Episode 367 – Pictures of Prague

Today was a day of so many sights, and so much information, that it amounted to sensory overload. As a result, all facts, stories, and legends we heard today are (mostly) missing from this entry. Hopefully when I look back, the photos will remind me of what we learned.

Our day started with a gorgeous breakfast, which included a large fresh honeycomb from which I scooped a spoonful. I haven’t eaten honeycomb since I was a small child, so it was a real treat.

Then it was off on Viking’s included 4-hour tour of just a very few of the city’s many, many highlights, first by bus up to the Prague Castle, and then mostly on foot. We were a small group of just 7 people, and our guide Nick (a Brit married to a Czech woman) was terrific, making for a really special tour.

Prague Castle was founded in around 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m². Since there are no longer kings here, the Czech president is in residence, which means security scans for anyone entering the castle complex.

Entering along the bridge we crossed the “stag moat” (no stags left after the German and Soviet armies went through) and walked between thick fortification walls before reaching the courtyard.

We felt a bit as if we were having one of Viking’s a “privileged access” experiences, since we were the first people through the gate and got to witness the posting of the guard at 9 a.m. (not changing of the guard, since it was the first ceremonial guard of the day). Czech military guards patrol the castle 24/7 since it is a government residence.

The transition from military guard to castle guards. the guard’s dour expression was likely a reaction to the bitter damp cold and wind he knew he’d be facing for the next hour.

We were the only people in the Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslaus (Václáv in Czech) & St. Adelbart as well, although tours were starting to arrive as we left.

Three views of the cathedral, which is tightly surrounded by other buildings in the castle complex.

The cathedral’s rose window viewed from outside and inside. There is no pipe organ in the usual spot to obscure any of it.

St. Adelbart, central in the nave.

Gorgeous windows, with “product placement”: on the left, the window endowed by the bakers’ guild features a pretzel; top right the Slavic Bank was less discreet about their sponsorship. Bottom right: no sponsorship, just an incredibly intricate mosaic-like window design.

The statue and the window both depict St. Wenceslaus’ grandmother Ludmila, who served as his guardian, teacher, and regent. She was strangled by her daughter-in-law, who was jealous of her power, using Ludmila’s own white scarf, which is always featured in her depictions. The haloed little boy in the image is the young Wenceslaus.

St. George’s Basilica (below) in the castle complex was consecrated in 921 AD, and is the burial place of Ludmila of Bohemia, Duke Wenceslaus’ grandmother. Wenceslaus was never a king, except posthumously in the Christmas carol.

Booths for the upcoming Christmas market were being set up in the castle courtyard in front of St. George’s.

The cathedral within the castle walls is not only a beautiful Gothic church, but also home to the crown jewels, in an iron safe within a room each of which (the room and the safe) only be accessed via 7 locks. The 7 locks have seven keyholders: the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Prague Archbishop, the Chairman of the House of Deputies, the Chairman of the Senate, the Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus Cathedral and the Lord Mayor of Prague. It requires major coordination. The jewels are displayed to the public for 1 day every 5 years, and Czech citizens line up for days for a chance to see them.

After leaving the castle complex we toured some of the Old Town streets.

Views around Old Town Square.

The highlight of the Old Town square is Prague’s famous 15th century Astronomical Clock, which comes alive every hour with its “Walk of the Apostles”, which begins after the skeleton rings his bell and the other figures shake their heads to indicate they don’t want to go with him (die). At the end of the procession, the cock crows.

On our way back to our hotel we walked across the iconic Charles Bridge (named for Charles IV, aka “the greatest Czech who ever lived”), with its 30 statues of rulers and saints. None of the statues are original, having been replaced once or even twice due to erosion. The originals are stored in climate-controlled catacombs under the city.

Our friends had booked an afternoon tour intended to see places that our first 4 hours couldn’t cover, but Ted and Karin were both too tired after our morning excursion, so Al and I met our guide Šarka for another 4-1/2 hours of sightseeing. The advantage to this tour was that Šarka had a car to shuttle us from place to place, and – most importantly – knew how to navigate the streets and find parking spots, a difficult task in Prague.

Prague’s skyline is chock full of church spires, but most of the churches have been repurposed as concert halls; according to the last Czech census, more than 90% of Czechs identify as atheist, a status that long pre-dates the Soviet era.

We started at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. It continues to amaze me that each church we see offers something new architecturally. Here it was the ornate front doors, and the interior painting (similar to St Matthias in Budapest, but without the Ottoman influence in the patterns).

Top left is a close-up of a portion of the nave ceiling.

Beside the basilica is the city’s most elite cemetery, Vyšehrad Cemetery, where composer Anton Dvořák is buried.

From the Vyšehrad Cemetery and the nearby city walls we had yet more lovely panoramic views over Prague.

Next we toured The Church pf Our Lady Victorious and the Infant Jesus of Prague. This is a popular pilgrimage site, especially for Catholics from the Philippines. The “Infant Jesus” doll/statue, dating from 16th century Spain, was supposedly given by Sainte Theresa Avila to a woman who brought it to Prague. It has been credited with thousands of miracles, and images are sold in various sizes and prices (from around $5 up to thousands of dollars) in shops near the church. Šarka tried really hard to convince me that I “needed” one, but a baby Jesus doll in a golden crown and what look like bishop’s robes is not in my future. Notice the medium-sized examples in a shop window: 10880 Czech Koruna are approximately $617CAD/460USD

One of the chapels in the church features Sainte Theresa‘s vision inspired by the Infant.

It wasn’t all churches though.

The Lennon (not Lenin, as I misheard originally) Wall began to attract peace symbols and graffiti after the Czech Republic gained its freedom from the Soviets. Every few years all but John Lennon’s mirrored image gets whitewashed, and the graffiti process starts anew.

Prague’s area of Venice-like canals.

The Vltava (Moldau in German) River occasionally floods, with the worst flood ever occurring in 2002. after that flood, steel barrier walls were created; at the push of a button, a 5 meter/16 ft wall should rise out of the ground to block rising water. It has never been tested.

Nighttime reflections on the Vltava.

Czech artist David Czerny is famous for his large and often controversial installations. Franz Kafka’s Head usually splits apart, with each layer rotating independently, but, given the kinds of things Kafka wrote, I was really amused by the out of order sign.

It was a full day of sights and new information. Al and I were very happy to return to the hotel to retrieve Karin and Ted and go out for a traditional Czech dinner featuring pork hocks, beef goulash, sausages, and steamed bread dumplings – plus excellent Czech beer, of course.

The more we see, the more I think we’ll need to return to Prague.

One comment

  1. Sensory overload is right! What a day you all had. And what a wonderful world you are getting to enjoy.

    Reading your comment (“The more we see, the more I think we’ll need to return…”), I get the sense that travel is certainly in the cards for you and Ted for a few more years yet to come.

    Liked by 1 person

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