Sunday March 25, Prague


Today was a full day. Started out with the change to Daylight Savings, so I didnít get a super early jump on the morning, but then, things donít open up until 9 or 10 anyway. Had a good breakfast in the hotel before setting out. Beautiful weather, finally a blue sky! A bit on the breezy side, but mild.

Started at the Old Town Square Ė in photos itís a huge open square with big elegant buildings around the edge. Today, because of Easter Market time, the whole square is filled with market stalls, stages, and throngs of people. So it isnít so easy to see the beautiful architecture, but walking around the perimeter I got a pretty good look.

The 15th century astronomical clock on the imposing Old Town Hall is quite a marvel of mechanics. Very large, and very complicated. I didnít attempted to figure out how it all works, or what exactly it tells, but itís very impressive, and still running today. I was there when it struck on the hour (along with about a thousand other people!).

There are two important churches on the square; Tyn Church, a Gothic giant, is so hemmed in by later buildings that itís virtually impossible to see the front, but the towers spear high into the sky. The other important church is St. Nicholasís Church, a domed Baroque structure which dominates the west end of the square, adjacent to Old Town Hall. There are many gorgeous buildings lining the square; Prague is certainly a jewel of a city.

From the square, I worked my way down narrow winding streets towards Charles Bridge. This was constructed in the 14th century, and today is a pedestrian-only route across the Vltava river. The bridge itself is a tourist attraction, both for the views it commands of the city on both sides of the river, and for the 30 statues that line the bridge. These depict Christ and various saints, the earliest statue, St. John Nepomuk, dating to 1683. (The statue is placed at the point on the bridge from which he was thrown into the river by order of King Wenceslas IV, his death penalty earned by refusing to reveal the secrets of the queenís confessional.)

Across the bridge is the Lesser Quarter of Prague, once the neighborhood for workers and fishermen. Itís true that there are some simpler buildings here, but higher on the hill are beautiful palaces, churches, and Prague Castle with its cathedral. On the way to the castle, the most imposing building is Church of St. Nicholas (heís very popular around here!), another grand Baroque edifice. Beautiful domed structure outside, extremely ornate Baroque interior, with a wealth of exquisitely-crafted faux marble, gilding, statues, frescoes, etc. The gallery level is open as well, and from up there the views of the church are excellent.

Continued climbing up the streets, and finally made it to Prague Castle. This is quite a complex, like a little city inside the city of Prague. First I had to buy an entry ticket; I overheard the couple behind me talking in American English, so I spoke to them and the man turned out to be Philip Setzer, violinist with the Emerson String Quarter. They just finished a European tour with a concert in Prague. For those of you not in the classical music scene, the Emerson is one of the best quartets in the world today. So that was fun; Iím glad I started the conversation!

Anyway, back to the Castle. As I said, itís like a little city within the city. There are three concentric courtyards, for example, at least two places of worship, a whole village of cottages (now shops), multiple palace buildings, and a host of other structures. Certainly the most imposing of all is St. Vitusí Cathedral, which towers over all the rest, and since the palace is high on a hill, towers over the whole city. The size of it probably seems even greater because itís just inside the inner courtyard wall; I couldnít get far enough away to take a full photo of it. Inside, the gothic ribbed vaulting is beautiful, soaring up to the high ceiling of the nave. Beautiful brightly colored stained glass windows (modern, I believe). An oddity of the exterior is on the south side, which was once the main entrance. Up at least 30 feet is a very ornate gold door, which would open onto thin air. Was there once a stairway up to it? I wasnít able to find out.

Next to the cathedral is the main palace building, dating back to the 1300s (or even earlier?) The huge main hall is bare of furnishings, but that highlights the beautiful ribbed vaulting. There were various rooms up winding staircases, or down narrow passages; not a lot of furnishings, but interesting just to be in such an old place. There was one suite of rooms with coats of arms painted (frescoed?) on the walls, perhaps indications of aristocracy who had pledged loyalty to the king? Most of the explanations were provided only in Czech.

Further down the courtyard is St. Georgeís chapel, a very old (1200s, I believe) romanesque church. Itís fascinating to see all these different periods of architecture in the same place on the same day! Iíve been going gradually back in time. Should probably have started the day with something really modern and outrageous, but thatís not so easy to find around here (there is one oddity of an ultra-modern highrise, but Iíve only seen it on postcards).

Then on to Golden Lane; in the 16th century this was home to artisans and goldsmiths, now it's been turned into shops. Itís a delightfully narrow alleyway, the buildings are tiny with low doorways and raised doorsills, and rooflines and walls that donít quite come out straight. Quaint and charming.

Beyond the lane, starting down out of the castle, is Daliborka Tower, a 15th century cannon-bastion and prison. There are one or two cannon left, and an assortment of torture and imprisonment devices. You canít get into the lower levels Ė apparently the only access is still the round opening through which they used to lower particularly undesirable prisoners into solitary and probably life-ending confinement.

Thus ended the Castle explorations. Worked my way back down the hill into town, and back across the Charles Bridge to my side of the river. By now it was about 4:30, so too late to try to see anything else, so I just rambled back, browsing and shopping along the way. Chief goods here: garnets, amber, wood items such as nesting wooden dolls (the ones I always thought of as a Russian commodity, but they are apparently traditional in this region as well), crystal, Bohemian glass. And by all accounts, the worldís best beer (I couldnít say, I donít like beer and thus haven't tried it!)

For dinner I went to a restaurant not far from my hotel, in a very old cellar Ė certainly Romanesque, and quite possibly dating back to Roman times. Good Czech food, though once again long on starch and short on vegetables! I had roast duck, and it was served with five good-sized dumplings! Sauerkraut was the only vegetable. The duck was delicious, and so was one of the three types of dumplings. :-)

I hope I havenít bored yíall to death with my descriptions. Youíll be relieved to know that the day is over, and Iíll sign off now!

Love to all,

Carlyn

Last updated 12/07. Copyright 2007 by Richard C. Morenus. Questions? Send email to richard.c@morenus.org