Prague, a Marvel­lous Mu­seum of Ar­chi­tec­ture

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Li Shasha Edited by Mary Frances Cap­piello

Prague's streets are lined with ar­chi­tec­ture of dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal pe­ri­ods be­gin­ning with the 10th cen­tury, in­clud­ing Ro­manesque, Gothic, Re­nais­sance, Baroque, Ro­coco, Neo- clas­si­cal, Art Nou­veau, Cu­bist and Ul­traModerni­st. Prague's ad­di­tion to the UN­ESCO World Her­itage List was the first time an en­tire his­toric city had been added.

On March 29, 2016, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping met with Mayor Adri­ana Kr­na­cova in Prague, cap­i­tal of the Czech Repub­lic, and was given a key to the city.

Prague is touched with the ro­mance of Cen­tral Europe, me­dieval del­i­cacy, petit bour­geoisie Bo­hemian sen­ti­ment and artis­tic qual­ity. Its streets are lined with ar­chi­tec­ture from dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal pe­ri­ods that be­gan in the 10th cen­tury in the Ro­manesque, Gothic, Re­nais­sance, Baroque, Ro­coco, Neo- clas­si­cal, Art Nou­veau, Cu­bist and Ul­traModerni­st styles. Prague has a great cul­tural at­mos­phere. Many tourists come to the city to search for the foot­prints of lit­er­ary gi­ants Franz Kafka (1883–1924) and Milan Kun­dera (1929–present). The Vl­tava River, known as the “mother river” of the Czech Repub­lic, runs through Prague. The His­toric Cen­tre was added to the UN­ESCO World Her­itage List in 1992. It was the first time that an en­tire his­toric city had been added.

Prague, the Ideal City of Charles IV

Prague is con­sid­ered one of the most beau­ti­ful cities in Europe and has many ti­tles such as the “City of the Thou­sand Tow­ers,” “Golden City,” “Mother of Cities” and “Heart of Europe.” Lo­cated in the cen­tre of the Euro­pean con­ti­nent, Prague has been an im­por­tant trans­porta­tion hub since an­cient times, cre­at­ing close ties to sur­round­ing coun­tries. The city grad­u­ally took shape around the Prague Cas­tle, which was built in the ninth cen­tury on the

right bank of the Vl­tava River. Later, Vy­sehrad, which is an­other fort, was con­structed on the other bank. It is an­other fort. Soon af­ter that, Prague be­came the cap­i­tal of Bo­hemia and an im­por­tant trading cen­tre on the north-south trade road in Europe.

Prague reached its zenith in the 14th cen­tury un­der the reign (1346–1378) of Charles IV, House of Lux­em­bourg and the Holy Ro­man Em­pire. Charles IV was born in Prague in 1316, be­came king of Bo­hemia in 1346 and was crowned em­peror (reign: 1355–1378) of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire in 1355. Prague also be­came the cap­i­tal of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire, and the Prague Par­ish was also up­graded to the Arch­dio­cese of Prague.

Charles IV has been named the “great­est Czech” by the coun­try’s me­dia, which is largely at­trib­uted to his con­tri­bu­tions to the con­struc­tion of the city. Charles IV was de­ter­mined to make Prague an in­ter­na­tional city to match its sta­tus as the cap­i­tal of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire. He was per­son­ally in­volved in city plan­ning, in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion of tow­ers and walls. In 1348, he es­tab­lished the first univer­sity in Cen­tral, North­ern and Eastern Europe—present- day Charles Univer­sity. At great cost, he in­vited dis­tin­guished schol­ars to teach there. By 1378 when Charles IV passed away, the emerg­ing univer­sity had re­cruited more than 110,000 stu­dents. In 1348, Charles IV also or­dered the con­struc­tion of the new city proper next to the old city. In 1357, he or­dered the con­struc­tion of the famous Charles Bridge to link the new and old cities but un­for­tu­nately did not live to see its com­ple­tion.

In ad­di­tion, he adopted a pol­icy of stim­u­lat­ing eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and trade. Charles IV also pro­mul­gated the edict known as the Golden Bull of 1356 to re­form the con­sti­tu­tional struc­tures of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire. These re­forms re­mained un­changed until the em­pire’s col­lapse in 1806 and had a pro­found im­pact on Euro­pean his­tory.

