Ahoj or hello from pulchritudinous Prague, the fascinating capital city of the Czech Republic.
Consistently voted one of the best cities in the world, and for us, it is the wonderfully diverse architecture that we will remember most. Prague is an architectural dream in terms of details and variety in style, color, design, ironwork, fresco and decorative plaster. Although not overly large, at 1.3 million residents, the beautiful city has much to offer all visitors. Like many European cities, it is built along a river, the Vltava river in this case, and the historical skyline is spectacular, especially when you can see the Vltava in either the fore or background. We think this is a bucket-list or must-see city.
The Czech Republic is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west, Austria to the south, Slovakia to the east and Poland to the northeast. Generally Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia are the former lands that now make up the Czech Republic.
Between 1918 and 1992, Prague was the capital of Czechoslovakia and 26 years ago, on January 1, 1993, after a peaceful and negotiated separation, Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia and Prague became the Capital of the new Czech Republic.
Brief History of Prague
In 500 BCE a Celtic tribe known as the Boii were the first inhabitants and the area would become known as Bohemia, after these settlers. The first Bohemian monarch, Bořivoj I, ruled in the second half of the 9th century, brought Christianity to Moravia, settled in Prague (Praha) and in 880 built Prague Castle, one of the largest castles in the world still today.
During the Renaissance, Prague grew and flourished under the leadership of King Charles IV becoming the 3rd largest city in Europe, after Rome and Constantinople. Charles became King of Bohemia in 1346. In 1348 he founded the first university, he created New Town (Nové Město), rebuilt Prague Castle and had the first stone bridge built across the Vltava river. That bridge stills stands today and is called the Charles Bridge. The construction of St. Vitus’ Cathedral was also begun along with many other churches. In 1355, Charles was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Rome and Prague became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Czech lands were among the most powerful in Europe during this time. Everything was built in a grandiose Gothic style and decorated with an independent art style, called Bohemian. All good things come to an end and when Charles IV died, Prague’s influence and power began to wane.
It wasn’t until the late 16th and early 17th century, during the reign of Emperor Rudolf II, that Prague prospered and became the cultural centre of the Holy Roman Empire once again. Emperor Rudolf II lived in Prague Castle and was thought to be quirky because he invited astrologers, magicians, botanists, philosophers and alchemists to court.
In 1609, Emperor Rudolf II, a devout Catholic, created a charter called the “Imperial Charter of the Emperor” in which he legalised extensive religious freedoms unparalleled in Europe. Many German Protestants, Lutherans and Calvinists immigrated to Bohemia. However when Rudolf II died, followed by the next-in-line for the Bohemian crown’s sudden death, tensions over who should become the next monarch erupted in the city eventually leading to a Thirty Year War, split along Catholics and Protestants lines.
A deciding battle, called the Battle on the White Mountain, followed and the Catholic, Emperor Ferdinand II became King of Bohemia. The new king was not as progressive or reasonable as Rudolf II and he proclaimed that no faith other than Catholicism would be permitted in the Czech Lands. He had 27 Protestant leaders executed in the Old Town Square in Prague on June 21, 1621. Visitors today can see the 27 white crosses imbedded in the Old Town Square commemorating those that were slain. A local legend says that each year, on the night of June 21st, the spirits of those poor Czechs still roam the Old Town Square. Ferdinand would eventually move his entire court to Vienna, again causing Prague’s fortunes and influence to decline.
During the German occupation of Czechoslovakia from 1939-1945, the Nazis oppressed and persecuted the citizens of Prague. More than 250,000 Jewish people, politicians, university professors, students and thousands of others were murdered, imprisoned or sent to concentration camps. After repeated intense Allied bombings the German army officially left Prague the morning of May 8th. The next morning, May 9, 1945, the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague and so began the Soviet’s brutal communist rule of the country.
The Velvet Revolution of November 1989 was made up of hundreds of thousands of residents striking and protesting against the one-party government of the Communist Party. It was a successful, non-violent transition of power away from communism to a parliamentary republic and within 6 months, June 1990, Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections in 44 years.
We like the Czech motto: “Pravda vítězí” or “Truth prevails”
Pražský hrad or Prague Castle
Originally built in 880, this UNESCO World Heritage site has seen umpteen elaborate changes and expansions over the past 1200 years. Perched on a hill overlooking the city, within Prague Castle’s walls are 4 churches, 4 convents and church residences, 4 palaces, 6 halls, 4 towers, 8 gardens, 2 vineyards, an orangery, 2 riding schools, statues, fountains, an obelisk and Matthias Gate. Every architectural style of the last millennium is represented in the castle buildings. Since the Velvet Revolution and Czech freedom, Prague Castle has had significant repairs and reconstruction is still ongoing.
Karlův most or Charles Bridge
The first wood and stone bridge, the Judith Bridge, was built to cross the Vltava river in 1170 and collapsed just shy of 200 years later in 1342.
Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV began building a replacement bridge in 1357. Construction began on July 9 1357 at 5:31 am precisely. Astronomers in the court of Charles IV chose the palindrome of numbers 1 3 5 7 9 7 5 3 1 or 1357 on the ninth day of the seventh month at 5:31 am, as the most suitable and lucky date for the laying of the bridge’s foundation stone. The Gothic stone bridge, originally called the Stone Bridge would not be completed until 1402 and it was the only bridge crossing the river for the next 450 years. In 1870 the bridge was renamed Charles Bridge.
