Wednesday, June 27, 2012

PRAGUE, Part 2: The City

Beyond Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, there is much more to see in Prague.  First, we went to the Basilica of St. James, built during the reign of Good King Wenceslas in the 10th century.  However, over the years it has been completely destroyed and rebuilt twice.  The version we saw was built in the 18th century and is the second l-o-n-g-e-s-t church in Prague. (Don't ask me which one is longer.) The original floor plan stayed the same, but the last rebuilding changed the style from Gothic to Baroque.
Frieze above the entrance
The first thing any good tourist wants to see in this church is the mummified human arm hanging by the front entrance.  The story is that 600 years ago a thief was stealing a statue of St. Mary, and the statue came to life and grabbed him.  The thief prayed to Mary for mercy and then fell asleep.  In the morning, he was found by a member of the Prague Guild of Butchers, the group that guarded the church.  The butcher cut off the thief's arm and hung it up as a warning to future would-be thieves. I suppose not killing him outright was the act of mercy he had prayed for!
The Arm
The Basilica of St. James has a gorgeous Baroque interior that contrasts sharply with that shriveled up arm hanging from the wall:

Moving on, one of the things we noticed as we walked around the city was the unique halos found on sculptures of the saints. 



SO much nicer than those flat discs I am used to seeing!

Prague straddles the Vltava River, and it is from Prague's bridges that some of the most beautiful views of the city are possible:


The main pedestrian bridge in town is the Charles Bridge, built under the direction of King Charles IV in the 14th century. Over 2,000 feet long and 32 feet wide, it is decorated with 30 statues and filled with street performers and vendors.  I would have loved to have spent more time wandering its length, but we were tourists-on-a-mission with places to go and things to see.
 
On the far side of the Charles Bridge and down a little side street is the Lennon Wall. John Lennon's death in 1980 inspired graffiti artists to memorialize him on what was a blank wall. Communist authorities painted over the wall, but on the second day, it was again filled with images of John Lennon, lyrics from his songs, and slogans from the hippie era.  Every time authorities would paint it over, new Lennon-themed graffiti would reappear in a matter of days. The wall came to be not only a memorial to John Lennon and his advocacy for peace, but also a cry for free speech and a symbol of the young Czech rebellion against the communist regime.  These days, new images and words are still being added, and the original images are long buried under the new ones:






Not far from the wall we saw a fence covered with "love locks." Legend has it that if you find your true love and write your names on a lock, then throw your key in the canal, your love will never die.  Too bad we didn't have a lock with us.
There was a tiny sculpture behind the Love Lock fence.  I wonder if he is the guardian of the keys?

One of my favorite sculptures in Prague is this figure from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni.  It is positioned just outside the Estates Theater where Mozart himself conducted the premier performance of his opera in 1787.
Creepy, isn't it?
In keeping with "faceless images," the beggars in Prague had an interesting style--keeping their faces turned down to the pavement.

Just a gentle reminder NOT to sit on this shop's window sill:

The most beautiful buildings in Europe are often the churches, but the Municipal House is supposedly one of the most photographed buildings in Prague.  Built in the early 20th century, it is Art Nouveau design, something we became more familiar with later in our trip.

The Municipal House is next door to the Gothic "Powder Tower," built in 1475 and the start of the route the kings used to take to go to their coronations.

Just across the square from the Municipal House and the Powder Tower is this ultra-modern national bank, the place where Czech currency is printed.

Statue on top of bank
I loved this square with its eclectic mix of both architecture and purpose.  Prague is a city that succeeds in blending many diverse elements.

Next: Castle Hill and St. Vitus Cathedral

5 comments:

  1. I thought the locks signified couples that had lost their virginity, kind of like throwing away the key to the chastity belt? A bicycle would have been nice in Prague - LOTS of walking.

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    1. Seems like that was what we were told last year, but our guide in Prague told us differently, and when I looked it up, Wikipedia agreed with our guide.

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    2. Prague would have been fun by bike--even better on segways. Maybe next time. Judy, I'm having a heck of a time putting the right pictures into the right days. I cam see that your memory, your notes, and/or the help of your spouse is better than mine!

      I also checked Wikipedia, and I like that explanation better anyway.

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    3. Segways would have been a BLAST, especially for the Castle Trek.

      Yeah, Bob is really helpful. You've got to get Stan to take pictures. It will get easier later on in our trip when we only spend a day somewhere. Prague and Budapest are the hardest cities for me to "put together" because we saw so much. Prague is probably the hardest of all because we were jet-lagged, everything was new, and we didn't have Julie and Alex to figure it out for us.

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  2. In Italy they are called Lucia di amore and we were told the story about undying love that us in Judy's account. We were also told the the city cuts them off as soon as they can. So much for undying love!

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