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Monday, 20 Mar 2023

Prague Sights

The Old Town of Prague:

For over 600 years a strange spectacle has unfolded at five minutes to the hour, every hour, high above Prague’s Old Town Square. The monumental Astrological Clock on Old Town Hall’s facade springs to life: a parade of the 12 Apostles creaks by, grossly stereotypical adversaries of the Holy Roman Empire such as the Jewish moneylender and the fearsome Turk pop out of other windows; a skeleton ominously shakes his hourglass, reminding of Death and the Plague. Many legends surround this monstrously beautiful timepiece, including the dire prediction that, should the clock ever stop, the ghosts of the 27 Czech nobles, beheaded here on the square in 1620, shall rise up in that instance, and demand an explanation!

Jewish Prague:

However, as legends go, the most fabulous occur just two hundred meters from Old Town Square - Josefov, the oldest and most-storied Jewish quarter in all Europe. By some ancient accounts, Prague’s Jewish community is as old as the city itself. The earliest written reference to Prague dates from the 10th century, and was recorded by the Jewish merchant, Ibrahim Ibn Jakub. From the beginning, the Jewish population had to contend with a Christian majority that viewed them with great suspicion, and at times, blind hatred. Starting in the 13th century, Prague’s Jewish citizens suffered from oppressive laws, and were often the victims of brutal pogroms. It was at this time that the Jewish population was walled into The Old Ghetto.  The Old-New Synagogue, built in the 13th century, was the scene of a massacre of Jewish citizens during the Easter Pogrom of 1389. Today it is Europe’s oldest functioning synagogue, a defiant testament to the endurance of Prague’s Jewish community. Josefov, named for the 18th century Emperor Joseph II, preserves this priceless legacy. Its historical buildings, monuments and cultural artifacts manifest the richest collection of Jewish history in Europe. The community has also well-served Prague’s artists and writers over these many centuries. Many of the legends that constitute “Magic Prague” refer to the Old Ghetto. The hands on the Hebrew Clock on the sixteenth century Jewish Town Hall run counter-clockwise, just as the poet Apollinaire claimed. Many of the Jewish Quarter’s legends revolve around the renowned scholar and companion of Rudolf II, Rabbi Low. In one of Prague’s most enduring legends, Rabbi Low appears as a powerful alchemist who creates the notorious creature, The Golem, to protect the Jewish Quarter against the world’s evil forces.

From Strahov Monastery to Prague Castle:

The Strahov Monastery, founded in 1140 by the Premonstratensian order. The frescoes on the ceilings and walls of its two libraries superbly set off an impressive collection of manuscripts dating from the 9th century. Loretanske Square and the Loreta – home of the Lesser Order of Capuchin Brothers. The edifice offers an extravagantly-detailed eighteenth century facade, the tower of magical bells tourists all over the world flock to hear, and within the cloister walls, the seventeenth-century Santa Casa, home to one of Europe’s legendary Black Madonnas. Nový Svet (the New World) – a true slice of medieval town life that remains one of Prague’s best-kept secrets. This historic gem captivates the spirit with its quiet, romantic atmosphere.

The Prague Castle:

The grand structure known the world over as Prague Castle and the towering Gothic cathedral of Saint Vitus. Situated high above the Vltava River, the resplendent Prague Castle served for centuries as the residence of emperors and Czech kings; today the President of the Czech Republic calls it home. Within the castle’s monumental walls lies legendary Golden Lane, a miniscule alley lined with tiny cottages, where medieval alchemists labored to uncover the ancient secret of the philosopher’s stone.

Little Quarter:

In the Middle Ages, when numbered addresses were unheard of, the citizens of Prague often distinguished their residences with house signs. Many of these fanciful signs, usually over the main entrance door to a medieval house, still exist and are in use. So on this outing we may find ourselves “At the Black Eagle”; we may meet “At the Gold Star" or "At the Bowl". Following the winding streets of the Little Quarter, you will seek out some of the more outstanding examples of Prague’s house signs, and learn about their fascinating history.

The Royal Gardens:

Behind the high stone walls of Prague Castle are one of the Little Quarter’s finest treasures, and the pride of Prague – the Royal Gardens. Although just off the crowded tourist pathways, the gardens remain a world apart. To encounter them is to enter a timeless world of emerald silence. Since the Baroque epoch Europe’s finest sculptors, landscapers and architects have had a hand in creating the horticultural delights, cultivated lawns and splashing fountains which greet our eyes. The Royal Gardens are a soothing break from the hectic city noise, always alive with the changing seasons and immaculately kept up. The artistic expressiveness of the Royal Gardens is a verdant symphony.

The Charles Bridge:

The magical Prague’s most enduring image: the majestic Charles Bridge, with its massive Baroque statues disposed the entire length. Construction on the bridge began at precisely 5:31 am, the 9th of July 1357 – the date had not been chosen at random. Astrologers of the time decided on this numerical combination in order to ensure the stones would hold and the bridge would enjoy a long life. Since its completion almost 600 years ago, this magnificent structure has withstood the ravages of time, war and floods. Medieval astrologers would not have been surprised.

The Ancient Fortress of Vyšehrad:

Vysehrad, the ancient fortress high on a bluff above the Vltava River, has a distinct aura of mystery surrounding it. It is the stuff of fairy tales, grand opera and myth, and although its stone foundations are real enough, its historical roots lie shrouded in the mists of time. The oldest chronicles tell us that here on this bluff the legendary Czech princess Libuse founded the city and declared it would be called “Prague” – from the Czech word, prah for “threshold”. Libuse was also a prophetess, and she predicted a great glory for the city that would “reach to the stars…” The ancient chronicles further tell us that early in the 12th century the residence of the Czech kings was transferred from Prague Castle to the ancient citadel of Vysehrad – but no one really knows why.

Wenceslas Square:

Wenceslas Square is a long, huge, bustling boulevard of shops, bars, theaters and passageways. It is the one place in Prague that never seems to sleep. Yet, the square also has a weighty air about it. Here many of the great events in modern Czech history have unfolded. The boots of Nazi soldiers marched along its cobbled avenue in 1939. The caterpillar tracks of Soviet tanks thundered through in 1968. Here in 1918 Tomas Masaryk declared the First Republic and, in 1989, thousands of demonstrators gathered on Wenceslas Square to usher in the “Velvet Revolution” and send Communism packing.

If you are interested in visiting those places, please feel free to contact us so we can arrange excursion for you organized by our partner VoyagePrague.


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