The hill above the Prague Valley was for a long time overgrown with thick woods and home only to wild animals. In the 12th century monks built a monstery of wood in a clearing. Because there had to be an armed guard to protect the pilgrims and travelers, the place was named Strahov (strahovat = to guard). The bishop of Olomouc, Jindrich Zdik, founded an order of Premonstrats at Strahov, who fell under the jurisdiction of the french center in Premontre.
A large reconstruction of the monastery began in the renaissance and baroque period when buildings were added. The expensive reconstruction was hardly finished when a threat emerged. Emperor Josef II was a soldier through and through. He did not want monasteries and he closed all of those which gave no public profit. The Premonstrats only stayed because of the delivering idea of abbot Mayer, member of the masonic lodge At the Three Crown Columns, to arrange a public library next to the existing one.
The oldest manuscript is a summary of the Gospels and dates from the 10th century. Extremely valuable is the collection of first editions. The collection includes world famous printers like the Venetian Aldus Pius Manutius, Frobenius from Basle, Plantin from Antwerp and the famous publisher Elsevier, or the renowned Italian typographer Bodoni of the 18th century.
A strange irony exists here if you look at the ceiling fresco, painted by Anton Maulbertsch, which symbolizes the human search for truth through religious, wisdom includes a picture of french encyclopedists languishing above an abyss between spiders and toads, frightened by the power of religious wisdom. Yet in the same hall the monks placed the encyclopedia in a position of honor as its first literary work.
In the fifties the monastery was expropriated and three years later changed into the Museum of National Literature. The archives contained almost 6 million items in the year 1989, the Strahov library 900 thousand volumes and the collections of expressive art 300 thousand items. The monastery was returned to the Premonstrats in 1990 and with it all the collections which originally belonged to it. The Museum of National Literature can stay at Srahov for a limited time only. The collections acquired by the museum will eventually be moved to other buildings.