So began what the kids referred to as our first 'urban vacation'. But in true fashion, Dave and I also planned several side trips outside the city limits.
Prague and Czechia Side Trips
Vienna and Melk
Prague sits at the crossroads of Europe. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia and the main residence of several Holy Roman Emperors. It was during the late Middle Ages under Charles IV, that Prague grew into a magnificent city, larger than Paris or Rome. It was an important city to the Hapsburg Monarchy and its Austro-Hungarian Empire. The city played major roles in the Bohemian and Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years' War and as the capital of Czechoslovakia, during both World Wars and post-war Communist era.
Prague, a city of a thousand alleyways.
Old Town Square
The Old Town Square is the most significant square of historical Prague; it was founded in the 10th century when it served as a marketplace at the crossroads of European trade routes. Stalls lined the square. Everything could be purchased here from the most expensive imported cloth to fresh fish.
In the 12th and 13th century houses were built around the square with Romanesque and early Gothic architecture. Crowds are always present in Old Town Square, there is always something going on.
Royal coronation processions travelled through the square on their way to the Castle and were much celebrated. John of Luxemburg was the first Czech king who passed through the square in 1311 together with his wife Elisabeth of Bohemia.
Stunning St. Nicholas Cathedral occupies one corner of the Old Town Square. It was completed in 1735 replacing a parish church mentioned in records dating back to 1273.
A crown cdecorated with Harrachov crystal hangs in the nave. It was donated by Russian Tsar Nicholas II in the late 19th century.
Beautiful painted murals in the ceiling above the chandelier.
Although not directly located in Old Town Square, the twin towers of Tyn Church or The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, dominates one side of the square. These towers can be seen from all over Prague.
Some of the best views of the Old Town Square landmarks come from looking down pedestrian streets and alleyways
At the center of the Old Town Square is the Jan Hus statue, erected in July 1915 to mark the 500th anniversary of the reformer’s death. The groundswell of support for his beliefs during the 14th and 15th centuries led to the Hussite wars.
To the people of Bohemia and other regions around Prague, Jan Hus became a symbol of dissidence and a symbol of strength against oppressive regimes. His opposition to church control by the Vatican gave strength to those who opposed control of Czech lands by the Habsburgs in the 19th century, and Hus soon became a symbol of anti-Habsburg rule.
The Astronomical Clock is built into one side of the Old Town Hall Tower in the square. The clock dates from the 15th century. To fully appreciate its intricate construction, we joined the crowd in front of the tower to watch the procession of the Twelve Apostles: on the hour, every hour a trap door opens and Christ marches out ahead of his disciples, while the skeleton of death tolls the bell to a statue of a defiant Turk.
Unfortunately, the Old Town Hall was undergoing renovations and was closed to visitors.
The Powder Tower is the gateway to the Old Town. It was built in 1475 as a gift from the Old Town to King Vladislav Jagiellon. We climbed the tower near sunset and had amazing views of the City.
The Royal Route, followed by Czech/Bohemian Kings and Queens before their coronation at St Vitus Cathedral, starts in Republic Square adjacent to Powder Gate. From the gate it proceeded to Old Town Square and continued to Prague Castle by way of Charles Bridge.
Entertainers and street vendors line the Old Town Square day and night.
Food and drinks
In Prague beer is cheaper than water. Unfortunately for me, Diet Coke was expensive so I relied on mojitos when I was really thirsty.
Great chocolate shops and restaurants provided lots of options for eating.
'Prague the City of One Hundred Spires' with breath-taking churches and alters.
One of the most impressive of the Prague churches is the Church of Saint Nicholas. This Baroque church built between 1704-1755 on the site where a Gothic church from the 13th century formerly stood. It has been described as the greatest example of Prague Baroque church architecture.
The bland front of St Giles Church doesn't hint at what's inside.
Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world and dates back to 870 AD. The castle has been the seat of Czech kings, emperors, and presidents for a thousand years. The complex is enormous with an area totaling of 753,474 square feet. You can wander around for days in the courtyards, palaces, museums and gardens and still not see everything. The castle grounds are dominated by St. Vitus Cathedral.
St Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most important church in the country. Apart from religious services, coronations of Czech kings and queens also took place here. The cathedral also containing the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors. The cathedral is under the ownership of the Czech government as part of the Prague Castle complex.
Construction of the present-day Gothic Cathedral began in 1344, when the seat of Prague was elevated to an archbishopric. King John of Bohemia laid the foundation stone for the new building. He intended the cathedral to be a coronation church, family crypt, treasury for the most precious relics of the kingdom. However, it took almost six centuries to complete, with the final phase of construction in the period 1873-1929. The church was solemnly consecrated in 1929.
The most impressive tomb was that of St. John Nepomuk who was a Czech archbishop and martyr. Its Austrian architect designed this ornate tomb in 1736 and used two tons of silver for it. It is stunning and is probably the jewel in this amazing cathedral.
The nave is flooded with color from stained-glass windows created by eminent Czech artists of the early 20th century.
Old Archiepiscopal Chapel stained glass windows
The royal mausoleum, built between 1571 and 1589, is located in the middle of the cathedral’s chancel in front of the high altar. The two tombs on top are of Ferdinand I and his wife. Under the mausoleum is an underground crypt that contains the remains of Bohemian kings and their relatives.
