The Royal Route
The Royal Route
Where kings used to walk in the centre of Prague
The crème de la crème of the tourist paths in the city of the 100 spires is the Royal Route. Its name derives from the coronation processions of the Bohemian Kings, starting with George of Podebrady in 1458. The historical path can’t be missed by anyone walking in the old centre of Prague, as it has been marked with a silvery plate arrow that can be seen on the side-walk, which bears the inscription “Silver Line”.
Coronation processions are things of time gone by now, but their greatness remained forever imbued on the murals of the splendid buildings, in the entire atmosphere of the narrow streets and in the stones that form the mysterious old paths. The Royal route used to link the gates of Old Prague, the Jewish Town, Lesser Quarter and Prague Castle. The Silver line starts at the Powder Tower, in front of the Municipal House and finds its way through Celetna Street down to The Old Town Square.
On Celetna, one of the oldest of Prague’s streets, stands evidence of the beautiful historical houses decorated with breathtaking murals, symbols and façades. The most interesting façades are at the Three Kings, White Lion, Black Sun and the Vulture. Also, don’t miss the Cubist façade on the House of the Black Madonna, which dates from 1912 and houses a branch of the Czech Museum of Fine Arts, with a permanent exhibition on Czech Cubism.
The Royal Route then leads into the Old Town Square. Besides the well-known attractions (The Astronomical Clock, the Tyn Church, the statue of Jan Hus), you can stop for a while and climb the Tower of the Old Town Hall and take a look over the historical center of Prague up to Prague Castle and Vysehrad.
Follow the silvery path through the narrow roads down Karlova Street to the famous Charles Bridge. On your way over Charles Bridge you will get the chance to have your portrait or caricature done by different artists waiting for you. Come early evening jazz bands as well as different artists and singers perform live, so the town and the bridge seem to come to life. And when you pass by the statue of St. John of Nepomuk don’t forget to make a wish and touch the statue.
Next, the royal route goes up to Lesser Quarter Square and continues through Nerudova Street, another magnificent place of historical Prague. The way up to Prague Castle may be a bit tiresome but it is unquestionably worth every step. The old path ends at the Matthias gate at the Prague Castle with a splendid view over Prague.
The Municipal House is the most spectacular Art Nouveau building in Prague. Its construction dates back to the beginning of the 20th century (1906-1912). Since then it has been the host of many concerts and exhibitions and has been admired by millions of tourists and visitors. It also hosted important historical events such as the proclamation of the Czechoslovak Republic on October 28, 1918 and the meetings between the Civic Forum and the communist regime in November 1989. The interior is decorated with the works of the best Czech artist from the first decade of the 20th century. Smetana Hall, the principal concert hall in Prague, is famous for its grandiose glass dome and its elegance.
The construction of the 65m-tall Powder Tower begun in 1475 under the reign of King Vladislav II Jagiello and for a few centuries has been known as the New Tower. It used to form one of the 13 entrances to the Old Town and contribute to the beauty of the Royal Court, the king’s residence. The New Tower was built in concordance with the Old Town Bridge Tower designed by Peter Parler a century before.
In 1483 the king moved to Prague Castle and the bridge was left unfinished. Between 1875 and 1886 the tower was rebuilt, decorated and redesigned by Josef Mocker. The gate acquired its present name in the 17th century when it was used to store gunpowder. Today, there is a small exhibition about the tower and it is open for visiting.
Old Town Square
Mystic, traditions and the history of the Czech nation unfold their beauty in the centre of Old Prague, every time the Astronomical Clock strikes the exact hour. The history of the Old Town Square goes back to the 10th century, when the place was one of the favourite market places in the developing town of Prague.
The Square is dominated by the monument of Jan Hus, one of the most important Czech reformers and nationalists. He was born in 1369 and was the first rector of Charles University. Among others, he simplified the Czech writing rules and he wasn’t afraid to firmly criticize the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church and the Papacy at those times. In 1415 he was declared a heretic and burned at the stake. His beliefs were shared by the Czech nationalists (nobles and simple people alike) and the Hussite wars in the 14th and 15th centuries followed his dramatic death.
