There are more than forty palaces and chateaus in Prague, reflecting it’s wealthy and influential past.
On the opposite hill from the prominent Prague castle sits a fortress called Vyšehrad. The first reliable document dates Vyšehrad to the mid 10th century so we were treading in areas that have felt millions of footsteps before us. The uses of Vyšehrad have changed over time. It once was a royal castle, then a town, next a fortress, then a national symbol and a cemetery for the most famous Czechs. We spent a lovely morning exploring the acreage at Vyšehrad, enjoying the unique views of Prague below then wandering through the cemetery. We found the gravesites for the famous Czech composer, Antonín Dvořák and the wonderful artist and designer, Alfons (Alphonse)Mucha.
The commanding Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul with it’s 190 foot tall twin towers, the brilliant stone mosaics above the entrance, not to mention the colorful interior made this a breathtaking church. The first rendition of this magnificent church was built in 1070-1080 and the most recent rebuild was between 1885-1903. Inside the Basilica the colors on the walls and ceilings are spectacular and there are elaborate frescoes and carvings and in addition to the mosaics outside, there are more beautiful ones inside. A mural on one wall particularly caught our attention as it shows part of the legend of the Devil’s Column.
The Devil’s Column is a legend about a priest who had a rather large gambling debt and the devil. The devil promised the priest that if the priest was able to finish celebrating mass before the devil returned from Rome with a pillar, the devil would erase his debts. If the priest lost however, the devil would own his soul.
Being the devil, instead of going to St. Peter’s in Rome, as agreed, he went to the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which was closer. (and a pillar has been missing from that church for a very long time)
Luckily for the priest, St. Peter intervened and as a penalty for cheating, he threw the devil into the sea three times. The devil arrived just as the mass ended and in anger he threw the column into the roof of the church where it broke into three pieces.
During the cleanup and repair of the nave, the pieces were moved to behind the church in a field and today the three broken marble pieces called the Devil’s Column still lean together as potential proof of the legend. (Apparently the column was not made of local stone and it has been there, next to the church, for centuries.)
We continued meandering through the fortress grounds and found a rare rotunda of St. Martin, a tiny perfect chapel, all kinds of memorials and monuments and then we joined a Gorlice (Hall) tour of the casemates and tunnels beneath the fortress. First on the tour was a video capturing parts of the history of Vyšehrad and next we we guided through narrow underground corridors, that had once been used to rapidly move troops, and we ended up in a large underground hall where six original Baroque statue groups from Charles Bridge are stored and preserved. Our guide was an informative gal and was able to provide wonderful stories and details about the various statues.
Waldstein palace and gardens (Czech Senate)
The Waldstein Palace was built in 1623-1630 by a nobleman and army general as his Prague residence. The palace was occupied by the Waldstein family for more than 300 years and since 1945 it has been owned by the state. Today part of this exceptional building houses the Czech Senate and is open to the public when not in session.
Outside at one end of the lovely gardens, the palace has a remarkable loggia with an amazing painted ceiling. Wow! The beautiful ceiling has been like that since the mid 1700’s.
In another corner of the garden is an enormous, bizarre, seemingly out-of-place, stalactite gray wall. We found an owl refuge next door and were able to see four birds perched high in the enclosure. We also nearly stumbled across a peaceful peacock grazing at the edge of a lawn. There was a fish pond and fountain and an invitation to bring bread and feed the ducks and fish. The gardens are full of Greek mythological characters and statues.
Gardens below Prague Castle
The historical gardens below Prague Castle are made up of 5 ancient gardens. Most were originally designed and planted between the 16th and 17th centuries. Each terraced garden has decorative stairways, lovely arches, panoramic balconies with views and charming pavilions all carefully integrated into the flowers, shrubs and trees on the slopes.
It took us a few hours to discover the many hidden pathways and viewpoints. We came across a class of artists at the top of one garden. The view of Prague was outstanding and they all sat quietly attempting to capture the amazing scene before them.
Stromovka Park + Summer Palace
Stromovka is 235 acres (95 hectares) of peaceful lawns, trees and greenery. Established in 1268 and for the next 600 years it was a Royal Game Reserve and hunting ground. The Royals built the small picturesque Summer Palace nearby. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that the game reserve was converted into the open garden park it is today.
