Prague, the Golden City

Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic.  Also known as the “golden city” and the “mother of cities,” Prague has been a major city in the region for over a millennium.  It was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and of Bohemia.

Of all the great cities of the world that I’ve seen, there are few that compare to Prague in terms of beauty.  Prague’s got it all: magnificent buildings large and small, cobblestone streets full of shops and restaurants, a great river adorned with pretty bridges, and a great castle overlooking the city. 

Let’s start at the heart of the city: Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti). It’s a large, beautiful town square, first established in the 10th century. It ranks up there with the other great town squares of Europe. The photo above is a cool panaroma of the square, stitched from multiple shots. Click on it to enlarge. Several of Prague’s most significant landmarks surround the square.

The first great building by the square is the Old Town Hall (Staromestske Radnice).  The hall features a Gothic and Renaissance tower, plus a fancy astronomical clock.  This landmark is one of Prague’s top tourist attractions. You can buy tickets to go up the tower for a great view of the city (we didn’t). The clock is a technological marvel, considering its creation during Medieval times. It performs a glockenspiel-like show every hour.

Another great building at the square is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.  This Gothic-styled church was built in the 14th century. 

Prague is a great city for visitors to walk about.  It’s a large city though; you’ll get a nice workout walking everywhere.  In fact, I ripped a large hole through the toes of a sock after walking all day.  The streets are pleasant, safe, and tourist friendly.  You see shops everywhere, and you can eat food from all over the world.

Another nickname for Prague is “city of a hundred spires.”  You can indeed stumble upon many a spire or tower as you’re exploring the city.

The Vltava (Moldau) River runs through the center of Prague.  To span the river, a bunch of bridges have been built over the centuries.  The most famous of the bridges is the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most).  First built in the 14th century, this bridge connects the Old Town with the Prague Castle area.
It is a very picturesque Gothic bridge, adorned with Baroque-styled statues standing tall.

The Charles Bridge is a very popular tourist destination.  The bridge is flooded by tourists, lovers, sellers, beggars, artists, and musicians every day.

Sitting atop a hill on the western side of the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle (Prazsky Hrad) overlooks the city.  The castle has been around since at least the 9th century.  This castle was the defensive structure around which the city of Prague grew.  Prague Castle is the largest castle complex in the world. Emperors, kings, and presidents have resided within.

You can get a great view of the city from Prague Castle.  Below is a panorama of the cityscape.  Click to enlarge it.  Imagine being a king and seeing this view every day…

Prague Castle is definitely a worthy visit for tourists.  You can purchase a ticket, which allows you to see the churches, palaces, and museums within the castle complex.

The most obvious attraction within the castle complex is St. Vitus Cathedral.  It is by far the tallest structure in the city; you can see it from anywhere.  This Roman Catholic cathedral is the most prominent church in the Czech Republic.  The archbishop is based there.  Kings and emperors are buried there. 

St. Vitus Cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.  Flying buttresses and spires are found everywhere in this building.  Inside, you’ll find beautiful stained glass windows and crypts.  The cathedral’s construction first began in the 14th century, but construction stopped after about 50 years.  The cathedral was left unfinished for hundreds of years.  Finally, work in the 19th and 20th centuries completed the cathedral – 600 years later.

Another landmark within the castle complex is St. George’s Basilica.  It is older than St. Vitus Cathedral.  Built in the 10th century, St. George features a Romanesque architecture.  Ludmilla of Bohemia was canonized and buried there – hence it is a basilica.

Ok, back to the city.  Prague has a really nice and refined area called the Jewish Quarter.  In addition to lots of nice shops and restaurants, the Jewish Quarter is home to a number of Jewish landmarks.  You can buy a ticket that lets you see six of them.  After having gone through Prague Castle earlier that day, however, we were sick of museums, so we did not check out the Jewish buildings.  Here’s a photo of the exterior of the Spanish Synagogue though.  Its interior is supposed to be amazing….

Speaking of buildings…. Several friends who went to Prague in the 90’s mentioned that the city appeared rather run down at the time.  Makes sense, since it was right after the Cold War.  I don’t have that experience to compare with.  However, I did notice how clean and elegant many of the buildings in the central city appeared.  Looks like they put a lot of money into restoring the city’s beauty.  It seems that tourism has flourished in Prague over the last twenty years.

More on buildings…  As you have seen, Prague boasts some great Old World scenery.  But there’s a little bit of new stuff here too.  One landmark in particular stands out – Frank Gehry’s Dancing House (Tancici dum), also known as the Fred & Ginger House.  Frank Gehry is a famed architect who has designed crazy “Deconstructionist” buildings all over the world.  He designed the Priztker Pavilion and BP Bridge in Millenium Park in Chicago.  The Dancing House sits at the corner of a street in Prague, facing the river.

Finally, let’s talk about a most intellectual of topics: beer.  Since our trip was about Oktoberfest, we had to continue the beer theme in Prague.  Actually, it was not difficult to find beer.  The Czech Republic apparently has the world’s highest consumption of beer per capita, beating out worthy nations like Ireland and Germany. 

You can get some great brews here, and for very little money.  The ubiquitous pilsner style of beer comes from the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic.  Perhaps the most well known Czech beer is Pilsner Urquell.  But did you also know that the American beer Budweiser was first brewed in the Czech Republic and is known as Budvar? Budvar tastes a ton better too…

Well, that wraps up a highly enjoyable stay in Prague. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to capture its beauty as much as I would have liked; not to mention, the weather didn’t cooperate.  But I got a great taste of its beauty and intend to come back one day to see more.

Next stop on our trip: Berlin!

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