Prague 2023 (I)

After the pandemic, we are once again traveling through Europe in winter, choosing Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, as our destination.

On March 24 we take off at 21.30 at night from Malaga. The company chosen is Smartwings, the Czech low-cost airline.

At around 00.45 we landed and left in search of the transfer we had hired. At that time we did not feel like taking public transportation.

Transfer in Prague

Around 2 am we arrive at the hotel. We check in and go to sleep. This time we chose the Ibis Praha Old Town. Very central and cheap. 40€ per night plus another 5€ per night for taxes.

Hotels in Prague

February 25th

Given the time we arrived at the hotel, we decided not to get up too early so that the day would catch us rested. At 9 o’clock we get up and at 10 o’clock we are on our way.

First impression of Prague: it is freezing cold. So the first thing to do is to have breakfast with a hot coffee to have energy.

The first place we can contemplate is Náměstí Republiky (Republic Square). Here we can observe several remarkable buildings. The most striking is Obecní dům, the municipal house.

It is an auditorium inaugurated in 1912 and built in Art Nouveau style by architects Antonín Balšánek and Osvald Polívka.

Obecní dům, the municipal house
Obecní dům, the municipal house

Right next to it we find Prašná brána, the Gunpowder Tower. One of the must-see sights of the city.

The Powder Tower was built in late Gothic style in 1475. Its architect was Matěj Rejsek. It was one of the gates of the city wall defending the city. In the 19th century it was rebuilt in neo-Gothic style.

The current name of the Gunpowder Gate (Prašná brána) comes from the 18th century, when it served as a gunpowder storehouse.

Prašná brána, the Gunpowder Tower
Prašná brána, the Gunpowder Tower

We crossed the gate and entered Staré Město, the Old Town. We reached Staroměstské náměst, the Old Town Square.

The square arose in the 12th century and many remarkable buildings can be seen here. On the pavement of the square you can see the inscription commemorating the execution of 27 Czech personalities in 1621 and the Prague meridian.

Staroměstské náměst, the Old Town Square
Staroměstské náměst, the Old Town Square
Prague meridian
Prague meridian

On the square next to a crowd of tourists at all hours we find Staroměstská radnice, Prague’s town hall with its famous astronomical clock.

The town hall building was built in 1338. It was by order of the Bohemian king and Count of Luxembourg John of Luxembourg, the Blind.

The building underwent numerous renovations and extensions over the years. Today it is made up of several buildings in Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Staroměstská radnice
Staroměstská radnice

The main attraction of the town hall is Pražský orloj, the astronomical clock. It was built by the clockmaker Nicholas of Kadan and Jan Šindel, professor of mathematics and astronomy at Charles University in Prague.

The oldest part of the clock is the mechanism of the astronomical dial dating from 1410.

The calendar and the Gothic sculptures that decorate the façade were added at the end of the 15th century.

Pražský orloj, the astronomical clock
Pražský orloj, the astronomical clock

Four figures stand out on the clock:

  • Lust represented by a Turkish prince with a mandolin.
  • Death represented by a skeleton with an hourglass.
  • Greed represented by a merchant with a bag.
  • Vanity represented by a man holding a mirror.

Every hour on the hour, between 9 o’clock in the morning and 9 o’clock at night, the figures are set in motion. The vain one looks at himself in the mirror, the greedy one moves his bag, the skeleton brandishes his scythe and pulls a rope, the lustful one shakes his head.

Through the small windows then begins the walk of the apostles. The twelve apostles parade slowly leaning out of the window preceded by St. Peter.

Pražský orloj, the astronomical clock
Pražský orloj, the astronomical clock

Since it was only 10 minutes to the Apostles’ Walk, we decided to wait in the crowd. At that moment it was starting to snow, which made it even more spectacular.

After this, we continue contemplating the square. Another of the most remarkable buildings is Chrám Matky Boží před Týnem, the Church of Our Lady of Týn.

A Romanesque church already existed here in the 11th century. It was a hospital church for foreign merchants coming to the Týn courtyard. In 1256 it was replaced by a Gothic church.

The present building was begun in 1360. The church was designed in late Gothic style under the influence of Matthias of Arras and later Peter Parler. The building was completed in 1450 although the north tower was in 1471.