Charles Bridge is more than ⅓ of a mile long and nearly 33 ft wide with a striking climbable tower at each end. There are 30 magnificent statues placed evenly along the bridge, replicas today of the originals that were erected in the early 1700’s. The originals are exhibited and can be viewed in the Lapidarium of the National Museum. There are also Czech artists, musicians and souvenir vendors that line both sides of this foot traffic only bridge. The bridge was so crowded with pedestrians daily in August however, one day we chose to get up at 5:30am to enjoy and photograph the bridge and city views in the early morning peacefulness.
Prague Orloj or Prague Astronomical Clock
Wow! We loved this incredibly interesting medieval clock! However calling this merely an orloj or clock is truly an understatement. It was made by 2 clockmakers with input from a professor of mathematics and astronomy. The Old Town Hall tower dates back to 1338 and the astronomical clock was installed in 1410. The elaborate clock is said to be the third-oldest clock in the world and the oldest clock still operating. 609 years and still going!
The clock displays more information than assumed at first glance. There is an astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and other astronomical information. There is a calendar dial including medallions representing the months and an astrological dial. There are 4 wooden statues that represent things to be wary of: vanity, greed, death, lust. At the top of every hour of the day is “The Walk of the Apostles” when a sliding doorway above the clock opens and statues of the twelve Apostles, two at a time move past and peer down at the viewers below. The figure of death represented as a skeleton rings the bells. A reminder perhaps that time is ticking and to enjoy life today and every day.
There is a golden rooster than crows or fluffs his feathers once the apostles door is closed. And there is much, much more……
Do you enjoy Google’s daily Google Doodle? On October 9th, 2015, the astronomical clock’s 605th anniversary, the famous clock was shown as the Google Doodle.
Národní technické muzeum (NTM)
The National Technical Museum, founded in 1908 is Prague’s largest museum dedicated to the history of technology in the Czech Republic. We arrived fairly late in the day and we could easily have spent another hour exploring.
We saw Industrial design, architecture, art, kitchen utensils and appliances, sewing machines over the years, evolution of sundials and timepieces, wonderful display of cameras, various printing press machines, a giant hall full of Czech cars, motorcycles, airplanes and train engines.
National Monument to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror
Every country has a darkness somewhere in their history.
Reinhard Heydrich was a high-ranking German SS and police official during the Nazi era and a main architect of the Holocaust. He was also responsible for the Einsatzgruppen, the special task forces that travelled in the wake of the German armies and murdered more than two million people by mass shooting and gassing.
In 1942 Heydrich was ambushed and wounded in Prague and died of his injuries a week later. Operation Anthropoid was the only successful government-sponsored targeted assassination of a senior Nazi leader during the Second World War. There were initially 8 paratroopers involved in the mission, 7 were given shelter by a church and one returned to his parents’ home.
Hitler ordered an immediate investigation and manhunt for the perpetrators. What no one expected was the mass killings of citizens as reprisals by the SS troops. More than 5,000 people were murdered in the Heydrich Terror, including all family members and friends of the paratroopers. Lidice was a village that was suspected as a hiding place so the Germans massacred nearly everyone in the village. Ležáky was a second village where a piece of radio equipment was found, so it too was targeted and both villages were completely destroyed.
The one paratrooper that hid in his parents’ home was found and he would eventually disclose to the Germans all information about the training and the people who helped the paratroopers and who offered them shelter. The Gestapo surrounded the church and a battle ensued. There was no way the paratroopers could win against the Germans so it is said each saved the final bullet for themselves. Leaders of the Orthodox Church and of the Temple of St. Cyril and Methodius, the church where the paratroopers were given shelter, were also executed and the church was abolished.
Today the church has reopened and the crypt below where the paratroopers hid out is both a somber museum and a Monument to the 7 paratroopers.
The Czech Republic, while being a member of the EU and Schengen, like Poland and Hungary, the Czech Republic still has their own currency. It is the Czech koruna, or crown. (sign: Kč; code: CZK) Banknotes are 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 Kč and coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 Kč.
Good King Wenceslas
The first Bohemian monarch, Bořivoj I, had a grandson named Prince Wenceslas. He became King Wenceslas, the Catholic King of Bohemia (907–935). Within a very few years of King Wenceslas’ death he was canonised and became Bohemia’s and the Czech Republic’s most beloved patron saint, Saint Wenceslas.
There is a large square called Wenceslas Square with a Statue of King Wenceslas seated on a horse dominated the center plaza. We visited Wenceslas Square a couple of time and it is more a boulevard than a square, lined with hotels, offices, retail stores and restaurants. Prague’s Christmas markets are held here and it is a popular place to spend New Year’s Eve.
We found more than one statue of Wenceslas around town and this was our favorite, although it is not located in Wenceslas square.
One of our fondest old Christmas carols is “Good King Wenceslas”, written by John Mason Neale in 1853. The song is the story of King Wenceslas I, going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen – December 26th. Here are the lyrics.
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gathering winter fuel
Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou knowst it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?
Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes fountain.
Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bear them thither.
Page and monarch, forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude winds wild lament
And the bitter weather.
It was a special moment to step into Wenceslas Square in Prague. It reminded us of our childhood and Christmas, when we first learned the words to this wonderful Christmas Carol.
Na zdraví from these Prazan,
Ted and Julia
View our National Technical Museum photo galleries here:
- Gallery of Architecture
- Gallery of Modern Technology for a Modern Life
- Gallery of Time Keeping devices
- Gallery of Photography
- Gallery of Printing
- Gallery of Children’s Art
- Gallery of Planes, Trains and Automobiles
- Gallery of Astronomy