by Sandy Lai
One of Europe’s most beautiful cities, Prague’s many spires and cobbled streets draw visitors from all over to its medieval centre. Nearly unscathed from World War II, centuries old architecture dominate the historic centre, which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the area around the 9th century castle is a sight to behold. Bohemian kings ruled from this spot on the Vltava River and while its political environment has gone through many changes, it remains a gem of a capital city. Walking is a beautiful way to get around Prague. Its mix of architectural styles,
Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Cubist make each walk visually stimulating. Most sights are within easy walking distance, and there are many pedestrian friendly areas, though the cobblestone lanes may pose some discomfort after walking a long time. Old Town, New Town, Lesser Town and the castle district can all be covered in a day on foot, but it would be a shame to rush through these areas.
Old Town contains some of the most famous sites, like the Astronomical Clock. The early 15th century clock is a marvel to look at and does much more than tell time. It also has a 12-month calendar, shows the placement of the sun and moon, time of the sunrise and sunset and much more, though you’d be hard pressed trying to find someone who can actually decipher this info from the clock. Gather around the clock on the hour to see its glockenspiel section play out its scene. The Old Town Square is filled with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, while
the Municipal Hall building is a fine example of Art Nouveau. Nearby is the imposing Tyn Church, an impressive Gothic construction that houses the marble tomb of the Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe. The Powder Tower is another Gothic example, one of the thirteen gates, which used to protect the city. Built in 1475, it is one of Prague’s few surviving fortifications. Beyond these styles, you can visit the House of the Black Madonna, which is now the Museum of Czech Cubism and is a fine specimen of the style. The old Jewish ghetto, Josefov, is also found in Old Town, and it contains Europe’s oldest Jewish cemetery and Franz Kafka’s house.
By the 14th century, it was time for the expansion of Old Town, which resulted in New Town. At its heart is Wenceslas Square, with the National Museum at its top. While the exhibits are a little disappointing, the grand architecture is beautiful. The area is filled with Art Nouveau style buildings like the Hotel Evropa, and the Jubilee
Synagogue is a treat. One of the most famous buildings is Frank Gehry’s The Dancing House, formerly “Fred and Ginger,” so-called because of its unique, curvy shape.
Another landmark from the 14th century, Charles Bridge is a magnificent structure that connects Old Town with Lesser Town. It is filled with trade and busking during the day and is one of the best places to pose for a photo. As you cross the river from the city centre, you can’t help but anticipate the gorgeous streets of the Lesser Town quarter. Perhaps the most important sight of this area is the Holy Infant of Prague, a well-known religious statue found in the Church of Our Lady Victorious. There is also a Baroque convent here, Loreta, where you must listen as its glorious bells toll.
In the castle quarter, Hradčany, there are numerous churches, monasteries and palaces in addition to the castle itself. After being home to many kings, the castle is presently the seat of the Czech president. Check out the changing of the guard daily at noon. At the center of the castle is St. Vitrus, a cathedral constructed in a mixture of styles with lovely gargoyles around the its sides. Inside, it houses other treasures. The tomb of St. John of Nepomuk is made out of pure silver, and gold and gems adorn the relics of St. Wenceslas Chapel. The coronation jewels are also in the chapel, locked by seven keys, each held by an important person, like the Czech president.. Besides the cathedral and castle, check out the Old Royal Palace and the colourful, Baroque St. George’s Basilica. You can see the castle area from a different perspective atop the bell tower. Finish off your visit with a stroll through the royal garden which has a brilliant view of the river.