For the south tower had to wait until 1511, being the work of the architect Matěj Rejsek.

Chrám Matky Boží před Týnem, the Church of Our Lady of Týn
Chrám Matky Boží před Týnem, the Church of Our Lady of Týn

Just ahead, next to the meridian, is Mariánský sloup, the Marian Column. It is a monumental baroque column made of sandstone. It consists of a sculpture of Mary Immaculate at the top and other statues on the pedestal.

Mariánský sloup

Next to it is Památník Jana Husa, the monument to Jan Hus. Installed in 1915, Ladislav Šaloun’s work is one of the most important Czech Art Nouveau symbolist works.

Jan Hus (1370-1415) was a Czech theologian and philosopher, rector of the Charles University in Prague. As a reformer and preacher he is considered one of the forerunners of the Protestant Reformation.

He was burned at the stake after being condemned for heresy at the Council of Constance.

Památník Jana Husa, the monument to Jan Hus
Památník Jana Husa, the monument to Jan Hus

Behind the monument is the Golz-Kinských Palác, the Golz-Kinských palace. The palace was originally built for the Golz family between 1755 and 1765. The building was designed by Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer in the rococo style.

Today it is one of the seats of the Prague National Gallery.

Golz-Kinských Palác, the Golz-Kinských palace / Prague National Gallery
Golz-Kinských Palác, the Golz-Kinských palace

The other notable building is Kostel sv. Mikuláše, the church of St. Nicholas. This is one of the oldest churches in Prague, being mentioned as early as 1273.

In 1635 the church passed into the hands of the Benedictines, who built a monastery between 1727 and 1730. Between 1730 and 1735 they built the new church in the Baroque style.

Kostel sv. Mikuláše, the church of St. Nicholas
Kostel sv. Mikuláše, the church of St. Nicholas

After seeing the square, we walked in the direction of Charles Bridge.

I was very struck by a building that is part of the town hall. It is Dům U Minuty, a clear example of Czech bourgeois renaissance architecture. The façade is decorated with sgraffiti depicting scenes inspired by biblical and mythological scenes. Contemporary Renaissance legends are also depicted.

Between 1889 and 1896, Franz Kafka lived here with his parents.

Dům U Minuty
Dům U Minuty

To the east of the Old Town Square is Malém náměstí (Small Square). In the centre is Kašna na Malém náměstí, the Wishing Fountain.

It is a wrought-iron fountain surrounded by a Renaissance grille dating from 1878. Before that, however, there was a well from the late 16th century.

Another notable building is Rottův dům, the house of Vincenc Josef Rott. He was a wealthy Prague merchant.

The building was rebuilt between 1896 and 1897 by his son Ladislav Rott. It has a Neo-Renaissance façade by František Kindl. It is painted according to the design of illustrator Mikoláš Alš.

The façade is decorated with plant motifs and paintings of allegories of craftsmanship and agriculture.

Rottův dům and Fountain of Wishes
Rottův dům and Fountain of Wishes

After walking along Karlova Street, we reach Křižovnické náměstí, the Crusader Square. Around the square, apart from the Charles Bridge, there are several notable landmarks:

On the north side we find Kostel svatého Františka z Assisi, the monastic church of St. Francis of Assisi. It was built between 1679 and 1689 in the Baroque style. It was built by the Italian builders Gaudenzio Casanova and, after his death, by Domenico Canevalle. However, the project was designed by the French architect Jan Baptista Mathey.

The church was built on the foundations of the Gothic church of the Holy Spirit. It was inaugurated by the Archbishop of Prague Jan Bedřich of Waldstein in 1688.

Kostel svatého Františka z Assisi
Kostel svatého Františka z Assisi

On the east side, we find Kostel Nejsvětějšího Salvátora, the Church of St. Saviour. It is part of the Klementinum (to be discussed later).

The church was built on the foundations of the Gothic church of St. Clement of the Dominican Order. Construction began in 1578.

In 1581, the primate of the neighbouring Jewish ghetto, Mordechai Maisel, donated 100 thalers to build the church. This testifies to a tolerant atmosphere and the peaceful coexistence of different religions in Prague.

Between 1654 and 1659, according to Lurago’s design, a new façade was built with three arcades reminiscent of Roman triumphal arches. In 1714, the towers were built by the architect František Maximilian Kaňka.

