when a group of activists managed to hang a giant pair of red boxer shorts from the Castle roof in protest at Miloš Zeman’s supposed affinity for authoritarian regimes. But the Castle claims that tightened security is in reality a response to the current situation in Europe, with constant concerns over potential terrorist attacks demanding increased vigilance. As of last week, all visitors to Prague Castle must have their checks belongings checked before being admitted inside.

However, critics say the measures are unnecessary, and that the Czech Castle does not face the kind of terrorist threat which would necessitate such heightened security. Some have even accused Zeman of a self-aggrandizing publicity stunt. But President Zeman has stated that he believes the Castle is a potential terrorism target, and he has been provided an extra 100 million crowns by the government to beef up security.

Jan Papež, photo: Matěj Pálka
Jan Papež is the deputy chair for external relations at the Association of Czech Travel Agents. He points out a disparity often voiced by critics of the measures:

“If you see all the other castles and attractions on offer to visitors in the Czech Republic, then it looks a little bit strange to have such measures at Prague Castle. We are not happy about it, but discussing such concerns with the people at the Castle and the president’s team is very difficult. So if they say they need it for protection, it’s very difficult to counter that.”

The entrance checkpoints, unveiled across all four entrances, are most evident at the main gate to the Castle. They have led to queues several hundred metres in length. Now, in peak season, fears exist that such measures could harm the tourist industry. Jan Papež remains pragmatic on this point:

“I think that in this time, in this world, these kinds of security measures have to be accepted. But, of course, time will show what was necessary and what was unnecessary.”

Prague Castle, photo: Filip Jandourek
As to the future, airport-style metal detectors will evidently not be installed at the entrance to Prague Castle, but they will be installed at St. Vitus Cathedral within the complex. Also, CCTV surveillance is to be expanded. Back in April, the Castle closed an entrance to the Southern Gardens for security reasons due to their proximity to the president’s offices.

The president’s spokesperson, Jiří Ovčáček, says that the Castle will continue in its efforts to beef up protections in the ensuing months. However, efforts will also to be made to limit the inconvenience to tourists, he said.