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Home >> Dec 2008 >> Columns >> Backbite and sneerwell >>

City of a hundred spires

Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, consists of a medieval centre with a delightful maze of cobbled streets, ancient courtyards and numerous churches, from where its nickname, the city of a hundred spires, was coined.

BY  Kirsten Doyle , 30 November 20080 comments

Prague castlePrague castle

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Its most famous landmark, the Prague Castle, overlooks the city from a hilltop on the west bank of the Vltava River. Founded in the ninth century, the castle has been rebuilt and renovated several times over the intervening years. Its thick walls conceal some amazing sights, including the vaguely sinister-looking gothic St Vitus Cathedral, which took more than 600 years to build, on and off.

St Vitus` foundation stone was laid in 1344 by Emperor Charles IV. Over the next few centuries, various baroque and renaissance details were added. It features numerous side chapels, housing spectacular works of art, crucifixes, shrines, vestments, relics, busts, paintings, stained glass, plaques and jewels. The Royal Crypt cradles the remains of much loved monarchs Charles IV, Wenceslas IV, George of Pod Brady and Rudolf II.

Old Town SquareOld Town Square

 

 
For art lovers, the Prague Castle gallery houses paintings by old masters such as Titian and Rubens from the 16th through to the 18th centuries. It also features paintings and sculpture by several Czech baroque artists. For history buffs, within the castle walls is the Old Royal Palace. The famous Vladislav Hall has sworn in and elected Czech leaders for centuries. It was also the seat of bohemian princes and was the king`s palace for a time.

 

Built into the castle ramparts during the 16th century as dwellings either for Rudolf II`s guards or the craftsmen, salesmen and servants who settled there later, Golden Lane is most famous for having housed renowned novelist Franz Kafka. It`s a row of tiny houses, now converted into shops selling souvenirs, jewellery and suchlike.

GOLDEN AGE

A lovely way to spend a morning is touring the castle and its surrounds, then walking down the formidable castle steps into the Lesser Quarter, and across the Charles Bridge, into the Old Town Square.

Possibly Prague`s most famous monument, the Charles Bridge was named after the Emperor Charles IV. It was completed in 1400 and joins the Lesser Town at the base of the Castle with the Old Town. It features 30 statues along its length, mostly copies, as the originals are protected in the National Museum. Most notable is the statue of St John, which has five gold stars forming a halo around its head. He is the national saint of Bohemia and met a sticky end going against the wishes of King Wenceslas IV. He was tortured and thrown off the bridge and drowned in 1393. Touching the depiction of the Saint on the pedestal below the statue will, according to local superstition, ensure a speedy return to Prague.

 

 
At the end of the bridge, the magnificent gothic Old Town Bridge Tower is thought to be the finest gothic tower in central Europe due to its amazing decoration. Follow the street across the bridge into the Old Town Square, my personal highlight of the trip. This is where you`ll find the colourful, ornate houses and spires you see in pictures, with small coffee shops and restaurants dotting the surrounds. On the corner nestles my favourite building, St Nicholas Church. It`s staggeringly beautiful and features amazing verdigris domes and an enormous trompe l`oeil fresco, showing the life of the Saint, covering the inside of the roof.

 

KEEPING TIME

The square also features the Goltz-Kinsky Palace, above that the towers of Tyn Church and opposite the gilded astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall. Originally installed in 1410, the clock was rebuilt by the Master Hanu  in 1490. It`s made up of three parts: the procession of Apostles, the astronomical clock and the calendar. Tourists flock to the square upon the hour to witness this magnificent spectacle.

Sweeping the square are several elegant houses whose painted fronts rise and fall in shades ranging from grey and green, to primrose and tangerine, in Romanesque or gothic design. The Old Town Square now offers an array of restaurants, shops, cafés and galleries. Several of these have rooftop terraces where you can sit in the evenings, enjoying a cocktail and seeing first-hand how the city of a hundred spires got its name.

 

 
Avoid the tourist trap type restaurants in Prague, unless you enjoy dining on pork, cabbage, dumplings and beer as light as a lead balloon - guaranteed to make you sleepy. Rather explore the side alleys around the Old Town Square to find authentic, yet lighter fare. For those on a big budget, the Dancing House or Fred & Ginger building is worth a visit, particularly the nouvelle cuisine La Perle restaurant on top. Vlado Milunic was tasked with finding a world-renowned architect for the project, and he asked the famous Toronto architect and designer Frank Gehry. The two of them built an amazing building that looks like a couple dancing on the quay. The glass tower Ginger twists and entwines with the concrete tower Fred, featuring a metal cupola on the top, resembling hair.

 

I`ve barely touched on the beautiful sights to be seen in this loveliest of cities. There is something to suit every taste and budget here. Most notably, as the Czech Republic is only going onto the Euro this year, prices are still incredibly reasonable, comparable to local prices for dining, groceries and much of the shopping.