Nejsvětějšího Salvátora, the Church of St. Saviour
Nejsvětějšího Salvátora, the Church of St. Saviour

In the centre is the Pomník Karla IV, the monument to Charles IV. It is a neo-Gothic monument built by Jacob Daniel Burgschmiet according to a design by Ernst Julius Hähnel in 1844.

At the top of the monument is Charles IV with the charter of the university in his hand. Underneath is the inscription “Karolo Quarto Auctori Suo Literarum Universitas / Festo saeculari quinto 1848“. In Latin it reads: “Karolo Quarto Auctori Suo Literarum Universitas / Festo saeculari quinto 1848“.

Right at the base of the monument there are allegorical statues of the four faculties of Charles’ University. At that time they were: theology, medicine, law and philosophy.

Pomník Karla IV, the monument to Charles IV
Pomník Karla IV, the monument to Charles IV

And at the western end is Staroměstská mostecká věž, the tower of the Old Town Bridge. It was built in the Gothic style in the mid-14th century by order of Charles IV. It was designed by the German architect Schwäbisch Gmünd and is another of the city gates.

During the siege of Prague by the Swedes in 1648 in the Thirty Years’ War, the tower was bombed. The decoration on its western façade was destroyed.

The present appearance is due to a renovation carried out between 1874 and 1878. It was under the direction of architect Josef Mocker.

In 1621 the heads of 27 executed participants in the uprising against the Habsburgs were hung in iron baskets outside. They remained there for 10 years as a deterrent for future uprisings.

The tower is considered one of the most impressive works of Gothic architecture.

Staroměstská mostecká věž, the tower of the Old Town Bridge
Staroměstská mostecká věž

This is the beginning of Karlův most, the Charles Bridge. It is the oldest bridge in Prague and the second oldest in the country. After the Písek Stone Bridge.

It was built between 1357 and 1402 with the approval of King Charles IV. It replaced the old Judith Bridge, which was destroyed during a flood in 1342. Its name, Judith, had been named after the wife of King Ladislaus I.

It was originally known as the Stone Bridge. It was not until 1870 that it was called Charles Bridge.

Karlův most, the Charles Bridge
Karlův most, the Charles Bridge

The foundation stone was laid by Charles IV on 9 July 1357 (9.7.1357) at 5:31 in the morning. This date and time were not chosen by chance.

This date was determined by astrologers and numerologists close to the king. This precise moment can be stated as 135797531. It forms a capicua sequence of ascending and descending odd digits, which is engraved on the tower of the Old City.

From 1683 to 1928, 30 statues of saints were installed on the pillars of the bridge.

One of the most famous is that of St. John of Nepomuk, the patron saint of Bohemia. He was the confessor of Sophia of Bavaria, the queen consort of Bohemia. He refused to break the vow of sacramental secrecy, which caused the wrath of King Wenceslas IV of Bohemia.

It is said that after being tortured by the king, he agreed to tell his wife’s secrets to the first soul he met in the hall. What she did would be up to her and the king. The first soul was a dog. Wenceslas was so angry that he condemned it to be thrown into the river after cutting out its tongue.

The statue has a bronze image depicting this act. It is said that if you touch it, your deepest secrets will never come to light.

St. John of Nepomuk Prague

John of Nepomuk was the first saint to be martyred for keeping the secret of confession. He is the protector against slander, and due to the manner of his death, protector against floods.

Next to the statue is an image of Saint John, right on the spot where he was thrown into the river.

It is said that touching it fulfils a deity. A tour guide told us that if you do the ritual right, you will return to Prague.

St. John of Nepomuk Prague

Just in case, we did it. Here I am performing the ritual:

On the other side of the bridge, in Malá Strana, the old quarter, we find Malostranská mostecká věž, another of the city’s towers. It is actually two towers. Both form the gateway to the quarter.

The higher tower, dating from 1464, is a continuation of the bridge tower in the Old Town of Parléř with its late Gothic architecture.

The lower one, in Renaissance style, dates from 1591 and replaces a Romanesque tower from the 12th century.

Malostranská mostecká věž

But before we visit Malá Strana, we go down to the island of Kampa. The oldest mention of Kampa dates back to 1169. It was in the foundation charter of the Church of the Order of Malta during the reign of King Vladislav II.

