Prague Regional Info
The historic heart of Prague right in the heart of Europe is an exceptionally valuable urban monument zone. This is why part of Prague - Hradcany and Prague Castle, Mala Strana, the Old Town including the Charles Bridge and Jewish Quarter Josefov, the New Town and Vysehrad were entered into the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Just what is it that makes the historical center of Prague fascinating and unforgettable? So much of the charm and the magic of Prague - especially in its historical centre - lays is its extraordinary layout. One moment you are in quite wide open spaces the next you are on the narrowest and most picturesque of cobbles stoned streets where the ancient buildings on either side seem to almost breathe down upon you. And just when you think that you've gotten totally lost lo and behold the street scape widens again and you are back on familiar ground that takes you to a main square or a familiar landmark.
The Old Town of Prague is indeed in some parts so old with Romanesque architecture side by side with almost as old Gothic that little wonder even today it is often referred to as Stone Prague. Move off down some other streets and lanes especially say in the Little Quarter of the city and the feel and imagination distinctly changes. Here the cold and stony breath of the old gives way to the charm and the sublime decoration of the Baroque, and even earlier again the Renaissance. Utterly stunning palaces and town houses look as gorgeous today as they must surely have done in their pompous hey day. Back across the river again and New Town beckons with its splendid Art Nouveau most perfectly captured in the sublime Municipal House while close by the next great architectural movement has its day in delightful Cubist buildings.
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What is to be admired most perhaps is this lovely union of the new, the not so new and the very, very old into an harmonious and charming whole. No mention of Prague and its layout would be remotely complete without touching on her most important natural feature which is of course the timeless Vltava River. Without it we would have no stupendous Charles Bridge and its many fellow bridges spanning the two sides of this remarkable city. From the great natural height above the river everything is set against the backdrop of the greatest monument of all the truly magnificent Prague Castle. Here the nation is culturally, politically and religiously defined by the office of President, by the location of the Coronation place of so many of the country's timeless figures in the St Vitus Cathedral, and by the innumerable secular and religious buildings that set the Czech people apart as citizens of a great nation.
Although Prague has many sites of outstanding historical significance four districts in particular are marked out as being of those of Prague's historical centre. Conveniently, two of these lie on the the right bank of the Vltava river as it flows, those being the Old Town within it which is contained the Jewish Quarter and also the New Town whose central feature is the immense Wenceslas Square. Upon the left bank of the river Vltava you will discover the elegant Little Quarter with its remarkable Baroque houses while rising above it is the Prague Castle district called Hradcany the centerpiece which is of course Prague Castle.
Charles Bridge is famous the world over not only for its ancient appearance - it hasn't changed in almost 700 years - but also for its stunning beauty. An enormously solid and elegant structure its slightly curving length stretches for more than half a kilometer or one third of a mile. More remarkable though is the quite stunning statuary along its length, a veritable gallery of thirty baroque statues of religious figures from the distant past. Sixteen colossal arches have unfailingly maintained the bridge through the centuries and at either end you can climb the delightful Bridge Towers - the Old Town Bridge Tower and two Lesser Town Bridge Towers which guard entrance to it.
Charles Bridge is a popular place among street performers and artists - painters, musicians, dancers, mime artists who have established their own association called the Association of Charles Bridge Artists.
The date and time the first stone was laid was not left to chance. They form the palindrome 1357-9-7531(year 1357, day 9.7., time 5.31).
In 1393 John of Nepomuk, a vicar who refused to betray the confessional secrets of Queen Sofia to Czech King Wenceslas IV, was cast from Charles Bridge into the Vltava. In the mid 18th century he was made a saint. On the wall, from which he was thrown, a small brasscross with five stars was erected (between the statue of John the Baptist and statues of St Norbert, St Wenceslas and St Sigmund). According to legend, he who places his hand on the cross so that each finger touches one of the stars will have a secret wish fulfilled. People also touch the figure on the bottom of the statue of St John of Nepomuk as it is said to bring luck.
The remarkable Astronomical Clock of Old Town Square sits proudly on the Gothic tower of the Old Town Hall. One of the great and most popular of stops on the Prague tourist trail this wonderful structure has been faithfully announcing the hour since the 15th century. No ordinary clock is it either because before the beginning of the chiming of the hour a beautiful blue door slides back to reveal a delightful parade of the 12 apostles each taking their turn to show themselves in the small, open window. Expects gasps from the watching people around you and camera shutters to click as every day from 9am till 9pm this memorable appearance is faithfully re-enacted. The Astronomical Clock is more than just this gallery of saints coming out on the hour, it is also a delicate and quite exquisite Gothic construction of dials and symbolisms.
- Central European time – this is marked by the sun-arm travelling round the Roman numerals around the inner edge of the clock face.
