Things to see and do - Prague
Prague, a bridge between East and West :
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Prague, a bridge between East and West
Prague, a bridge between East and WestPedestrian, 15 km, 2 days
Like its legendary stone bridge built 700 years ago, Prague connects the two halves of Europe ... The fascinating charm of a human-sized city.Customise this route and add it to My travel book
This was the first stone bridge over the Vltava built under the orders of Charles VI. It joins Stare Mesto and Mala Strana and was built between 1357 and 1402. Charles Bridge is a 516-metre-long, 9.5-metre-wide Gothic structure resting on mortar joints that, legend would have it, were prepared with egg yolk and wine! It has seen all the great and evil events of this city and for 600 years has defied all of man's assaults and the river's sometimes powerful moods.
Bordered by the Vltava and the green slopes of Petřín, and in the shadow of the Castle, Prague's most beautifully preserved historical quarter seems hardly to have changed since the mid-18C. Its churches, bourgeois homes and Baroque palaces line streets and squares that were laid out in the Middle Ages... and not forgetting its magnificent tiered gardens. It is worth braving the throngs of tourists to explore these gems.
The façade of the Church of St. Nicholas, giving onto Old Town Square, is a splendid Baroque construction (1732-1737), the work of Prague architect Kiliá Ignác Dientzenhofer. While the exterior is not very different from most of Prague's churches, with twin towers and a central dome, the interior is far more intricate, particularly in the stucco work by Bernard Spinetti. The frescoes on the inside of the dome illustrate the life of St. Nicholas.
Prestigious Strahov Abbey (Strahovský kláster) has looked over the city of Prague since 1140 and its towers rising above the green hill of Petrín can be seen from afar. From the very beginning, Strahov played the role of a cultural hub, the reputation of which went beyond its borders. From its long history there remains today an architectural complex going from the Romanesque to the Age of Enlightenment. Its libraries and painting collections are among Prague's many treasures.
Legend has it that, in 1394, the house where the Virgin Mary was born was transported from Nazareth to a laurel wood on the Adriatic coast, drawn by angels' wings. Local religious fervour soon turned the Santa Casa into a place of pilgrimage, which Bramante later transformed into a shrine. Imitated across Europe, transposed in Prague, the Loreta is the site of much joyful activity. Be there on the hour to hear the bell chime in its large tower.
The square, in the Middle Ages hemmed in by the modest homes of the inhabitants of Hradčany (the Castle District), is a large cobbled esplanade behind the castle's western gates. Visitors come here in particular for the changing of the guard. The Plague Column, a late work by Brokoff, stands against a backdrop of greenery. The north side of the square is lined by the former lodgings of the cathedral's canons, the south side by a convent that encompasses St Benedict's Church.
In former times the centre of court life, the old royal palace is today a museum piece; all the offices of the president and other administrations were long ago transferred into the Castle's western buildings. The Green Room (Zelená Světnice) houses coats of arms and a Baroque fresco illustrating The Judgment of Solomon. Vladislav Hall, Benedikt Ried's masterpiece, is superb with its brightly coloured Gothic vault.
Lined with historical houses, dominated by two large churches and the tall tower of the town hall, this vast square is the real heart of the quarter. This, the most frequented place in Prague, draws young people to the imposing Jan Hus Memorial, crowds jostling at all hours at the foot of the astronomical clock, and throngs of tourist drawn here by the cafés and restaurants.
This is a 750-metre avenue that ends at the imposing National Museum and the Statue of Wenceslas on Horseback. It was originally the horse market that Charles IV wanted to make the centre of his New City. Since the 19C, this has been the symbolic gathering point of Czech life. The Republic was proclaimed here in '18, the Germans paraded here in '39, Ian Palach killed himself here in '68 and in 1989, Dubcek made the speech that was interrupted by the tanks.
Close to the Old Town, there is a small quarter of synagogues, and a cemetery with lop-sided tombstones. Steeped in mystery and the memory of a thousand years of history, these are merely the last traces of what was one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe, nucleus of Israeli life in Bohemia and Moravia.
The most picturesque of the ghetto's constructions was started around 1270, which makes it one of the oldest Gothic buildings in Bohemia, and one of the oldest synagogues where worship still takes place. Far below the current level of the pavement, the floor of the synagogue most probably corresponds to the initial level of the Old Town, before it was raised to protect it from flooding.
There are 12,000 tombs, but probably close to 80,000 people are buried in the Jewish Cemetery (Starý zidovský hrbitov). The Jewish rite forbidding disinterment means that coffins have been buried on a dozen different levels. Both humble and illustrious Jews from the city's history are buried here, including Rabbi Loew (1512-1609), creator of the Golem that inspired Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel, and Mordecai Maisel (1528-1601), hero of the novel Night Under the Stone Bridge (1953) by Leo Perutz, financier for Rodolpho II.