On the 6th of July 1915, 500 years after Jan Hus’ death, the monument now towering over the Old Town Square was unveiled. It is the work of Ladislav Saloud, inspired by the famous sculptures of the French artist Auguste Rodin.
The buildings from the Old Town Square are a fortunate collage of architectural styles. Gothic comes immediately after Cubist houses and don’t be surprised if next to them you see a most beautiful Baroque construction. The most famous of them all is without doubt the fabulous Astronomical Clock Orloj in the Old Town City Hall.
Old Town City Hall
Interesting is that the part that looks newer is in fact the older one: it dates from 1338, when King John of Luxembourg permitted the construction of the first city council residence. The 69,5 m tall Town Hall Tower, hosting the astronomical clock, was built in the 14th century and given a neo-Gothic facade in the 15th century. It is now opened for tourists and offers one of the most comprehensive views of Prague. Unique will be not only the view over the narrow Celetna Ulice but also the look at Prague’s main places of interest.
The Astronomical Clock
According to the latest research, the astronomical clock was constructed in 1410 by the clockmaker Mikulas of Kadan in collaboration with Jan Ondrejuv called Sindel, professor of mathematics and astronomy of Prague Charles University.
The astrolabe mechanisms built over 600 years ago are still functional. 80 years later, the legendary master Hanus rebuild the clock and as legend has it, the Councilor’s had him blinded, so that he would not ever manage to build another instrument greater than the Orloj in Prague.
The story also says that before he died, master Hanus deliberately damaged the clock so seriously, that nobody could ever fix it again. He also cursed the instrument, so those who tried to repair it have either gone mad or died.
The figures of the 12 apostles, blessing the city at every hour were added in more recent times, during the major repair work carried out between the years of 1865 and 1866.
The clock and the entire City Hall suffered a lot during the Second World War in 1945. On the last day of the war, the centre of old Prague was the target of the Nazi artillery. The entire building of the Old Town Hall burnt down. Fortunately, everything could be reconstructed and the figures of the apostles were replaced by the creations of the woodcarver Vojtech Sucharda after the end of the Second World War.
Apart from the figures of the 12 apostles there are also eight immobile figures on the left and right side of the clock dial and the calendar. Let’s take them in order: the four figures at the clock dial are symbols of the Prague medieval society. On the left side Vanity is represented admiring himself in a mirror and the Miser/Jew holding onto his bag of gold. On the right side Death ringing his bell and a Turk (or The Piper) shaking his head are represented.
Under the clock dial you will see the Calendar, painted by Josef Manes in 1805. Well, the one you will see is actually a replica, the original is kept safely on the sides of the stairway of the Prague Museum of History. Getting back to our figures, at the Calendar you will see: a chronicler, an angel, an astronomer and a philosopher (from left to right).
The Clock Tower is also decorated with exquisite coats of arms and different royal symbols. There is also a rooster that crows after the Apostles have finished their blessing.
The Sphere or clock dial shows the most important astronomical events: movement of the sun (notice that the sun circles around the Earth and not the other way around), phases of the moon, the equinoxes, the seasons, the days and the zodiac.
In the place that Charles Bridge is standing today once stood a wooden bridge, destroyed by floods in the 11th century. In its place, in 1172, Wenceslas I ordered the building of the Judith Bridge (after his wife’s name), the first stone bridge to connect the Vltava banks. The Judith Bridge collapsed in a flood in 1342.
The construction of the bridge, as we can see it today, dates from the reign of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. Legend has it that he had everything thought of up to the smallest detail. The oddest thing may seem the very date of its foundation: 5:31 am, 9. 07. 1357 (9th of June). Only odd digits (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) and what’s more, except 9 all prime numbers….. Another unusual thing is that it is said that egg yolks were used to strengthen the mortar used to bind the stone blocks. Although the saying cannot be verified, modern laboratory tests have indeed proved inorganic and organic ingredients in the mortar.