The island acquired its present form by modifying the terrain and the bed of the river Čertovka in the mill channel. It was also shaped by the debris from various disasters, especially the Great Fire of 1541.

The first buildings were mills with attached plots (mill gardens), which later became aristocratic gardens.

In the northern part is Na Kampě Square surrounded by ornamental buildings. The southern part of the island consists of Kampa Park.

During the weekend there was a flea market with stalls selling drinks and local food on the square.

Kampa

After the walk through the square, we arrived at Kampa Park.

Kampa Park

It is home to Museum Kampa, the museum of contemporary art in Central Europe. It is located in the area known as the Sova Mills in Malá Strana.

It houses the collection of Jan and Meda Mládek, František Kupka and the Cubist sculptor Otto Gutfreund. There are also several works by key 20th-century artists from the so-called Eastern Bloc.

Outside is the work Miminka by sculptor David Černý. Known as the Giant Babies of Kampa. It depicts three strange crawling giant babies.

Miminka

After the walk through the park, we turned around and went to Mlýn Huť. It is a 13th century water mill that belonged to the monastery of Chotěšov, located 100 km from Prague.

In 1293, it was bought by the provost of Vyšehrad Jan and became the property of the Dominican nuns of Malostran. At the beginning of the 16th century, it became the property of Viktorín Kornel, a cadastral official.

In 1624 it passed into the hands of Pavel Michna z Vacínova, who attached it to his house on the present site.

Next to it is a peculiar sculpture. It is Vodník, a spirit of the waters.

Mlýn Huť

According to mythology, when he gets angry he breaks dams, watermills and even drowns all living things. Fishermen and millers make offerings to calm him down. Otherwise he would drag people to his underwater abode to serve him as slaves for eternity.

The Vodník store the souls of the drowned in porcelain cups which they revere as their most precious possession. Through the number they possess they show their wealth and status to other vodník.

Vodník

Just a few metres away is Lennonova zeď, Lennon’s wall outside Kampa. Shortly after John Lennon’s death, this wall was transformed into a makeshift memorial with a painting of the singer’s face. Lit candles accompanied quotes from John’s songs about peace and freedom in the world.

Soon slogans criticising the communist regime that ruled the country began to appear. The regime banned the playing of the ex-Beatle’s songs because of their subversive message.

The communist police proceeded to erase them, but every time they tried, the graffiti was repeated. Even the installation of surveillance cameras did not prevent the graffiti from being repeated.

Lennonova zeď, Lennon's wall

The wall is owned by the Knights of the Order of the Maltese Cross, who allow new graffiti to be painted on it without interruption.

We head into Malá Strana and go in search of a place to eat that was recommended in some blogs. The place is called Krčma U krále Brabantského. Czech food at a good price.

The restaurant looks like an ornate medieval tavern. It is really very nice. The food is quite good. The service… quite average. They took a long time to take our order. They took a long time to serve us our drinks. A second course arrived first, followed by the drink. After a while another second course and finally the first course….

Still, a positive experience. The meal cost 950 CZK (40€) including service. Because the service is paid separately. It is not obligatory like tipping in the USA but it is not nice not to leave a tip. It is recommended to tip 10% of the total.

Krčma U krále Brabantského
Krčma U krále Brabantského
Krčma U krále Brabantského

In the evening they organise a medieval show, but we did not attend (it costs a fortune).

After lunch, we went to the castle area, up a million stairs. This devil’s spawn is known as Nové zámecké schody (New Castle Stairs).

They were built in the 17th century to replace the steep cart track that had been here since 1278. The last reconstruction dates back to 1972.

Nové zámecké schody

We climbed the 220 steps and got to the top. It was not as hard as it looked. At the top of the stairs we had a spectacular view of the city.

Nearby is the terrace of a Starbucks with even more spectacular views. It’s not the first one we’ve seen with a great location, like the one at the Shibuya crossroads in Tokyo.

After getting some air, we head to Hradčanské náměstí, the Hradcany square.

We will talk about the castle later during the visit…

In Hradčanské náměstí there are many remarkable sights. Starting with Arcibiskupský palác, the Archbishop’s Palace.

