Spotlight on Prague, Czech Republic


            Prague is, without question, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Spared the bombings that destroyed much of Europe’s great cities, it is well-preserved and recently awakened, liberated, from behind the Iron Curtain.  Because of its new-found popularity, it is very crowded throughout the year. 

            Prague is bisected by the Vltava River, so can be conveniently separated into several days of tourism, without much overlap.  The famous Charles Bridge provides the connection between the Castle District to the west and the Old Town to the east.  There are plenty of must-see sights in both areas to warrant at least a day in each, depending on the available time.

            The western part of the city, known as the Castle District (Hradcany) contains Prague most visited attraction, Prague Castle (Prazsky Hrad), which is, in reality, a complex of buildings surrounded by walls.  Important stops in the castle complex are St Vitus Cathedral, a 14th century Gothic structure which is notable for its stained glass windows and the tomb of Saint (King) Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Republic, the Basilica of St George, which is even older (12th century), and Golden Lane (Zlata Ulika) which is a narrow alley lined with tiny homes (tradesmen’s quarters) which are built into the castle walls.  An obligatory stop along the lane is at the Kafka House (#22), where the author lived and wrote. After a visit to the castle, walk down the hill toward the river to sample the Mala Strana (Lesser Town), a jumble of narrow streets and interesting shops, restaurants and other buildings.  Possible stops include the Wallenstein Palace, and various churches, such as, St Nicholas and St Thomas. 

            Leading eastward from Mala Strana is the Charles Bridge (Karlovy Most) which is one of the major gathering places in Prague.  The bridge is always crowded with tourists, locals, street vendors and street musicians (watch your wallets and pocketbooks). It is noteworthy because of the numerous sculptures along its span.

            On the eastern side of the bridge is the Stare Mesto (Old Town) with its centerpiece, the Old Town Square (Starometske nam).  It is one of the most beautiful squares in all of Europe with its pastel-colored palaces, striking churches, numerous outdoor cafes, and busy pedestrians.  Particularly enchanting is the Old Town Hall with its Astronomical Clock, which entertains visitors with its workings every hour on the hour.  Note also the large statue of Jan Hus, a religious reformer, the Baroque St Nicholas Church, and, perhaps most striking of all, at least from the outside, the Gothic Tyn Church with its twin steeples which towers over most of the other buildings. 

            The remainder of the Old Town has many narrow streets, occasional, darling little squares, and many shops and restaurants. 

            Another area to explore is New Town (Nove Mesto), with the historically and socially important Wenceslas Square.  It was here that the Czech Republic threw off the mantle of Communism and began its entry into the world of modern Europe. This broad square is more a divided thoroughfare with myriad shops and restaurants and is great for people-watching. The National Museum dominates one end of the square.  Note the many Art Nouveau buildings.

            Still another section of the Old Town is the Jewish Quarter where the Old-New Synagogue and the Jewish cemetery are the major attractions.

            The most popular excursion from Prague is to Karlstejn Castle, only about 30 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of the city. The castle occupies a commanding location, on a ridge above town and is a good example of a classic Eastern European castle.


            Gary’s Gem:

                        1.  An Art Nouveau gem, the Municipal House, is located between Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, next to the Powder Tower.  Its facade is beautiful and the interior is also striking. Guided tours are offered only a few times during the day, so check early and plan accordingly. 
                        2. My walking tours of Prague can be found in the entry on 8-27-08.


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