Friday, June 29, 2012

PRAGUE, Part 3, Castle Hill

Prague Castle peers down on the city from its perch high up on the hill.  Made up of a network of buildings and courtyards, it is supposedly the largest castle complex in the world and is the most visited tourist site in Prague.  It covers 70,000 square meters, which is just over 17 acres, and was founded in 880 by Prince Borivoj, although none of the current structures date back to that period. It does not resemble the typical fairy tale castles of my imagination as it spreads out rather low to the ground,
 The castle grounds are dominated by the magnificent French-Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral:

The gate we entered was watched over by two Buckingham Palace-style guards
who managed to keep straight faces in spite of all the giggling tourists who had their pictures taken next to them:
 The changing of the guard did not have quite the pomp that we had seen in other places:

The various buildings on the castle grounds were very nice and the courtyards were spacious and lovely,
but none of them could compete with this magnificence, the largest church in the Czech Republic:
The first church on this site was dedicated to St. Vitus by King Wenceslas in the 10th century based on the fact that King Wenceslas had acquired a holy relic, the arm of St. Vitus, a Sicilian saint who died as a martyr in 303 A.D.  (I guess that is as good a reason as any to build a church.) Construction of the present St. Vitus Cathedral began during the reign of King Charles IV in 1344. The main structure was completed in about 150 years, but of course there were fires and wars and such that required rebuilding, and additions and embellishments continued to be added through the 20th century.

The two architects of the main facade, which was finished in the late 1800s, made sure they would not be forgotten.  Their faces appear on that facade below the rose window.  Can you see them?
 I thought this was a rather unusual gargoyle.  Maybe it is one of the architects' wives nagging him to come home?
The ceremonial entrance to the cathedral (surprisingly, not the one we went through) is a mosaic of scenes from the Final Judgment:
View of another side:

I'd like blinds like this on my living room window.
Upon entering, I discovered that it definitely has a gasp-worthy interior,

filled with a wide variety of sculptures and carvings that obviously criss-cross centuries of worship:

There are typical and not so typical sculptures in abundance:
Captain Moroni?
I liked the silver-covered tomb of St. John of Nepomuk, but I liked his story even better.  He was thrown into the Vltava River in 1393 by the king for refusing to divulge the secrets confessed to him by the queen. He is now one of the national saints of the Czech Republic. I think a better name for him would be St. John the Wet or St. John the Secret Keeper.

Who gets to polish this?  I didn't see one spot of tarnish.
The cathedral is filled with tombs of many important people:
But the most important tomb gets its own chamber. This is where Good King Wenceslas (yes, the same one who "looked out on the feast of Stephen...") is entombed.
Somewhere in this room is a door with seven locks that holds the crown jewels of Bohemia, made in 1347 and last worn for a coronation in 1836. They are displayed about once a decade, the last time in 2008 for the 90th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence.

The Renaissance organ
All of these elements make St. Vitus wonderful, but it is one of my favorite cathedrals in the world for one more important feature: its stained glass windows.  They are indescribably, breathtakingly beautiful.
Note the reflection from the windows on the stone pillars

The most unusual window of all, and my favorite, is this painted glass one by the Czech Art Nouveau pioneer Alfons Mucha:
The window shows King Wenceslas (below) as a child at the knee of his Christian grandmother Ludmilla, who raised him in the faith against the will of his pagan mother:

The rest of the window shows scenes from the lives of 1,000 years of Slavic saints.


And then, at the very bottom, in typically ornamented Mucha style, is the name of the bank that fronted the enormous cost of the window:

Oh well.

After seeing the window, I was very excited to pay a visit to Prague's Mucha Museum.  Bob advised a taxi, but I thought we could walk it.  It wasn't ALL that far back to Wenceslas Square, and then it was another few blocks to the museum:
Bob and Stan.  I think there was probably a faster way down than the empty trail we were on.

It took a lot longer than I thought it would, but we got there with 27 minutes to spare until closing time:

A very crabby lady at the ticket desk, however, was unbending in her conviction that no one should be allowed to enter with less than 30 minutes to view the museum.  NO ONE.

Darn, I'll just have to go back to Prague.

Next: The Jewish Quarter


  1. That cathedral had the most beautiful stained glass windows of the many fabulous stained glass windows we saw.

    Can I come with you when you go to the Mucha Museum? That was such a disappointment:(

  2. The stained glass may be the most amazing I've seen, but there are some other pretty spectacular examples we saw. The silver endowed tomb I think has to rival anything else we've seen, except for the marble sculptured tombs by Michelangelo in Florence.

  3. Loved the cathedral windows, too. We also loved coming up through the gardens at the base of the cathedral. Such a lovely place. After that we went overto the private library of some other religious order, across from the cathedral. Can't remember who right now-- will have to check the blog. So fun to relive our visit there!