The rococo palace was built in several different phases. The original building was a residence for Archbishop Antonín Brus of Mohelnice, who first renovated it in the Czech Renaissance style between 1562 and 1564.

After several more alterations, it acquired its present rococo appearance in 1765 by the architect Johann Joseph Wirch.

Arcibiskupský palác
Arcibiskupský palác

Next to it is Kandelábr pouličního osvětlení. One of the three remaining monumental lampposts in Prague. It is the work of architect Aleš Linsbauer and sculptor Eduard Veselý.

Kandelábr pouličního osvětlení
Kandelábr pouličního osvětlení

The square also contains two buildings that are part of the Národní galerie Praha, the National Gallery of Prague. One is Salmovský palác and the other is Schwarzenberský palác.

Salmovský palác, the Salmovský Palace, was built between 1800 and 1811 in the Classicist style. The work was carried out by architect František Pavíček on the orders of Prague Archbishop Vilém Florentin.

The chateau was bought by the Schwarzenbergs in 1811 and confiscated by the Germans in 1940.

After the war it passed into the hands of the Czechoslovak state in 1947. It was first used as flats and, from 1983, as the Swiss embassy.

In 2002 it became part of the National Gallery in Prague.

Salmovský palác
Salmovský palác

Schwarzenberský palác, a Renaissance palace, was built between 1545 and 1567.

The palace passed through various noble families of Prague until 1719 when it was acquired by the Schwarzenberg family.

From 1909 the Schwarzenbergs rented the premises to the National Technical Museum. Until 1940 he was arrested by the Gestapo and the palace was confiscated by the Nazis. He managed to flee to the United States, and on his return after the war, in 1947, the Czechoslovak state expropriated the chateau from him.

It then became the Museum of Military History. In 2002 it became the property of the National Gallery in Prague.

Schwarzenberský palác
Schwarzenberský palác

At the western end of the square is the Toskánský palác, a Baroque-Classicist palace from the end of the 17th century.

Construction of the palace was begun by Count Michael Osvald Thun-Hohenstein in 1690. He died in 1694 before the construction was completed.

The unfinished building was bought by Anna Marie Františka, Duchess of Tuscany in 1718. Hence its present name: Palazzo Toscano.

The palace was completed by the French architect Jean Baptiste Mathey in collaboration with the Italian Giacomo Antonio Canevalle.

Today, the building is used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

Toskánský palác
Toskánský palác

The Martinický palác, built in 1541, is one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Prague in the second half of the 16th century.

It was owned by Ondřej Teyfl of Kinsdorf and Zeilberk, and in 1589 it was sold to Jiří Bořit of Martinice na Smečná. The latter immediately began to rebuild it. From this period there are sgraffito paintings on the main and courtyard façades. They depict scenes from the life of Joseph of Egypt, the exploits of Samson and Hercules.

The chateau was owned by the Martinic family until 1788. In 1799, the chateau became the property of Josefa Weitenweberová. At that time, 26 dwellings were built, which gradually increased to 70.

There were rented flats in the chateau until 1967. Between that year and 1973 it was rebuilt by architect Zdeněk Hölzel for the Office of the Chief Architect of the City of Prague. This function lasted until 1994.

In 2016, the palace was bought by a Czech investment group. The palace facilities can be rented for conferences, wedding ceremonies and other social events.

I was really struck by its exterior decoration.

Martinický palác
Martinický palác

It was getting close to time for our free tour of Prague. We went down to the meeting point but before that, we went into a grocery shop to get water and change a 1.000 CZK note to pay for the tour. It seems a trivial thing but this will be very important for something that happened to us on the last day.

We did the free tour of civitatis and it was great, as always. Pedro, the guide was very nice and told us a lot of the history of the city.

After the tour, the cold and tiredness was starting to take its toll, in fact, it was starting to snow quite heavily. We decided to have some dinner and go to rest.

As we are masochists and we like to be cold, we had dinner in some little stalls in the street in the Old Town Square.

It’s funny to eat while it’s snowing on you. We had a Czech-style roast ham, which was delicious, and Czech sausage with potato salad.

Prague

Dinner was very tasty, but it was time for a rest. So a walk in the snow to the hotel.

As the entry became excessively long, I’m going to divide the diary into several entries so that it doesn’t become tiresome.

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