Walk­ing is the best way to ap­pre­ci­ate Prague and al­lows one to feel the pulse of the city. Ger­man philoso­pher Ni­et­zsche (1844–1900) once said, “When I sought a word to ex­press mu­sic, I found Vienna; when I sought a word to ex­press mys­tery, only Prague came to my mind.” One can roam along the Vl­tava River, walk on the Charles Bridge, climb to the Prague Cas­tle via a thou­sand-yearold flag­stone path and over­look the city amidst the soft light of sun­set.

Prague is a city per­me­ated with lit­er­ary at­mos­phere. It is the birth­place and home­town of Franz Kafka and is home to the old res­i­dence of poet Jan Ne­po­muk Neruda ( 1834– 1891). Milan Kun­dera wrote The Un­bear­able Light­ness of Be­ing against the back­ground of Prague. Ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese writer Feng Ji­cai ( 1942– present), “Prague is al­lur­ing to me not just be­cause of Dvo­rak (Czech com­poser, 1841– 1904), Kafka, Kun­dera and the Bo­hemi­ans but also be­cause, just as Goethe ( 1749– 1832) said, ‘ Prague is the most beau­ti­ful city in Europe.’”

Franz Kafka wrote his famous novel The Cas­tle against the back­drop of the Prague Cas­tle area. Some schol­ars be­lieve that the ex­haus­tion and con­fu­sion K feels in the novel re­flect Kafka’s state of mind when he was rent­ing an apart­ment at 22 Golden Al­ley in the area. Kafka once re­ferred to Prague as “the mother with claws.” No mat­ter how far Kafka went, his “mother” would snatch him back.

Charles Bridge, an In­spir­ing Bridge of Art

“The river flows from cen­tury to cen­tury,” writes Kun­dera in The Un­bear­able Light­ness of Be­ing,“and hu­man af­fairs play them­selves out on its banks. Play them­selves out to be for­got­ten the next day, while the river flows on.” Czech com­poser Smetana (1824–1884) was in­spired by the flow­ing Vl­tava River as well and cre­ated the famous sym­phony Vl­tava.

Prague is di­vided by the Vl­tava River into east to west banks, which are con­nected by 18 bridges.

The Charles Bridge is the most well-known. It was the first to span the Vl­tava and is the old­est and longest bridge in Europe. It is a Gothic stone struc­ture that is 520 m long and 10 m wide and was mod­elled af­ter the An­gels’ Bridge in Rome. In 1357, ar­chi­tect Peter Par­ler (1333–1399) was ap­pointed by King Charles IV to de­sign and build a stone bridge over the Vl­tava River. The 27-year- old de­cided to cre­ate the best bridge in Europe. Eggs, milk and even wine were said to have been added to the lime to make the bridge strong. Mod­ern sci­en­tists con­ducted ex­per­i­ments to test the in­or­ganic and or­ganic com­po­nents of the mor­tar and fi­nally con­firmed that, just as the leg­end says, eggs were in fact used. Con­struc­tion started at 5:31 am on Septem­ber 7, 1357. This com­bi­na­tion of date and time was writ­ten as 135797531 ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal writ­ing habit, which is the same for­wards and back­wards. This num­ber is like a magic spell that pro­tects the bridge and makes it strong and im­mor­tal. De­spite floods, ero­sion and the pas­sage of time, it re­mains stand­ing even to­day.

The bridge is sup­ported by 16 piers and is her­alded as the best “out­door art gallery of Baroque stat­ues in Europe.” There are 30 mag­nif­i­cent stat­ues of saints on the bridge. They were made in the 17th and 18th cen­turies by Czech Baroque mas­ters. The eighth statue on the right side of the Charles Bridge is St. John, the pa­tron saint of se­crets. The lo­ca­tion where a golden cross is carved in the fence is where St. John was thrown from the bridge. The king had or­dered St. John, a for­mer bishop of Prague, to re­veal what the queen had said in con­fes­sion be­cause the king sus­pected she was hav­ing an af­fair. How­ever, be­cause priests must keep con­fes­sions se­cret, St. John re­fused. The fu­ri­ous king or­dered him to be thrown off the Charles Bridge. At the mo­ment that he fell into the river, five stars were said to have sud­denly ap­peared in the sky. The peo­ple of Prague be­lieved that St. John was the pa­tron saint of se­crets.

