Prague - A City of Spires and Surprises
A beautiful skyline
Chapel in St. Vitus Church
The Astronomical Clock
St. Nicholas Church in Old Town Square
The Vltava River
One of many statues on Charles Bridge
Milos and the John Lennon Wall
Interesting state at Kafka Museum
The Golden Land
Buddha Bar Restaurant
Cooking at the Alcron Radisson
Dinner with the Matvejs whom we met in 1986
Prague is a magical city but along with the outstanding architecture, artwork, and food there are little side stories that add interesting twists to the sites and make them more memorable.
1. The eyes have it: On the hour tourists gather in front of the 15th century Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square when the clock’s bells ring, the cock crows, and statues perform. One legend surrounding the clock relates that the Old Town councilors were so impressed with the amazing clock that they had the eyes of the master clockmaker burnt out with a hot poker so could never build another.
2. Hands off: Located near Old Town Square, St James Church, built in 1232, is one of the most beautiful Baroque churches in Prague and its great acoustics make it a wonderful venue for concerts of church music. Take note of the Virgin Mary statue on the main altar but don’t take it. It was believed to be miraculous and people donated gifts to the statue. A thief tried to steal the gifts. The statue grasped his hand and wouldn’t let go. He was found there in the morning. Nobody was able to disengage his hand, so it was cut off. Then the statue dropped the hand. The wizened, blackened hand is hanging near the entrance as a warning to would-be thieves.
3. Pet the dog: The 600-year spectacular Charles Bridge that crosses the Vltava River has 30 wonderful statues. The oldest stature is of John of Nepomuk, who was drowned in the Vltava River, at the behest of King Wenceslas because, as the confessor of the queen of Bohemia, he refused to divulge the secrets of the confessional. On the bottom portion of the statue is a bronze plaque of a knight and a dog. Rubbing the dog – the spot is shiny - is suppose to bring good luck and insure one’s return to Prague.
4. Defenestration: There is actually a word to describe throwing someone out of a window, usually reserved to refer to attempts at political assassinations. Several occurred in Hradcany, including the possible assassination of Jan Masaryk, the foreign minister in 1945. Hradcany, whose history stretches back to the 9th century, is often said to be the world’s biggest castle, which is 1870 feet in length, and includes many of Prague’s most impressive buildings and the Golden Way of little shop houses.
5. The Good King: Good King Wenceslas was actually a prince. He was the second Christian ruler of the Czech lands and is the country’s patron saint. Wenceslas was murdered by his brother over a thousand years ago. His statue of him astride a steed is located in front of the National Museum and looks down the long street that has been the scene of many parades and other historic events.
6. Relief: In front of the Kafka Museum, dedicated to Franz Kafka, one of Prague’s best known authors, is a statue that would most likely appeal to Kafka’s surrealist humor. Created by Czech artist and sculptor David Cerny, two bronze sculptures are relieving themselves into a pool of water in the shape of the Czech Republic. The stream of water they create writes a message sent from a mobile phone number.
7. Before numbers: Prague houses were not given numbers until 1770. Before that houses were identifies by emblems placed on the house. Most of the places bearing such symbols are in the older parts of the city. The House of the Black Madonna is today a museum of Cubism. Some, like The Three Fiddles, indicated the occupation of the owners. In many cases the reason for the design has been lost over the years.
8. Lennonism: Not Vladimir Lenin, the Soviet leader but John Lennon, one of the founding members of the Beatles. After Lennon was assassinated in 1980 a wall on a quiet side street near the Charles Bridge was filled with Lennon-inspired graffiti including comments that annoyed the communist regime. When the authorities painted over the wall the graffiti quickly reappeared. The ever-changing wall of drawings and sayings promote love and peace.
9. Mirror Maze: Atop Petrin Hill the Mirror Labyrinth looks like a fantasy castle and is only one of several interesting places to explore in the park above the city, which can be accessed by a funicular. Next to the maze of distorting mirrors is Petrin Tower, an observation tower modeled after the Eiffel Tower, along with a rose garden and the Hunger Wall, which Charles IV ordered to be built to feed the poor during a famine.
10. Metronome: High above the Vltava and visible from most places in the city center is a giant, functional metronome. It stands on the site where the world’s largest statue of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin once stood. The 50-foot Stalin’s statue was destroyed in 1962. The 75-foot tall metronome designed by Vratislav Novak was erected in 1991 and offers a scenic view of the city and is a favorite area for skateboarders.
Prague is an entrancing city that can be enjoyed and explored time and time again. Other not-to-miss sites are The Loreto, the Old Jewish Cemetery, St. Agnes Convent, a boat ride on the Vltava, and National Gallery. For more information check www.CzechTourism.com.