Except for the view of the spires of St. Vitus's Cathedral, the exterior courtyard offers little for the eye to feast on. Empress Maria Theresa's court architect, Nicolò Pacassi, received imperial approval to remake the castle in the 1760s, as it was badly damaged by Prussian shelling during the Seven Years' War in 1757. The Second Courtyard was the main victim of Pacassi's attempts at imparting classical grandeur to what had been a picturesque collection of Gothic and Renaissance styles. This courtyard also houses the rather gaudy Kaple svatého Kříže (Chapel of the Holy Cross), with decorations from the 18th and 19th centuries, which now serves as a souvenir and ticket stand.
Built in the late 16th and early 17th century, the Second Courtyard was originally part of a reconstruction program commissioned by Rudolf II. He amassed a large and famed collection of fine and decorative art, scientific instruments, philosophical and alchemical books, natural wonders, coins,
and a hodgepodge of other treasures. The bulk of the collection was looted by the Swedes during the Thirty Years' War, removed to Vienna when the imperial capital returned there after Rudolf's death, or auctioned off during the 18th century. Artworks that survived the turmoil, for the most part acquired after Rudolf's time, are displayed in the Obrazárna (Picture Gallery) on the courtyard's left side as you face St. Vitus's. In rooms redecorated by castle architect Bořek Šípek, there are good Renaissance, mannerist, and baroque paintings that demonstrate the luxurious tastes of Rudolf's court. Across the passageway by the gallery entrance is the Císařská konírna (Imperial Stable), where temporary exhibitions are held. The passageway at the northern end of the courtyard forms the northern entrance to the castle, and leads out over a luxurious ravine known as the Jelení příkop (Stag Moat), which can be entered either here or at the lower end via the metal catwalk off Chotkova ulice, when it isn't closed for sporadic renovations.