The construction of the magical bridge was started by Master Otto and continued by King Charles’ favourite constructor and architect, Peter Parler (he also built St Wenceslas Chapel in St Vitus Cathedral and The Old Town bridge tower). The bridge was finished in 1402 and until 1870 was called The Stone or Prague Bridge (Kamenny/Prazsky Most). Originally, the Stone Bridge was supposed to host medieval tournaments and serve as a major commerce link between the Vltava banks.
The bridge is 516 meters long and nearly 10 m wide, resting on 16 arches shielded by ice guards. It is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The bridge is decorated with 30 statues and statuaries, most of them Baroque style, erected around 1700.
A history of more than 1100 years speaks for itself. The story of Prague Castle identifies itself with the story of Prague and Christianity (860s, Chyril and Methodius) in the Czech Republic. In 870s AD the Prince Borivoj, one of the first Czech rulers from the Royal Dynasty of Premyslids ordered the building of the Castle, originally out of timber and with a soil rampart fortification.
During the reconstruction of the Castle in 1920 a huge archaeological site was discovered, proving that the original size of the Castle is the same as the area that the castle occupies today. Originally, the castle premises included a palace, three churches and a monastery. Even though the fortification had to face many fires, invasions and even World Wars, it had somehow every time survived and as time passed, it became the symbol and living legend of Prague.
The most important moments in Prague Castle’s history line are the rebuilding processes undertaken by the Premyslids (Romanesque Style) in the 13th century and in the following two centuries by Charles IV (Gothic Style) and King Vladislav Jagiello (Neo-Gothic Style).
Not even the terrible fire in 1541 didn’t end the history of the castle. On the contrary, Renaissance style was brought to Prague Castle by the Emperor Rudolph II in late 16tth century and the castle was turned into a centre for art and science and a gallery for exquisite collections.
In the latter half of the 18th century, Empress Maria Theresa had the Castle buildings rebuilt in Baroque style, their current appearance. Since 1918 the Prague Castle has served as the official residence of the president of the Republic.
St. Vitus Cathedral
For more than 600 years, the roofs of Prague Castle have been overlooked by the towers of St Vitus Cathedral. The cathedral, whose original name is St Vitus, St Wenceslas and St Adalbert Cathedral, is the biggest and the most important church in the Czech Republic. It’s the seat of the Archbishop of Prague and the place where saints, kings, princes and emperors of Bohemia are buried. The coronations of the kings of Bohemia were held there until 1836. It’s one of the best examples of Gothic architecture.
Old Royal Palace - Seat of Bohemian Princes
Splendid Old Royal Palace on the third courtyard used to be the seat of Bohemian princes. It was founded in the 9th century and since then has been changed significantly by great emperors Sobeslav I, Charles IV, Wenceslas IV and Vladislav Jagiello. Sobeslav I built a Romanesque palace around 1135, the remnants of which can be seen in the cellar of the present building.
Vladislav Jagiello decided to make big changes and hired Benedikt Ried to build the Vladislav Hall on the top floor of the palace and a palace wing named after his son Ludwig. The Habsburk dynasty used the palace for coronations, assemblies, government offices and depositories.
During World War II. the Czech Crown Jewels were hidden in the Old Royal Palace to be protected from the air-raids. Nowadays the Old Royal Palace with its spectacular halls is a part of the Prague Castle’s long and short tours.
The Vladislav Hall used to be the largest secular hall of medieval Prague. From the 16th century it was used for coronation festivities, knights’ tournaments, balls or markets with luxurious goods. Knights on horseback could enter the hall by climbing Rider’s Staircase. The hall is now used for the elections of the president of the Czech Republic and for ceremonious state events. There is a beautiful view of Prague from the observational gallery on the southern part of the Vladislav Hall.
From the corner of the Vladislav Hall there is the entrance to the Ludwig Wing. The Ludwing Wing contains the offices of Czech Chancellery where the second Prague defenestration took place in 1618. Two Catholic Governors and their secretary were thrown out of the window. They survived thanks to a dung heap, even though some Catholics thought that it was angel’s intervention. This event started Thirty Years’ War.
Walking tour by Lukas Lunak, private tour guide in Prague.
but their greatness remained forever imbued on the murals of the splendid buildings
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