 

 
Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, consists of a medieval centre with a delightful maze of cobbled streets, ancient courtyards and numerous churches, from where its nickname, the city of a hundred spires, was coined.

 

Its most famous landmark, the Prague Castle, overlooks the city from a hilltop on the west bank of the Vltava River. Founded in the ninth century, the castle has been rebuilt and renovated several times over the intervening years. Its thick walls conceal some amazing sights, including the vaguely sinister-looking gothic St Vitus Cathedral, which took more than 600 years to build, on and off.

St Vitus' foundation stone was laid in 1344 by Emperor Charles IV. Over the next few centuries, various baroque and renaissance details were added. It features numerous side chapels, housing spectacular works of art, crucifixes, shrines, vestments, relics, busts, paintings, stained glass, plaques and jewels. The Royal Crypt cradles the remains of much loved monarchs Charles IV, Wenceslas IV, George of Pod Brady and Rudolf II.

 

 
For art lovers, the Prague Castle gallery houses paintings by old masters such as Titian and Rubens from the 16th through to the 18th centuries. It also features paintings and sculpture by several Czech baroque artists. For history buffs, within the castle walls is the Old Royal Palace. The famous Vladislav Hall has sworn in and elected Czech leaders for centuries. It was also the seat of bohemian princes and was the king's palace for a time.

 

Built into the castle ramparts during the 16th century as dwellings either for Rudolf II's guards or the craftsmen, salesmen and servants who settled there later, Golden Lane is most famous for having housed renowned novelist Franz Kafka. It's a row of tiny houses, now converted into shops selling souvenirs, jewellery and suchlike.

GOLDEN AGE

A lovely way to spend a morning is touring the castle and its surrounds, then walking down the formidable castle steps into the Lesser Quarter, and across the Charles Bridge, into the Old Town Square.

Possibly Prague's most famous monument, the Charles Bridge was named after the Emperor Charles IV. It was completed in 1400 and joins the Lesser Town at the base of the Castle with the Old Town. It features 30 statues along its length, mostly copies, as the originals are protected in the National Museum. Most notable is the statue of St John, which has five gold stars forming a halo around its head. He is the national saint of Bohemia and met a sticky end going against the wishes of King Wenceslas IV. He was tortured and thrown off the bridge and drowned in 1393. Touching the depiction of the Saint on the pedestal below the statue will, according to local superstition, ensure a speedy return to Prague.

 

 
At the end of the bridge, the magnificent gothic Old Town Bridge Tower is thought to be the finest gothic tower in central Europe due to its amazing decoration. Follow the street across the bridge into the Old Town Square, my personal highlight of the trip. This is where you'll find the colourful, ornate houses and spires you see in pictures, with small coffee shops and restaurants dotting the surrounds. On the corner nestles my favourite building, St Nicholas Church. It's staggeringly beautiful and features amazing verdigris domes and an enormous trompe l'oeil fresco, showing the life of the Saint, covering the inside of the roof.

 

KEEPING TIME

The square also features the Goltz-Kinsky Palace, above that the towers of Tyn Church and opposite the gilded astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall. Originally installed in 1410, the clock was rebuilt by the Master Hanu  in 1490. It's made up of three parts: the procession of Apostles, the astronomical clock and the calendar. Tourists flock to the square upon the hour to witness this magnificent spectacle.

Sweeping the square are several elegant houses whose painted fronts rise and fall in shades ranging from grey and green, to primrose and tangerine, in Romanesque or gothic design. The Old Town Square now offers an array of restaurants, shops, cafés and galleries. Several of these have rooftop terraces where you can sit in the evenings, enjoying a cocktail and seeing first-hand how the city of a hundred spires got its name.

 

 
Avoid the tourist trap type restaurants in Prague, unless you enjoy dining on pork, cabbage, dumplings and beer as light as a lead balloon - guaranteed to make you sleepy. Rather explore the side alleys around the Old Town Square to find authentic, yet lighter fare. For those on a big budget, the Dancing House or Fred & Ginger building is worth a visit, particularly the nouvelle cuisine La Perle restaurant on top. Vlado Milunic was tasked with finding a world-renowned architect for the project, and he asked the famous Toronto architect and designer Frank Gehry. The two of them built an amazing building that looks like a couple dancing on the quay. The glass tower Ginger twists and entwines with the concrete tower Fred, featuring a metal cupola on the top, resembling hair.

 

I've barely touched on the beautiful sights to be seen in this loveliest of cities. There is something to suit every taste and budget here. Most notably, as the Czech Republic is only going onto the Euro this year, prices are still incredibly reasonable, comparable to local prices for dining, groceries and much of the shopping.



Tags: Lastly  Lifestyle