The Golden Portal at the side of the cathedral is graced with a colorful and remarkable mosaic that depicts the Last Judgment. It was created by Venetian artisans in the 1300s.The portal was once used as the cathedral’s main entrance and where the royals entered.
The first royal coronation in the history of the Bohemian Lands was held in 1086 when Vratislaus II, the Prince of Bohemia became the first king of Bohemia and was crowned King Vratislaus I. Besides the Czech throne he also sat on the Polish throne. He was crowned together with his wife Svatava in the St. Vitus Church in Prague Castle.
The last coronation took place in 1836 when Ferdinand V was crowned as King of Bohemia. During the passing centuries, twenty-six Bohemian kings and twenty-eight queens had been crowned in St. Vitus Cathedral.
The Great South Tower of the Cathedral was built in the late 14th century and reconstructed in the 16th and 18th centuries. The tower has a height of almost 320 feet with 297 narrow, winding steps that lead to an outdoor observation platform.
Incredible view of the Charles Bridge.
A view of St George's Basilica, the city’s second oldest church, was founded around 920 AD. The church is dominated by its two white stone steeples, which reach a height of 135 feet. The wider southern tower (right) is called Adam and the narrower northern tower (left) is called Eve.
It's difficult to photograph the Cathedral since it is such an immense building squeezed into the castle grounds.
Royal Castle Courtyards
The First Courtyard is the main entrance to Prague Castle and forms the impressive western side of Castle Square. The buildings around the First Courtyard date from the 1760s. The gates contain the monogram of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Joseph II of Habsburg. The impressive statues of fighting Titans above the gateway are copies of the originals, which were created in 1768.
Also adorning the gate is an 18th century sculpture of small cupids holding the symbols of the state - the Czech lion and the Austrian eagle.
The Matthias Gate leads from the first courtyard to the second courtyard. The stone gate took its name after the Emperor Matthias II.
In the center of the Second Courtyard is a large Baroque fountain, built in 1686 by J. Kohl. It's sometimes called Leopold´s Fountain after the emperor Leopold I under whose reign it was built.
The Charles Bridge was commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1357 and finished in 1402. The bridge is 1,700 feet long, 31 feet wide, 43 feet high, and stands on 15 pillars. It’s also the part of the so-called Royal Route.
The two Gothic towers at the ends were added at the end of the 14th century.
One of the most enduring legends of the Charles Bridge is that it’s benefactor Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, was personally involved in the planning of its every little detail and was even totally convinced that picking a perfect timing for the start of the construction would provide a bridge with additional strength.
He was a strong believer in numerology and therefore, picked a starting construction date of 5:31 am on 9 July 1357 that formed a palindrome (1357 9, 7 5:31).
Between 1683 and 1714, Charles Bridge was decorated with the two rows of statues that decorate the entire span of the bridge. Created by some of the greatest sculptors in Czech history, the statues depict various saints and patron saints venerated at that time. Most of the statues now on display are copies with the originals stored in various museums
One of the most interesting statues on Charles Bridge is definitely the Statue of St. John of Nepomuk. It has a huge religious meaning, since it immortalizes the memory of John of Nepomuk, one of the most significant Czech saints. According to a legend, John of Nepomuk was tortured to death during the reign of Wenceslas IV after he refused to give away the confessional secret of the queen. And allegedly his tongue stayed preserved hundreds of years after his death – thanks to his honesty. Many people believe that it brings luck if you touch the statue.
The statue of St. Francis of Assisi sculpted by Emanuel Max in 1855. It was a replacement of the older statue that was created in 1708.
Statue of St. Francis Xavier created by Ferdinand Maxmilián Brokof in 1711. During the flood in 1890, the original statuary fell into the Vltava River and was retrieved piece by piece during 1892 – 1904.
Statue of Pietà created by Emanuel Max in 1859. The original Pieta ws sculptured in i695 with Pieta but was damaged during the revolution of 1848.
It was an extra early morning for us trying to grab photos of the bridge before crowds arrived.
The bridge is also a great place was taking pictures of Prague Castle.
Although it's easy to focus on the stunning churches and historical building, there are also beautiful gardens throughout the City.
The Wallenstein Gardens and Palace were constructed by Albrecht of Valdstejn, a military general under Ferdinand II, who had obtained a large area of land below Prague Castle.
The Duke lived in the palace for only a year before he was assassinated in 1634 by Emperor Ferdinand II who feared his power. The Palace now houses the Czech Senate.
Many statues that you will find in the garden are copies, as the Swedes took the originals as war booty in 1648 during the Thirty Years’ War.
Rose Garden in Petrin Hill
The Petřín hill (formerly one of King Charles' vineyards) offers beautiful views of Prague. The hill is easily recognizable by the TV tower that is a miniature of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Petrin Gardens are one of the largest gardens in Prague.
It's estimated the Rose Garden contains over 12,000 rose buds.
Here's one last look at Prague Castle.
We had an incredible time in Prague but before moving on to Vienna, we planned two side trip out of the City to visit Cesky Raj and Terezin Concentration Camp. Click the hyperlinked text to navigate to those blogs.