Prague, a Marvellous Museum of Architecture
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
Prague Astronomical Clock