- Old Bohemian time – according to this way of timekeeping, the new day begins at sunset. It is marked by gold Gothic numerals on the outer ring of the main clock face.
- Babylonian time – the day lasts from sunrise to sunset meaning in summer the days are longer than in winter. Prague’s Astronomical Clock is the only one in the world which shows this time.
- Stellar time – This is shown in Roman numerals. Below the main clock is another calendar disk which shows the days, weeks and months.
While the Old New synagogue is the stand-out synagogue to see in Prague because of its age and its historical significance five additional synagogues are of considerable importance too and should not be missed if possible. In alphabetical order these are:
- The High Synagogue which was bank rolled by the great Mordechai Maisel and finished in 1568. Enduring many destructions and rebuildings down the centuries the Nazis and the Communists too used it as part of their Jewish Museum.
- The Klausen Synagogue completed in the 16th century has a baroque appearance today considerably different now than how it first looked. A great fire necessitated the reconstruction back in the 1690s after much of Josefov was engulfed in flames in 1689.
- The Maisel Synagogue with its remarkable triple-nave dates back to the 1590s but also suffered a terrible fate in the great fire of the late 17th century. Hitler earmarked it as the site for his chilling Museum of an Extinct Race and today it is a central part of the Jewish Museum.
- The Pinkas Synagogue is for many the most evocative and emotionally charged of all the synagogues as its walls contain the beautifully and painstakingly assembled lists written in black and red upon white of almost 80,000 Holocaust victims from the area. Furthermore a collection of 4,500 childrenâs drawings from Terezin add to the pathos and sense of tragedy visited on so many beautiful people.
- The Spanish Synagogue dating from as recently as 1868 is built in a Moorish even Islamic style and is remarkably intricate and detailed both inside and out with its patterns of polychrome and gold.Synagogues in the Jewish Town
Virtual Tour: Jewish Museum in Prague
Since 1997 it has served as a place of worship for Prague’s Jewish community.
Visiting Prague Castle while on a visit to Prague is an absolute must bearing in mind how important it is not only to the history but also the culture and architecture of the city. Not spending some time within its enormous complex would rather be like visiting new York City but missing out on Manhattan. Needless to say then that it is the most memorable single feature of Prague for most visitors. Not surprising is this bearing in mind its gigantic size but also its architectural splendour that most who visit it find it unforgettable.
The whole enormous plan of building a castle for the ages took off in the year 870 with the ascension to the throne of Prince Borivoj, he of the famous Premyslid Dynasty. Wooden palisades distinguished it then but inauspicious beginnings often lead to great things and when the great Emperor Charles IV declared a massive building boom to make the castle worthy of a King and Emperor things really took off. In a time of religious fervour and devout belief God needed devotion in the midst of all this extravagance and so it was that the colossal St Vitus Cathedral one thousand years in the making took up most of the second calendar milenium finally being declared complete in 1929. Here Czech royalty could enjoy their crowning moment of temporal and earthly glory, could have their personal chapels within the cathedral's huge spaces and ear mark for themselves the crypts and tombs where they wanted their final resting places to be. With the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War and the beginning of a sovereign Czechoslovakia it fell to the Czech's great national hero Masaryk as president to give the Castle a considerable makeover in the 1920s and 1930s.
Prague Castle is of course much more than the spectacular Cathedral of St Vitus and the endless secular wings of the Castle complex. Also to be admired in no particular order are the stunningly pretty St Georges Basilica and Convent dating back a thousand years. A lovely National Gallery collection of 19th century modern art decorates the convent today. Putting aside monuments of a religious nature another feature of the Castle complex which stands out are the once famous Royal Stables which were spectacular indeed in their day. Nowadays they can be admired in a different capacity as they also serve as a home for exquisite art pieces.
No part of Prague Castle arouses the imagination of young and old like the Golden Lane does. Here, for all practical purposes unchanged in appearance for hundreds of years was where the eccentric alchemists of the equally barmy Rudolf II used to live vainly trying to produce an elixir to convert base metals to gold. Its tiny houses are as quaint and romantic as any you will find anywhere in the world. Little wonder that arts people and crafts people throng around it today too selling their wares.
For a little bit of artistic culture try to look into the Prague Castle Picture Gallery before you leave these enormous grounds. It is located in the Castle's second courtyard. Here you can realise at first hand just how many priceless works the eagle eye of Emperor Rudolf II sequestered for himself.
Finally the aptly named Powder Tower may well draw you up to it to see what an alchemy laboratory a quarter of a milenium ago almost resembled. In there too the Palace Guard has a permanent exhibition dedicated to what they used to have to do.
The best enjoyment of Prague is guaranteed on foot. The historical centre is a maze of narrow, one-way streets between pedestrian zones. The historical sights are close to each other. For longer distances a car may be arranged on request.
Baby from David Cerny
St. Petr Church
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