Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Official Walking Tour of Prague

I lucked out--my official tour of Prague was today, in the partly-cloudy-but-increasingly-sunny 50 degree warmth; much nicer than earlier this week, when the other group went!

We started off the tour looking up at the top of Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square--though I'm not sure how "Václavské" turned into "Wenceslas" in English) looking at the main branch of the National Museum (apparently, this weekend all seven branches have the entrance fee waived! Hopefully I'll get to one or two of them). 

This is looking down from Wenceslas Square, which is in the heart of "New Town," built by King Charles IV (he's recurring theme) around 1348. It's called "New Town" because it was new in comparison to "Old Town," which dates back to the 10th century, I believe. At one point, the Square was a horse market. Later, it became the site of all popular uprisings and protests in Prague; in 1969, Jan Palach set himself on fire there to protest Communism a few months after the Prague Spring. In 1989, the Velvet Revolution that overthrew Communism in Prague kicked off there. About 500,000 protesters gathered in the Square then. Now it's just a commercial shopping area--complete with a Starbucks and a McDonald's. Pay attention to the horse statue of Saint Wenceslas because in the next picture...

it's upside down! This sculpture/hanging statue is in the atrium of the Lucerna Palace shopping area, that was actually built by Vaclav Havel's father (grandfather?) and is still owned by the family [I think]. It's meant to be a parody of sorts of the horse/Saint Wenceslas (which is apparently the English of Vaclav. Then why don't we call the former president Wenceslas Havel? Who knows.) statue from the top of Wenceslas Square. David Černý is the artist, and the dead/upside-down horse is generally considered to be symbolic of the end of Communism.

The Old Town City Hall (as opposed to the New Town City Hall, which is half a block from my apartment, and has since been replaced by the New City Hall in Old Town) at the heart of Staré Město (Old Town). Old Town goes back to the 9th century. That was a really, really, really long time ago. 
Among the most iconic parts of Prague--aside from the Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge--is the astronomical clock on the side of the Old Town City Hall. It rings every hour on the hour (we missed it by about 15 minutes. Good thing I'm here for 4 months!), and the little skeleton on the top right dings his bell. The clock includes a ring that tells time according to the old Czech 24-hour method, Roman numerals for the way we tell time, and then some other outdated ancient method that I can't remember right now. There's also a ring with the Zodiac signs. And then below the clock is a full calendar of "svátek," or Name Days, which are a big deal here, although lots of people are now giving their kids non-traditional names.

This is a view of the Prague Castle from right at the beginning of the Charles Bridge. The Prague Castle complex (it's not just the castle-looking thing, but also all the buildings around it) is where government operations take place even today; the president works from the castle-looking thing, even though his power is secondary to that of the Prime Minister who works from the small-ish white building all the way on the right. But, the President chooses the Prime Minister. 

Closer-up of the Prague Castle. Though the sky looked like it was threatening to rain, luckily it didn't, and the color was beautiful against the rusted-reds of the roofs.
One of the many statues on the Charles Bridge named for, you guessed it, King Charles IV! Imagine having a city where almost every prominent building/structure/institution was named after you...

Peeked in past a wrought-iron gate and saw this old mill with a funny-looking goblin dude looking over it.
(Galya and Noa, this one's for you!) A tribute to John Lennon on the Lennon Wall--yes, it's that Lennon, not the other Lenin. I'll have to go back with a Sharpie so I can leave my mark!

On the way up to the castle complex! The building on the top right of this picture is the Schwarzenberg Palace; today it houses a baroque art collection and belongs to the state. Historically, however, it belonged to the family of Karel Schwarzenberg, who just lost the presidential election, to the dismay of many liberals. 

Looking down at Prague from the top of the castle complex!
And again.
The entryway to the president's compound. The statues on top of the gate are kind of terrifying--one is a guy about to stab someone, and the other looks like it's a guy playing Quidditch and about to use the bludger bat to block a ball from smashing his face, but actually he's about to use the bludger bat to beat someone. Other than that... the guards are part of the military, and switch every hour. Like the palace guards at Buckingham Palace, they don't smile.

Entryway into the second courtyard of the Castle compound. I lost track of how many courtyards there were, but it was a lot.

Ellie wins the prize of being the first (intentionally-photographed) human to make an appearance on my blog! This is in front of the St. Vitus Cathedral, built in the 1340s, which is also in the Castle complex. It's enormous. We walked past the side of the cathedral to get to the entrance (those doors aren't actually open to the public) and the gargoyles peed/spat down collected rainwater on us!

Stained glass in the St. Vitus Cathedral painted (!) by Alfons Mucha, the Czech Art Noveau painter.

More stained glass, not painted by Mucha. Every five--which happens to fall this year--the crown jewels are put on display to the public. I just might have to brave the long lines to snag a peak!

Side exterior of the St. Vitus Cathedral. If you look closely, you'll see that there are actually two clocks--the top one tells you the hour, and the bottom one tells you the minute.

This picture is meant to illustrate the contrast between the old part of the cathedral and the new part. One the right side of the picture you can see the blackened exterior of the building, which is actually from the original struture in the 14th century. On the right the exterior is much cleaner, and was built/restored in the 19th and 20th centuries. The gold-painted mosaic, however, is original I believe.

Tucked away in the back of a garden next to a pre-school that used to be a church. 
Next to the Old Town City Hall/astronomical clock building.

I forget where I saw this.

Next to the Lennon Wall.

St. Vitus Cathedral.

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