Prague

Prague karlov most swans

The picturesque Charles Bridge (Karluv most)

For a few miles, I got a free fare to Prague for a week-end in December. Just like Budapest, the last time I went to Prague was in 1992. Since that time, Czech Republic integrated the EU, the city benefited from massive foreign investments. The infrastructure greatly improved as well as the steadily growing flow of tourists. Actually Prague has become the sixth-most-visited European city after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin. Prague has a reputation of being a cheap destination, ideal for a getaway. The backside of this is that the city centre looks, even in December, like Montmartre or le Mont-Saint-Michel, fully dedicated to tasteless plastic souvenir shops. Let’s hope that offer will progressively get more balanced.

Nevertheless, Prague is a very beautiful city. I took notice of two unique features of Prague; Its extensive medieval centre and its numerous early 20th century buildings.

If you speak a Slavic language, have you ever guessed that the name Prague simply comes from porog, a ford, as the Vltava river is shallow at this place.

The large medieval city centre of Prague is the heritage of the city glorious past between the 14th and the 16th centuries. Prague was twice the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, a Germanic kingdom founded eastward after the collapse of the Carolingian empire, that lasted more than 8 centuries. Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and the king of Bohemia transformed Prague into the third-largest city in Europe, after Rome and Constantinople.

The Prague landmark is undeniably the Karluv Most, or Charles Bridge. Its construction began on the 9th of July 1357 at 5:31 am under the reign of Charles the IV th of Bohemia. This date has been chosen by the royal astrologist as the best time for building the bridge. Everyone in Prague knows this date, because it is made only of odd figures growing and declining: 135797531.

One bas-relief on the Charles Bridges tells, though in a very violent manner, about Prague’s History in 1393. Wenceslaus, King of Bohemia, suspecting his wife’s infidelity, holds his wife’s hair and in the other hand a sword. In the background, a man is being thrown into the river. This man is John of Nepomuk, the confessor of the queen, who refused to divulge the secrets of the confessional. He is considered the Saint Patron of Prague as well as a famous martyr in all Eastern Europe.

Karluv most bas-relief

View on the main market square by night. In the background, you can see the Astronomical Clock, dating from 1410, the oldest astronomical clock in the world that still works, and the Church of Our Lady before Týn, from the 14th century with 80 m high towers. In December, this is also the location of the Christmas market offering my favourite gingerbreads and warm spicy wine!

prague main square

Adjacent to the market square, there is an area in Prague called the Paris Avenue. Apart from luxury fashion stores, there are dozens of incredibly audacious Art Nouveau-style buildings, and even many more Art Deco style buildings.

Prague art nouveau

Art nouveau facade, adorned with eclectic elements.

Prague eclectic neo gothic

Neo-Gothic building in Prague.

The Art Nouveau style in Prague was favoured by many artists. One of the most prominent was Alfons Mucha. The museum dedicated to the artist is not very big, and some would complain its tourist shop contains more items that the showrooms do, however, the museum reveals how Alfons Mucha was deeply involved in the cultural life, not only in Prague, but also in France, Germany and even Russia.

Prague hotel Europa

The Great Gatsby would certainly love Prague’s Art Deco-style buildings (20’-30’), characterized by round walls in the facade and more symmetry than Art Nouveau.

Prague art deco

Art Deco facades in Prague Paris district

Prague art deco 2

Not convinced by my first impression of Prague, I went for a walk at 5 a.m. to see the rising sun on Hradcany hill. Something one should always do. At that time, indeed, you can regain the place unspoilt local charm.

Prague karlov most

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  • © Sebastian Zelechowski, Moscow 2011
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