Some peo­ple say that one can­not say they have been to Prague if they have not walked on the Charles Bridge. To­day, the Charles Bridge is a pedes­trian walk­way. All ve­hi­cles are banned. It is foggy in the morn­ing, crowded in the day­time and dim in the evening. Ped­dlers and street en­ter­tain­ers on the bridge cre­ate a cul­tural at­mos­phere and fit per­fectly with the land­scape.

Kafka was born in a fam­ily liv­ing be­side the Charles Bridge in 1883. He thus re­garded the bridge as the eter­nal home of his soul. In a let­ter to his girl­friend Milena, Kafka once wrote: “My favourite thing is to row my boat up the Vl­tava River, then sail down the river ly­ing on my back and enjoy the dif­fer­ent bridges.” Kafka’s friend Gus­tav Janouch wrote in his book Con­ver­sa­tions with Kafka: “I’m of­ten sur­prised that Kafka was in deep love with the Charles Bridge. He started strolling on the bridge at three years old, and he can tell all the al­lu­sions to the stat­ues on the bridge. There were many times I found him count­ing the stones on the bridge at night by the light of street lamps.” Kafka seems to have had a strong ob­ses­sion with the Charles Bridge. In May 1934, he was ly­ing on his deathbed in a nurs­ing home in sub­ur­ban Vienna and asked Janouch to write down his last words, which were: “My life and in­spi­ra­tion all come from the great Charles Bridge.”

Prague Square, Closely Linked with Ge­nius

The Charles Bridge con­nects Prague Cas­tle and Old Town. Prague Square is a key place to visit in Old Town. As op­posed to a wish­ing foun­tain at its cen­tre, there is a statue of Jan Hus, the­olo­gian and first rec­tor of Charles Univer­sity, in the square. In 1415, Hus was burned to death as a re­sult of the Pope’s In­qui­si­tion due to a heresy charge, which sparked a three-

decade war for na­tional lib­er­a­tion be­tween the Czechs and the Ro­man Catholic Church.

The 900-year- old square has re­mained a place where the pub­lic can as­sem­ble or just enjoy their leisure time. There are al­ways street en­ter­tain­ers on the square, em­body­ing Ni­et­zsche’s say­ing, “We should con­sider ev­ery day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”

Prague and its sights in­spired not just na­tive mu­si­cians like Smetana but also for­eign ones as well. Com­poser Mozart (1756–1791) vis­ited the city four times dur­ing his short life. He com­pleted the opera Don Gio­vanni on his sec­ond visit. He also cre­ated the Sym­phony No. 38 or Prague Sym­phony to ex­press his pas­sion for the city. Czechs have said, “It was Prague that dis­cov­ered Mozart’s ge­nius.”

Al­though Old Town is not large, it con­tains many grand me­dieval struc­tures un­der key pro­tec­tion. Var­i­ous styles of shops, restau­rants and bars ex­ist in har­mony with each other. The build­ings around the square are di­verse, such as the Gothic Church of the Vir­gin Mary be­fore Tyn and the Baroque St. Ni­cholas Church. The Old Town Hall on the square was built in the 14th cen­tury and is typ­i­cal of Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture.

