Prague has been nicknamed, the “city of a hundred spires” for the many medieval turrets and church steeples that are silhouetted across the skyline. But you may as well also call Prague the “city of a hundred bridges.” According to Prague.net, there are over three hundred bridges in the city. Eighteen of them span across river Vltava, and hundreds of others lead over other smaller rivers, brooks and valleys.
Located on the banks of the Vltava River, the historic city of Prague (and the capital of Czech Republic) is said to be one of Europe’s best preserved cities, remaining mostly untouched by the destruction of the World Wars. As a result Prague’s buildings, castles, cathedrals, towers and bridges, which have been around for the last thousand years, remain great examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
Arriving in the old city you are immediately transported to Bohemian days gone by.
First off, we walked around in the old city centre, known as Staré Mesto and headed for the Old Town Hall Tower which was constructed in 1410. The Old Town Square is also home to the famous gothic Church of Our Lady before Tyn built in the 14th century. Its twin towers with their thin spires are symbolic of the Old Town Square. The Church of St Nicholas is also on the square. it was completed in 1737 and is an example of late-gothic, Baroque architecture.
The famous Astronomical Clock is located here on a tower in the heart of the Old Town. One of Prague’s greatest treasures, it has a unique and harrowing history. Legend says that the clock maker was deliberately blinded at the order of the Prague Councillors so that he could never recreate this work. He then managed to disable the clock in a way that no-one was able to fix it for the next hundred years. Finally, in 1552 it was repaired and the mechanisms of the clock from over 600 years ago are still functional today. Every hour, on the hour crowds gather to watch the small wooden figures (12 apostles) move about.
It’s always incredibly humbling to stand before something that has existed for so many centuries.
The John Lennon Wall is an interesting and significant piece of Prague’s history and shouldn’t be mistaken for a simple graffiti wall. Since the 1980s, people have filled the wall with their thoughts and names, as well as lyrics from the Beatles’s songs. In 1988 the wall was used by the Czechs to display their anger against communism. It’s a monument to free speech driven by the non-violent rebellion of the Czech youth against the regime. Today it stands for love and peace.
Right next to the John Lennon Wall, there is a small pedestrian bridge where padlocks adorn the railings. Like Paris and many other romantic places, couples attach the lock engraved with their names and toss the key into the river below as a symbol of enduring love.
It is an understatement to say that the Czech Republic has a strong beer culture. Famous for being the birthplace of pilsner, the country consumes more beer per capita than anywhere else in the world. Naturally, we had to try some to see what all the fuss was about and were pleasantly surprised as we are not usually fans of beer.
The Charles Bridge is the most iconic symbol of Prague. Much like many other places in Prague, the bridge has its own legend. The construction of the bridge dates from Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. Legend has it that he planned out every detail of the bridge, including the statues that flank its sides. The first stone was laid by Charles himself at 5:31am on July, 9 1357. This timing was important because he believed in numerology and this specific time formed a palindrome (1357 9, 7 5:31) and would transfer extra-special strength to the bridge. This is one of the most visited bridges in the world and certainly one of the most ancient.
The bridge is known as a meeting spot for lovers and romantic strolls towards the Prague Castle. Famous for the way it lights up and literally gleams at sunset, Prague has also become known as the “golden city”.
I found the memorial to the victims of the communist regime to be extremely emotive. It is located at the base of Petrin hill and was unveiled in 2002.
The Czech Republic was under communist regime from 1948 to 1989 and the memorial, which consists of a series of bronze figures descending the stairs, is dedicated “not only those victims, who were jailed or executed, but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism”. The figures are in various states of ‘decay’ and the further they are from you, their bodies seem to break apart – a reminder of the significant human cost of Communism.
Right in the centre of the city is a hill covered almost entirely with lovely green parkland. It was fun to catch the funicular railway to the top of Petrin Hill (300m). The summit is an oasis of calm with airy landscaped gardens, rose gardens, orchards and inspiring views of the city below. One of the most prominent landmarks of Prague is the Petrin Lookout Tower, which is a model of the Eiffel Tower (1:5 ratio). The peak is at the same altitude as the real Eiffel Tower. Interesting too was the Hunger Wall, built in the 14th century to defend the castle. It was built during a famine in Prague and legend has it that Charles IV employed the poor to provide them a living.
In Prague there is art wherever you go. Fascinating sculptures are located pretty much down any old street.
We passed David Cerny’s Giant Bronze Babies almost every day on the way to and from our B ‘n B. Cerny is known for his controversial and provocative works. These infants crawl around in the gardens of Kampa Park, next to a museum. The babies’ faces look as though they have been stamped with a barcode-like branding tool, which perhaps makes you reflect on the dehumanisation of society.
Four gigantic black guns, suspended by wire and aimed at one another dominate the courtyard of AMoYa (Artbanka Museum of Young Art). Another of David Cerny’s dramatic works – every now and then, there is the sound of the trigger being pulled and explosive shots ring out, startling all those in the area. This work has been on long-term display in the courtyard. These giant pistols depict a balance of terror: Whoever shoots also gets shot. In 1994, the piece was installed in the former World Trade Center in New York.
The Prague castle dates from the 9th century, and is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. You could spend a whole day here exploring the complex. However, the pièce de résistance is the Saint Vitus Cathedral. This is where Czech kings and queens have been crowned and buried.
The statue of the boy with a golden penis is called “Youth” and it is located right within the Castle complex. People say that rubbing the boy’s penis brings good luck and it certainly brought us a fair amount of joy simply watching the responses of tourists, ranging from the furtive, to the horrified, to those collapsing with hysterical laughter. 😉
Prague’s maze of cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards is a paradise for the aimless wanderer, always beckoning you to explore just a little further. We stumbled across pretty gardens bursting with spring blossoms and sometimes we just sat and watched the Vtlava rolling by. Coming across a local band peforming traditional Czech music on accordions, basses and saxophones was an unexpected delight and the perfect backdrop to breathing in the sights of this wondrous city.