We walked past the most notable building, the Šlechtova restaurant, originally built in 1689-1691. Once dubbed as an unmissable refreshments spot for anyone taking a Sunday stroll, the restaurant is currently undergoing restoration with plans to open next year.
This lovely park has recently been renovated with added pathways, new ponds, footbridges, piers, several playgrounds, picnic sites, outdoor fitness installations, new lighting and benches. It is a fantastic place to enjoy nature in the middle of the city.
One of the first palaces we entered, Lobkowicz Palace is part of the Prague Castle Complex at the top of the hill. The beautiful palace was built in the mid 16th century although the Lobkowicz family dates back to the 14th century and claims to be one of the older Bohemian families. During the occupations of both the Nazis and the Communists the family had their collections, castles and palaces confiscated twice, but luckily, most has been returned to the family.
The audio tour was recorded by the current owner, William Lobkowvicz. The pride in his heritage and the historical details he provides are personal as he brings the palace to life for the listener. We viewed beautiful earthenware, decorative arts, original music scores with notes made by Mozart and Beethoven, musical instruments and treasured paintings in the art gallery. It is a rare find to have one family still owning and living in the residences of their ancestors. Loved this weaving loom; a piece of art by itself.
We thought this piece might reflect the families sense of humor and playfulness.
Displayed on all sides of a room called the Piranesi Room, was an extensive collection of 18th century engravings of views of Rome by the artist Giovanni Piranesi (1720-1778). His work was widely collected by gentlemen ‘on their grand tour’. After spending a month in Rome earlier this year we gravitated to the engravings of one of our favorite squares, Piazza Navona and the iconic Trevi Fountain as well as the etchings of Roman ruins and sites.
Roast pork with dumplings and either cooked or pickled cabbage is considered one of the most typical Czech dishes and there are a number of variations on that theme.
Another traditional dish is Svickova, a braised beef sirloin, served in a creamy sauce with cranberry compote and bread dumplings. We thought the zesty cranberry was the perfect accompaniment to the richness of the dish.
Czech sausages can be eaten with any meal, as a side or entree.
Lots of garlic is typical in their sausages and the meat is ground quite coarsely. Tasty and delicious!
We tried Koláč, a soft unsweetened donut like pastry, filled with everything from poppy seeds to fruit, plum jam, nuts and a lightly sweetened soft cheese.
Czech food is comforting with warm soups, roasted pork and beef and lightly sweetened pastries. Vegetables however, were more challenging to find on many plates.
A few favorite names popped up:
- Martina Navratilova – outstanding female tennis player
- Ivan Lendl – tennis player
- Madeleine Albright – the first female US Secretary of State
- Albert Einstein – between 1911-1912, Einstein was a temporary resident and professor of theoretical physics at the University of Prague
- Franz Kafka – Prague novelist (1883-1924)
- Antonín Leopold Dvořák (1841-1904) Czech composer
- Alfons Mucha (1860-1939) Czech painter, illustrator and graphic artist
Dating back to the 13th century, residents of Prague used remarkable picture signs and symbols as identifiers for both their homes and businesses and these symbols served a similar function as house numbers do today. House numbers would not be introduced until the late 1700’s, but symbols would continue to be added to buildings and used even after numbering began.
Usually the painted signs were placed above the doorway arches and we spotted an interesting variety of these bygone symbols during our strolls. We found the golden ring, the blue pony, the black sun, the golden wheel, the white peacock, the golden angel, the three fiddlers, stone lamb, two bears, red lion, two suns, white swan, golden tiger, blue grape, golden cup, red lamb and the golden key. The golden signs may have identified the house as having ties to alchemy as well.
We thought that if we were to create a symbolic address for ourselves, it might be the flying suitcase.💼👐🌍
We’ve read that Prague is known as a party destination, especially for the youth of Europe and their behavior is becoming less tolerated and less welcome. Over tourism, at least during the summer months and at the major attractions is real, but daily we found galleries, museums, parks, attractions, sites and walks where there was not more than a dozen or two fellow explorers. This city is a magical and mysterious location that retains visible traces of its long and intriguing past. We thoroughly enjoyed Prague and recommend that you plan a visit.
Na zdraví from these Prazan,
Ted and Julia