The beau­ti­ful and in­tri­cate Prague As­tro­nom­i­cal Clock is its most in­ter­est­ing fea­ture. It was built in 1410 but still works to­day and is lo­cated on its south­ern wall. Visitors who come to Prague should not miss see­ing the an­cient Prague As­tro­nom­i­cal Clock. This 600-year- old clock is del­i­cate and is both an an­cient clock and a cal­en­dar. On 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. each day, the small win­dows above the clock face open au­to­mat­i­cally. Pup­pets of Je­sus’s Twelve Apos­tles ap­pear two by two in the win­dows. Three of these me­chan­i­cal pup­pets also move. St. Peter raises his hand to give a bless­ing, St. Paul nods show­ing ap­proval and St. Thomas shakes his head. In ad­di­tion, the four stat­ues on both sides of the clock dial rep­re­sent four evils. The one hold­ing a mir­ror rep­re­sents van­ity; the one shak­ing a purse and a cane refers to greed; one is a skele­ton hold­ing a sand glass and a bell rep­re­sent­ing death; and one is a Turk play­ing a lute rep­re­sent­ing de­sire. Over the course of six cen­turies, the Prague As­tro­nom­i­cal Clock has un­der­gone nu­mer­ous stop­pages and ren­o­va­tions. It was nearly sold in 1787. Dur­ing World War II, when the Town Hall was shelled by the Ger­mans, the clock was se­verely dam­aged and the wood carv­ings of the 12 saints were all de­stroyed. The 12 cur­rent stat­ues and some other wooden carv­ings on both sides were made by Czech sculp­tors af­ter the war. The chronome­ter was not re­stored until 1948 and is still in op­er­a­tion to­day.

Un­like the bustling Old Town Square, the Prague Cas­tle on the other side of the Vl­tava River is qui­eter and is filled with clas­si­cal and el­e­gant el­e­ments. Built in the ninth cen­tury, Prague Cas­tle was first used as a mil­i­tary fort. Later, churches and royal palaces were con­structed within the fort by sub­se­quent rulers, mak­ing it a grand ar­chi­tec­tural com­plex and a per­ma­nent seat of the royal fam­ily.

It is now home to the pres­i­den­tial palace and state of­fices and is open to visitors ex­cept for its of­fice ar­eas. The Prague Cas­tle com­plex fea­tures a va­ri­ety of ar­chi­tec­tural styles from an­cient Ro­manesque foun­da­tions to post-mod­ern style. It can be said that each era has left its mark on the cas­tle. The three main at­trac­tions in the cas­tle are the St. Vi­tus Cathe­dral, the Golden Lane and the Old Royal Palace.

The St. Vi­tus Cathe­dral is the cathe­dral of the Ro­man Catholic Arch­dio­cese of Prague and is the largest and most im­por­tant church in the Czech Repub­lic. This cathe­dral was where the Czech em­per­ors were crowned and laid to rest af­ter their deaths. To­day, it is home to the crown, scep­tre and golden ball of Bo­hemian King Charles IV of the Holy Ro­man Em­pire, as well as thou­sands of paint­ings from Italy, Ger­many and the Nether­lands from the 16th to 18th cen­turies. Con­struc­tion be­gan in 1344 but was not com­pleted until 1929. Orig­i­nally a Gothic build­ing, it was ex­panded three times in 600 years, in­te­grat­ing Baroque and Re­nais­sance styles and help­ing earn its “Ar­chi­tec­tural Trea­sure” ti­tle.

The in­te­rior of the St. Vi­tus Cathe­dral is ex­quis­ite. The tall, el­e­gant arched cor­ri­dors in­side are very Gothic. The build­ing’s splen­did glass win­dows make the church feel more spa­cious. Sculp­tures from dif­fer­ent ages and styles com­ple­ment each other here. The whole church is like a mu­seum. There are three main at­trac­tions rec­om­mended to trav­ellers. The first is the colour­ful 20th cen­tury stained glass win­dows. These are made up of two parts. The tops are semi­cir­cu­lar, and the bot­toms are half rec­tan­gu­lar. The win­dows are com­posed of pieces of stained glass that come to­gether in beau­ti­ful de­pic­tions of re­li­gious fig­ures. The sec­ond is the tomb of

St. John of Ne­po­muk, car­di­nal of the Ro­man Catholic Arch­dio­cese of Prague. His mag­nif­i­cent tomb was made with 20 tonnes of sil­ver, in­di­cat­ing the Czech peo­ple’s re­spect for the car­di­nal. The third is the St. Wences­las Chapel. In a dom­i­nant golden colour, mu­rals and sculp­tures can be seen through­out, mak­ing it look like an art mu­seum.

Prague Cas­tle at night

A view of Prague

Charles Bridge

Prague As­tro­nom­i­cal Clock

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